Annotated Bibliography of Criticism


Ernst, Earle. “A Theatre . . .of Beauty without Tears.” The Hudson Review 11.2 (1958): 262-270. Web.

In this essay Earle Ernst reviews the Japanese No theater: its history, development, characteristics and finally the rare Western dramatic piece that, in his view, resembles characteristics of No – specifically the work of Maurice Maeterlinck. I will provide a brief review of the history of the No theater and concentrate on Ernst’s remarks regarding the probable influence of No theater fundamentals in the work of Maeterlinck.

The aesthetic of No theater; imported into Japan in the early 8th century from Korea, China and probably India; is based on Zen, a form of Buddhism which conceives contemplation, zen, as the means of achieving freedom from the phenomenal world and achieving mystical insight into ultimate reality. The No stage made an artistic value of restriction and reduction – a bare platform, usually without scenic indications of a place. The quality of the No plays are a distillation of human experience to its essence as reflected in Buddhist philosophy.

The No performance in its style of production and its conception of drama seems both remote and antithetical to the theater of the West, particularly in No’s rejection of all attempts at literal representation such as fearsome ghosts and other spectacles, considered not of central interest.

Ernst underscores the rare exception to traditional Western drama by citing the work of the Belgian, Maurice Maeterlinck which, “(Like Zen) concerns itself with release from the exigencies of time and place and . . .exists in a shadowy realm at the edge of life” (269).

Maeterlinck, in his seminal manifesto, “The Tragical in Daily Life” (1) states, “The truly tragic in life begins only at the moment when what are called adventures, sorrows and dangers have passed. . . . this is far more real, far more penetrating, far more akin to the true self that is in us than the tragedy that lies in great adventure.”

As in the traditional No play, Maeterlinck avoids spectacular adventure.   Rather, his characters typically discuss some aspect of the human condition. Similar to Zen philosophy is Maeterlinck’s wish to “hush the discourse of reason and sentiment, so that above the tumult may be heard the solemn, uninterrupted whisperings of man and his destiny.” Maeterlinck asks, “Is it beyond the mark to say that the true tragic element of life only begins at the moment when so-called adventures, sorrows and dangers have disappeared.” He suggests that the real drama begins when the action stops: “Is it not when we are told, at the end of the story, ‘They were happy’, that the great disquiet should intrude itself?” This description best describes one of his early short plays, L’Intruse , in which a family waits, in the tradition of Greek tragedy , for a death to occur off-stage.

Similar to Ernst’s thoughts regarding the No theater and its reliance on Zen perspectives, Maeterlinck promotes contemplative art forms, in which action plays no part, in which time is irrelevant: “Far different is it with the other arts – with painting and music, for instance – for these have learned to select and reproduce those obscurer phases of daily life that are not the less deep-rooted and amazing.” This leads him to what he terms “static theater”, theater that is still and timeless, like a painting or a piece of music.

Ernst concludes his essay by saying, “The No theater gives time for the imagination of the audience to play about in suggestive images. . . . all art strives to exist outside time and to overcome the tyranny of space. Like the graphic arts the No has conquered time and space and used them for its own aesthetic ends. It is the sort of theater which Maeterlinck envisioned: ‘a theater of peace, and of beauty without tears.’”

  • [All quotes from Maeterlinck taken from: Maeterlinck, Maurice; “The Tragical in Daily Life” from THE WORKS OF MAYRICE MAETERLINCK (1909)]

—Charles Vassallo


Finney, Gail. “Dramatic Pointillism: The Examples of Holz and Schlaf’s “Die Familie Selicke” and Maeterlinck’s “L’intruse“”.Comparative Literature Studies 30.1 (1993): 1–15. Web.

In her article, “Dramatic Pointillism: The Examples of Holz and Schlaf’s “Die Familie Selicke” and Maeterlinck’s “L’intruse,“” Gail Finney attempts to connect the literature of the fin de siècle, the artistic style of pointillism, and the philosophy of consistent naturalism to show how the worldview of the time period was shifting. The article begins with an overview pointillism: its emphasis on the dot and the manipulation of light resulting in the blending of dots on the canvas to form a coherent work of art (citing Georges Seurat’s use of a mixture of individual blue and yellow dots to create the appearance of green from the perspective of the viewer in his Un dimanche après-midi sur l’isle de la Grande Jatte). Finney links this to the consistent naturalism of Arno Holz, specifically stressing its “democratic monism,” a principle which states that each object has significance and each individual occurrence in an event is relevant to the makeup of that event.

Finney moves on to discussing how elements of these scientifically based movements appeared in the structural and narrative elements of Die Familie Selicke and L’intruse. In the former work the seemingly fragmented speech patterns of the characters are incoherent at times if looked at singularly, word by word, but come together to form a coherent play. In the latter the singular events of the story are all treated as equally important, although they at times are seemingly irrelevant, and by the work’s conclusion have formed the dots of a larger painting.

Finney concludes with the argument that that these similarities and the atomization of reality, art, and literature point to a loss of a holistic world view in favor of one which implicates a fragmentation and abstraction of reality upon closer inspection.

—Mark-Allan Donaldson


Taroff, Kurt. “Home Is Where the Self Is: Monodrama, Journey Play Structure, and the Modernist Fairy Tale.” Marvels & Tales 28.2 (2014): 325-345. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.

This essay, though not devoting its discussion entirely to Maurice Maeterlinck, nevertheless situates the playwright’s work within the context of the symbolic avant-garde. The author primarily shapes his discussion around the relationship between Maeterlinck’s The Blue Bird and L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz—both fantastical works of children’s literature that have endured in their original forms while also enjoying revivals as popular Technicolor films in the first half of the twentieth century. By examining these two works in proximity, the author constructs a dialogue between journey narratives and psychological interiority as characteristic of the emerging experimental “Monodrama” to which not only Maeterlinck but Ibsen and Strindberg as well were chief contributors (326). This term he takes from Nikolai Evreinov’s 1912 essay “Introduction to Monodrama,” though he then continues to chart a course from this intensely interior dramatic form to the popular children’s tales in which those elements also appear. This author poses that Maeterlinck works both within and against this new form in The Blue Bird by splitting his singular or “mono” perspective into two via the sibling characters Tyltyl and Mytyl. Finally, he offers that fairy stories might provide much more insight into a character’s psyche precisely because of their language of symbolism, and that Maeterlinck’s plays perhaps endure because of his utilization of, rather than resistance against, these fantastic forms in the modern age.

—Constantine Jones


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