Staging the Savage God: The Grotesque in Performance

Staging the Savage God: The Grotesque in Performance

Staging the Savage God: The Grotesque in Performance

Staging the Savage God: The Grotesque in Performance


In this broadly conceived study, Ralf E. Remshardt delineates the theatre's deep connection with the grotesque and traces the historically extensive and theoretically intensive relationship between performance and its "other," the grotesque. Staging the Savage God: The Grotesque in Performance examines the aesthetic complicity shared by the two in both art and theatre and presents a general theory of the grotesque.

Performing the grotesque is both a challenge to a culture's order and the affirmation of certain ethical principles that it recognizes as its own. Remshardt investigates the aesthetics and ideology of grotesque theatre from antiquity- in works such as The Bacchae and Thyestes - to modernity- in Ubu Roi and Hamletmachine - and opens up new critical possibilities for the analysis of both classical and avant-gardetheatre.

Divided into three sections, Staging the Savage God first interrogates the grotesque as primarily a visual artistic and theatrical mode and then inventories various critical approaches to the grotesque, establishing the outlines of a theory with regard to drama. In the most extensive part of the study, Remshardt shifts his emphasis to the theatre of the grotesque, from self-consuming tragedies and the modernist trope of the artificial human figure to the characterology of the grotesque. Remshardt's conclusion takes bold steps towards unraveling the paradox inherent in the grotesque theatre.

Written in an engaging and frequently polemical style and aided by nine illustrations, Staging the Savage God is a comprehensive and rigorous study that incorporates critical approaches from disciplines such as philosophy, psychoanalysis, art history, literature, and theatre to fully investigate the historical function of the grotesque in performance.


At the end of his autobiographical essay “The Tragic Generation, ” William Butler Yeats recalls a visit to the Théâtre de l'Œuvre in Paris in December of 1896 to see a play that left something of a lasting impression on him:

The players are supposed to be dolls, toys, marionettes, and now they are all hopping like wooden frogs, and I can see for myself that the chief personage, who is some kind of King, carries for Sceptre a brush of the kind that we use to clean a closet. Feeling bound to support the most spirited party, we have shouted for the play, but that night at the Hotel Corneille I am very sad, for comedy, objectivity, has displayed its growing power once more. I say, “After Stephane Mallarmé, after Verlaine, after Gustave Moreau, after Puvis de Chavannes, after our own verse, after all our subtle colour and nervous rhythm, after the faint mixed tints of Conder, what more is possible? After us the Savage God.” (Yeats 430)

Clearly, Yeats felt himself swept up in a moment of great importance in theatre history, a seemingly unprecedented moment of shifting and collapse but also of impetuous energy. Lacking a term, a theory to fit the occasion, he sought recourse in an archaic system of reference, and the speech of this eloquent poet turned to speechlessness. The “Savage God” Yeats saw hopping and strutting across the stage on Montmartre may have had a new guise and a new name—he was Alfred Jarry's King Ubu, whose perennial notoriety was born that night—but he was certainly not new to the . . .

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