THE TRIUMPH OF PIERROT: The Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination by Martin & John Swan Green

THE TRIUMPH OF PIERROT: The Commedia dell'Arte and the Modern Imagination

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A wide-ranging and thought-provoking study of how the anarchic spirit of the Renaissance Commedia dell'Arte reawakened and flourished during the late-19th and early-20th centuries, and how it continues today. Characterizing the comedic spirit as ""a recoil from. . .society's respectable values"" and an attack on them by nonserious means, Green and Swan find it expressed in varying degrees by such disparate personalities as Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, Jean Harlow and Boy George, by Vaslav Nijinsky, T.S. Eliot and Monty Python. The comedic sensibility swept the western world from the 1890's, in Russia, in the art exhibits, periodicals and stage productions of Serge Diaghilev, in France in the poems of Baudelaire, the music of Erik Satie and the paintings of Pablo Picasso. In Germany, it was revealed in such plays as Wedekind's Lulu and, crossing the Atlantic, in the verses and romantic involvements of American Edna St. Vincent Millay. In England, the three Sitwells espoused it in their writings and in their much-publicized antics. Green's and Swan's research into these diverse arts and their practitioners is impressive, as is the manner in which they are able to juggle the elements of their study without dropping a point or confusing the reader. A virtuoso display of scholarly and literary legerdemain. The authors devote a great deal of attention, as might be expected, to the formative role played by Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes in the spread of Commedia devices--artifice, sexual ambiguity, exoticism, theatricality--during the 1910's and 20's. Not only was dance transformed by such Diaghilev productions as Petrushka, but the world itself seemed changed, most importantly, in the audiences' attitudes toward society and life itself. A brittle cynicism, gaiety tinged with pathos, style over substance became the approved mode. It continued thus for nearly four decades, until the Great Depression spelled the end of these attitudes during the 1930's. Today, there are, say the authors, signs of their reawakening once again in the films of Federico Fellini, the androgynous appeal of David Bowie, the stage designs of David Hockney, the comedies of Tom Stoppard. The authors have turned a carefully focused spotlight on the arts and artists of the past century and have illumined a little-explored area of European and American cultural history. The Triumph of Pierrot will be read (and re-read) by anyone interested how conventions from the past can and do affect the present and the future. Stylish and stimulating.

Pub Date: May 12th, 1986
Publisher: Macmillan