A Study of Theatrical Vision in Arthur Rimbaud's Illuminations [Studies in French Literature 16]

Gerald Macklin

    Research output: Book/ReportBookpeer-review


    The book offers an in depth study of the theatrical influence in Rimbaud's Illuminations. It is divided into six chapters, each focusing on an aspect of theatricality in the collection. It acknowledges the work of critics such as Bonnefoy, Plessen, Wing, Osmond and Little who have all shed light in their own way on this feature of Rimbaud's work. I also include critics such as Todorov, Baudry, Kittang, Lapeyre and Guyaux who have been influential in terms of my reading of Rimbaud's texts. Chapter 1 looks at the more obvious facets of theatricality that have been noted heretofore as elements in Rimbaud's poetry - theatrical terminology, decor and mise en scène, the dramatis personae, music and opera, colour and lighting. Chapter two considers the phenomenon of the poème-fête where Rimbaud presents festival, pageant and ceremonial in poems such as 'Scènes', 'Parade' and 'Villes 2'. These poems are associated with epiphany and celebration and in chapter 2 also the book develops Rimbaud's preoccupation with music. The Illuminations is brimful of references to music and song which are oftem associated with ideological change. In chapter 3 we see how drama emerges in these prose poems through a variety of antitheses and dialectics - "force"/"faiblesse", the old and the new, creation and destruction and so on. The fourth chapter takes as its focus imgainative identities and how the poet presents himself in the Illuminations in a multiplicity of guises - inventor, sage, musician, child, mystic, wanderer etc. This splitting of the moi creates a chameleon-like performance and chapter 5 takes this issue a stage further by considering the phenomenon of alienation and distantiation in the prose poems. Here the poet takes an ironic attitude to himself but also to his poems styled variously as "comédie", "image" and "fantasmagorie" as well as "parade", "conte" and "scènes". Rimbaud is thus both actor/perfomer and observer, capable of engaging in and withdrawing from a variety of shows and spectacles. The sixth and final chapter deals with the notion of "poem as performance", a notion already explore by Nathaniel Wing in his 1974 study of the Illuminations. The idea here is that through the agent of linguistic surprise, special beginnings and finales and a reinvigorated form of punctuation, Rimbaud creates prose poems in the Illuminations that are stylistic and linguistic performances leading the reader to a new definition of the genre.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of PublicationLewiston/Queenston/Lampeter
    PublisherEdwin Mellen Press
    Number of pages283
    ISBN (Print)0-7734-9349-2
    Publication statusPublished - 1993


    • theatricality
    • drama
    • decor
    • music
    • opera
    • characters
    • lighting
    • performance
    • role-play
    • prose poem


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