Death in modern theatre

Stages of mortality

By Adrian Curtin

Death in modern theatre


  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-2470-8
  • Pages: 272
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: February 2019
  • BIC Category: Theatre studies, Sociology: death & dying, PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / Direction & Production, PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / Stagecraft, PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / History & Criticism, Society & social sciences / Sociology: death & dying, The arts / Theatre studies
  • Series: Theatre: Theory - Practice - Performance


Death in modern theatre offers a unique account of modern Western theatre, focusing on the ways in which dramatists and theatre-makers have explored historically informed ideas about death and dying in their work. It investigates the opportunities theatre affords to reflect on the end of life in a compelling and socially meaningful fashion.

In a series of interrelated, mostly chronological, micronarratives beginning in the late nineteenth century and ending in the early twenty-first century, this book considers how and why death and dying are represented at certain historical moments using dramaturgy and aesthetics that challenge audiences' conceptions, sensibilities, and sense-making faculties. It includes a mix of well-known and lesser-known plays from an international range of dramatists and theatre-makers, and offers original interpretations through close reading and performance analysis.


'I would nominate this as the best monograph on drama and theatre studies I have read in at least five years. In its careful navigations of how notes of hope and fear may alternate in both theatre and life, Curtin's study encourages fundamental personal and social reflections in terms that are graceful and vivifying. Its alluring journey sounds resonances and provokes reconsiderations of how we might best play out our brief scenes with others: with serious attentive care of properly long-term priorities, with artful wit, and with style.'
Modern drama

'Death in modern theatre is a compelling and insightful study that will be useful to students and scholars of theatre studies and death studies as well as a general readership. Written in an accessible style, the study persuasively and pragmatically sets out a case for theatre's capacity to 'help us to better understand what it means to be mortal, what it means to be human' (241).'

'Death in Modern Theatre is a fascinating cultural history of death from the perspective of the performing arts and an engagingly written and duly meditative (though, remarkably, never morose) study. It will inspire any scholar or student concerned with the deathliness of modern theatre. '
New Theatre Quarterly

'The book ... is a compelling study of dramas, some familiar and others less so, reflecting attitudes on death during the period they were written. Moreover, the text surprises with humor and an occasional light touch, which brings the reader willingly into the subject matter. ... [As] a professor of theatre, I would assign this text to introduce playwrights rarely included in conventional dramatic survey collections. Curtin's writing brings these historic productions back to life and explores how nimble the theatrical discipline is, aptly illustrated by how its attitudes on death and dying have changed with changing times.'


Introduction: stages of mortality
1 Beyond the veil: sensing death in symbolist theatre
2 Fantastical representations of death in First World War drama
3 The absurd drama of modern death denial
4 Theatres of catastrophe after Auschwitz and Hiroshima
5 The drama of dying in the early twenty-first century
Conclusion: unending



Adrian Curtin is Senior Lecturer in Drama at the University of Exeter

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