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One of the most prevalent replacements for the human form upon the stage in the early twentieth century was that of the marionette. Marionette essays illustrate that, varying considerably in degrees of realism and facility of movement, the marionettes that populated experimental modernism in theater came to signify a number of the emergent philosophies and aesthetic principles that were in currency during the period. Even in productions that did not incorporate actual puppets, the human form came to be used in ways that mimicked the stiff artificiality of the marionette.
In this art essay, I will seek to delineate the role of the marionette in modernist theater and the relationship of the marionette to the image of the fragmentary, artificial human body, which became increasingly prevalent in the theater of the period. First, the bulk of the analysis will focus on developing a theoretical account of this relationship, based on the writings of two important dramatic theorists. Then, the marionette/image of the fragmentary body will be traced through Wilde’s Salome, Jarry’s Ubu Roi and Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape.