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The mith of Orpheus in the contemporary theatre

Author: Monica Hărşan
Degree:doctor of philology
Speciality: 10.01.06 - World and Comparative Literature
Scientific adviser: Sergiu Pavlicenco
doctor habilitat, professor, Moldova State University
Scientific council:


The thesis was presented on the 1 September, 2005
Approved by NCAA on the 27 October, 2005


Adobe PDF document0.78 Mb / in romanian


myth, drama, theatre, transposition, desacralisation, demithisation, analysis, interpretation, symbol, influence, narration, descending, character, spacetemporality, allotropy, anachronism, anathopism, modernity, intertextuality, irony, parody, ludicrousness, postmodernism


The present paper represents a comparative approach to three modern dramatic versions of the Orpheus myth, which were produced during a period of 30 years (1927-1957) by two French authors, Jean Cocteau (Orpheus, 1927) and Jean Anouilh (Euridice, 1941), and one American writer, Tennessee Williams (Orpheus Descending, 1957). The main aim is to disclose the similarities and differences of these plays in relation to the ancient myth and as compared one to another, in order to reveal both the common strategies and intercultural influences (that unite the versions), and the defining features representing the views of a particular writer (that separate them). The innovating scientific character of the study constitutes the establishment of some criteria of analysis that form a paradigmatic model applicable to any of the mythic stories revived and recreated by the contemporary theatre and literature. Following a number of methods of research (comparative, structural, semiotic, psychoanalytic, etc.), chosen according to the particular aspect of a certain sequence of analysis, the suggested model bases its structure on a great number of coordinates of analysis: the dynamics of myth, desacralization and demithisation, fidelity or opposition to the original myth on the level of the mythic narrative and its characters, the dramatic time and space relationship, the play of anachronisms and anathopisms, openness to postmodernism, etc.

During its literary history, the myth of Orpheus had different forms and represented the nucleus of numerous allotropes, and, reaching the modern period, it was revived and adapted, in drama, by, among others, Jean Cocteau, Jean Anouilh, and Tennessee Williams. In all of these three modern versions, the myth of Orpheus was desacralised and even demithisised, its narrative being deconstructed and reconstructed, its characters changed, remaining without their heroic and legendary status while acquiring a contemporary human condition. The myth receives new symbolic meanings reflected through a new semantic value of the mythic story. Among the artistic strategies of adopting the myth to the new „horizon of expectation”, an important role is played by anachronism and anathropism, forming and sustaining a certain ambiguity by juxtaposing the mythic and contemporary levels. Besides re-actualizing the myth, anachronism and anathopism regard the different effects in relation to the three dramatists: ironic-parodic – Jean Cocteau, comic – Jean Anouilh, tragic – Tennessee Williams. The study allows emphasizing the elements noticeable on both the level of form and content, which prefigures the postmodernism (reception of the mythic narrative on the level of parody, irony as the modality of establishing the distance, the ludicrous approach, intertextualism, pluralism, the right of being different, etc.).