Michel de Ghelderode, avant-garde playwright
Michel de Ghelderode (pen name of Adémar Martens) is a Belgian writer, playwright, journalist and art critic, French-speaking but of Flemish descent, who was born in Brussels in 1898 and died there in 1962. His work was inspired by a two-fold influence from his youth: that of his father, a civil servant at the Belgian National Archives, who gave him a taste for history, and that of his mother, a servant, who fed him a diet of Flemish tales, folklore and legends. His schooling in a denominational institution completed his developmental background. It was also during his adolescence that he discovered a world that fascinated him: puppets, music-hall, performances of all kinds where he saw giants, clowns, and more. He also began musical studies, which he would not finish.
He began his literary career as a music critic at the financial weekly Mercredi-Bourse, first under his own name, and then, in February 1918, under the pseudonym Michel de Ghelderode, which became his legal name in 1930. It was Het Vlaamsche Volkstooneel (the Flemish People's Theatre), a travelling Catholic troupe that staged his first major play in Flemish, The Death of Doctor Faust (1926), followed by Scenes from the Life of St. Francis of Assisi (1927) and Don Juan (1928). Paradoxically, Ghelderode wrote his plays in French - and they were then translated into Flemish.
His friend Julien Deladoès, an eccentric art dealer and man of letters, passed on his taste for masks and introduced him to a number of artists, such as Bruegel, Bosch, Goya, Rops, and Ensor and writers such as Barbey d'Aurevilly, Joris-Karl Huysmans and Alfred Jarry.
He has sometimes been considered a precursor of Ionesco and Beckett due to his tragic, outrageous plays, trivial to the point of caricature, at the crossroads of Elizabethan theatre and expressionism, which was along the same lines and paved the way for modern theatre. Some of his works were even written for a puppet show: truculent, dark, tragic. Ghelderode was first recognised by Flemish theatre, then by the avant-garde in Paris and Italy.
Jean Cocteau would say that he was "the diamond that closes the necklace of poets that Belgium wears around her neck. This diamond casts a cruel and noble fire. It wounds only those with small souls. It dazzles others".
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