By Jessilyn Marth and Annie Stewart
by Maurice Maeterlinck
Symbols. Everything could mean something. Does everything mean something? What is the significance of light and dark? Why does the seemingly mute baby only utter a sound once its mother dies? Why does the blind Grandfather have ultimate sight? Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Intruder is laden with symbols. As is to be expected because Maeterlinck was a prominent figure in the Symbolist movement in France during the late 19th/early 20th century. These symbols suggest the seen and unseen forces that play upon humankind, which is represented by the family in this play.
During its time, The Intruder was at the center of the Symbolist movement. It was evocative and suggestive rather than explicit in nature. This is showcased by the clock; the clock seems to have a mind of its own. The family members notice the clock’s irregular ticking and by doing so Maeterlinck makes the audience aware of the clock but does not directly state its significance. Ultimate meaning and interpretation was left to the audience. Almost nothing was spelled-out.
The beauty of The Intruder is its transcendence of time due to its symbols. The symbols were open to interpretation back in 1891, still are today and will be in the future. An audience in 2014 will have a different understanding of the play; however, that is the point. Yes, The Intruder was a product of a new movement, but Symbolism is not constrained by time or place. Therefore, a director’s vision does not depend upon one specific interpretation of the symbols in the play. Maeterlinck gives a location and a short list of props, however, that is the extent of his input found in the stage directions. The rest is up to you! Lucky you – you’ve won the jackpot!
Maeterlinck was raised by a Catholic family, and his education was also within the Church. This foundation in faith influenced the writing of his plays, as did his studies in Mysticism. His life, education, Mysticism, the Symbolist movement and commentary by himself, other artists and critics are crucial in understanding the impetus behind The Intruder’s formation.
While there are many questions surrounding the play, there is one in particular that will guide the execution of this production. That is, is the “Intruder” necessarily a negative force? Something intrudes. This intruder could be death. Maeterlinck was obsessed with death, and in 1911 wrote an entire book on the subject, Death. But does that make death evil? His attraction to death suggests otherwise. Death is the unavoidable end to all life, and as Maeterlinck states in Death, “There is no reality, there is no true duration, save that between the cradle and the grave. The rest is bombast, show, delusion…For us, death is the one event that counts in our life and in our universe!” (4-5). This implies that death is a happy ending, it is where we find truth. It is a positive force, which contradicts the human fear of death, which is exemplified by the negative connotations associated with the title of the play. Commonly, “intruder” refers to something or someone who is unwelcome, or invading a space. To the family, death is an unwelcome guest, but for the mother who dies, death has the potential to be the crux of a new beginning.
Even in the presence of death can be life.
Best wishes as you proceed with this production,
Your Dramaturgical Team
Maeterlinck, Maurice. Death. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1911. Print.