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Breasts of Tiresias


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A: Guillaume Apollinaire W: 1903–17 Pf: 1917, Paris Pb: 1918 Tr: 1964 G: Drama in 2 acts and a prologue; French verse S: Marketplace, Zanzibar, early 20th c. C: 8m, 2f, extrasThe Prologue expounds anti-naturalistic principles, that drama should offer not a ‘slice of life, but life itself’. In a Zanzibar marketplace there are a ‘speechless person who represents the people of Zanzibar’, a megaphone, and a dancing kiosk. Thérèse, a figure with a blue face, rebels against her husband: opening her blouse, her breasts rise, fly up like balloons, and explode. She grows a beard and moustache and shouts into the megaphone: ‘I feel as virile as the devil!’ Thérèse has become Tiresias and forces her husband to exchange clothes. She plans to continue her new life in Paris, while female voices chant: ‘Long live Tiresias | No more children, no more children!’ Her husband is concerned about the need for children, but discovers a means of procreation, which produces 40,049 offspring in one day. He boasts of his success to reporters but soon finds that Zanzibar faces a food crisis. After a number of other surreal episodes, Tiresias returns to reassume the role of Thérèse. Releasing balloons and throwing balls at the audience, she asks them to feed the new population. The people of Zanzibar sing and dance.

A: Guillaume Apollinaire W: 1903–17 Pf: 1917, Paris Pb: 1918 Tr: 1964 G: Drama in 2 acts and a prologue; French verse S: Marketplace, Zanzibar, early 20th c. C: 8m, 2f, extras

Although Apollinaire claimed that his eccentric play dealt with the role of women and the risks of overpopulation, perhaps the main interest of the piece is that its subtitle un drame surréaliste was the first use of the term ‘surrealism’. This movement of the 1920s and 1930s, which made more impact in painting than in the theatre, was explored by practitioners like Artaud and influenced plays like Wilder's The Skin of Our Teeth and eventually the Theatre of the Absurd.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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