Haunted Figures, Haunting Figures: Puppets and Marionettes as Testimonies of Liminal States





The easy way marionettes and puppets can cross the boundaries between lifeless objects and living creatures makes puppetry the ideal artistic expression to picture liminal states between life and death. This ability, commonly used nowadays in puppet and marionette performances, leans on two major changes in the history of representations: the Romantic opposition of nature and technique, which transformed the animation of objects into a disturbing and uncanny experience, and the post-traumatic perception of human beings reduced to the status of things in the totalitarian regimes, genocides, and mass murders of the twentieth century. The article examines how, in two different contexts (the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth centuries, then the turn of the twentieth to the twenty-first century), poets and puppeteers can use these representations as the starting point of a new dramaturgy. Performed in 1892 at the Petit-Théâtre des Marionnettes de la Galerie Vivienne, Pigeon’s comedy L’Amour dans les enfers ironically presents Arlequin and Pierrot as two ghosts who ask Pluto to bring them their widows, but the men are repelled by them because they look like two corpses. In van Lerberghe’s Les Flaireurs and Maeterlinck’s La Princesse Maleine (both 1889), we can see how the imagery of death, first stimulated by fairground shows and Holden’s Théâtre des Fantoches, eventually transforms itself into a dramaturgy of slow and immaterial forces: death appears no more as a character or an event but as the very substance of the drama, a set of multiple effects and accidents that stretch across the whole performance. But puppetry can also provide visibility to annihilated, invisible people. Examples are taken from four plays about the Nazi death camps, one written during the Holocaust (Haschenburg’s Hledáme strašidlo, 1943), then three contemporary ones (Segal’s Le Marionnettiste de Lodz, 1984; Cagnard’s Les Gens légers, 2006; Cuscunà’s È bello vivere liberi, 2009). The article examines how puppets and marionettes are used as poetical and dramaturgical means to represent on stage the process of extermination and the haunting images it left in our memory.

Keywords: puppetry; death; symbolism; contemporary drama; Shoah; undead; Holocaust


Author Biography

Carole Guidicelli, Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3

PuppetPlays (ERC GA 835193), Research Engineer