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Symbolism In Theater And Cinema


Symbolism can be defined as the use of objects, words, people, or actions to represent other hidden ideas. Symbolism allows artists to express inner images and realities that their audience cannot perceive directly. Symbolism began in the 19th century with French poets. It later spread to other writings and visual arts. Some of the early works that inspired the use of symbolism art include the writings and poems by Charles Baudelaire, Edgar Allen Poe and Jean Moreas in the 1880s. Jean Moreas’ Symbolist Manifesto defined symbolism and its use in arts and literature. Artists at the close of the 19th century used symbolism in art to express their opinions to emerging trends such as materialism and urbanization.

The Introduction of Symbolism in Theatre

Symbolism was easily used in literature, paintings and drawings in the 19th century. Poets and authors could introduce different symbols to express their views especially on current issues or movements. However, the use of symbolism in theatre and drama seemed impossible at first. Drama involves imitation of persons engaged in certain activities. It involves of reproduction of activities while symbolism does not aim at reproduction of actions or activities. This conflict in the fundamentals of drama and symbolism challenged many historic artists in trying to use symbolism in theatre. However, symbolism became a significant part of drama as play writers used human figures as symbols. Characters in dramas would act human symbols of government, religion, and education.

Artists would use different human figures to bring out different themes in their plays including naturalism and materialism. Some of the significant symbolist playwrights include Maurice Maeterlinck, Paul Claudel, August Stringberg, W.B. Yeats and Auguste Villiers de L’Isle-Adam. These playwrights used symbolism in their theatrical production before symbolism lost its popularity in the 20th century.

Modern Use of Symbolism in Theatre and Cinema

Symbolist theatrical productions became less popular in the 20th century. However, playwrights found new and creative ways of using symbolism in theatre. Human figures or characters are still used as symbols in modern films and plays. Other common symbols in modern theatre include colors, movements, settings, and costume. Playwrights use symbolic props to trigger certain emotions and moods in a film. Modern films use varied lighting and rhythmic movements by actors to express hidden ideas or themes. Such symbols create a certain mood in a film. Symbolism is mostly used to raise awareness to moral issues in society. Modern playwrights and directors use symbols that focus on human consciousness and express opinions on social issues.