This article was written
originally published Minute History of the Drama. Alice
Buchanan Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset &
Dunlap, 1935. p. 92.
IN appearance, Maurice Maeterlinck--who is sometimes called the "Belgian Shakespeare"--was the direct opposite of the mysticism of his writings. The word that best described him would be "hearty." Nor did the brilliant success of his plays affect the playwright's personality. According to one of his commentators, he appeared frank, modest and sincere when he visited America for the first time in 1919. Unfortunately the lecture he had specially prepared for the opening of his lecture tour was couched in such original terms that it left the public, his most ardent admirers included, quite at sea.
Maeterlinck was born of a very old Flemish family. He was educated at the College of Sainte-Barbe and later studied law at Ghent. Shortly after finishing his schooling he settled in Paris where he made the acquaintance of the leaders of the symbolist school of French poetry. These contacts combined with his own deeply religious instincts are probably largely responsible for the characteristics of Maeterlinck's earlier plays. Almost without exception these are occupied with the spiritual adventures of souls, and refuse to be bound by the ordinary facts of time and space.
His career as a writer began in 1889 with a volume of verse and and his first play, The Princess Maleine. Three years later, in 1892, the well-known Pelléas and Mélisande appeared. The critics, William Lyon Phelps and Ludwig Lewisohn, agree that three short plays--L'Intruse, Les Aveugles, and Intérieur, are the best of his earlier works.
Maeterlinck's later plays, represented particularly by Monna Vanna and Mary Magdalene, are in decided contrast to the tendencies of the earlier ones, while The Bluebird, the Christmas novelty by which he is best known, is an imaginative play in a class by itself. Monna Vanna, his first brilliant success, was played on every important stage in Europe except in England where it was forbidden by the censor. Sister Beatrice, of the later period, has been rated by Phelps as one of the best acting plays of the 20th century. In 1911, Maeterlinck was honored with the Nobel Prize for literary achievement.