“A horror so deep only ritual can contain it”: The art of dying in the theatre of Sarah Kane


  • Sara Soncini Università degli Studi di Pisa



Parole chiave:

Sarah Kane, contemporary theatre, death, embodiedness


Death is an overarching presence in Sarah Kane's dramatic universe, peopled by characters charging towards death, and usually encountering it in scenes of Grand Guignol excess and grotesque violence. Death is ambivalently presented as the only escape from the nightmare of living and, at the same time, as that which makes living a nightmare; as the moment of "complete sanity and humanity" in which "everything suddenly connects", and as the ultimate, irrevocable and unredeemable act of self-annihilation. Following Kane's turn towards a more poetic form of drama, in her last two plays this discourse of death is handed over to the words nameless characters or unidentified voices who are likewise engaged in a long, painful quest for selfhood pivoting on the awareness of mortality and the simultaneous dread of and longing for death it engenders.
This essay focuses on the ritual quality of the death scenes and/or narratives that crowd Kane's drama. Throughout her work, dying is never an easy, straightforward business, but rather a long, complicated, and at times frustrating mise en scène which also entails rehearsing a repertory of traditional rituals and, once their shortcomings become apparent, devising and testing new ones. The amount of theatricality involved in the art of dying is foregrounded through a web of intertextual references to other literary and/or dramatic sources; this dialogue ties in with a self-reflexive probing of the theatre's ability to provide a ritual that will be capable of "contain[ing] the horror" by supplying a formal framework to express, embody and experience death collectively.


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Biografia autore

Sara Soncini, Università degli Studi di Pisa

Sara Soncini is a lecturer and researcher in English Literature at the University of Pisa. Her main areas of interest are modern and contemporary theatre culture, and stage and screen translation. She is the author of a volume on present-day rewrites of Restoration theatre, Playing with(in) the Restoration (1999), and co-editor of Shakespeare Graffiti: Il Cigno di Avon nella cultura di massa (2002), Conflict Zones: Actions Languages Mediations (2004), Myths of Europe (2007), Crossing Time and Space: Shakespeare translations in present-day Europe (2008). She is currently writing a book on the representation of war on the XX and XXI century British stage.




Come citare

Soncini, Sara. 2010. «“A Horror so Deep Only Ritual Can Contain it”: The Art of Dying in the Theatre of Sarah Kane». Altre Modernità, n. 4 (ottobre):117-31. https://doi.org/10.13130/2035-7680/695.



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