Michel de Ghelderode was a very well-known Belgian dramatist. His real name was Adhémar Adolphe Louis Martens, and he was born on the 3rd April 1898 in Ixelles, in Belgium, a bilingual municipality, so Ghelderode was encouraged since childhood to learn both official languages of the area, namely French and Dutch. Michel came from a middle-class family, and spent the first years of his life with his three brothers, his father, who was a royal archivist, and his mother, to whom the religion was an essential part of her life, so some of Ghelderode’s works show strong religious influences, from the environment in which he grew up.
During his childhood, Ghelderode’s health didn’t allow him to go to school for long periods, during which he had to stay in bed, and it was in this time periods that he developed a great interest in reading and writing, that would eventually became the central part of his adult life. In fact, a very weak health would accompany Ghelderode throughout his entire life; however, that never affected his work, since he wrote more than 60 theatre plays and hundreds of short stories, as well as multiple articles, essays and letters.
His first theatre play, titled “La mort regarde à la fenêtre”, was finished in 1916, and was staged shortly after, in 1918. On the following years, the dramatist continued to write several plays, mainly for the puppet theatre “Les Marionnettes de la Renaissance d’Occident”. However, his first big success was only reached almost 10 years later, in 1927, with the premiere of “Images de la vie de Saint François d’Assise”. Along with his writings, Michel de Ghelderode always had other type of professional occupation, and he worked as a teacher on the Dupuich Institute, and later followed the footsteps of his father, becoming archivist in the Communale de Schaerbeek, and he was also an active collaborator in several magazines.
In 1939, Ghelderode stoped writing theatre plays, and on the following years he only wrote for the newspaper Le Journal de Bruges; nevertheless, his plays continued to be staged, and one of his biggest hits was “Fastes d’enfer”, which premiered in 1949 and had a great impact, not only among the specialized critics, but in the public as well.
Michel de Ghelderode’s work is characterized by its darkness, and the use of symbolism, violence, with constant references to death and the utilization of macabre props, such as skeletons, gruesome masks and lots of religious paraphernalia; the dramatist was a pioneer of the Total Theatre, a dramatic genre that tries to appeal to all senses, creating strong emotions in the spectators and influencing their way of thinking, making them question themselves about the topics presented.
Ghelderode died in 1962, in Brussels, leaving a legacy that made him one of the most important and prolific dramatists in the entire world.