Súl an tSolais (The Eye of Light)

| Playing in the Shadows |

By Stephen Kaplin | UNIMA-USA
Union Internationale de la Marionnette

Given its primacy in the very fabric of the physical universe, it is perfectly logical for both mystics and puppeteers to make use of Light (and its antonymic, Shadow) as a metaphor for human existence. The shadow puppet figure itself is a kind of bridge between the world of dis-embodied spirits and the physical world that we inhabit in our hard, opaque bodies. It performs a text that is actually a dance of the naked, translucent parchment skin—a skin that has not yet been tattooed and pinned down with letters, words and verses, which subsequently freeze into sheets of written scriptural canon. Shadow puppets are a kind of living hieroglyph, not etched into stone or punched onto clay, but spun out of Light and imbued with breath and motion. In the words of the 12th Century Persian Poet, Omar Khayyam:

Heav’n but the Vision of fulfilled Desire,
And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.

We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show 2
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