General English

  • noun using symbols to express things such as feelings
  • noun a movement in literature and art in the 19th century in which feelings were not expressed in a straightforward way

Media Studies

  • noun the use of symbols to invest things with a representative meaning or to represent something abstract


  • A French-led movement in the theater and other arts that reactedagainst realism in the last decade of the 19th century. Symbolistwriters strove to penetrate beyond what they saw as the superficialtrappings of physical existence to express the inner meaning of life.In the theater this usually involved a deliberately artificial styleof staging, the use of poetic language, and themes chosen from mythor fairytale rather than contemporary life. The first symbolist playswere presented at the Theatre d'Art from about 1890 by Paul Fort,who produced The Intruder (1890) and The Sightless (1891),atmospheric works by Maurice Maeterlinck, the leading writerof symbolist drama. Other symbolist playwrights included the Austrian,Hugo von Hofmannsthal, in his Everyman (1911); theIrishman, William Butler Yeats, in early works such as TheLand of Heart's Desire (1894), and the French Catholic dramatist,Paul Claudel (1868 - 1955). The later plays of Strindbergare often described as symbolist works, as are the dramas of EugeneO'Neill.

    Fort was succeeded at the Theatre d'Art in 1893 by Aurelien-FrancoisLugne-Poe (1869 - 1940), who renamed the venue the Theatre del'Oeuvre. It closed in 1929.