The term “Theatre of The Absurd” was first derived by Albert Camus in an essay, ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ (1942) in which he derived the philosophy of the absurd. According to Camus, this philosophy says,
“Mom is trying to pursue the
meaning of life and this
pursuance has no meaning
in its own. So the men
quest for the existence and
to derive meaning for life is
meaningless and is of no use.”
Later in 1961, this term was coined by “Martin Esslin” in his book “Theatre of Absurd”. It is a literary movement that began with a group of dramatists around the 1950s and continued till the 1980s. It was the death of Samuel Beckett in 1989 that marked the end of this movement. This literary movement spread across America and Other European countries during the 1950s to 1960s. It is the movement that simply expresses the thought of human existence that has no meaning or purpose. In it, the playwright also discussed the changed behavior of human beings which they saw in their surroundings, because of the impact of World War II.
Definition Of The Theatre of the Absurd
Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the term as,
“Theatre that seeks to represent
the absurdity of human existence
in a meaningless universe by
bizarre or fantastic means.”
History Of The Theatre of The Absurd
This movement influenced by existentialism, began in the form of experimental theatre in Paris and consequently, the spread of the absurd form in other countries. Absurdist plays were written in French. Absurd elements first came into existence after the rise of Greek Drama in the plays of ‘Aristophanes’ in the form of Wild humor and buffoonery of the old comedy.
Then, morality plays of the Middle Ages can also be called a precursor of ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’. In 19th century. Ibsen and Strindberg also included some elements of absurd theatre in their plays, but the real precursor of the present Theatre of Absurd is ‘Alfred Jerry’s play ‘Ubu Roi’.
World War II finally brought the Theatre of Absurd to life because the Chaotic atmosphere during that time was compelling them to think about their absurd existence.
Features & Characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd
- Absence of a real story or plot.
- No action since all actions are insignificant.
- The value of language is reduced, in fact, what happens on the stage transcends and often contradicts, the words spoken by the characters.
- Extensive use of pauses, silences, miming, and absurd situations reflect a sense of anguish.
- Incoherent babbling makes up the dialogue.
Characteristics and Features in Detail
Following are the chief characteristics of the Theatre of Absurd, but all these characteristic cannot necessarily be found in all the absurdist play because it is not necessary that the playwright must have used all the characteristic of Absurd plays:
1. Questions of Existence
Absurd plays raise some basic questions of existence like why we are alive, why we have to die, and why there is injustice and suffering.
2. Distrust In Language
For the absurdist playwrights, language is only a meaningless communication and stereotyped exchange of Ideas because words fail to express the essence of human existence.
3. Illogical Speeches and Meaningless Plots
Through illogical speeches and meaningless plots, they wish to establish a feeling of freedom to make their own words. Dr. Culik Says,
“Rationalist thought, like language,
Only deals with the superficial
aspects of things, Nonsense,
On the other hand, opens up a
glimpse of the infinite.”
4. Re-establishment of Man’s communion with the Universe
They attempt to restore the importance of myth and rituals in the life of man and make them aware of the ultimate realities of their life.
5. Emphasis on Abstract values of Life
Absurdists force us to look at our abstract values of life like love and family. Thus, we may hope to accept the absurdity of life and try to find values in a world devoid of them.
6. Vagueness about Time, Place, and Character
Absurdists have no time, place, or character in their plays as they feel that there is no past or future, only the repetition of the present.
7. Lack Of communication Amid Characters
Each character lives an egoistic life and attempts to get another character to understand him which results in more alienation.
Playwright of Absurd Drama
Martin Esslin considered four playwrights: – Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Arthur Adamov, and Jean Genet as leaders of the movement. After some time, ‘Harold Pinter’ was also introduced to this group, as some of the works of Albert Camus, and Edward Albee.
Beckett is an Irish dramatist and novelist, who came from an ‘Anglo-Irish’ Protestant family. Beckett uses formless language deliberately to present the absurdity in his work. Some of his highly popularised fiction novels, originally written in French, Scored success are ‘Murphy’. ‘Molloy’ and ‘Watt’ which also follow his story “More Pricks than Kicks”.
His masterpiece in drama is ‘Waiting For Godot’ which is the English version of the French Play En Attendant Godot’. Beckett also wrote a ‘monologue’. “Krapp’s Last Tape” in which Krapp attempts to recapture the greatness of earlier days by listening to recordings of days when she was young.
Ionesco is a Rumanian – French dramatist, write in French. Eugene Ionesco is a central figure in this genre and the foremost figure of the French Avant-Grade Theatre. His plays basically focus on criticizing the meaningless existence of human beings while offering a subtle solution to change this situation. In Rhinoceros, Ionesco tries to build hope at the end of the play by making Berenger, the protagonist, stick to his human self and not follow the mass movement.
His famous works are ‘The Bald Prima’, ‘The Lesson’, ‘The Chair’ an absurdist tragic force, ‘The Killer’, ‘Rhinoceros’, ‘The Victim of Duty’, ‘How to Ged Rid of It’, and ‘Macbeth’ written during the cold war. The Chairs and The Lesson are the most notable works of Ionesco.
He was a Russian-born dramatist who lived in France and wrote in French Adamov wrote an autobiographical volume L’Avew, where he for the first expressed the deep sense of alienation, one of the significant features of ‘Theatre of the Absurd’.
Some of his famous plays are ‘La Paradise’, ‘Professor Taranne’, ‘Le Ping-Pong’, and ‘Printemps 71’.
A famous French novelist, dramatist, and poet. Genet’s contribution can be classified both as an Absurd dramatist and as a follower of Art and in his ritualistic ‘Theatre Of Cruelty’.
His very famous plays are “Deathwatch”, “The Maids”, “The Balcony”, and “The Screens.”
Pinter was a great English Playwright screenwriter, Director, Actor, and a Novel Prize winner for literature in 2005. Harold Pinter became the most influential modern British dramatist. His writing career continued for more than 50 years. His early works were described by critics as “Comedy of Menace”.
His first full-length play was ‘The Birthday Party (1958)’, which ran for three nights in London. It later made a strong impression on Television and was successfully re-staged in 1964.
Printer’s other most famous works are “The Room”, “The Homecoming”, and “Betray.”
Some of his one-act plays are ‘The Dumb Waiter’, ‘A Slight Ache’, ‘The Collection, and The Lover’ which have been produced in the theatre.
Camus was an Algerian and French philosopher. He was the youngest writer who won the Nobel Prize in 1957 in Literature. His philosophical work came out as absurdism. His essay ‘The Rebel’ which treats both the metaphysical and the historical development of rebellion and revolution in societies, especially in Western Europe.
‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ (1942) an essay by Camus, where he described meaningless things happening around him through the concept of ‘absurdism’ and this absurdist concept was first time seen in his work.
Edward Albee is an American playwright related to the theatre of the Absurd. He is known for his works written as one-act plays such as ‘As Zoo Story’, ‘The Sandbox’, and ‘The American Dream’. His first full-length play, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.”
He won the Pulitzer Prize for three works – ‘A Delicate Balance’, ‘Three Tall Women’, and ‘Seascape’, written in the form of Drama.
Besides these, other playwrights like ‘Tom Stoppard’, ‘Arthur Kopit’, ‘Friedrich Durrenmatt’, ‘Fernando Arrabal’, ‘N. E. Simpson’, and also many dramatists associated with this theatre.
Thus, the Absurdist play or The Theatre of Absurd only demonstrates the absurdity and illogicality of the world in which we live but does not provide any solution to the problem. Through these plays, man is again and again reminded that his existence in the world is in fact absurd and meaningless.
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