Theatre of the Absurd was a term used to refer to a set of plays written
primarily in France from the mid-1940s through the 1950s. In these plays,
the dramatists used illogical situations, unconventional dialogue and
minimal plots to express the apparent absurdity of human existence.
There existed no formal
“absurdist movement” in the theatre. Dramatists whose works fell under
the category had a pessimistic vision of humanity struggling vainly to find
a purpose in life and to control its fate.
The existential philosopher, Albert Camus, and other philosophers such as
Jean-Paul Sartre used the term absurd
to express their inability to find any rational explanation for human life. The
dramatic works of certain European and American dramatists of the 1950s and
1960s have been referred to as the “Theatre of the Absurd”.
This was so because they essentially subscribed to the theory
proposed by Albert Camus, in his essay The
Myth of Sisyphus.
The works of well-known dramatists such as Samuel
Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter and a few
others have been classified under the “Absurd” Theatre.
A British scholar Martin Esslin, in his critical study of Samuel Beckett and
French playwrights Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet and Arthur Adamov, first used
the term “Theatre of the Absurd”.
the ideas dictated the structure of the plays, such playwrights did away
with logical structures such as those exist in conventional theatre.
Dramatic action, as conventionally associated with theatre and plays is in
small doses, although the players continue to perform. It is one way of
conveying that whatever they did, nothing will change their existence or
fate. For instance, there is no specific storyline or plot in Samuel
Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.The
play revolves around two tramps, who are apparently lost and who are filling
their days waiting for somebody called Godot. Who was Godot, when he would
come and whether he would come at all are issues to which they have no
answer. The absurdity of life and living is subtly brought out.
mentioned earlier, dialogues are usually unconventional. The language is
dislocated and there are generous doses of clichés, puns and repetitions. A
classic example is Ionesco’s The
Bold Soprano, where two characters keep repeating the obvious until it
sounds like nonsense. The effect is to bring out the inadequacies of verbal
communication. The two characters discuss banal matters and end up
discovering that they are man and wife. It is one of the most classic
example of how Ionesco used his genius to bring the out the inadequacies of
verbal communication and the theme of self-estrangement.
The ridiculous behavior and talk of the two characters lends the
play a comic surface, but deep beneath lies the message of metaphysical
Absurd Theatre began to decline in the mid-1960s.
Although it shocked the audiences when it first appeared, many of its
characteristic features were absorbed in mainstream theatre, when the Absurd
Theatre declined. The
techniques used are now common in modern theatre.