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الكاتب:  Odysseus [ الأربعاء آذار 23, 2011 3:50 م ]
عنوان المشاركة:  Absurdism

Absurdism, and its more specific companion term Theatre of the Absurd, refers to the works of a group of Western European and American dramatists writing and producing plays in the 1950s and early 1960s. The term ‘‘Theatre of the Absurd’’ was coined by critic Martin Esslin, who identified common features of a new style of drama that seemed to ignore theatrical conventions and thwart audience expectations. Characterized by a departure from realistic characters and situations, the plays offer no clear notion of the time or place in which the action occurs. Characters are often nameless and seem interchangeable. Events are completely outside the realm of rational motivation and may have a nightmarish quality commonly associated with Surrealism (a post-World War I movement that features dream sequences and images from the unconscious, often sexual in nature). At other times, both dialogue and incidents may appear to the audience as completely nonsensical, even farcical. However, beneath the surface the works explore themes of loneliness and isolation, of the failure of individuals to connect with others in any meaningful way, and of the senselessness and absurdity of life and death. The writers most commonly associated with Absurdism are Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, and Edward Albee, as well as a number of lesser known dramatists. The avant-garde nature of absurdist writing contributed in part to its short life as a literary movement. Features of the plays that seemed completely new and mystifying to audiences in the 1950s when absurdist works first appeared, soon became not only understandable, but even commonplace and predictable. With the exception of Ionesco, most playwrights abandoned the absurdist style after the 1960s; however, many of the individual plays were later considered classics of European and American drama.



Absurdity is the most obvious theme explored in Absurdism. Absurdity characterizes a world that no longer makes sense to its inhabitants, in which rational decisions are impossible and all action is meaningless and futile. Absurdity also describes many situations and events that take place in plays associated with the movement, such as orators who speak in gibberish (The Chairs), a clock that strikes seventeen (The Bald Soprano), or a rhinoceros that walks across the stage (Rhinoceros).

Cruelty and Violence

Beneath the nonsense and slapstick humor of Absurdism lurks an element of cruelty, often revealed in dialogue between characters but occasionally manifested in acts of violence. Pinter’s plays are noted for the latter. In The Room, a blind man is brutally beaten; in The Birthday Party, the celebration becomes an interrogation and eventually an abduction; and in The Dumb Waiter, a pair of assassins are involved in an apparently random murder. Similarly, in Ionesco’s The Lesson, a professor frustrated by his students’ inability to understand his meaningless lessons, savagely kills them one after another. The seemingly innocent, child-like characters created by Arrabal engage in unspeakable acts of torture, even murder. On a less physical level is the cruelty hiding behind the apparently humorous dialogue in Beckett’s Endgame, which features a master/servant relationship in which Hamm dominates Clov. Hamm, in turn, has suffered from the cruelty of his parents when he was a child. His father recounts how the youngster would cry because he was afraid of the dark, and their response, according to the father, was ‘‘We let you cry. Then we moved out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace.’’


Several well-known absurdist works feature pairs of characters in which one is the dominator and the other the dominated. Some of these are quite literally master/servant relationships, such as in Genet’s The Maids or Beckett’s Endgame. Others reproduce the master/slave relationship within marriage, as in Albee’s The American Dream in which Mommy dominates the spineless Daddy character or within the traditional teacher/student dynamic, as in Ionesco’s The Lesson.

Futility and Passivity

The futility of all human endeavor characterizes many absurdist works, such as Adamov’s Ping- Pong in which two promising students abandon their studies and devote their lives to the appreciation of pinball machines. Adamov’s earlier play La Parodie (1947) shares the idea that individuals are powerless to direct their own lives; it does so by presenting two characters, one who refuses to live and one who embraces life with joy. The fate of both is ultimately exactly the same. Havel’s early plays, such as The Garden Party, deal with the inability of even the most ambitious individual to make any headway against a self-perpetuating bureaucracy. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot suggests that human effort is meaningless and leads to nothing in the end. Beckett’s characters are so ineffective and doomed to failure that they are unable even to commit suicide successfully despite two attempts. Their passivity, established by their interminable waiting, is even more famously illustrated by the closing scenes of both first and second acts, in which each stands rooted to his spot on the stage despite having made the decision to leave.


The failure of language to convey meaning is an important theme in the literature of Absurdism. Language is either detached from any interpretation that can be agreed to by all characters, or it is reduced to complete gibberish. The play entitled The Bald Soprano, for example, has nothing to do with a soprano, much less a bald one. The standard philosophical discourse is mocked by the nonsensical dialogue in Waiting for Godot; although it is meaningless, it bears a strong resemblance to the structure of the real thing. The language of religious fervor is employed by Adamov in Ping- Pong, but the object being venerated is a pinball machine. The characters in Havel’s plays speak in cliches and slogans, from which all real meaning has been drained.

Loneliness and Isolation

Many absurdist works illustrate the loneliness and isolation of individuals, resulting from the nature of modern life and, in some cases, from the impossibility of effective communication between humans. Albee’s The Zoo Story offers a prime example of this theme, featuring a character so eager to make a connection with a complete stranger that he is willing to die in order to do so. If the two men are unable to achieve contact in life, at least the man is able to involve the stranger, however unwillingly, in his death. Ionesco’s The Bald Soprano explores the same theme with a husband and wife who are so isolated from each other that they fail to recognize their connection in a social setting and have only a vague sense of having met before.


Materialism is criticized in Albee’s The American Dream, in which even relationships between family members are subject to the terms of profit and loss statements. A woman marries a man she does not love simply because he is wealthy, and they buy a baby to complete their family. The baby dies, leaving them to mourn their financial loss rather than their emotional loss. Adamov’s characters in Ping-Pong devote their lives to the worship of a thing, which some critics consider a critique of capitalism and materialism.



Absurdism often abandons traditional character development to offer figures who have no clear identity or distinguishing features. They may even be interchangeable, as are the supporting characters in Waiting for Godot who appear as master and servant in the first act and trade places when they return for the second act. Role playing causes confusion among the characters in Genet’s The Maids in which the audience initially thinks the figure onstage is the lady of the house being served by her maid Claire, but then realizes that Claire is impersonating the mistress and the other maid, Solange, is impersonating Claire. These exchanges continue throughout the play, which deprives the audience of any stable sense of character identity.


In conventional literature or drama, the denouement serves to tie up the loose ends of the narrative, resolving both primary and secondary plot conflicts and complications. Since so little happens in an absurdist work, the denouement has little to resolve. Thus endings tend to be repetitious, such as the nearly identical ending of both acts of Waiting for Godot. Such repetitive actions reinforce the idea that human effort is futile, which serves as a prominent theme of Absurdism. In Ionesco’s The Lesson, which features the murder of a student by a professor, the audience learns that it is the fortieth such murder that day. Since the ending of the play consists of yet another student arriving for yet another lesson, the audience has every reason to believe the newly arrived student will meet the same fate.


Since the ability of language to convey meaning is called into question by Absurdism, dialogue is of special importance in absurdist works. Artificial language, empty of meaning, consisting of slogans and clichés, is a hallmark of the movement. Many of the texts contain dialogue that appears to be meaningless but that mimics the style of educated or sophisticated speech. Often there is a marked contradiction between speech and action, as in Godot when the characters claim they are leaving but actually stay.


Absurdism at its most extreme abandons conventional notions of plot almost entirely. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has been described as a play in which nothing happens. Its opening line is ‘‘Nothing to be done,’’ and the characters proceed to do just that—nothing. Although the characters do engage in various actions, none of those actions is connected in any meaningful way, nor do the actions develop into any sort of narrative or logical sequence of events.


The use of setting is one of the most unconventional stylistic features of Absurdism. Typically, an absurdist play is set in no recognizable time or place. Stage settings tend to be sparse, with lots of vacant space conveying the sense of emptiness associated with characters’ lives. The empty chairs of Ionesco’s The Chairs serves as an example, as does Waiting for Godot’s nearly bare stage with a single spindly tree as the only prop. But the setting can also be cramped and confining, such as the claustrophobic single room of Beckett’s Endgame.



Dadaism, a precursor to Surrealism and Absurdism, was founded in 1916 by Tristan Tzara as a protest movement in art and literature. Followers of the movement expressed their outrage at the destruction brought about by World War I by revolting against numerous forms of social convention. The Dadaists presented works marked by calculated madness and flamboyant nonsense. They stressed total freedom of expression, commonly through primitive displays of emotion and illogical, often senseless, poetry. The word ‘‘dada’’ comes from either the Romanian words for ‘‘yes, yes’’ or the French word for a child’s hobby-horse. Dadaism ended shortly after the war, when it was replaced by Surrealism. Proponents of Dadaism include Andre´ Breton, Louis Aragon, Philippe Soupault, and Paul Eluard.


Absurdism is often linked to Existentialism, the philosophical movement associated with Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, among others. Although both existentialists and absurdists are concerned with the senselessness of the human condition, the way this concern is expressed differs. The philosophers explored the irrational nature of human existence within the rational and logical framework of conventional philosophical thought. The absurdists, however, abandoned the traditional elements of literature in general and theater in particular—setting, plot, character development—in order to convey a sense of absurdity and illogic in both form and content. In general, the two movements also differ in the conclusions each seems to draw from the realization that life is meaningless. Many absurdist productions appear to be making a case for the idea that all human effort is futile and action is pointless; others seem to suggest that an absurd existence leaves the individual no choice but to treat it as farce. The existentialists, however, claimed that the realization that life had no transcendental meaning, either derived from faith or from the essence of humanity itself, could (and should) serve as a springboard to action. An individual’s life, according to the existentialists, can be made meaningful only through that individual’s actions.

Politics and Social Change

Because many absurdist works have no temporal or spatial setting, they are often considered apolitical, that is, they are neither criticizing nor endorsing any country’s culture, society, or political system. There are, however, exceptions. Vaclav Havel’s plays, for example, are concerned with the dehumanizing effects of government bureaucracy, particularly within Communist Czechoslovakia. The works apparently hit their target, since the government banned them and imprisoned the playwright. Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros could also be considered political, since the author claimed that the inspiration for the play was the gradual acceptance of Nazi fascism by an antifascist friend. Based on a 1940 entry in Ionesco’s journal, the play opens with a rhinoceros charging past as two friends converse. Although everyone ignores the rhinoceros at first, eventually most of the characters accept its presence, and one by one they even decide to become rhinoceroses themselves. A lone individual is determined to fight the growing herd. Ironically, Ionesco’s play varies from the usual plotless, apolitical style of most absurdist dramas to offer a powerful critique of mob mentality and conformity. The individual who decides to fight rather than join the herd is also unusual, since most absurdist characters are anonymous, passive, and ineffectual—certainly not given to heroic actions. The failure of most absurdist works to call for any meaningful action may also account for the almost total absence of women playwrights involved in the movement. Toby Silverman Zinman, in ‘‘Hen in a Foxhouse: The Absurdist Plays of Maria Irene Fornes,’’ suggests that although female dramatists shared the ‘‘deep disillusionment’’ common to most practitioners of Absurdism, most of them were committed to changing the conditions that led to that disillusionment. While they may have employed some of the formal elements associated with Absurdism, they rejected its bleak vision that human effort is futile.


Waiting for Godot

The most famous and most critically acclaimed work associated with Absurdism is Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, produced in 1953 in Paris as En Attendant Godot and translated into English a year later. The setting is sparse, almost vacant, and the characters are two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, who do little except wait, on two successive nights, for someone who never appears. While waiting they engage in a series of apparently random discussions, some involving philosophy, and a variety of antics—from taking off their shoes to eating a carrot—that seem vaguely reminiscent of a comedy routine or a vaudeville act. They also attempt suicide twice but fail each time. At the end of the play, when Godot has still not appeared, the characters agree to leave, at least according to their limited dialogue, but the stage directions contradict their words by insisting that ‘‘they do not move.’’ One of the most important productions of Waiting for Godot took place in San Quentin prison in 1957, performed by the members of the San Francisco Actors’ Workshop. Several critics have commented on the enthusiastic reception the prisoners gave the play, suggesting that they seemed to instinctively grasp its meaning at the same time audiences apparently more educated and more sophisticated were confused by the play’s unconventional nature. Many critics believe Waiting for Godot is Beckett’s most important work, citing its influence on the Theatre of the Absurd and on contemporary drama in general.

The American Dream

A long one-act play by Edward Albee, The American Dream (1961) targets the artificial values
of family life and features plot events that are not only absurd, but grotesque. The main characters are Daddy, who is weak and ineffectual, and Mommy, who is domineering and cruel. All relationships in the play are governed by material considerations. When the couple adopts a baby, or their ‘‘bumble of joy’’ as they call him, they are actually buying him. Mommy and Daddy gradually destroy the baby as they discover he is less than perfect, depriving him of eyes, hands, tongue, sexual organs—every possible means of communicating with others. When the baby dies, the couple frets over the loss of their investment, regretting that he has already been paid for. Albee also uses humor in The American Dream to attack the phony language and stage clichés of sentimental theatrical productions. For example, Mommy, describing the cause of Grandma’s death, says ‘‘It was an offstage rumble, and you know what that means.’’ The play, along with Albee’s other early one-act plays (Zoo Story and The Sandbox), was successful both commercially and critically, although some critics believe all three are too heavily influenced by the work of Ionesco. The three plays were especially well received on American college campuses during the 1960s.

The Bald Soprano

The Bald Soprano, written originally in French (La cantatrice chauve) in 1950 and translated into English in 1958, was Euge` ne Ionesco’s first play. It features such absurdist elements as a clock that strikes seventeen and a married couple who fail to recognize each other in a social situation. The Martins are guests at the home of the Smiths. They engage in polite conversation, each feeling they have met before. A series of questions and answers between the two reveals that they live in the same house and are, in fact, husband and wife. Although the dialogue of The Bald Soprano has been described as hilariously funny, the play as a whole is considered a tragedy as Ionesco attacks the stilted, artificial quality of language that hinders communication between individuals.

The Chairs

Written in 1952, Eugene Ionesco’s The Chairs features the breakdown of language as well as one of the playwright’s most famous metaphors for absurdity: the multiplication of objects. As an elderly couple sets up chairs for an invisible audience arriving to hear an important speech, the chairs begin to multiply until they fill the entire stage. Meanwhile, the orator delivering the speech, which the old man has written to convey an important message to the world, is unable to produce anything except guttural sounds. The Chairs makes the point that language and communication are illusions; it is one of Ionesco’s most highly acclaimed plays.


Samuel Beckett’s one-act play Endgame (1957), which is not as famous as Waiting for Godot, is an even darker work dealing with the master/slave relationship. The setting is sparse and claustrophobic, the dialogue is often comic, and the activities of the characters resemble slapstick comedy. Yet overall, the interaction of the principles is characterized by cruelty and bitterness, and the tone of the work, despite its humorous moments, is grim and pessimistic. Endgame made its U.S. debut at New York’s Cherry Lane Theatre in 1958. The play’s reception was mixed; many critics who had praised Waiting for Godot were disappointed in the bleak view of humanity Beckett seemed to be presenting in Endgame.

The Garden Party

Originally Zahradni slavnost (1964), Vaclav Havel’s The Garden Party (1969), targets the nature of bureaucracy and its dehumanizing effect on individuals. Havel creates a world in which language is not a tool in the service of the individual but rather acts as a weapon by which the individual is controlled. The play’s main character speaks in cliches and slogans and is unable to accomplish anything within a bureaucratic system that perpetuates itself and defies humans’ attempts to intervene in its operation. The Garden Party was Havel’s first play, and while it was a critical success, it was banned in Czechoslovakia after the Soviet invasion of 1968.

The Homecoming

Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, written in 1965, was the playwright’s third full-length drama. The story involves a London working-class family whose eldest son has lived in the United States for several years where he is a professor of philosophy at a university. He returns, along with his wife Ruth, to his father’s home, but when he later goes back to the United States, she refuses to accompany him. Instead, she plans to stay behind and care for her husband’s father, uncle, and brothers, and to earn her living as a prostitute. The play features several absurdist elements but is also characterized by violence, both emotional and physical, between the family members. The Homecoming has generated a great deal of controversy because of the shocking nature of the plot. Critical debate has usually centered on the possible motivation for Ruth’s bizarre decision. The Homecoming was revived on Broadway in 1991.

The Maids

In Jean Genet’s second play, The Maids (1947), the writer for the first time explores a world outside the prison, a setting he used in all of his earlier works. The characters are Claire and Solange, maids to an elegant lady who mistreats them. They take turns playacting the roles of mistress and servant whenever the real mistress is away. Fearful that their plot to have their mistress’s lover imprisoned is about to be discovered, they determine to poison the lady, but she leaves before they carry out their plan. The two maids lapse into their usual role-playing, and Claire, assuming the part of the mistress, takes the poison and dies in her place. The world represented in the play has been likened to a hall of mirrors, where identities and perceptions are reflected back and forth between characters switching roles between master and servant. Questions of identity and impersonation were further complicated by Genet’s insistence that all of the female parts be played by young men. The Maids was commissioned and produced by Louis Jouvet in 1947, making it one of the earliest dramas to be associated with the Theatre of the Absurd.


Critics consider Arthur Adamov’s Ping-Pong, originally produced in French in 1955 and translated into English in 1959, the masterpiece of his early absurdist plays, with its emphasis on futility. The play’s two characters are young students, Victor and Arthur. Although they are initially studying medicine and art respectively, they become obsessed with every aspect of pinball machines, from the mechanics of their operation to the details of their distribution and maintenance. Reality, including personal relationships, is viewed through possible associations to pinball. At play’s end Victor and Arthur appear as old men, close to death, who have wasted their entire lives on their obsession. Although Adamov typically refused to assign a temporal or spatial setting to his early plays, he was more or less forced to do so by the subject matter in this work. Choosing a contemporary pastime such as pinball as the centerpiece of the drama necessarily called for a contemporary urban setting. Critics praised Ping-Pong, but Adamov himself ultimately rejected it, along with his other absurdist plays. Towards the end of his career, he began writing realist dramas concerned with social and political issues.

The Zoo Story

Edward Albee wrote his first drama The Zoo Story (1959), in three weeks. Uncluttered, even sparse, the play features two characters, working- class Jerry and middle-class Peter, who meet in Central Park. Jerry pours out his life story to Peter, and it is a life characterized by loneliness, alienation, and failure. Peter refuses to connect with Jerry and does not want to hear any more of his tale. Provoking Peter into a fight, Jerry kills himself on a knife he gave to Peter, thus involving him, despite his objections, in another’s death if not in his life. Albee employs the diction of small children in The Zoo Story, a device he used in many of his later plays. The one-act play won an Obie Award in 1960 and established its author as a promising American playwright.

الكاتب:  Wissam [ السبت آذار 26, 2011 2:02 ص ]
عنوان المشاركة:  Absurdism

This is of great importance and it may come in handy some day, who knows
Thanks Alaa', best regards pal. *1

الكاتب:  Odysseus [ الاثنين نيسان 04, 2011 12:54 ص ]
عنوان المشاركة:  Absurdism


شكرا لك يا صديقي العزيز .. أكيد لو ما الموضوع مهم كتير ما كنت عزبت حالي بكتابتو  :mrgreen:


الكاتب:  الملاك [ الثلاثاء نيسان 05, 2011 1:44 ص ]
عنوان المشاركة:  Absurdism

I Know it's important for someone, and I know specifically who is this one :mrgreen:

It's extremely important for one of my colleague who is preparing a research paper on Absurdism 8)

how much lucky he is ! :mrgreen: ....I'm preparing a paper on Naturalism....it's more difficult than Absurdism :evil:

thanx Ala...God bless u *1

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