Theatre of the Absurd

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A term used to characterize the work of a number of European and American dramatists of the 1950s and early 1960s. As the term suggests, the function of such theatre is to give dramatic expression to the philosophical notion of the ‘absurd’, a notion that had received widespread diffusion following the publication of Camus's essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe in 1942. To define the world as absurd is to recognize its fundamentally indecipherable nature, and this recognition is frequently associated with feelings of loss, purposelessness, and bewilderment. To such feelings, the Theatre of the Absurd gives ample expression, often leaving the observer baffled in the face of disjointed, meaningless, or repetitious dialogues, incomprehensible behaviour, and plots which deny all notion of logical or ‘realistic’ development. The recognition of the absurd nature of human existence provided dramatists with a rich source of comedy, well illustrated in two early absurd plays, Ionesco's La Cantatrice chauve, written in 1948 (English trans., The Bald Prima Donna, 1958), and Beckett's En attendant Godot (1952; trans. by the author, Waiting for Godot, 1954). Amongst the dramatists associated with the Theatre of the Absurd are Arthur Adamov (1908–70), Albee, Beckett, Camus, Jean Genet (1910–86), Eugène Ionesco (1912–94), Alfred Jarry (1873–1907), Pinter, and Boris Vian (1920–59). See also Cruelty, Theatre of.

Subjects: Literature.

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