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Caligula


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A: Albert Camus W: 1938–44 Pf: 1945, Paris Pb: 1944 Tr: 1948 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: Imperial Roman palace, ad 38–41 C: 10m, 2f, extrasCaligula, desperate with grief over the death of his sister and lover Drusilla, is totally persuaded of the meaninglessness of existence and sets out to use his power as ruler of Rome to demonstrate that ‘Men die; and they are not happy.’ He first orders that all patricians will their fortunes to the state and are to be put to death as money is needed. Three years later, Caligula has become a feared and arbitrary tyrant. He orders famine for the masses and has many patricians murdered, some of them his friends. Cherea organizes opposition to him, not least because Caligula's beliefs lead only to despair. At dinner, Caligula jeers at a grieving patrician, whose son Caligula has murdered, and he debauches another patrician's wife. Despite Caligula having murdered his father, the young poet Scipio remains loyal to him. Grotesquely costumed as Venus, Caligula orders the people to worship him. Learning of the conspiracy, he summons Cherea, but forgives him and destroys the evidence against him. Scipio refuses to join the plot against Caligula and wins a contest in which poets write a poem about death. At last understanding that ‘his freedom isn't the right one’, Caligula despairingly murders his devoted mistress Caesonia and smashes his mirror. The conspirators rush in and stab him to death.

A: Albert Camus W: 1938–44 Pf: 1945, Paris Pb: 1944 Tr: 1948 G: Trag. in 4 acts; French prose S: Imperial Roman palace, ad 38–41 C: 10m, 2f, extras

This is the first formulation on stage of what became known as the ‘Absurd’, the popular post-war belief that life is totally without meaning, exemplified by Camus's own essay The Myth of Sisyphus, 1942, and the central theme of Beckett's writing. This episodic and somewhat anachronistic version of Caligula's reign implies that a philosophy of despair may be logical, but that humanity needs its illusions to survive.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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