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A: Eugène Ionesco Pf: 1951, Paris Pb: 1954 Tr: 1958 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: The Professor's study, mid-20th c. C: 1m, 2fA timid Professor welcomes a confident young Pupil to his home. Her parents want her to prepare for the ‘total doctorate’, and the Professor, delighted that she knows the capital of France and can do simple addition, is confident that she will achieve her goal. However, when he moves on to subtraction, she is quite unable to take one amount from another. Although she can multiply extraordinarily large numbers, she fails utterly at division. Despite the warnings of his Maid, the Professor now turns to Philology. While the Pupil succumbs to debilitating toothache, the Professor grows ever more assured, launching into a tirade to the effect that words mean the same in all languages. Finally, to prove his point, he takes a knife, called ‘knife’ in every language, and in a mounting ritual frenzy stabs his Pupil orgasmically with it. Suddenly distraught, he calls the Maid, who chastises him for having killed 39 pupils already that day. However, she will arrange for another coffin and gives the Professor a swastika armband to ensure that no one questions his behaviour. The bell rings, and the next pupil is admitted.

A: Eugène Ionesco Pf: 1951, Paris Pb: 1954 Tr: 1958 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: The Professor's study, mid-20th c. C: 1m, 2f

In this deftly constructed one-acter, Ionesco continues his absurdist theme, suggesting the meaningless of all language: ‘only words that are charged with significance, heavy with meaning, dive downwards and always succumb in the end’. This meaninglessness is reinforced by the grotesquely violent outcome, sanctioned by dangerously insane politics, and the cyclical nature of the action, allowing no escape.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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Eugène Ionesco (1912—1994) Romanian-born French dramatist


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