Theatre of the Absurd

The Theatre of the Absurd is a designation for particular plays of absurdist fiction written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1950s, as well as one for the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. Their work expressed the belief that human existence has no meaning or purpose and therefore all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence.

Critic Martin Esslin coined the term in his 1960 essay “Theatre of the Absurd.” He related these plays based on a broad theme of the Absurd, similar to the way Albert Camus uses the term in his 1942 essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus”. The Absurd in these plays takes the form of man’s reaction to a world apparently without meaning, and/or man as a puppet controlled or menaced by invisible outside forces. Though the term is applied to a wide range of plays, some characteristics coincide in many of the plays: broad comedy, often similar to Vaudeville, mixed with horrific or tragic images; characters caught in hopeless situations forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions; dialogue full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsense; plots that are cyclical or absurdly expansive; either a parody or dismissal of realism and the concept of the “well-made play”.

Playwrights commonly associated with the Theatre of the Absurd include Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Fernando Arrabal, Václav Havel and Edward Albee.

Christopher Scott Wyatt Worthwhile website exploring existentialism and philosophers of the movement.

Glossary A short glossary of some existential terms.

Guardian Unlimited Books Article titled ‘Godotmania’ by English theatre director. Explores the reaction Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting For Godot had when it first arrived in the early 1950’s and the profound impact it has since had on world theatre.

Jean-Paul Sartre Sartre’s work “Existentialism is a Humanism”.

Jean-Paul Sartre Work by Sartre entitled “Marxism and Existentialism”.

Notable Quotes Quotes on Absurdism from a variety of sources.

Raya Dunayevskaya Work entitled “Jean-Paul Sartre: Outsider Looking In”.

Saint Anselm College University lecturer’s talk on existentialism.

Tanweer Akram Comprehensive essay on existentialism.

University of Colorado Albert Camus’ explanation of ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’ which defined the futility of human existence and influenced the Absurdist movement.

University of Glasgow Detailed essay on Theatre of the Absurd by University lecturer discussing this movement’s effect on both Eastern and Western societies.

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