The term comes from the 1961 book by Martin Esslin by the same name. It describes a group of plays written from the 1940s to the 1970s. Early influences were pioneered by Alfred Jarry, Albert Camus and Luigi Pirandello.

People associated with Theater of the Absurd include:

Now a more generalized term that applies to Absurdist theatre in general.

Examples of plays that fit this category include:

Related nodes:

Sources: Esslin, Martin, "The Theatre of the Absurd", Doubleday, NY, 1969 Ionesco, Eugene, "Four Plays", Grove Press, NY, 1958. Last Updated 04.12.03

Martin Esslin, a theatre critic, coined the phrase "Theatre of the Absurd" to address a groups of plays written mostly in the 1950s and 1960s. The name comes from an essay written by Albert Camus entitled "Myth of Sisyphus" in which the author outlines the human situation as pointless and futile.

Theatre of the Absurd was an attempt to address the social issues of the time. At a time when middle class life was becoming stagnant, when McDonaldization was taking its hold, a few playwrights at tempted to focus on the meaning of life: absurdity. Their work focuses primarily on a mistrust of language as a means to convey the human situation. The scripts are not necessarily an attempt to convey verbal truth so much as a feel of something in the play as a whole. Any means necessary to break the boundaries of modern mediocrity were taken.

The major proponents of Theatre of the Absurd include:

Notions of the Theatre of the Absurd as a cohesive or even self-aware movement are misleading. Unlike other significant avant-garde movements of the twentieth century, such as Surrealism, Bauhaus, Futurism or Dada, the Theatre of the Absurd had no manifesto, no formal ties between exponents. Although probably aware of one another's work, the playwrites now gouped together as absurdists did not work together. There was no specific political agenda behind these works, rather a common struggle to come to terms with fundamental, existentialist and metaphysical dilemmas.

The absurd condition can be loosely summed up as an attempt to find meaning in life when confronted with the omnipresent reality of death. All human exertions, it is suggested, are rendered absurd in light of their inevitable failure, and submission to the giggling dwarf (see Eugene Ionesco's The Killer) of death.

The Theatre of the Absurd was centered around Paris, the artistic capital of Europe for much of the twentieth century (arguably up until the riots of 1968). Of the four most significant playwrights of the absurd, Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet and Arthur Adamov, three were foreigners adopting Paris as their home, and French as their language of choice, and the other, Jean Genet, was French, but did not want to be (Genet eventually emigrated to America, and joined the Black Panthers. The sense of their otherness, and struggle against cultural hegemony appealed to his xenophile sensibilities).
The Theatre of the Absurd can profitably be seen as a theatre of the other. The themes of alienation, of the impotence of language as a medium for communication, and of the attempts to forge a new poetic, a new semantic system of the theatre are common between these works.

With despair and futility standing as central thematic pillars in the Theatre of the Absurd, one may be mistaken for anticipating works both painfully depressing and tedious. The truth is, however, that there is an almost omnipresent lightness of touch within these canons. Comedy is rife within these strange worlds. Beckett can often be seen as a playwrite of domestic comedy, condensed to almost crystalline purity. Ionesco's plays are as often hilarious as desperate.

Attempts to create existential theatre have not always been quite so successful - Sartre's No Exit, (also known as In Camera, or the original French Huis Clos) for example, whilst providing an interesting literary experiment (the play essentially functions as one long excuse to air the postulation that "hell is other people"), is almost unwatchably tedious.

If any of this sounds like your kind of kettle of fish, try checking out Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, Eugene Ionesco's The Killer (it's a bit long, but persevere, it's worth it), Arthur Adamov's Parodie and Jean Genet's The Maids. Also, Martin Esslin's book, for an academic text, is highly readable, and well worth a visit.

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