"What do I know about man's destiny?  I could tell you more about radishes."
-Samuel Beckett

Theater of the Absurd came about as a reaction to World War II.  It took the basis of existential philosophy and combined it with dramatic elements to create a style of theatre which presented a world which can not be logically explained, life is in one word, ABSURD!

Needless to say, this genre of theatre took quite some time to catch on because it used techniques that seemed to be illogical to the theatre world.  The plots often deviated from the more traditional episodic structure, and seem to move in a circle, ending the same way it began.  The scenery was often unrecognizable, and to make matters worse, the dialogue never seemed to make any sense.



    Samuel Beckett is probably the most well known of the absurdist playwrights because of his work Waiting for Godot.  Beckett's plays seem to focus on the themes of the uselessness of human action, and the failure of the human race to communicate.  He was born on April 13,1906, which was both Friday the 13th and Good Friday.  He had quite a normal upbringing in an upper-middle-class Irish family, and excelled in both school and the sport of cricket.  He attended the University of Dublin Ireland where he received his M.A. in modern languages, he then taught for a short time, explored parts of Europe and eventually settled in Paris.  It was in Paris that he met writer James Joyce.  It was this literary exposure that encouraged Beckett to seek publication.  It is interesting to note that  many of the conversations between Beckett and Joyce were conducted in silence.  In the 1930's and 40's Beckett published many works in the form of essays, short stories, poetry, and novels, but very few people noticed his work.  In fact he only sold ninety-five copies of the French translation of his novel Murphy, in four years.  His postwar era fame only came about in the 1950's when he published three novels and his famous play, Waiting for Godot. Waiting for Godot is probably the most famous absurd play to date.  The characters of the play, are absurd caricatures who of course have problems communicating with one another, and the language they use is often times ludicrous.  And, following the cyclical pattern, the play seems to end in the same state it began in, with nothing really changed.

Follow this link for more information on Samuel Beckett.


"The universe seems to me infinitely strange and foreign.  At such a moment I gaze upon it with a mixture of anguish and euphoria; separate from the universe, as though placed at a certain distance outside it;  I look and see pictures, creatures that move in a kind of timeless time and spaceless space emitting sounds that are a kind of language I no longer understand or ever register."

        Along side Beckett in the theatre genre of absurdity, is playwright Eugene Ionesco.  Ionesco's main focus is on the futility of communication, so the language of his plays often reflects this by being almost completely nonsensical.  He approaches the absurdity of life by making his characters comical and unable to control their own existence.  Ionesco was born in Romania, but grew up in Paris with his mother.  After thirteen years in Paris, he returned to Romania where he had to learn his native language.  He attended the University of Bucharest, then taught high school French, then in 1936 got married.  It was completely by accident that Ionesco became a playwright, while learning to speak the English language, he took the illogical phrases he found in the primer he was using and these phrases became the dialogue for The Bald Soprano, his first play.  It is a little strange to think that Ionesco found his calling in playwrighting because at the time, he was known to dislike theatre because of the contradiction presented by the reality of the performers and the fiction of the stage.  After The Bald Soprano, Ionesco went on to write other absurd works such as Rhinoceros in 1959, and Journeys to the Home of the Dead in 1981.

Find Eugene Ionesco interesting?  Just follow this link.


        Although Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco are two of the most famous absurdist playwrights, Harold Pinter is now the leading English language playwright in the genre.  In his plays, Pinter never finds in necessary to explain why things occur or who anyone is, the existence within the play itself is justification enough.  In general, lack of explanation is what characterizes Pinter's work, that and the interruption of outside forces upon a stable environment.  What seems to set him apart though is that unlike Beckett and Ionesco, Pinter's world within the drama seems to be at least somewhat realistic.  Pinter started out in the theatre world as an actor, he attended both the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the Central School of Speech and Drama, then found a professional acting career under the stage name David Baron.  He remained an actor until he mentioned and idea he had for a play to a friend at Bristol University.  His friend became interested in the idea and requested a script within a week.  Pinter laughed at the idea, but within the week presented his friend with the script for The Room, which was then performed in May 1957.  Pinter's career as a playwright continued on with such works as The Dumbwaiter in 1957, and Mountain Language in 1988.  Pinter is still going strong in English theatre where he continues to write, direct and act.

                                    OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST: 

Absurdism for beginners

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989)

Existentialism and Samuel Beckett

Eugene Ionesco

and another Eugene Ionesco


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