Theatre 203: F/History of Theatre Since the Seventeenth Century

Theatre of the Absurd: Brockett ch. 16 pp. 501-509

World War II ends;
Communism is the new threat to the West;
Berlin and Germany are divided by Allies: East is communist;
Threat of total nuclear annihilation after Hiroshima and Nagasaki


Opera and Opera-Comique merge, Comedie Francaise and Odeon (briefly) merge


theatre centers in provinces from 4 by 1950 to 12 by 1968
Charles DeGaulle's Minister of Culture Malraux creates "maisons de la culture" (20 - "houses of culture");
separates Odeon as "Theatre of France";
elevates TNP to State theatre
Jean-Louis BARRAULT (1910-94) actor/director (photo p. 503)
absorb mime and Artaud,
create "total theatre"
resigns from CF w/ wife Madelein RENAUD, form own company to 1956
Parallel to Olivier: most popular actor, directs, films and stars in French classics

Jean VILAR (1912-71) (photo p. 504)
creates AVIGNON Festival in 1947
1951 director of Theatre National Populaire; (workers' theatre)
play Paris season, Avignon and tour -> most popular co. in France

EXISTENTIALISM: a philosophy, but as anti-logical, it is often expressed in ART

Jean-Paul SARTRE (1905-80)
no objective values or God exists: we are "condemned to be free"
extreme individualism, personal responsibility
No Exit 1944, The Devil and the Good Lord 1951

Albert CAMUS (1913-60), Algeria -> France
essay: The Myth of Sisyphus, 1943, uses term "absurd"
Caligula 1945, Just Assassins 1949

reject traditional form and structure of plays, unlike Sartre and Camus language is itself inadequate for communication reject clear moral paths of existentialists

Samuel BECKETT (1906-89) Irish-> France (photo p. 506)
Waiting for Godot 1953, Endgame 1957
post apocalyptic vision
characters tied to one another by habit
no plot, minimal characterization, strong themes, fragmented language
audience's role is to experience absurdity of own lives

Eugene IONESCO (1912-94) Romania-> France
The Bald Soprano 1949, Rhinoceros 1960
distintegrated language, stock characters, absurd situations and structure
late plays have anti-conforming heros,
middle class conformism leads to evil

Jean GENET (1910-86) Criminally insane, but French (photo p. 507)
The Maids 1947, The Balcony 1956, The Blacks 1959
all social systems and relationships arbitrary
need for (criminal) deviance or society has no meaning

These writers didn't consider themselves members of a group (unlike Expressionists, Dadaists, Futurists, who hung out in clubs together).
"Theatre of the Absurd" was coined by the theorist/critic Martin Esslin (Eng.) in his book by that title in 1961; see the essay from it in the HB anthology

Fernando ARRABAL (1932- ) (photo p. 508)
Non-realistic dramatist, not absurdist.
Ritualistic "theatre panique" The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria (1967)

Roger BLIN (1907-84) Director
inspired by Artaud, staged Beckett's and Genet's plays

Roger PLANCHON (1931- ) Director (photo p. 509)
incorporates cinematic and Brechtian techniques directs classics and contemporary plays for working class audiences

Playwrights after 1960 increasingly political topics, many influenced by Brecht and Berliner Ensemble

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