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    THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

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    ibtihel

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    THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:14 pm

    The Theatre of the Absurd' is a term coined by the critic Martin Esslin for the work of a number of playwrights, mostly written in the 1950s and 1960s. The term is derived from an essay by the French philosopher Albert Camus. In his 'Myth of Sisyphus', written in 1942, he first defined the human situation as basically meaningless and absurd. The 'absurd' plays by Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter and others all share the view that man is inhabiting a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose. He is bewildered, troubled and obscurely threatened.

    The origins of the Theatre of the Absurd are rooted in the avant-garde experiments in art of the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, it was undoubtedly strongly influenced by the traumatic experience of the horrors of the Second World War, which showed the total impermanence of any values, shook the validity of any conventions and highlighted the precariousness of human life and its fundamental meaninglessness and arbitrariness. The trauma of living from 1945 under threat of nuclear annihilation also seems to have been an important factor in the rise of the new theatre.

    At the same time, the Theatre of the Absurd also seems to have been a reaction to the disappearance of the religious dimension form contemporary life. The Absurd Theatre can be seen as an attempt to restore the importance of myth and ritual to our age, by making man aware of the ultimate realities of his condition, by instilling in him again the lost sense of cosmic wonder and primeval anguish. The Absurd Theatre hopes to achieve this by shocking man out of an existence that has become trite, mechanical and complacent. It is felt that there is mystical experience in confronting the limits of human condition.

    As a result, absurd plays assumed a highly unusual, innovative form, directly aiming to startle the viewer, shaking him out of this comfortable, conventional life of everyday concerns. In the meaningless and Godless post-Second-World-War world, it was no longer possible to keep using such traditional art forms and standards that had ceased being convincing and lost their validity. The Theatre of the Absurd openly rebelled against conventional theatre. Indeed, it was anti-theatre. It was surreal, illogical, conflictless and plotless. The dialogue seemed total gobbledygook. Not unexpectedly, the Theatre of the Absurd first met with incomprehension and rejection.

    One of the most important aspects of absurd drama was its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language had become a vehicle of conventionalised, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Words failed to express the essence of human experience, not being able to penetrate beyond its surface. The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. Absurd drama uses conventionalised speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which is distorts, parodies and breaks down. By ridiculing conventionalised and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically. Conventionalised speech acts as a barrier between ourselves and what the world is really about: in order to come into direct contact with natural reality, it is necessary to discredit and discard the false crutches of conventionalised language. Objects are much more important than language in absurd theatre: what happens transcends what is being said about it. It is the hidden, implied meaning of words that assume primary importance in absurd theatre, over an above what is being actually said. The Theatre of the Absurd strove to communicate an undissolved totality of perception - hence it had to go beyond language.

    Absurd drama subverts logic. It relishes the unexpected and the logically impossible. According to Sigmund Freud, there is a feeling of freedom we can enjoy when we are able to abandon the straitjacket of logic. In trying to burst the bounds of logic and language the absurd theatre is trying to shatter the enclosing walls of the human condition itself. Our individual identity is defined by language, having a name is the source of our separateness - the loss of logical language brings us towards a unity with living things. In being illogical, the absurd theatre is anti-rationalist: it negates rationalism because it feels that rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things. Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers intoxicating freedom, brings one into contact with the essence of life and is a source of marvellous comedy.

    There is no dramatic conflict in the absurd plays. Dramatic conflicts, clashes of personalities and powers belong to a world where a rigid, accepted hierarchy of values forms a permanent establishment. Such conflicts, however, lose their meaning in a situation where the establishment and outward reality have become meaningless. However frantically characters perform, this only underlines the fact that nothing happens to change their existence. Absurd dramas are lyrical statements, very much like music: they communicate an atmosphere, an experience of archetypal human situations. The Absurd Theatre is a theatre of situation, as against the more conventional theatre of sequential events. It presents a pattern of poetic images. In doing this, it uses visual elements, movement, light. Unlike conventional theatre, where language rules supreme, in the Absurd Theatre language is only one of many components of its multidimensional poetic imagery.

    The Theatre of the Absurd is totally lyrical theatre which uses abstract scenic effects, many of which have been taken over and modified from the popular theatre arts: mime, ballet, acrobatics, conjuring, music-hall clowning. Much of its inspiration comes from silent film and comedy, as well as the tradition of verbal nonsense in early sound film (Laurel and Hardy, W C Fields, the Marx Brothers). It emphasises the importance of objects and visual experience: the role of language is relatively secondary. It owes a debt to European pre-war surrealism: its literary influences include the work of Franz Kafka. The Theatre of the Absurd is aiming to create a ritual-like, mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision, closely related to the world of dreams.

    Some of the predecessors of absurd drama:

    * In the realm of verbal nonsense: François Rabelais, Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear. Many serious poets occasionally wrote nonsense poetry (Johnson, Charles Lamb, Keats, Hugo, Byron, Thomas Hood). One of the greatest masters of nonsense poetry was the German poet Christian Morgernstern (1871-1914). Ionesco found the work of S J Perelman (i.e. the dialogues of the Marx Brothers' films) a great inspiration for his work.

    * The world of allegory, myth and dream: The tradition of the world as a stage and life as a dream goes back to Elizabethan times. Baroque allegorical drama shows the world in terms of mythological archetypes: John Webster, Cyril Tourneur, Calderon, Jakob Biederman. With the decline of allegory, the element of fantasy prevails (Swift, Hugh Walpole).

    * In some 18th and 19th Century works of literature we find sudden transformation of characters and nightmarish shifts of time and place (E T A Hoffman, Nerval, Aurevilly). Dreams are featured in many theatrical pieces, but it had to wait for Strindberg to produce the masterly transcriptions of dreams and obsessions that have become a direct source of the Absurd Theatre. Strindberg, Dostoyevsky, Joyce and Kafka created archetypes: by delving into their own subconscious, they discovered the universal, collective significance of their own private obsessions. In the view of Mircea Eliade, myth has never completely disappeared on the level of individual experience. The Absurd Theatre sought to express the individual's longing for a single myth of general validity. The above-mentioned authors anticipated this.

    Alfred Jarry is an important predecessor of the Absurd Theatre. His UBU ROI (1896) is a mythical figure, set amidst a world of grotesque archetypal images. Ubu Roi is a caricature, a terrifying image of the animal nature of man and his cruelty. (Ubu Roi makes himself King of Poland and kills and tortures all and sundry. The work is a puppet play and its décor of childish naivety underlines the horror.) Jarry expressed man's psychological states by objectifying them on the stage. Similarly, Franz Kafka's short stories and novels are meticulously exact descriptions of archetypal nightmares and obsessions in a world of convention and routine.

    * 20th Century European avant-garde: For the French avant-garde, myth and dream was of utmost importance: the surrealists based much of their artistic theory on the teachings of Freud and his emphasis on the role of the subconscious. The aim of the avant-garde was to do away with art as a mere imitation of appearances. Apollinaire demanded that art should be more real than reality and deal with essences rather than appearances. One of the more extreme manifestations of the avant-garde was the Dadaist movement, which took the desire to do away with obsolete artistic conventions to the extreme. Some Dadaist plays were written, but these were mostly nonsense poems in dialogue form, the aim of which was primarily to 'shock the bourgeois audience'. After the First World War, German Expressionism attempted to project inner realities and to objectify thought and feeling. Some of Brecht's plays are close to Absurd Drama, both in their clowning and their music-hall humour and the preoccupation with the problem of identity of the self and its fluidity. French surrealism acknowledged the subconscious mind as a great, positive healing force. However, its contribution to the sphere of drama was meagre: indeed it can be said that the Absurd Theatre of the 1950s and 1960s was a Belated practical realisation of the principles formulated by the Surrealists as early as the 1930s. In this connection, of particular importance were the theoretical writings of Antonin Artaud. Artaud fully rejected realism in the theatre, cherishing a vision of a stage of magical beauty and mythical power. He called for a return to myth and magic and to the exposure of the deepest conflicts within the human mind. He demanded a theatre that would produce collective archetypes, thus creating a new mythology. In his view, theatre should pursue the aspects of the internal world. Man should be considered metaphorically in a wordless language of shapes, light, movement and gesture. Theatre should aim at expressing what language is incapable of putting into words. Artaud forms a bridge between the inter-war avant-garde and the post-Second-World-War Theatre of the Absurd.
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    ibtihel

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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:15 pm

    At the time when the first absurd plays were being written and staged in Western Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, people in the East European countries suddenly found themselves thrown into a world where absurdity was a integral part of everyday living. Suddenly, you did not need to be an abstract thinker in order to be able to reflect upon absurdity: the experience of absurdity became part and parcel of everybody's existence.

    Hitler's attempt to conquer Russia during the Second World War gave Russia a unique opportunity to extend its sphere of influence and at the same time to 'further the cause of [the Soviet brand of] socialism'. In the final years of the war, Stalin turned the war of the defeat of Nazism into the war of conquest of Central Europe and the war of the division of Europe. In pursuing Hitler's retreating troops, the Russian Army managed to enter the territory of the Central European countries and to remain there, with very few exceptions, until now. The might of the Russian Army made it possible for Stalin to establish rigidly ideological pro-Soviet regimes, hermetically sealed from the rest of Europe. The Central European countries, whose pre-war political systems ranged from feudal monarchies (Rumania), semi-authoritarian states (Poland) through to a parliamentary Western-type democracy (Czechoslovakia) were now subjected to a militant Sovietisation. The countries were forced to undergo a major traumatic political and economic transformation.

    The Western Theatre of the Absurd highlighted man's fundamental bewilderment and confusion, stemming from the fact that man has no answers to the basic existential questions: why we are alive, why we have to die, why there is injustice and suffering. East European Soviet-type socialism proudly proclaimed that it had answers to all these questions and, moreover, that it was capable of eliminating suffering and setting all injustices right. To doubt this was subversive. Officially, it was sufficient to implement a grossly simplified formula of Marxism to all spheres of life and Paradise on Earth would ensue. It became clear very soon that this simplified formula offered even fewer real answers than various esoteric and complex Western philosophical systems and that its implementation by force brought enormous suffering.

    From the beginning it was clear that the simplified idea was absurd: yet it was made to dominate all spheres of life. People were expected to shape their lives according to its dictates and to enjoy it. It was, and still is, an offence to be sceptical about Soviet-type socialism if you are a citizen of an East-European country. The sheer fact that the arbitrary formula of simplified Marxism was made to dominate the lives of millions of people, forcing them to behave against their own nature, brought the absurdity of the formula into sharp focus for these millions. Thus the Soviet-type system managed to bring the experience of what was initially a matter of concern for only a small number of sensitive individuals in the West to whole nations in the East.

    This is not to say that the absurdity of life as experienced in the East differs in any way from the absurdity of life as it is experienced in the West. In both parts of the world it stems from the ambiguity of man's position in the universe, from his fear of death and from his instinctive yearning for the Absolute. It is just that official East-European practices, based on a contempt for the fundamental existential questions and on a primitive and arrogant faith in the power of a simplified idea, have created a reality which makes absurdity a primary and deeply-felt, intrinsic experience for anybody who comes in contact with that reality.

    To put it another way: the western Theatre of the Absurd may be seen as the expression of frustration and anger of a handful of intellectuals over the fact that people seem to lead uninspired, second-rate and stereotyped existences, either by deliberate choice or because they do not know any better and have no idea how or ability by which to help themselves. Although such anger may sound smug and condescending, it is really mixed with despair. And when we look at Eastern Europe, we realise that these intellectuals are justified in condemning lives of mediocrity, even though many people in the West seem to lead such lives quite happily and without any awareness of the absurdity. In Eastern Europe, second-rateness has been elevated to a single, sacred, governing principle. There, mediocrity rules with a rod of iron. Thus it can be seen clearly what it can achieve. As a result, unlike in the West, may people in the East seem to have discovered that it is very uncomfortable to live under the command of second-rateness.

    (The fact that mediocrity is harmful to life comes across so clearly in Eastern Europe either because East-European second-rateness is much harsher than the mild, West-European, consumerist mediocrity, or simply because it is a single, totalitarian second-rateness, obligatory for all. A single version of a simple creed cannot suit all, its insufficiencies immediately show. This is not the case if everybody is allowed to choose their own simplified models and prejudices which suit their individual needs, the way it is in the West - thus their insufficiencies are not immediately noticeable.)

    The rise of the Theatre of the Absurd in the East is connected with the period of relative relaxation of the East European regimes after Stalin's death. In the first decade after the communist take-over of power, it would have been impossible for anyone to write anything even distantly based on his experiences of life after the take-over without endangering his personal safety. The arts, as indeed all other spheres of life, were subject to rigid political control and reduced to serving blatant ideological and propagandistic aims. This was the period when feature films were made about happy workers in a steelworks, or about a village tractor driver who after falling in love with his tractor becomes a member of the communist party, etc. All the arts assumed rigidly conservative, 19th-Century realist forms, to which a strong political bias was added. 20th -Century developments, in particular the inter-war experiments with structure and form in painting and poetry were outlawed as bourgeois decadence.

    In the years after Stalin's death in 1953, the situation slowly improved. The year 1956 saw two major attempts at liberalisation within the Soviet Bloc: the Hungarian revolution was defeated, while the Polish autumn managed to introduce a measure of normalcy into the country which lasted for several years. Czechoslovakia did not see the first thaw until towards the end of the 1950s: genuine liberalisation did not start gaining momentum until 1962-63. Hence it was only in the 1960s that the first absurdist plays could be written and staged in Eastern Europe. Even so, the Theatre of the Absurd remained limited to only two East European countries, those that were the most liberal at the time: Poland and Czechoslovakia.

    The East European Absurd Theatre was undoubtedly inspired by Western absurd drama, yet it differed from it considerably in form, meaning and impact. Although East European authors and theatre producers were quite well acquainted with many West-European absurd plays from the mid to late 1950s onwards, nevertheless (with very few exceptions) these plays were not performed or even translated in Eastern Europe until the mid-1960s. The reasons for this were several. First, West-European absurd drama was regarded by East-European officialdom as the epitome of West-European bourgeois capitalist decadence and, as a result, East European theatrical producers would be wary of trying to stage a condemned play - such an act would blight their career once and for all, ensuring that they would never work in theatre again. The western absurdist plays were regarded a nihilistic and anti-realistic, especially after Kenneth Tynan had attacked Ionesco as the apostle of anti-realism: this attach was frequently used by the East European officialdom for condemning Western absurd plays.

    Secondly, after a decade or more of staple conservative realistic bias, there were fears among theatrical producers that the West European absurd plays might be regarded as far too avantgarde and esoteric by the general public. Thirdly, there was an atmosphere of relative optimism in Eastern Europe in the late 1950s and the 1960s. It was felt that although life under Stalin's domination had been terrible, the bad times were now past after the dictator's death and full liberalisation was only a matter of time. The injustices and deficiencies of the East European systems were seen as due to human frailty rather than being a perennial metaphysical condition: it was felt that sincere and concerted human effort was in the long run going to be able to put all wrongs right. In a way, this was a continuation of the simplistic Stalinist faith in man's total power over his predicament. From this point of view, it was felt that most Western absurdist plays were too pessimistic, negative and destructive. It was argued (perhaps partially for official consumption) that the East European absurdist plays, unlike their Western counterparts, constituted constructive criticism.

    The line of argument of reformist, pro-liberalisation Marxists in Czechoslovakia in the early 1960s ran as follows: The Western Theatre of the Absurd recorded the absurdity of human existence as an immutable condition. It was a by-product of the continuing disintegration of capitalism. Western absurd plays were irrelevant in Eastern Europe, since socialist society had already found all answers concerning man's conduct and the meaning of life in general. Unlike its Western counterpart, East European absurd drama was communicating constructive criticism of the deformation of Marxism by the Stalinists. All that the East-European absurdist plays were trying to do was to remove minor blemishes on the face of the Marxist model - and that was easily done.

    It was only later that some critics were able to point out that West European absurd dram was not in fact nihilistic and destructive and that it played the same constructive roles as East European drama attempted to play. At this stage, it was realised that the liberal Marxist analysis of East European absurd drama was incorrect: just as with its Western counterpart, the East European absurdist theatre could be seen as a comment on the human condition in general - hence its relevance also for the West.

    On the few occasions that Western absurdist plays were actually staged in Eastern Europe, the East European audiences found the plays highly relevant. A production of Waiting for Godot in Poland in 1956 and in Slovakia in 1969, for instance, both became something nearing a political demonstration. Both the Polish and Slovak audiences stressed that for them, this was a play about hope - hope against hope.

    The tremendous impact of these productions in Eastern Europe can be perhaps compared with the impact of Waiting for Godot on the inmates of a Californian penitentiary, when it was staged there in 1957. Like the inmates of a gaol, people in Eastern Europe are possibly also freer of the numbing concerns of everyday living than the average Western man in the street. Since they live under pressure, this somehow brings them closer to the bare essentials of life and they are therefore more receptive to the works that deal with archetypal existential situations than is the case with an ordinary Wes-European citizen.

    On the whole, East European absurd drama has been far less abstract and esoteric than its West European counterpart. Moreover, while the West European drama is usually considered as having spent itself by the end of the 1960s, several East European authors have been writing highly original plays in the absurdisy mould, well into the 1970s.

    The main difference between the West European and the East European plays is that while the West European plays deal with a predicament of an individual or a group of individuals in a situation stripped to the bare, and often fairly abstract and metaphysical essentials, the East European plays mostly show and individual trapped within the cogwheels of a social system. The social context of the West European absurd plays is usually subdued and theoretical: in the East European plays it is concrete, menacing and fairly realistic: it is usually covered by very transparent metaphors. The social context is shown as a kind of Catch-22 system - it is a set of circumstances whose joint impact crushes the individual. The absurdity of the social system is highlighted and frequently shown as the result of the actions of stupid, misguided or evil people - this condemnation is of course merely implicit. Although the fundamental absurdity of the life feature in these plays is not intended to be metaphysically conditioned - these are primarily pieces of social satire - on reflection, the viewer will realise that there is fundamentally no difference between the 'messages' of the West European and the East European plays - except that the East European plays may be able to communicate these ideas more pressingly and more vividly to their audiences, because of their first-hand everyday experience of the absurdity that surrounds them.

    At the end of the 1960s, the situation in Eastern Europe changed for the worse. After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, it became apparent that Russia would not tolerate a fuller liberalisation of the East European countries. Czechoslovakia was thrown into a harsh, neo-Stalinist mould, entering the time capsule of stagnating immobility, in which it has remained ever since. Since it had been primarily artists and intellectuals that were spearheading the liberalising reforms of the 1960s, the arts were now subjected to a vicious purge. Many well-known artists and intellectuals were turned into non-persons practically overnight: some left or were later forced to lea the country.

    All the Czechoslovak absurdist playwrights fell into the non-person category. It is perhaps quite convincing evidence of the social relevance of their plays that the establishment feared them so much it felt the need to outlaw them. Several of the banned authors have continued writing, regardless of the fact that their plays cannot be staged in Czechoslovakia at present. They have been published and produced in the West.

    As in the 1960s, these authors are still deeply socially conscious: for instance, Václav Havel, in the words of Martin Esslin, 'one of the most promising European playwrights of today', is a courageous defender of basic human values and one of the most important (and most thoughtful) spokespersons of the non-establishment groupings in Czechoslovakia.

    By contrast, the Polish absurdist playwrights have been able to continue working in Poland undisturbed since the early 1960s, their plays having been normally published and produced within the country even throughout he 1970s.

    It is perhaps quite interesting that even the Western absurd dramatists have gradually developed a need to defend basic human values. They have been showing solidarity with their East European colleagues. Ionesco was always deeply distrustful of politics and the clichéd language of the political establishment. Harold Pinter, who took part in a radio production of one of Václav Havel's plays from the 1970s several years ago, has frequently spoken in support of the East European writers and playwrights. Samuel Beckett has written a short play dedicated to Havel, which was staged in France in 1984 during a ceremony at the University of Toulouse, which awarded Havel an honorary doctorate.
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    ibtihel

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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:16 pm

    ABSURDIST PLAYWRIGHTS







    SAMUEL BECKETT:

    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.


    EUGENE IONESCO:

    "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.


    HAROLD PINTER:

    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.
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    ibtihel

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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:17 pm

    amuel Beckett was born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, near Dublin, Ireland. Raised in a middle class, Protestant home, the son of a quantity surveyor and a nurse, he was sent off at the age of 14 to attend the same school which Oscar Wilde had attended. Looking back on his childhood, he once remarked, "I had little talent for happiness."

    Beckett was consistent in his loneliness. The unhappy boy soon grew into an unhappy young man, often so depressed that he stayed in bed until mid afternoon. He was difficult to engage in any lengthy conversation--it took hours and lots of drinks to warm him up--but the women could not resist him. The lonely young poet, however, would not allow anyone to penetrate his solitude. He once remarked, after rejecting advances from James Joyce's daughter, that he was dead and had no feelings that were human.

    In 1928, Samuel Beckett moved to Paris, and the city quickly won his heart. Shortly after he arrived, a mutual friend introduced him to James Joyce, and Beckett quickly became an apostle of the older writer. At the age of 23, he wrote an essay in defense of Joyce's magnum opus against the public's lazy demand for easy comprehensibility. A year later, he won his first literary prize--10 pounds for a poem entitled "Whoroscope" which dealt with the philosopher Descartes meditating on the subject of time and the transiency of life. After writing a study of Proust, however, Beckett came to the conclusion that habit and routine were the "cancer of time", so he gave up his post at Trinity College and set out on a nomadic journey across Europe.

    Beckett made his way through Ireland, France, England, and Germany, all the while writing poems and stories and doing odd jobs to get by. In the course of his journies, he no doubt came into contact with many tramps and wanderers, and these aquaintances would later translate into some of his finest characters. Whenever he happened to pass through Paris, he would call on Joyce, and they would have long visits, although it was rumored that they mostly sit in silence, both suffused with sadness.

    Beckett finally settled down in Paris in 1937. Shortly thereafter, he was stabbed in the street by a man who had approached him asking for money. He would learn later, in the hospital, that he had a perforated lung. After his recovery, he went to visit his assailant in prison. When asked why he had attacked Beckett, the prisoner replied "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur", a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of some of the lost and confused souls that would populate the writer's later works.

    During World War II, Beckett stayed in Paris--even after it had become occupied by the Germans. He joined the underground movement and fought for the resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested and he was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. In 1945, after it had been liberated from the Germans, he returned to Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. In the five years that followed, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

    Samuel Beckett's first play, Eleutheria, mirrors his own search for freedom, revolving around a young man's efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations. His first real triumph, however, came on January 5, 1953, when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. In spite of some expectations to the contrary, the strange little play in which "nothing happens" became an instant success, running for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone and enjoying the critical praise of dramatists as diverse as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, Thornton Wilder, and William Saroyan who remarked, "It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre." Perhaps the most famous production of Waiting for Godot, however, took place in 1957 when a company of actors from the San Francisco Actor's Workshop presented the play at the San Quentin penitentiary for an audience of over fourteen hundred convicts. Surprisingly, the production was a great success. The prisoners understood as well as Vladimir and Estragon that life means waiting, killing time and clinging to the hope that relief may be just around the corner. If not today, then perhaps tomorrow.

    Beckett secured his position as a master dramatist on April 3, 1957 when his second masterpiece, Endgame, premiered (in French) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Although English was his native language, all of Beckett's major works were originally written in French--a curious phenomenon since Beckett's mother tongue was the accepted international language of the twentieth century. Apparently, however, he wanted the discipline and economy of expression that an acquired language would force upon on him.

    Beckett's dramatic works do not rely on the traditional elements of drama. He trades in plot, characterization, and final solution, which had hitherto been the hallmarks of drama, for a series of concrete stage images. Language is useless, for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the unexpressable. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly.

    Beckett was the first of the absurdists to win international fame. His works have been translated into over twenty languages. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He continued to write until his death in 1989, but the task grew more and more difficult with each work until, in the end, he said that each word seemed to him "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness."
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:19 pm

    THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD


    The term “Theatre of the Absurd” was coined by Martin Esslin in his 1962 book by that title. It refers to the work of a loosely associated group of dramatists who first emerged during and after World War II. Esslin saw these playwrights as giving artistic expression to Albert Camus' existential philosophy, as illustrated in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, that life is inherently meaningless. In The Theatre of the Absurd, Esslin states, “The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the human condition; it merely presents it in being—that is, in terms of concrete stage images. This is the difference between the approach of the philosopher and that of the poet.” He goes on to say that “The hallmark of this attitude is its sense that the certitudes and unshakable basic assumptions of former ages have been swept away, that they have been tested and found wanting, that they have been discredited as cheap and somewhat childish illusions.” Some common characteristics of absurdist plays include this general existential philosophy coupled with a rejection of narrative continuity and the rigidity of logic, as well as (and perhaps most importantly) a radical devaluation of language which is seen as a futile attempt to communicate the impossible. The general effect is often a nightmare or dreamlike atmosphere in which the protagonist is overwhelmed by the chaotic or irrational nature of his environment. Most absurdists also doggedly resist the traditional separation of farce and tragedy, intermixing the two at will, creating an unpredictable world that mirrors our own, in which the poignantly tragic may come upon the heels of the absurdly funny, or vice versa.

    Originally, Esslin identified Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet as the primary playwrights of the absurd. He also named several “parallels and proselytes” including Jean Tardieu, Boris Vian, Dino Buzzati, Ezio d’Errico, Manuel de Pedrolo, Fernando Arrabal, Max Frisch, Wolfgang Hildesheimer, Günter Grass, Robert Pinget, Harold Pinter, Norman Frederick Simpson, Edward Albee, Jack Gelber, Arthur Kopit, Slawomir Mrozek, Tadeusz Rózewicz, and Vaclav Havel. In a subsequent edition of his book, Esslin promoted Pinter to the first tier of absurdist playwrights. Other writers who have sometimes been associated with the Theatre of the Absurd include Tom Stoppard, David Lindsay-Abaire, John Guare, Caryl Churchill, and Gao Xingjian.
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:22 pm

    The innovative dramatic movement known as the theater of the absurd, which developed in Paris during the 1950s, took its name from Albert Camus' existentialist description of the dilemma of modern humanity. Considering humans to be strangers in a meaningless universe, he assessed their situation as absurd, or essentially pointless. Absurdist playwrights, led by Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet, embraced this vision and sought to portray the grim ridiculousness of human life using a dramatic style that subverted theatrical convention. Characterized by fantasy sequences, disjointed dialogue, and illogical or nearly nonexistent plots, their plays are concerned primarily with presenting a situation that illustrates the fundamental helplessness of humanity. Absurdist drama is sometimes comic on the surface, but the humor is infused with an underlying pessimism about the human condition.

    Beckett's ‘Waiting for Godot', first produced in 1953, is considered the quintessential work to emerge from the movement. Little happens in the play, which centers on two characters who wait endlessly for an appointment with the mysterious Godot. In ‘The Bald Soprano', which was described as an antiplay upon its debut in 1950, Ionesco dramatized the difficulties of communication through two characters who exchange banalities before realizing that they are husband and wife. Genet examined the illusions by which people live in such plays as ‘The Balcony' (1956), in which fantasies of power are played out in a brothel that mirrors the world as a whole.

    The theater of the absurd declined in the mid-1960s as some of its innovations became theatrical conventions and others inspired more experimental works from the avant-garde. Absurdist techniques retained a permanent place in modern theater, however. The works of Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, and Tom Stoppard, among others, show the influence of the theater of the absurd
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:24 pm

    In a historical sense, Theatre of the Absurd can be seen to have arisen in Greek drama (in the so-called Old Comedy, and then in the plays of Aristophanes in particular). The idea that “the world’s a stage” was an ancient concept, later taken up by Shakespeare. Varronian satire was developed in the late classical period by Lucian (in Greek), and Petronius and Apuleius (Latin). Mikhail Bakhtin, in the twentieth century, highlighted Menippean satire in a tradition of carnivalistic literature, depicting “a world upside down”. Northrop Frye also linked such forms to his conception of the “anatomy”. Such scandalous and parodic elements were particularly prominent in Rabelais. Buffoonery and performance art led to forms of European popular theatre: thence pantomime, music hall and vaudeville.

    Subsequent comedy evolved towards farce. Absurd elements are noted here and there in plays by Ibsen and Strindberg, and later Pirandello, but the acknowledged predecessor of what came to be called Theatre of the Absurd is Alfred Jarry’s “monstrous puppet-play” Ubu Roi (1896). Further foundations were laid by Futurism, Dada and Surrealism. In Soviet Russia, something similar was created, in the inhospitable pre-war Stalin years, by a group calling itself OBERIU (Society for Real Art); performance was curtailed and the principal members (Daniil Kharms and Aleksandr Vvedensky) were suppressed, remaining undiscovered for several decades. Mention should also be made of plays written in the inter-war period by Vladimir Maiakovsky in Soviet Russia and Stanislaw Witkiewicz in Poland.

    So much for the historical absurd. What has now come to be known as Theatre of the Absurd arose and flourished, largely in Paris, in a period that stretched from soon after World War Two into the 1970s. However, it is not totally confined to that period, as absurdist drama of one sort or another has continued since; moreover, the phenomenon by no means remained confined to the Parisian stages. The term as such became established through Martin Esslin’s seminal volume The Theatre of the Absurd (1962; third edition, 1982), a study that has been added to, but has not been superseded.

    Esslin’s 1982 edition devotes chapters to five major dramatists of the absurd: Beckett, Adamov, Ionesco, Genet and Pinter (in Pinter’s case, going up to Betrayal, 1978). In addition to treatments of “Tradition” and “Significance” thereof, Esslin proceeds further to deal briefly with seventeen writers, ranging from Edward Albee and Arthur Kopit in America; through N.F. Simpson, Fernando Arrabal, Boris Vian and other West Europeans; to Mrozek, Rózewicz and Havel in Eastern Europe. Esslin indicates the French, indeed Parisian avant-garde, base of his Theatre of the Absurd, but stresses its cosmopolitan nature and spread, and the fact that, indeed, its leading figures, living
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:26 pm

    Avant-garde drama originating with a group of dramatists in the 1950s, including Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter. Their work expressed the belief that, in a godless universe, human existence has no meaning or purpose and all communication breaks down. Logical construction and argument gives way to irrational and illogical speech and to its ultimate conclusion, silence, as in Beckett's play Breath (1970).

    To some extent, this work has its roots in the drama of early German expressionism, which is concerned with the influence upon individuals of an increasingly mechanized and uncaring society. Writers of absurdist theatre divide from those in epic theatre in that absurdists see no hope, whereas the German epic dramatist Brecht argues that the role of drama is to change people's attitudes and, through this, society. Although absurdist theatre appears completely opposed to the realistic ideas of naturalism, the work is often founded on very precise observation of human nature and behaviour.
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:28 pm

    I sighed with relief a few weeks ago when the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) cleared mouthwash and mascara of conspiring to blow planes sky-high. Now I can open my medicine cabinet each morning without fear of becoming the latest casualty in the War on Terror. Perhaps the TSA was inspired by Fashion Week’s safe run in New York last month: hundreds of lipsticks lurked backstage, yet nothing exploded but tempers.

    The TSA’s jihad against toiletries and cosmetics was ironic because any theater needs make-up. And that’s all airport security is: theater. Author Bruce Schneier coined the term to describe highly visible but vain security; Wikipedia illustrates its entry on "security theater" with one of the TSA’s silly signs. Not only has the TSA’s troupe failed to catch a single terrorist, it gulls passengers into believing that robbing folks of liquids and gels somehow protects them. It also teaches Americans to equate "airport security" with charades that upset, frustrate and intimidate the innocent rather than with unobtrusive, effective measures from the private sector that would indeed improve safety. And the TSA does all this for only $17 million per day – or $118,055 during the ten minutes the agency often claims is the average wait at its checkpoints.

    How did we reach so preposterous a pass that the government of the United States vilifies "Maybelline Moisture Whip Burgundy Lipstick" as a threat to American aviation? The Supreme Court started us down this runway in the late 1960's and early ‘70's with a series of extra-Constitutional decisions that invented an "interest" for the Feds in airline security. Those pinheads in robes didn’t care whether government could prevent skyjackings: they simply declared that it should. At the time, the Nixon Administration was illegally bombing villagers in Vietnam and Cambodia while its chief executive burgled his enemies’ office. The Court nevertheless entrusted these criminals with the safety of American passengers.

    Criminals are usually pretty dim; politicians and their subclass, bureaucrats, are among the dimmest. That’s why you’re enclosing your 3 ounces of Listerine and shaving cream in a "ONE QUART-SIZE [sic for "sized"], clear plastic, zip-top bag," per the TSA’s diktat. God knows how high the plane would blow should we be permitted fold-top baggies, too.

    The TSA assumes we’re as dim-witted as its personnel and lies to us accordingly: "The ban on liquids, aerosols and gels was implemented on August 10 after a terrorist plot was foiled. Since then, experts from around the government, including the FBI and our national labs[,] have analyzed the information we now have and have conducted extensive explosives testing to get a better understanding of this specific threat. These changes are intended to enhance security and balance human needs because we have a better understanding of the threat and security risks associated with liquids, aerosols and gels."

    Balderdash. Passengers from around the country analyzed Our Rulers’ propaganda, realized that even Starbucks’ most caffeinated brew cannot detonate, and got around the TSA’s specific threat to their comfort by flouting the ban en masse. The TSA had to reverse itself or look even more flat-footed than it already does. Ever the sore loser, it has imposed the Three Ounces-and-A-Baggie Regime just so we all know who’s boss.

    The new rule makes no more sense than the old one, and "[‘]Security lines in many airports have been jammed as a result,[’]... Darrin Kayser, spokesman" for the TSA told the Washington Post. This is not the TSA’s fault, of course, but ours. We’re just too stupid and ignorant to keep pace with Our Rulers’ whims. TSA spokesgal Carrie Harmon huffed to the Denver Business Journal, "If people would just take five minutes to look at the Web site before they come to the airport, it would save a lot of time."

    Another TSA flunkey, this one in Warwick, Rhode Island, lamented to the local NBC TV-affiliate, "Folks, unfortunately, wind up showing up at the airport with these garbage bags, opaque, filled with 16-ounce items. It creates real problems for us and for our screening force." Heartbreaking, isn’t it? Consequently, the station reports, "security checkpoint workers are filling up two dozen barrels a day with items they are forced to take away from passengers who are unfamiliar with the rules." [Emphasis added.]

    You slow learners have only yourselves to blame when you’re robbed. Kindly get yourselves up to speed, because you are not only compelling an innocent screener to turn thief, you are clogging the works: "Passengers either don't know about the baggy [sic] rule or they're still putting other liquid products in their bag and causing delays," our gal Carrie scolded.

    Give the lady an Oscar for acting as though the "baggy rule" matters. Meanwhile, this latest performance in security theater gets a thumbs’ down. Let the politicians and bureaucrats stick to burglarizing each other's offices. That should keep them too busy to stage-manage airports, airlines, and us.
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Tue Mar 11, 2008 7:29 pm

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    Theater of the Absurd, term used to identify a body of plays written primarily in France from the mid-1940s through the 1950s. These works usually employ illogical situations, unconventional dialogue, and minimal plots to express the apparent absurdity of human existence. French thinkers such as Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre used the term absurd in the 1940s in recognition of their inability to find any rational explanation for human life. The term described what they understood as the fundamentally meaningless situation of humans in a confusing, hostile, and indifferent world.

    British scholar Martin Esslin first used the phrase “theater of the absurd” in a 1961 critical study of several contemporary dramatists, including Irish-born playwright Samuel Beckett and French playwrights Eugène Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov. These writers reacted against traditional Western theatrical conventions, rejecting assumptions about logic, characterization, language, and plot. For example, Beckett’s En attendant Godot (1953; translated as Waiting for Godot, 1954) portrays two tramps waiting for a character named Godot. They are not sure who Godot is, whether he will show up to meet them, and indeed whether he actually exists, but they spend each day waiting for him and trying to understand the world in which they live. Beckett often reduced character, plot, and dialogue to a minimum in an effort to highlight fundamental questions of human existence. Ionesco’s La cantatrice chauve (1950; The Bald Soprano, 1956) portrays a group of characters who are incapable of true communication and who have no apparent purpose in their lives. The play has a circular structure, ending in the same way that it began.

    Precursors to the theater of the absurd can be found in a number of late 19th-century and early 20th-century writers and literary movements. Ubu roi (1896; translated 1951), by French playwright Alfred Jarry, is considered an early example of absurdist theater for its use of nonsense language and mocking of theatrical conventions. The early 20th-century artistic movement known as surrealism sought to employ the subconscious mind by creating works of art spontaneously, without conscious thought; the sometimes bizarre, disjointed, or illogical products of this process resemble absurdist theater. Other theatrical trends and movements that influenced the theater of the absurd or were incorporated into it include vaudeville and slapstick humor and the Verfremdungseffekt (alienation effect) of German playwright Bertolt Brecht. To a lesser extent, absurdist theater was influenced by the theoretical writings of Antonin Artaud in Le théâtre et son double (1938; The Theater and its Double, 1958), which called for a theater that would jolt audiences and thereby stir them to action.

    The first absurdist plays shocked audiences at their premieres, but their techniques are now common in avant-garde theater and in some mainstream works. Contemporary playwrights whose work shows the influence of the theater of the absurd include American dramatists Edward Albee and Sam Shepard, British dramatists Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, German dramatists Günter Grass and Peter Weiss, Swiss dramatist Max Frisch, and Czech dramatist Václav Havel.
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    Re: THE THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

    Post by ibtihel on Mon Mar 17, 2008 2:15 pm

    he Theatre of the Absurd, or Theater of the Absurd (French: "Le Théâtre de l'Absurde") is a designation for particular plays written by a number of primarily European playwrights in the late 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, as well as to the style of theatre which has evolved from their work. The term was coined by the critic Martin Esslin, who made it the title of a 1962 book on the subject. Esslin saw the work of these playwrights as giving artistic articulation to Albert Camus' philosophy that life is inherently without meaning, as illustrated in his work The Myth of Sisyphus. The 'Theatre of the Absurd' is thought to have its origins in Dadaism, nonsense poetry and avant-garde art of the 1910s – 1920s. Despite its critics, this genre of theatre achieved popularity when World War II highlighted the essential precariousness of human life. The expression "Theater of the Absurd" has been criticized by some writers, and one also finds the expressions "Anti-Theater" and "New Theater". According to Martin Esslin, the four defining playwrights of the movement are Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov, although each of these writers has entirely unique preoccupations and techniques that go beyond the term "absurd". Other writers often associated with this group include Tom Stoppard, Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Fernando Arrabal, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee and Jean Tardieu. Playwrights who served as an inspiration to the movement include Alfred Jarry, Luigi Pirandello, Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, Guillaume Apollinaire, the surrealists and many more.

    The "Absurd" or "New Theater" movement was, in its origin, a distinctly Paris-based (and left bank) avant-garde phenomenon tied to extremely small theaters in the Quartier Latin; the movement only gained international prominence over time.

    In practice, The Theatre of the Absurd departs from realistic characters, situations and all of the associated theatrical conventions. Time, place and identity are ambiguous and fluid, and even basic causality frequently breaks down. Meaningless plots, repetitive or nonsensical dialogue and dramatic non-sequiturs are often used to create dream-like, or even nightmare-like moods.

    The New York based theater company Untitled Theater Company #61 purports to present a "modern theater of the absurd," consisting of new plays in the genre and classic plays interpreted by new directors. Among their projects was the Ionesco Festival, a festival of the complete works of Ionesco.

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