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Hey there!
I'm Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash Course
Theater, and today we'll be discussing the

Theater of the Absurd.
That's your cue.
It's fine, plenty of time to wait for that
guy: not a lot happens in these plays.

lights up, when you get around to it, I guess!
What is the Theater of the Absurd, and how

absurd is it?
Glad you asked!
It's a movement that got going in the 1950s,
influenced by the events of forties.

Because, after you've come out of a world
war in which millions of people were killed,

with atrocity after atrocity, and the world
would never be the same, maybe light comedy

doesn't really do it for you anymore.
The Theater of the Absurd wasn't one of
those moments where everyone hung out in bars

and had parties together.
And maybe that's good, because some of those
parties would have been… dour.

No, it was more of a loose style that a bunch
of playwrights started writing in pretty much

And then, one day, critic Martin Esslin noticed
and wrote an essay about it, and—bam!—a

movement was born.
Or identified.
Or whatever.
The Theater of the Absurd is another style
that rejects realism.

Absurdism, like Dadaism and Surrealism, is
predicted on the idea that life doesn't

really make sense.
So theater shouldn't make sense either.
This isn't absurd like comedy-in-2018, more
of a deeply dissatisfied, questioning kind

of absurd.
Plots are disordered.
Nothing happens, or if stuff does happen,
it's unmotivated.

Words don't make meaning in the usual way,
and characters aren't consistent.

Mysteries don't get solved, and order doesn't
get restored.

Philosophically, the worldview of the Theater

of the Absurd is similar to existentialism,
probably because Esslin was

influenced by Albert Camus.
In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus wrote:
“A world that can be explained even with
bad reasons is a familiar world.

But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly
divested of illusions and lights, man feels

an alien, a stranger.
His exile is without remedy since he is deprived
of the memory of a lost home or the hope of

a promised land.
This divorce between man and his life, the
actor and his setting, is properly the feeling

of absurdity.”
Esslin thought that the Theater of the Absurd

could help its audience to accept life as
meaningless and maybe not be so depressed

about this.
He wrote: “It is a challenge to accept the
human condition as it is, in all its mystery

and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity,
nobly, responsibly; precisely because there

are no easy solutions to the mysteries of
existence, because ultimately man is alone

in a meaningless world.
The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting
illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind

it a sense of freedom and relief.
And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre
of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair

but the laughter of liberation.”
… … LOL?
There are a lot of playwrights who get labeled
absurdist, including Alfred Jarry, Guillaume

Apollinaire, and also the Italian playwright
Luigi Pirandello, king of the it-happened-like-this-no-it-happened-like-that-nope-I'm-never-gonna-understand-this-because-the-world-is-fundamentally-unknowable

We're going to look at three other absurdist
playwrights today, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco,

and Samuel Beckett.
Jean Genet was born in France in 1910 and
was abandoned soon after.

As a kid, he tried to run away a lot, and
he often stole.

When he was fifteen, he was sent to French

When he turned eighteen, he joined the French
Foreign Legion, but he was drummed out for

being gay.
He wandered around for a while, supporting
himself with prostitution and petty theft.

He was in and out of prison, and it was in
prison that he began to write, completing

an experimental novel, “Our Lady of the
Flowers,” in 1944.

Genet became popular with the French intellectual

So when he was threatened with life imprisonment
in 1949 for more theft, those intellectuals

came together to petition the government to
free him.

And the government said okay.
Philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre
was such a fan that he wrote a seven hundred-page

analysis of his life and work called “Saint

When Genet turned to the theater, first with
the short play “Deathwatch,” he established

the themes that would fascinate him for years:
sex, power, beauty, degradation, ritual, and

theatricality itself.
Most of the characters in Genet's plays
are consciously playing roles that can suddenly

be reversed.
And with a shift in power dynamics comes a
shift in sexual dynamics.

Reality often shifts, too, which gives the
plays a disturbing, decentering quality.

You can see this in “The Balcony,” which
is set in a brothel that caters to sexual

role play,
and in “The Blacks,” in which a cast of

black actors perform in white face.
Genet died in Paris in 1986.
Let's take a closer look at Genet's work
by dusting off his three-character 1947 drama,

“The Maids.”
Grab a mop, ThoughtBubble:
“The Maids” begins with a scene between

a mistress and her maid, Claire.
Their relationship isn't great.
Madame insults Claire, and Claire bullies
Madame, forcing her to wear a red dress.

Claire spits at her.
Then an alarm clock goes off, startling both

We realize that “Madame” is actually the
maid Claire, and “Claire” is her sister

Solange, and that this is an elaborate psychosexual
game they play, taking turns as Madame.

As they wait for Madame, the phone rings.
It's Monsieur, Madame's lover.
He's been in prison, mostly because of an
anonymous letter the maids sent.

Now he is out on bail.
Bad news for the maids.
They're afraid he'll recognize their handwriting.
They're frightened, and also they're disgusted
by their own poverty and servitude.

As Solange says, “I want to help you.
I want to comfort you, but I know I disgust

I'm repulsive to you.
And I know it because—you disgust me.
When slaves love one another, it's not love.”
Claire replies, “And me, I'm sick of seeing
my image thrown back at me by a mirror, like

a bad smell: You're my bad smell.”
So out of revenge and disgust, and in a not
very sane attempt at self-preservation, Claire

decides to murder Madame.
Madame returns, and Claire puts sleeping pills
into her tea.

But before she can drink it, Solange tells
her that Monsieur is free, and Madame leaves

the tea untouched.
The maids begin their game again, but this
time it's darker, crueler, and even weirder.

Claire is playing Madame.
She orders Solange to bring her a cup of tea.
Claire lies down on Madame's bed and drinks
the poisoned tea, killing herself.

Thanks, ThoughtBubble.
That was not hygienic.
While Genet based his play on an actual real-life
French murder, Genet was obviously not trying

to create true crime or realism.
Genet's pal Sartre suggested that adolescent
boys should play all the roles as a way to

enhance the unreality.
But with its gowns, flowers, and sadomasochistic
humiliation, it's already pretty unreal.

Our next absurdist is Romanian playwright
Eugene Ionesco, author of deceptively simple,

sometimes allegorical works like “The Chairs”
or “Rhinoceros.”

Ionesco was born in Romania in 1909 and moved
between Romania and France several times.

When Ionesco was almost forty, he decided
to learn English by memorizing simple sentences.

Those sentences made their way into an absurdist
and sometimes silly work called “The Bald

In this play, one nice couple, the Smiths,
invite over another nice couple, the Martins.

The Martins think they are strangers to each
other and then discover they've been married

for years.
Here's an excerpt:

MARTIN: Bazaar, Balzac, bazooka!
MARTIN: Bizarre, beaux-arts, brassieres!
SMITH: a,e,i,o,u, a,e,i,o,u, a,e,i,o,u, i!….
SMITH: Choo, choo, choo, choo, choo, choo,
choo, choo, choo, choo, choo!

The director wasn't really sure how to stage
it, and initially the play was a flop.

But other writers and intellectuals championed
it—yay, intellectuals!—and Ionesco kept

Ionesco was influenced by Dada and the Surrealists,
and a lot of his work is about a desire to

access some other, better, probably unreachable

He's best known for a cycle of plays centered
on a naïve everyman figure called Bérenger

who pops up in different times and situations.
These plays are “The Killer,” “Rhinoceros,”
“Exit the King,” and “A Stroll in the

Some of these plays have a more political
orientation, but some don't.

Bérenger is always struggling with the problem
of human endeavor and free will in a seemingly

random universe.
Ionesco's plays are written in simple, sometimes
even simplistic language.

But that disguises serious preoccupations
and serious despair.

Because, y'know, randomness, entropy, death.
Ionesco died in France in 1994.
And this here is your friend and mine, Samuel

Is Beckett the greatest modernist playwright?
I'm sorry, that's just a fact.
His plays are weird and funny and horrifying
and deeply moving.

Just when you think you've got one of his
plays nailed, the meanings have a way of sliding

out from under you.
We're big fans.
Beckett was born in Ireland in 1906.
After university, he moved to France to teach,
where he eventually became the research assistant

of James Joyce.
Beckett wrote poems, novels, and short stories.
Also all great.
And like Genet, he was at one point stabbed
by a pimp.

He also drove Andre the Giant to school on

True story.
During World War Two, Beckett was active in
the Resistance.

And after the war, he began his career as
a playwright, typically writing in French.

His best-known play is “Waiting for Godot,”
a bleak tragicomedy from 1948 about two tramps

waiting for a man who—spoiler alert—never

One critic called it a play in which nothing

It's part vaudeville and part philosophy,
and honestly - it's pretty awesome.

I mean, it's made fun of as a quintessentially
weird, modern play for a lot of good reasons…

but it is ALSO a good play.
Other notable Beckett plays include “Endgame,”
“Happy Days,” “Krapp's Last Tape,”

and “Play,” because there were no titles
left, I guess.

Beckett's plays are almost completely empty
of action.

The characters are barely there.
The dialogue goes in circles.
Every rule Aristotle ever wrote, Beckett breaks
except for unity of place.

And as we all know, Aristotle never even wrote
that one!

Are Beckett's plays realistic?
So why are his plays so great?
They are about people trying to live in a
world that doesn't make any sense.

And that's, I mean, that's most of us.
They are bleak.
But they're also very funny and perversely

Even in a senseless world, we still have each

Beckett died in 1989, and, well …
Nothing to be done.

Am I?
Me too.
Not now, not now - there's work yet to be

Thanks for watching.
We'll see you next time when we take a break
from all of this existential despair and the

search for meaning in a seemingly random universe.
Grab your Playbills and start stalking the
stage door, because Crash

Course Theater is going to Broadway, baby!
Oh wait.
Yorick says that existential despair is there,

Caftan, curtsy, cup-o-noodles…


Beckett, Ionesco, and the Theater of the Absurd: Crash Course Theater #45

99 タグ追加 保存
Pei-Yi Lin 2019 年 5 月 5 日 に公開
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