Written By Himangshu Nath, B.A 5th semester (Major)
‘Theatre of the Absurd’ was basically a movement developed in the 1950s, after the degradation of World War II. Some of the playwrights of that age wrote some fiction which called Absurd plays. In this movement many playwrights came forward to develop this age as well as this term. The term ‘Absurd’ has been derived from the writings of French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus. Camus had first coined the term in his famous book The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) to express the futility of human existence. The term ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ was first used by Martin Esslin in his famous book The theatre of the Absurd (1957). Esslin points out that this term originally means that something ‘out of harmony’ or ‘out of order’. But the absurd playwrights used the term in their plays to express their idea of rootlessness; meaningless, purposeless etc. Absurd also stands for metaphysical anguish of the playwrights at the condition of the contemporary world.
Some of the playwrights who wrote absurd plays are—Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Printer, etc. These playwrights do not belong to any particular movements or schools. In fact, they are individuals and writing with their own interest to highlight with their own themes and concerns. Even, they do not belong to the same country or university. But still what makes them very similar is their common attitude towards a given society of their time. Some of the absurd plays are—Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Happy Days, Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, The Bald Soprano, The Chairs, The Lesson, Victims of Duty, Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Rio, King Ubu, etc.
Martin Esslin finds that the theatre of the absurd is very different from ‘a good play’. A good play consists of a well-made story but the absurd plays have not plots or stories. In a traditional play there are proper characterizations whereas in absurd plays there is not any recognizable character. In a traditional play there are always some well developed themes. But in absurd plays the begging, middle and ending is very confusing. Apart from that, in a conventional play, there is always a proper set of dialogues whereas in absurd plays the dialogues are very incoherent babblings only.
Esslin believed that Beckett could represent a perception of meaninglessness and incoherent to such a digress which other dramatists had not even tried. Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is the best play in the absurd style. Beckett had written this play in French in 1953 for the Paris theatre. In Paris, the play was very successful, so the playwrights translate it into English for England and New York. It is a play which have two acts with two tramps—Estragon and Vladimir. They are the central characters. The play starts with the dialogue “ Nothing to be done”, because this is an absurd play. In the midst of the play shows many dialogues which have no meaning at all. As for example, “Nothing happens, nobody comes, and nobody goes” etc. both the characters Vladimir and Estragon wait beside a leafless tree for some unknown Godot. They believed that Godot will come and solve all their problems. However, till the end of the play Godot never appears. The end of the play also indicates that Godot may not appear forever.