Absurd Theatre Influences on Theatre of the Absurd Big feet, stampeding rhinoceroses, and barren sets are typical of the theatre of the absurd. The dramatic content, symbolism, and spectacles are an amazing thing to see and an impossibility to comprehend. The philosophy of the absurd and the dawn of mankind influenced these plays in the twentieth century. The main proponents and works of the theater of the absurd and philosophy were influenced by the chaotic actions of the early and mid-twentieth century. These chaotic actions led them to search for something in literature and drama never seen before.
A brief survey of the main proponents and works of the absurd philosophy and theater can lead one to an understanding of this epoch of absurdity. The early to mid-twentieth century has been marked by chaos. The four main events or notions that inspired the absurd writers of this time are World War I, World War II, liberalism, and epidemics. The two world wars had a devastating influence on Europe’s landscape and people. The two world wars knocked down everyone’s fundamental belief about society. The breakdown of values led to Freud’s development of psychoanalysis. Freud, basically, liberalized society with his new perceptions and thoughts on the human mind.
He introduced a liberal ideal that brought homosexuality out into the open in Europe. Slowly, people went public about their homosexuality; society also learned to adapt and accept such liberal ideas as the new standard norm for a post-war Europe. Another problem that plagued Europe was the Castro 2 tremendous amount of diseases and epidemics that could not be cured or treated until the discovery, development, and production of penicillin and anti-biotics. One disease that flourished was tuberculosis. This deadly disease spread quickly to many by air. All these events and notions of the early to mid-twentieth century left a scare in the hearts and minds of men about everything.
The idea of the absurd grew out of an Algerian born French writer, Albert Camus. His novels and writings expressed a philosophy for man in the twentieth century. Due to the wars, factions, assassinations, and political mess, his ideas expressed the lives of many in the early twentieth century. His life was plagued with death and suffering. He could relate to every man in Europe and North Africa.
His great work, the Myth of Sisyphus, proposed the philosophy of the absurd he was trying to build up in The Stranger and The Plague. Basically, Camus states that since the gods punished Sisyphus with eternal work, Sisyphus could only be happy in knowing he existed and this displayed the absurdity of modern man and his lifetime of labor. Albert Camus was influenced by his own absurd life. His father died during his childhood in the Great War. He grew up with an ill grandmother and illiterate mother. He became ill with the spreading tuberculosis of the early twentieth century.
Later, he joined the French resistance in World War II. In France, he became the editor for Combat, a newsletter for the resistance. Through his job, he was able to make contacts with the leading European writers of his time. This proved invaluable to him, because with the help of these authors he gained the fame that won him the Nobel Prize in literature. Many critics believe that his idea of the absurd grew out of seeing unspeakable acts during the war.
In Camus’s Myth of Sisyphus, he actually states that his theory on the absurd is a reaction to the disillusionment in Europe after the two world wars: Castro 3 The Myth of Sisyphus attempts to resolve the problem of suicide, as The Rebel attempts to solve that of murder, in both cases without the aid of eternal values which, temporarily perhaps, are absent or distorted in contemporary Europe. (preface) He drew up the philosophy of the absurd to account for the devastating actions of World War II. He needed an explanation for the misery in his life and the world, and until then Christianity and the other absolute philosophies could provide no valid explanation. The philosophy of the absurd he initiated has three main points. First, life is absurd, and it is useless to find any pattern or regularity within it.
Second, man must accept life as the absurd and enjoy the absurdity with happiness. Third, man cannot fight the absurd, but simply accept that life will never have meaning. These three points combine to form the elements in the works he called “the cycle of the absurd.” These three points are derived from his belief about the absurd hero. A hero that finds happiness in daily labor, like Sisyphus. In Rhein’s Albert Camus, he complements the mid-twentieth century’s influence on Camus works: The Stranger and the Myth of Sisyphus corresponded to the atmosphere that permeated Nazi-occupied France at the date of their publication..With the daily threat to humanity that existed amid the European disaster of the 1940’s, it was difficult to believe in eternal values or naïve optimism, and human life became a consciously more precise thing. In this time when no one could just afford to exist passively, Camus’ fictive portrayal and philosophical account of the absurd hero seemed to express the uncertainty of the Castro 4 war-conscious Europeans; and Camus, along with Sartre, became the voice of an anxiety-ridden people.
(pg. 24) The development of the philosophy of the absurd brought about the theatre of the absurd. The theatre of the absurd has several characteristics. First, the main characteristic that all absurd plays have in common is the sense that there is no meaning in life. This theme of the “meaningless in life” is fundamental to the philosophy of Albert Camus.
Another characteristic of the theatre of the absurd is the belief that no God exists. This characteristic is best expressed in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The title has been interpreted as saying “Waiting for God.” A third aspect of absurd theatre is the conjunction of unrealistic characters and fantastic situations. The leading writers of this branch of drama were Eugene Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, and Jean Genet. Their special attributes and characteristics were developed by the same conditions that gave rise to Camus. The father of the theatre of the absurd is Eugene Ionesco. His whimsical use of language to express the misunderstanding and communication difficulties between individuals has sprung him as father of the theatre of the absurd.
He grew up in Romania and then moved to France. He taught French and later traveled back to Romania. His works include the Great Soprano, Rhinoceros, and The Lesson. The influence for his works mainly came from the two world wars. During his childhood, he grew up in the area that started the Great War. His father was a man that switched sides easily; he would always manage to gain favor from any political power that was in power.
He would always join the party and administration in power, whether bad or good. The corrupt nature of Ionesco’s father changed him. He rebelled against his Castro 5 father and his beliefs. Another aspect of his father that changed him was his secret divorce with his mother and his abuse of power to gain custody of Eugene and his sister. The other main influence for one of Ionesco’s great works is man’s inability to be an individual. In 1938, Eugene traveled back to Romania; he saw his countrymen change because of the war; they willed to be in the majority, whether bad or good.
The corruption in his own nation changed him and influenced him to write his anti-Nazi play, Rhinoceros. This play centers on an average man who is tempted and tries to resist change, but eventually loses. Ionesco manipulates language to give the audience the sensation of a man in a foreign country. The creative use of language creates a sense of misunderstanding, which was one of the problems in Europe during the early to mid-twentieth century. Ionesco saw how the wars were propagated by simple miscommunication between nations.
The play propagates the sense of loneliness and fascism symbolized by the r …