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Origins of the Theatre of the Absurd

February 3, 2012

After Beckett, it was Ionesco who had the greatest impact on the Theatre of the Absurd. But Ionesco is different from Beckett. Unlike Beckett, who tutored himself into the phenomenon of the absurd under Joyce’s influence, Ionesco was jolted into it by a sudden mystical experience.

One day as he was taking a stroll, he claimed that he had an experience in which his notions of time and space broke down. This experience taught him the inherent absurdity of the world, time and space. After it, his art also grew on these lines. He developed drama in which time, space, logic and language had no meaning. He taught it by mutually contradictory statements, self-contradictory statements and absurd and fantastic situations.

In Rhinoceros, there is logician whose logic is absurd.

Old Gentleman: So then, logically speaking, my dog must be a cat?

Logician: Logically speaking, yes,but the contrary is also true.

Berenger: Solitude seems to oppress me, and so does company of other people.

Daisy: You were both wrong.

Old Gentleman: Even so, you were right.

The absurdity of life is expressed in these lines.

Life is an absurd business. P 19

In the continuation of Brecht’s effort to break the fourth wall, Ionesco uses self-reference in Rhinoceros. P.23

He breaks the conception of normal and abnormal in Rhinoceros.

“Dudard: You seem very sure of yourself. Who can say where the normal stops and the abnormal begins? Can you personally define these conceptions of normality and abnormality? Nobody has solved this problem yet, either medically or philosophically. You ought to know that.”

The beastly instincts of humanity are taking over and everyone is turning into a rhinoceros, a wild creature who has no semblance with the cultured individual which we are fond to think of. The Absurdists employed their techniques not only on the subject matter and content, but to their craft too. Not only dialogues between the characters are ambiguous and absurd, but even the stage instructions are contradictory.

A similar small play is Future Is In the Eggs. A trap-door may or may not open; or perhaps the stage may or may not slowly collapse, and the characters – all unwittingly – gently sink and disappear without interrupting their actions – or jut quite simply carry on, according to the technical facilities available. P. 141.

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