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Theatre of the Absurd

Updated: Jan 31, 2023

A Dig Deeper Article by Production Dramaturg Lyudmyla Honcharova.

Photo- Meg Jerrard on Unsplash.

How do we find the logic in something that, by its nature, is illogical? Indeed, it is absurd to try to define the Theatre of the Absurd at all, as its structure is complex and puzzling with multiple possibilities of reinterpretation. Moreover, playwrights that have been associated with the so-called “absurd movement” or “absurdism” did not, for the most part, consider themselves as such. Eugène Ionesco fell under this category: “I have been called a writer of the absurd.” He viewed the term absurd as something vague that meant nothing and could easily define anything. On the contrary, he thought of the existence of the world itself as not absurd but something unbelievable. The absurd in his plays is hidden in situations, not in any broader perception of the world.

The Theatre of the Absurd is a reflection of WWII and post-war society; a world without a future. Generally, the post-war world was viewed as something that had lost meaning. Thus, it is widely thought that the Theatre of the Absurd is an impression of emptiness and meaninglessness. However, according to scholar Michael Y. Bennett, “Theatre of Absurd instils not a sense of helplessness, but rather one of hope.” It is a search for hope and new meaning that drives the playwrights of the period between the 1950s and 1960s to discover new forms and ways of representing the chaos of the world. According to Bennett,

“True, life might not have any inherent meaning, but this stems not from the world, but from the contradiction between our desires and what the world offers us. However, even given the absurdity of this situation, it is up to us, through our defiance, revolt, and contemplation, to make our lives meaningful.”

Theatre of the Absurd provokes the audience to re-evaluate reality and see it from a different perspective. As Bennet notes, “The playwrights of the Theatre of the Absurd believed that life can have meaning if paradox is worked out.” They believed in paradox as the key to understanding and finding meaning. Undoubtedly, Theatre of the Absurd speaks to the audience nowadays as society reaches a crisis of humanity once again. War in the Middle East and Ukraine, and the global economic crisis are some of the reasons for the need to find the meaning of life and humanity. Reality is horrific, thus the only way to perceive it is through the lens of paradox and absurdism. Indeed, it is difficult to find the meaning and justification for the destruction in the world. Theatre of the Absurd is possibly the only way of rediscovering common sense.

Suggested Reading:

Bennett, Michael Y. Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd : Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter. 1st ed., Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Bennett, Michael Y. The Cambridge Introduction to Theatre and Literature of the Absurd. Cambridge University Press, 2015.

Ionesco, Eugène. Notes and Counter Notes : Writings on the Theatre. Grove Press, 1964.

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