Theater of the Absurd allows you to better express yourself and explore more about yourself. When you watch or read a Theater of the Absurd play, you are faced with bizarre and oftentimes random situations representing the absurdity of humanity and its existence. (Britannica.com). Putting meaning into these bizarre situations is up to the viewer, as well as the playwright to write a message while also not writing one. While this may seem absurd in itself, which it is, when it is done correctly it can be a powerful tool used in several ways, whether it be politically or socially. For example, in the play written by Jean Genet called, “The Maids” two maids pretend to be their Madame, taking turns both dressing up and insulting each other. (SparkNotes.com). This is thought to represent their escape from their slave mortality, but it is only temporary. People can find parts of themselves being displayed in the maids as everyone has an authority figure they dislike, but must withhold their feelings in order to maintain the status quo. It also shows how the lower class could view the upper class, or how poor people who weren’t so lucky in life view rich people who have it all in life.
Theater of the Absurd is the name of a style of theater developed after World War Two, a war between various nations across the globe. It was mainly written by playwrights originating from European countries throughout the mid to late 1900s, some examples being: Eugene Ionesco who lived in Romania and France, Samuel Beckett who lived in Italy and France, and Arthur Adamov who lived in Russia and France. (Theatrehistory.com). All of these playwrights are major players in the Theater of Absurd genre, especially Samuel Beckett, who is a prime example of the Theater of Absurd genre with his play “Waiting for Godot.” A few examples of plays that are apart of the Theater of the Absurd genre are: Waiting for Godot, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Rhinoceros, Endgame (not the marvel one), The Balcony, The Bald Soprano, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, The Maids, and finally, The Ubu Plays. All these plays have bizarre and absurd situations, hence the name of the genre “absurd.” While they are all nonsensical, they all withhold meaning of sorts, whether it be the Bald Soprano’s portrayal of language, Waiting for Godot possible showcase of god or a higher being, of The Maids look into the minds of slaves and how they view their masters.
Theater of the Absurd revolves around the idea of existentialism, an idea that says that we aren’t born with a purpose, but we have to decide what our essence is through our actions. In other words, existence comes before essence. One reason why Theater of the Absurd is important is that gives it’s viewers an insight into their own minds and allows them to come to realize things about humanity that they didn’t know before. A perfect example of this is Eugene Ionesco’s “The Bald Soprano”. In this play, Eugen Ionesco uses his previous experiences with learning the English language by repeating cliches and sentences and transforms it into dialogue for the characters, all of whom are sitting around a table. (Shmoop.com). The people sitting at the table are apart of a family of sorts, both related and unrelated. Eugene Ionesco’s way of putting himself into characters shows how good of a playwright he is. His use of absurd language for dialogue between the characters highlights how absurd communication between both individuals and groups is absurd as you can never truly express how you feel through language, as it is all ultimately a bunch of nonsense put in a certain order.
Another reason why Theater of the Absurd is important is that it enables viewers to think in complex ways and requires viewers to pay attention and look for deeper meaning even when there seems to be none. It helps viewers who are looking for a different experience, as they don’t just watch the play, but they use critical thinking to better understand the play and interpret messages personally rather than having a general message for everybody. An example of this taking place is Waiting for Godot, a play in which two people wait for a man named Godot, but he never arrives. (Shmoop.com). People have thought Godot to signify a being higher than humans, such as a god, as he is supposed to come and make their lives better, but, as previously stated, he never arrives in the play. At the end of the play the two characters waiting for Godot decide to leave, but stay in the same place. This is thought to signify people wanting someone to come and give their life meaning, but it never comes; so we should give ourselves meaning, and not wait for something that never comes. This is just one way people interpret Waiting for Godot, which goes to show how meaninglessly meaningful Theater of the Absurd plays can be.
Waiting for Godot is still relevant today because it is able to still convey it’s message especially during tough times. Waiting for Godot seems to have a unique resonance during times of political or economic crisis. Sean Mathias said ‘This play speaks about what it is to be human at the most animal and spiritual level, so subtly that it’s like a big beautiful poem or piece of music. It doesn’t lecture you, it’s not polemic, it’s not coarse. It’s written so subtly that its lessons are almost biblical. It teaches you in a very gentle, intelligent way and I think it’s very relevant today.’ Waiting for Godot is the only play that can be described as “the play in which nothing happens, twice”.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is basically Hamlet told from the eyes of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern who are minor characters in the original play Hamlet. This play proposes many questions on the topic of the meaning of life as the main characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are moving toward an inescapable fate. One that the audience knows because of the title and their knowledge of what transpires in Hamlet. The main theme of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is the incomprehensibility of the world. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead brings light to the most fundamental question of the world. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern spend the majority of the play in utter confusion lacking the basic knowledge of their names. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cannot understand the world around them. Their confusion stems from both the sheer randomness of the universe, illustrated by the bizarre coin-tossing episode, and the ambiguous and unclear motives of the other characters, who pop onstage and deliver brief, perplexing speeches before quickly exiting. Stoppard uses their confusion for comic relief mostly but occasionally Rosencrantz and Guildenstern becomes so frustrated by the world’s incomprehensibility that they often fall into despair. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern cannot understand the world around them. Their confusion stems from both the sheer randomness of the universe, illustrated by the bizarre coin-tossing episode, and the ambiguous and unclear motives of the other characters, who pop onstage and deliver brief, perplexing speeches before quickly exiting.
Rhinoceros is a play where one singular rhino comes into a very small town. This rhino causes quite a commotion, yet the people of this town somehow end up acting like it and turning into rhino. The supposedly strong characters, like Jean, fail the ultimate test of will- power, the rhino-epidemic, and their crumbling wills are foreshadowed by their subtler evasions of responsibility—Daisy, for instance, wants to live a guiltless life. Their idea of will borrows from Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of ‘the will to power.’ For them, will is a means to metamorphose into Nietzsche’s ‘super-man,’ a powerful being beyond human morality. The savagery of the rhinos, and Jean’s transformation and statements in Act Two, exemplify this desire for power. He becomes violent, claims humanism is dead, and tries to trample Berenger. The play’s final irony is that Berenger becomes the true super-man, gathering his resources of will, built on a foundation of love for his fellow man, to take responsibility for humanity.