History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now/French Post-WWII< History of Western Theatre: 17th Century to Now
Jean-Paul Sartre followed up work from the previous period with "Les séquestrés d'Altona" (The condemned of Altona, more precisely The sequestered of Altona, 1959).
"The sequestered of Altona"Edit
Time: 1940s-1950s. Place: Germany.
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After learning he has only a few months left to live, an industrialist wishes his younger son, Werner, to take over his boat-construction business. He also requests that Werner, his wife, Johanna, and his sister, Leni, remain together in their 32-room family mansion, watching over his eldest son, Frantz, who has been kept sequestered in the house for thirteen years. Werner and Leni agree to do so, but Johanna wants to move elsewhere alone, so that the father must explain why the three should remain together after his death. In 1941, he received an offer from Goebbel, Nazi minister, to sell his field and organize a concentration camp for Jews, which he accepted. During the persecution of the Jews, Frantz was caught harboring a rabbi inside his father's mansion. The rabbi was killed before his face by SS officers and the father forced to send his son away in the march towards Russia. Johanna suspects that her husband tipped off the SS. In 1946, American officers were invited at the mansion, where Leni was in the habit of enflaming their desires and then dashing them with insults. One day, an officer attempted to rape her. She was able to defend herself by hitting him on the head with a bottle. To protect her, Frantz took the blame, and, thanks to a deal with an American general, was allowed to go abroad, but instead stayed home in hiding. Johanna hates that story. She does not change her mind, delivering an ultimatum to her husband: either to stay or follow her elsewhere. Over the years, Frantz has refused even to see his father, only allowing Leni to enter his room. The father tries to convince Johanna to speak with Frantz, at least to let him know he is dying. Frantz is not the humanist he first appeared from his father's anecdotes. Wearing an officer's uniform in shreds, he keeps Adolf Hitler's picture in his room and peppers it with oyster shells. Since the end of the war, he considers the entire country overrun with weeds, passing the time either drunk or engaging in an incestuous relation with his sister. Johanna obtains Leni's secret code from her husband to see Frantz. She reveals to him that his father is dying and that she would prefer to see her son either free or dead than living in such a manner. Learning his wife succeeded in seeing Frantz, the father asks to see him, too, but she refuses to help him, thinking it might lead to their son's death. Werner thinks his father's purpose is to place Frantz as head of the business in his place. Eventually, Johanna changes her mind and informs Frantz about his father's wish to see him, but has difficulty in enticing him back to a normal life. "I will abandon at once my life of illusions....when I love you more than my lies, when you love me despite my truth," Frantz says. He specifies that his sequestration is due not by something he did, but by what he failed to do, in passively permitting a fanatic in his troup of soldiers to torture some civilians. Neither Johanna nor Leni are able to convince Frantz to leave his room, though he accepts at last to see his father. Frantz has read in the newspapers of his father's financial successes, he who has always played the game of "whoever loses, wins". The father is surprised to learn that Frantz accepts to run the business. While reminiscing about the past, Frantz reminds him of the time they once drove a car together at great speed, both wishing to relive that experience. When they go out together, Leni becomes certain that they will die together.
Henry de MontherlantEdit
Henry de Montherlant (1895-1972) followed up the previous period with another noteworthy piece in the tradition of a realist rendering of history "Le maître de Santiago" (The master of Santiago, 1948). Gassner (1954) summarized the play as "a father refuses to take any steps to secure his daughter’s perfectly honorable marriage to a man she loves, because he rejects all compromise with life in complacently prosperous and power-minded Spain after the defeat of the Moors. His daughter, stirred by her father’s extreme honorableness, puts an end to the hoax that would have secured him riches and that would have enabled her to marry. The father is a remarkably well-drawn Don Quixote (without any ludicrous attributes, however), and his aversion to the conniving world and the enslavement of the American Indians by Spain rises to truly heroic proportions. The flame of idealism in this drama is all-consuming. One could wish only that it also had more human warmth. The knight’s almost superhuman purity of motivation is, no doubt, intended as a slap in the face of ordinary humanity — for which Montherlant had perhaps too much contempt to become a truly great dramatist." (p 724)
"The master of Santiago"Edit
Time: 1519. Place: Avila, Spain.
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Members of the Order of Santiago meet at the house of their master, Don Alvero. Three of its members decide to try their fortunes in the new world. To Alvaro, the present times are rotten, compared to the famous times when Spain ousted the Mores from Spain at the battle of Granada, when he "contemplated God in his cloak of war". The supposed purpose of converting Indians in the new world is "impurity and excrement", because the passion of lucre, instead of sending Indians to heaven, sends Spaniards to hell. When his friends leave, Alavaro rejoices in his solitude. "O my soul, do you still exist?" he asks himself, "O my soul, at last you and me!" A friend, Don Bernal, has heard about the love-match proposed between his son, Jacinto, and Alvaro's daughter, Mariana. Because of Jacinto's expensive mode of living, Bernal suggests that he enrich himself along with others in the new world, a plan the master immediately and irrevocably refuses. Alvaro is not interested in acquiring money even for his daughter's sake, whom he best loves in the world. "You will not steal my poverty," he warns his friend. He harshly accuses his daughter of dishonesty in this matter, calling love "monkeyshine". "Is the father of a daughter a father?" he asks himself rhetorically. In an attempt to help the young lovers, Bernal asks the count of Soria to mislead Alvaro into thinking the king commands Alvaro's presence as an administrator in the new world, but Mariana, unable to deceive her father, ruins the plan by admitting the deception to him. Fed up with world affairs, Alvaro heads towards St Barnaby's convent, a place where Mariana can live, too. She accepts the offer. He covers her with the white robe of the Order of Santiago, and, with the snow falling outside, father and daughter seem ready to live buried in mystical snow.
Another play of inretest, "Les caves du Vatican" (The Vatican cellars, 1950) was written by André Gide (1869-1951) as a close adaptation of the 1914 novel of the same title.
"The Vatican cellars"Edit
Time: 1890s. Place: Italy.
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Anthimus, an atheist and a cripple, is angry at his wife, Veronica, for offering votive candles to the Virgin Mary meant to improve his health. To his surprise, alone in the dark, he hears the Virgin's voice and becomes cured, joyfully throwing away his crutches and converting himself to the Catholic faith. Anthimus' wealthy brother-in-law, Julius, a writer, is requested by his dying father, a count, to visit the father's bastard son, a youth named Lafcadio, whom he has never met. To obtain information on Lafcadio, Julius proposes him some work as a secretary. In his will, the father bequests to Lafcadio a large sum of money provided he promises not to bother other members of the family with his presence, so that he need not take the job offered him by Julius. On his way to Julius' house, Lafcadio saves two children from a house on fire, to the admiration of Julius' daughter, Jennifer. Lafcadio's description of his life-history to Julius is interrupted by news of the count's death. Meanwhile, Julius' other brother-in-law, Amadeus, hears a rumor that Pope Leo XIII has been abducted and kept in a dungeon at San Angelo's fortress, annexed to the Vatican, while an imposter takes his place. The rumor is false, perpetrated by Protos, a school-chum of Lafcadio, to obtain large sums of money from gullible Catholics for the purpose of freeing the pope. When Amadeus arrives in Rome, Protos, disguised as a priest, befriends him and takes him to Naples to an associate in crime, Bardoletti, pretending to be a cardinal, who requests him to change a bond of 6,000 francs into ready cash. At the same time, Julius is also visiting Rome to request the pope a compensation for the loss of revenues suffered by Anthimus, no longer protected by freemasons he once counted on in his career. However, he is unsuccessful at this task. Amadeus reveals to him what he knows about the missing pope, but Julius finds it dificult to believe such a story. Nevertheless, he helps him retrieve the money from the bank and gives him a train ticket in his name. By coincidence, when Amadeus takes the train from Rome towards Naples, he encounters Lafcadio, neither knowing each other. Bored with his life but willing to dare fate to the utmost, Lafcadio throws him out the door to his death. He takes with him Amadeus' train ticket but not the 6,000 francs. While meeting Julius in Rome, Lafcadio is surprised to learn that the murdered man is Julius' brother-in-law. To tease his half-brother, he leaves on the table Amadeus' train ticket. On discovering this, Julius becomes extremely worried he may become the unknown murderer's next victim. Unknown to Lafcadio, his murder was observed by Protos, who proposes to his old friend that they blackmail Julius. Lafcadio refuses and discloses his crime to Julius, a conversion overheard by Jennifer. The murder makes her love the man even more. Lafcadio makes off with her, concluding: "Together, we'll know how to save ourselves."
A bridge is drawn between Jarry's "Ubu the king" (1888) and the Theatre of the Absurd with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. An example of a Dadaist play is Tristan Tzara's "The gas heart" (1921) where nonsense prevails. Examples of Surrealist plays include "Victor, or the children come to power" (1928) describe din the previous section and "The mysteries of love" (1927) by Roger Vitrac. The playwrights of both movements seek to overthrow middle class conventions with dream images. Surrealists show interest in replacing dominant conventions with a new society, including a communist one, whereas Dadaists show little desire to replace them with anything. A bridge is also drawn between existential drama and the Theatre of the Absurd in Jacques Audiberti's (1899-1965) "Le mal court" (Evil runs, 1947), also showing some affinity with Georg Büchner's "Leonce and Lena" (1836) and Alfred de Musset's "Fantasio" (1834).
Time: 1940s. Place: Fictional country of Shortland.
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Alarica, princess of Shortland, must marry for political reasons Perfect, king of Occident. She hears a knock at the door and a voice stating that the king has arrived. While the princess and the supposed king confer, her lieutenant discovers that the man is an imposter. As the intruder, Ferdinand, tries to leave, the lieutenant shoots him but lets him live. While Alarica and her governess discuss the case, a second knock is heard, stating once again that the king has arrived. This time it is the genuine king, who finds the princess attractive, but the cardinal in his company reveals that their marriage prospects have been annulled, as it is more in their country's interest for the king to marry the Spanish king's daughter. "We will marry Spain and make her pregnant," the cardinal declares. However, during his absence, the king proposes marriage to Alarica and is accepted. They set off for Occident, but when the subject of what to do with Ferdinand arises, Alarica proposes that he share their bed. The king is stunned at this suggestion and no longer knows what will become of him. Although Alarica and Ferdinand sleep in the same bed, they find it difficult to agree. "All that you deserve is for me to let you wade among your ideas like a comb in soup," he says. Meanwhile, the king of Shortland, Celestincinc, demands to know what a stranger is doing in his daughter's bedroom. She behaves more and more strangely to the point that Celestincin suspects his daughter has gone mad. "Evil runs. A ferret! A ferret! At all costs let it run," she says. Celestincinc orders Ferdinand's arrest. Alarica disapproves of this decision. Her life has only served so far to "mask the present tornado of my ferocity," she says. Inspired by Alarica, Ferdinand proposes great improvements in the land of Shortland, to the astonishment of the marshal, who finds his plans "totally prodigious". Alarica proposes that the lieutenant and the marshal abandon fidelity towards her father and submit themselves entirely to her and her husband as queen and king of Shortland. They agree. "Evil runs," Alaracia happily concludes.
Arthur Adamov (1908-1970) is another Surrealist playwright why a claim to fame in "L'invasion" (The invasion, 1950).
Time: 1950s. Place: France.
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Peter works hard in trying to decipher writings left by the dead brother of his wife, Agnes. While he slowly makes way in assembling the texts, she types them up. They are helped by a friend, Tradel, but the two men do not agree on the best method of proceeding. Peter believes in obtaining the most accurate word-for-word version, while Tradel believes in obtaining an approximate version completed by their instinctive knowledge of what was meant. Because of this disagreement, Peter works alone, though Tradel warns that they must hurry, because the dead friend's family is seeking legal means of obtaining the documents for their own use. Peter thinks they can do nothing about that. An unknown man shows up to buy the apartment next door. The stranger takes pity on sad-looking Agnes, almost totally ignored by her preoccupied husband. Unable to pursue his work, Peter decides to quit for awhile and live inside a secluded room in their apartment, to be bothered by no one. "I will not have peace so long as things do not show a certain perspective," he affirms. Agnes and Tradel do not believe this to be a good idea. Peter's mother will bring him meals as usual, but he warns her never to utter a word to him. With Peter ensconced in the little room, the stranger loses no time in declaring his love to Agnes. They go off together, to the amusement of Peter's mother, who laughs and slaps her thigh at this event. When Peter emerges from the room, he is ready to assume an ordinary life. He tears the papers he spent so much time on and then learns his wife has left him. He expresses understanding of her decision in view of their disordered life together, but his mother blames her for the disorder. As he leaves the room, Tradel returns to reveal that Agnes' family is ready to remove the papers from off their hands, but then discovers all of them torn up. Unexpectedly, Agnes comes back, but only temporarily, since her friend is sick. After brief exchanges, the mother pushes her out. When Tradel looks for Peter, he discovers him dead. "I will never forgive myself," he declares. The mother is stunned at this event and stands immobile.
Another main dramatist of this period is Jean Genet (1910-1986) with "Les bonnes" (The maids, 1947) and "Les nègres" (The blacks, 1958).
Esslin (1968) commented that "the two maids are linked by the love-hatred of being each other's mirror images...At the same time, in the role of the lady, Claire sees the whole race of servants as the distorting mirror of the upper class. Thus what they hate seeing reflected in each other is the distorted reflection of the world of the secure masters, which they adore, ape, and loathe." (p 208) The maids are unable to rebel because they hate not only their condition but themselves (Thody, 1979). “Their only refuge lies in their criminal dream...” (p 167).
In “The blacks”, there is a tight relation between stage events and the uprising behind the scenes. Brustein (1964) wrote that “the ritual is designed to disintegrate the white image, the uprising to disintegrate the whites.” The destruction of the whites as they appear is seen as the only way to better their condition. The blacks fight the whites in their purpose to obtain political independence and be able to enjoy emotions other than hatred (Thody, 1979 p 199).
Antonin Artaud prefigured Genet’s theatre in its myth-creating goals, the use of language as incantation, communicating emotions rather than exchanging ideas, and the use of visual and auditory aids in the form of “music, dance, plastic art, pantomime, mimicry, gesticulation, intonation, architecture, scenery, and lighting” (Artaud, 1938). Brustein (1964) commented that “Genet pulls his myths from the depths of a totally liberated unconscious, where morality, inhibition, refinement, and conscience hold no sway; at the basis of his work is that dark sexual freedom which Artaud held to be the root of all great myths.”
Time: 1940s. Place: France.
Claire commands her servant, Solange, to dress her up in all her finery. Her constant recriminations incite Solange to fury. She strikes Claire and threatens worse until the alarm-clock rings, at which point Claire cries out: "Let's hurry. Madam will come back." Claire is a servant as well and they have only been play-acting. Claire blames her sister for always being late, so that they never reach the moment of their mistress' murder. Despite frustrations inherent in their servile state, Claire is nevertheless of the opinion that at heart their mistress loves them. "Yes," Solange comments sarcastically, "like the pink enamel of her latrine." To avenge themselves of their lot outside of play-acting, Claire has written an anonymous letter to the police, accusing her mistress' lover of robbery and leading to his arrest. Solange intends to go further, revealing that she was once tempted to kill their mistress as she slept, but her courage failed her when she moved. "She will corrupt us with her softness," she warns. To their consternation, Claire learns from a telephone call that the man was set free on bail. Claire blames her sister all the more for failing to kill her. Now they well may be denounced as false accusers and imprisoned. "I have enough of being the spider, the stem of the umbrella, the sordid and godless nun with no family," Claire says despondently. They whip up further accusations against their mistress but to no practical avail. "Yet we can't kill her for so little," Solange admits. She suddenly changes her mind again, and suggests dissolving barbiturates in their mistress' lime-blossom tea. Their mistress enters, distressed about her lover's state, ready to follow him to a far-away prison. "I will have newer and more beautiful dresses," she decides. She gives Claire her silk dress and Solange her fur-coat. Then she notices the telephone off the hook. Solange blurts out that her lover called. She is led on to reveal that her mistress is to meet him at a restaurant. The mistress wants to join him at once and leaves before drinking the tea meant to poison her. "All the plots were useless. We are damned," Claire concludes. Solange suggests that they should escape, but Claire finds the suggestion impractical, both being poor with nowhere to go. They uselessly curse their servile state. In despair, they resume play-acting, Solange this time in the mistress' role asking for her tea. But then Claire resumes the mistress' role again to swallow the poisoned tea while Solange's hands cross themselves as if already handcuffed.
Time: 1950s. Place: White-colonized Africa.
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A group of black people present the murder of a white woman on a stage in front of a court composed of other black people thinly disguised as whites, including a queen, a governor, a judge, a missionary, and a servant. Archibald Absalon Wellington is the master of ceremonies, guiding the spirit of the presentation towards greater hatred of white colonization. Before a hearse, Archibald asks Village what happened that morning, who answers he strangled a white woman named Mary with his own hands. On hearing of this event, the queen grieves. "Be confident, your majesty, God is white," the missionary consoles her. When some of the blacks are distracted from contributing to any worthwhile cause, Archibald reminds them that they must merit the court's reprobation. In their stage presentation, Mary's role is played by Diouf, a vicar, Mary's mother's role by Felicity, a whore, and a man named Bobo her neighbor. While Mary speaks to her eventual rapist and murderer, the mother constantly cries out for her "pralines and aspirin" and reminds her it is time for prayers. The neighbor copmes over to remind Mary that her eyes may be ruined if she continues to work in the dark. During the course of the evening, Mary plays the piano, an art approved of by the queen: "Even in adversity, in a debacle, our melodies sing out," she declares enthusiastically. Unexpectedly, Mary is about to give birth. The neighbor arrives as the midwife and takes out from beneath her smock dolls representing the five members of the court. She is then murdered and the court convenes for the condemnation of the murderer. The missionary considers that the victim should be beatified, but the queen is uncertain whether that idea is wise. "After all, she was sullied, defending herself to the last, I hope, but she may remind us of her shame," the queen considers. During the court proceedings, the black people rebel and the five members of the court must escape their fury. To ease their fatigue on their way along roads and fields, the missionary approves of the use of alcoholic drinks. However, they get drunk. "Dances occur only at night, none of which do not intend our deaths. Stop. It is a frightening country. Each brushwood conceals a missionary's tomb," the missionary warns them. The judge succeeds in re-organizing the court in session, whereby the members of the black population begin to tremble, but one of their leaders, Felicity, arises to challenge the queen. Another of the black leaders, Ville de Saint-Nazaire, reveals that a traitor in their midst has been executed, but that a new leader of the rebellion is found. The court-members are surrounded, yet the queen admonishes them to courage amid adversity. "Show those barbarians that we are great by our attention to discipline and, to white people looking on, that we are worthy of their tears," she declares. Despite this encouragement, one by one the members of the court are executed.
The Theatre of the Absurd originated in France in the 50s, the first of whose main proponents is Romanian-born Eugène Ionesco (1909-1994) with "La cantatrice chauve" (The bald soprano, 1948) and "Rhinocéros" (Rhinoceros, 1959).
This sort of theatre may opposed to realist theatre as described by Esslin (1968). "If a good play [in the Realist style] must have a cleverly constructed story, these [Absurdist plays] have no story or plot to speak of; if a good play is judged by subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play is to hold the mirror up to nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares; if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist of incoherent babblings." (p 22)
"The bald soprano"Edit
Time: 1950s. Place: London, England.
While Mrs Smith prattles about domestic affairs, Mr Smith clicks his tongue. He reads in the newspaper a mention about Bobby Watson's death. Mrs Smith specifies that it is his wife, Bobbie Watson, that she is now thinking about. The Smiths suggest that the Watson children, Bobby and Bobbie, may be taken care of by an uncle and aunt, Bobby and Bobbie Watson, respectively, so that the widow may remarry. "Has she anyone in mind?" Mrs Smith asks. "Yes, Bobby Watson's cousin," Mr Smith affirms. "Who? Bobby Watson?" his wife queries. "Which Bobby Watson are you talking about?" he queries back. "The son of old Bobby Watson, other uncle to the dead Bobby Watson," she answers. "No, not that one," he says. "Bobby Watson, son to the old Bobbie Watson, Bobby Watson's aunt." After settling that matter, their invited guests arrive, a man and a woman who do not know each other. While conversing, the two guests are astonished to discover that they many things in common until realizing they are man and wife. The doorbell rings. Mrs Smith gets up to see who it is, but there is no one. The same thing happens twice more, until an angry Mr Smith gets up and sees a fireman at the door, who has been waiting there for 45 minutes. Interrogated on the subject of how can that be, the fireman reveals that he had seen no one when the bell had rung the first two times, but it was he who had rung the third time, then hid, as a joke. He recites experimental fables, such as "The dog and the bull": another bull asked another dog: why did you not swallow your trunk?- Sorry, the dog answered, it's because I thought I was an elephant. Before leaving, the fireman asks about the bald soprano. "She covers herself as usual," Mrs Smith responds. After the fireman leaves, the two couples have an increasing amount of difficulty in understanding each other, then run about confusedly.
Time: 1950s. Place: Paris, France.
John scolds his friend, Berenger, for his excessive drinking and disordered life. Unexpectedly, their conversation is interrupted by a rhinoceros running in the streets. They discuss where the animal could possibly have come from, but each suggestion seems more implausible than the other. Berenger's fellow office worker, Daisy, comes over to talk about the same subject. Once again, the conversation is interrupted by a rhinoceros running in the streets. A housewife comes over to moan over the fact that the rhinoceros crushed her cat. They discuss whether it is the same rhinoceros or a different one. A grocer thinks it is the same, but John does not, explaining that the previous one had two horns, therefore an Asian one, whereas the second one had only one, and thus of African origin. Taking into consideration the speed with which they were running, Berenger casts doubt on whether his friend could reliably count the number of horns. "In addition, it was covered with dust," he adds. In his view, John is a pretentious pedant. John is offended. An old man intervenes to ask whether the one-horned rhinoceros is truly African? John and Berenger quarrel about that subject as well. According to Daisy, both are wrong. "The Asian rhinoceros has one horn, the African one, two, and vice versa," the grocer pronounces. After John leaves angrily, Berenger has qualms about his own attitude, along with that of his friend. "The least objection makes him froth at the mouth," Berenger declares. A logician comes over to say that even if the first rhinoceros had two horns and the second only one, there is still no conclusive evidence that the two are different, because the first one might have lost one. In the office where Berenger works, there is a difference in opinion concerning the existence of the rhinoceros. His fellow-worker, Botard, considers them an invention, an opinion which offends both Berenger and Daisy. In contrast, another office worker, Dudard, in love with Daisy, believes her eyewitness account. "He does not even know how many he saw," says Botard of Berenger. After viewing a rhinoceros in the street, another office worker, Mrs Beefsteak, rushes in panic. One of the rhinoceros damages the staircase in the office building. Botard continues to believe all this is just an illusion, until he sees one of them possessing what appears to be his own eyes. Mrs Beefsteak recognizes one as her husband. Berenger sees one animal with two horns, but is still unsure whether it is Asian or African. Meanwhile, the department head, Mr Butterfly, encourages them to go back to work while also calling for help. In the emergency, firemen arrive to usher the workers out of the building. Feeling qualms about their dispute, Berenger visits John's home to apologize, but is horrified on seeing his friend turn into a rhinoceros right before his very eyes. Later, Butterfly and Dudard are also transformed into rhinoceros, as does Daisy, yielding to their growing numbers, especially after hearing them on the radio, despite her promise to stay on Berenger's side. Against all odds, Berenger remains firm never to become one.
Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) continued or perfected, some would say, the Theatre of the Absurd with "Waiting for Godot" (1952), "Endgame" (1957), and "Happy Days" (1961).
In “Endgame”, Hamm might be an abbreviation of hammer, Clov might reflect “clou” or nail, from which may be derived Nell (or nail) and Nagg from the German translation “Nagel” (Mendelson, 1977). "In Endgame, constant reference is made to the question of game, of play and theatre. Hamm opens his first and last monologues with the words, ‘Me – [He yawns] – to play’ (pp. 10, 96, 114). To Clov’s question, ‘What is there to keep me here?’ (p. 82), he replies, ‘The dialogue’ (p. 84). Hamm acts with knowledge of the underlying theatrical conventions and rules of performance, ‘Since that’s the way we’re playing it … let’s play it that way’ (p. 118). He teaches Clov, ‘An aside, ape! Did you never hear an aside before? [Pause] I’m warming up for my last soliloquy’ (p. 108). He begins and ends the play theatrically: at the beginning he makes the curtain rise (‘He removes the handkerchief from his face’ [p. 10]) and at the end he lets it fall (‘He covers his face with handkerchief’[p. 118])" (Fischer-Lichte, 2002, p 331). This type of self-consciousness is the epitome of the post-modern style in literature, in contrast with the lack of self-consciousness of the modern period.
Esslin (1968) described "Happy days" as follows. "On the one hand it is tragic that Winnie should be so cheerful in her terrible and hopeless predicament, on the other it is funny; in one sense her cheerfulness is sheer folly and the author seems to make a deeply pessimistic comment on human life; in another sense, however, Winnie's cheerfulness in the face of death and nothingness is an expression of man's courage and nobility, and thus the play provides a kind of catharsis, Winnie's life does consist of happy days, because she refuses to be dismayed." (p 83)
"Waiting for Godot"Edit
"Waiting for Godot". Time: 1950s. Place: France.
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Two vagabonds,Vladimir and Estragon, expect to meet a man named Godot on a country road, who promised to be there, but has not yet arrived. While waiting, the two friends attempt to amuse themselves. Yet time passes and still Godot does not show up. Why? Have they mistaken the agreed-on day? Are they at the right place? Estragon is hungry but it is Vladimir who takes out a carrot and eats most of it. "I'll never forget this carrot," he remarks amid his almost constant state of boredom. Their waiting is interrupted by the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky, the latter appearing to be Pozzo's servant if not slave and led along by him with a rope. This relation seems scandalous to Vladimir and Estragon, but they do nothing to interfere. Worse than this, Vladimir and Estragon begin to inflict the apparently mute Lucky with the same abominable treatment he receives from his master. But Lucky is not mute. He eventually bursts out with an unpunctuated monologue, incoherent in many parts and leading to nothing, after which he leaves with Pozzo. A young boy appears suddenly, sent by Godot to say he will drop by tomorrow. Vladimir is under the impression of having once experienced this event, but the boy denies it. The next day, nothing has changed except a tree has grown some leaves where they were before. Similar vaudeville-style exchanges are repeated to no avail. Although Vladimir mentions their waiting at the same place on the previous day, Estragon does not remember it. Pozzo and Lucky enter and soon fall down, but are not helped by either tramp, though Vladimir says it is necessary to do so and Estragon is willing to in exchange for money. Pozzo is now blind and Lucky mute, though the former does not remember when that misfortune occurred. They go on their way. The boy returns and leaves with the same message as the day before, without remembering what he had said on the previous day. As the only one seeming to remember, Vladimir's existence seems all the more futile. The two friends decide to hang themselves on the tree. If so, they will have an erection. Estragon takes off his belt and, vaudeville-like, his pants fall down. The belt snaps off before they get a chance to try it out. They give up. They decide to go but do not move.
Time: 1950s. Place: France.
Hamm puts off a bloody handkerchief from his face. Blind and unable to stand, he is served by Clov, sighted but unable to sit. While yawning, Hamm wonders: "Is there misery loftier than mine?" Hamm is frightened at the thought that perhaps he has not made Clov suffer enough, but is relieved on being assured that he has. Hamm's father, Nagg, lives in a trash-heap and asks for his pap. "Accursed progenitor!" Hamm cries out in anger. He commands Clov to give him a biscuit. Hamm despairs that nature has forgotten them, but Clov corrects him by saying there is no more nature. After lifting up the cover of his trash-heap, Nagg tries to kiss his wife, Nell, in the bin next to his, but is unable to. When Nagg laughs at Hamm's miseries, Nell scolds him. "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that, but-" she remarks but is unable to finish. Suddenly, Hamm decides he wants to be placed in dead center of the room. With great difficulty, Clov at last accedes to that desire. Hamm next requires him to look outside with a telescope, but the only thing visible is a grey landscape. Hamm has another frightening thought. "We're not beginning to mean something?" he wonders aloud. When a crablouse bothers Clov, Hamm commands him to kill it at once. "Humanity might start from there all over again," he warns. He next asks for a catheter to expel urine, but before Clov can obtain one, urinates on himself. He then asks Clov to set the correct position of an imploring black toy dog. Soon after, Nell dies, at which Nagg weeps. After asking Clov several times whether it is time for his pain-killer, Hamm discovers there is none. It is useless to go on any further. Clov goes away. After whistling for him with no response, Hamm throws down the whistle and puts a bloody handkerchief over his face.
Time: 1960s. Place: France.
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Winnie lies half-buried upright on a mound of earth. A bell from an unspecific source is the signal to start her day, in which she takes out comb, toothbrush, toothpaste, handkerchief, lipstick, nail file, appetite stimulant, glasses, and revolver. After taking them out, she kisses the revolver. Her husband, Willie, lives in a cave behind the mound, reading newspapers and postcards and pouring a soothing solution on his penis. She hears but does not see him. Under a parasol to protect her from excessive sunlight, she goes about her usual routine of the day, such as singing a song at exactly the same hour. As she chatters, Willie does not appear to be listening, so that she must strike him sometimes to get his attention. Music from an unspecified source is heard, at which she rejoices. Willie does not contribute much, but at least he manages to define the word "hog" for her. It is hot. Eventually, the parasol ignites from the excessive heat, but she remains optimistic that the day may yet end well. At the end of the day, the bell sounds again, at which time she puts each item back inside the bag except the gun. Winnie is content with little. “This will have been another happy day," she concludes. On a subsequent day, started by the same wakening bell, she now lies buried up to her neck and so can no longer manipulate any of her objects, though still confident this will yet be another of her happy days. She has not heard Willie for quite a while but believes he can still hear her, or, if not, to her he remains there in any case. "Oh, no doubt you are dead, like the others, no doubt you have died, or gone away and left me, like the others, it doesn’t matter, you are there," she says. Unexpectedly, Willie shows up at last, heading towards her, or else towards the gun, but before reaching it, he falls off the mound. He manages to call out her name, at which she rejoices. "Win! Oh this is a happy day, this will have been another happy day! After all. So far," she concludes for herself.
Another proponent of the theatre of the absurd is the Spanish-born Fernando Arrabal (1932-?) with "Le cimetière des voitures" (The automobile cemetery, 1959), "Guernica" (1959), and "Le grand cérémonial" (The grand ceremony, 1963). As with the British Kitchen Sink school, the better plays seem to arise early in the dramatic careers of absurdists.
In "The automobile cemetery", Emanou is meant to represent a shortened form of Emmanuel, Jesus Christ. His antecedents are similar, being born in a manger, son of a carpenter and Mary, betrayed by a kiss, remembered by a food item, and exposed in crucified-like position.
"The automobile cemetery"Edit
Time: 1950s. Place: France.
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An energetic Lasca encourages an exhausted Tiossido to jog around a junkyard, while an elegant-looking butler, Milos, takes orders for next morning's breakfast among assorted people living inside old and discarded automobiles. Lasca also encourages his wife, Dila, to kiss her customers. On noticing her reluctance, he smacks her on each hand with a ruler. As Dila, heads towards various car occupants to offer sexual favors, she meets Emanou, born in a manger, son of a carpenter and a woman named Mary, who expresses a desire to lie with her. "We will turn about, embracing, like two underwater squirrels," he proposes. She accepts. The next morning, Emanou announces that police officers are out to arrest him for playing the trumpet to the poor. Incensed on seeing Dila with a man, Milos grabs her by the hair and throws her down. On this day, the roles of Lasca and Tiossido are reversed, the latter appearing more energetic. When Emanou's friend, Topé, learns there is a reward out for his arrest, he offers to betray him to Lasca and Tiossido with a kiss. Undisturbed, Emanou offers Topé and Dila almonds from a bag. "If ever the cops capture you, we'll eat the almonds in memory of you," Dila declares. When Topé kisses Emanou, Lasca and Tiossido promptly arrest him. After Tiossido wipes his hands of this event, they take Emanou out to be whipped. He is next seen on a bicycle with his arms stretched out, on which Dila wipes the sweat off his face before he is taken away. The next day begins as any other, with Milos and Dila at their regular chores.
Time: 1930s. Place: Guernica, Spain.
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On her way to the bathroom, a bomb fell on the building, so that Lira lies buried under mounds of rubble from which her husband, Fanchou, cannot extricate her. He seeks to encourage her, but a fall of stones hurts her arm, which bleeds profusely. A writer and a journalist arrive to survey the damage caused by bombardments throughout the city of Guernica. "Add that I am preparing a novel and perhaps even a film on the civil war in Spain," the writer declares. To help pass the time with his wife, Fanchou suggests he tell her a story. "Do you want the one about the woman who was in the bathroom and who remained buried under mounds of rubble?" he asks. To amuse her further, he grimaces like a clown, but Lira is unable to see him. She asks whether the tree nearby is still intact; he answers that it is. While seeking yet again to save her, Fanchou is pushed by an army officer, who impedes his progress and then leaves without a word. Unable to accomplish anything further, Fanchou gives her a child's balloon. A woman and a little girl pass by, the former pushing a wheelbarrow containing dynamite. The balloon bursts, leaving Lira to complain about her condition. The army officer returns, who laughs while eating a sandwich, then goes away again. Fanchou asks Lira why she never had lovers. "That would be chic," he asserts. "You never think of me...When I take off your clothes in front of my friends, you always look disgruntled." When suggesting she would perhaps be comforted by the presence of a priest, she reminds him that they are atheists. "Who, us?" asks a surprised and frightened Fanchou. The woman and the girl return, the woman carrying on her back armements of various kinds. Fanchou becomes all the more frustrated at being unable to help his wife. "It's your fault. Such a mania you have, reading in bathrooms!" he blurts out. The woman and the girl pass by a third time, pushing a cart containing old guns. Now Fanchou suggests that Lira might write down her will. While attempting one last time to save her, he is buried underground himself, a victim of yet another bombardment. The woman returns, this time without the little girl, carrying a coffin. Two balloons rise heavenward. The officer tries to shoot them down, but is unable to. The voices of Fanchou and Lira are heard above, laughing.
"The grand ceremony"Edit
Time: 1960s. Place: France.
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A hump-backed Cavanosa type meets by chance a woman named named Sil in a public park. Alhough he appears rough, she agrees to stay with him. Her boyfriend, kind and considerate, shows up to take her away, but she prefers to stay with the rude stranger, until he tells them both to go away. She does so but then returns armed with a whip. He nevertheless becomes even ruder, kicking her and trampling over her. Then he asks her to wait outside his house for a light signal, where she may help him remove his mother's body, whom he says he has recently murdered. However, his mother is not dead. She begs him to avoid women, who would only steal his money. He sits on her knee, then brings her as a gift a small coffin containing a doll. She calls him a monster, which he deprecates. She next asks to see his knife and then requests him to strike her with it, but he cannot. They appear to be reconciled somewhat. Then she bites him on the mouth and starts to reminisce. "Another time, when you did not want me to go out without you, you nailed your hand on the door leading outside, threatening to stay like that until my return," she reminds him. She notices legs protruding from beneath his bedcovers, which he explains as being one of his dolls he is in the habit of caressing. When the mother leaves, Sil knocks and enters the room. When Cavanosa dresses her up as a Christ-like figure, she agrees to die for him. She also notices the legs beneath the bedcovers. It is not a doll but a dead woman dressed exactly as she is, whom she helps to carry behind a screen. Sil's boyfriend shows up again, to whom Sil explains what she has done in the room, but when she sets aside the screen to show the carcass, it is no longer there. Cavanosa suddenly appears and grabs the boyfriend, ties him up, and threatens him, but, in the end, lets him go. The mother returns and watches outside the window while police officers take away a body, explained by Cavanosa as the one he killed the day before yesterday. "I told you not to leave her in the cellar," she reproaches him. Cavanosa wants Sil to go away, but she insists on staying until he agrees to turn her into her mother's slave. The next night, he meets another woman named Lys, with a similar disposition as Sil's. He is rude to her also, but yet she still wants to remain with him, retrieving for him a whip taken out from beneath her skirt. He decides to take a doll out from his car and go away with her.
In Post-absurdist theatre, there are several trends of note, including the return of history plays, though largely imagined in the case of "L'Entretien entre M. Descartes avec M. Pascal le jeune" (The dialogue between Mr Descartes and the young Mr Pascal, 1985) by Jean-Claude Brisville (1922-?), based on the single meeting of the two mathematicians and philosophers in 1647. Brisville also wrote two other history plays: "The supper" (1989), based on the conflict between the 19th century statesman, Talleyrand, and the minister of the police, Joseph Fouché, and "The antechamber" (1991), based on the relation between Marie, marquise du Deffand, and Julie de Lespinasse. Her eyes failing, the marquise brings over to her house a bastard daughter of her brother, Julie, as her reader. The marquise's house first attracts intellectuals of all sorts until she distances herself from the most liberal ideals taken up by Julie, whose antechamber draws jealousy from her protectress, from whom she is forced to leave.
"The dialogue between Mr Descartes and the young Mr Pascal"Edit
Time: 1647. Place: Paris, France.
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René Descartes meets Blaise Pascal, two mathematicians and philosophers with a particular interest in religion. Descartes admits that so far, knowing the dangers inherent in expressing opinions about religion, he has "advanced masked". Unlike Descartes and despite his achievements in mathematics, Pascal is beginning to lose interest in science, because he is looking for certainties only religious faith can supply. Pascal is outraged at Descartes' faith in numbers. "Can a Christian reason thus?" he asks rhetorically, "Don't you see that reason will make God superfluous to you?" Descartes denies that. Fearing God and his swaying lack of faith, Pascal wishes to work only for his salvation, while Descartes is confident of that while at the same time working on scientific subjects. Pascal asks him to write a letter in support of a fellow Jansenist unjustly accused by Jesuits, the dominant movement of the time. Descartes refuses, for he has no wish to be involved in superfluous religious quarrels. Pascal is disappointed and accuses him of cowardice, which the other denies. Another subject of controversy is Madame de Sablé's decision of dancing the night on the same day she had received communion, which Descartes considers a trivial matter, to Pascal's astonishment. Pascal further alienates his fellow philosopher by declaring that he welcomes tribulations, for physical pains "unite me with Christ," he says. Dismayed at Pascal's austerities, Descartes described an anecdote about a man who once saved his life when he was trapped beneath a horse and likely to freeze to death. That man, despite his charity and goodness, later lost his position as an ecclesiastic because of Pascal's accusations of his eccentric beliefs and has now become a pauper: is this serving God? Descartes concludes by opining that matters relating to the dangers of damnation are debatable and that no certainty is possible. Pascal does not agree. "The all I aspire to is beyond mathematics," he affirms.
Also of note in the pos-modern period stands Bernard-Marie Koltès (1948-1989) with "Le retour au désert" (The return to the desert, 1988).
"The return to the desert"Edit
Time: 1960s. Place: France.
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After fifteen years of absence in Algeria, Mathilda returns to France with her daughter, Fatima, and her son, Edward, in the house left occupied by her brother, Adrian, who assumes she has returned for only a brief stay. Not so, as she specifies from the start. She intends to remain in the house that belongs to her, just as the factory belongs to him, as decided when their parents died. Adrian is upset, being responsible for the improvements he has made to the house, and so to some extent rightly his as well, but nevertheless forced to accept. When his son, Matthew, insists on continuing to have a room of his own instead of sharing it with Edward, he smacks his face. Fatima confesses to her mother she has met someone in the house garden, but when asked who it is, she refuses to tell. In the garden, Adrian catches Matthew trying to leave the family grounds to join the French army in the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962). "I do not want to inherit," the frustrated Matthew declares, "I want to die uttering beautiful phrases." Adrian prevents it. On seeing a police commissioner called Planters in the house, Edward jumps on him and immobilizes him. The bewildered man asks Mathilda about meaning of such an act. She answers that fifteen years ago, the man was one of those responsible for her exile, when he accused her of indecency for bearing a child out of wedlock. To humiliate him, she cuts his hair off. On seeing him thus exposed, Adrian suggests that the humiliated police commissioner may avenge himself by spying on Fatima and locking her up as a madwoman, all the more so because she pretends to have seen the apparition of his dead wife, Mary. Confronting each other with their separate needs, Adrian and Mathilda quarrel on several subjects. Adrian is especially worried about how Edward encourages Matthew to follow him in Arab cafes. Adrian strikes Mathilda who strikes him back. They are separated by Edward and a servant, Aziz. In the garden, Matthew tries to engage in amorous relations with Fatima, who repulses him. Unaware of this aspect, Mathilda encourages Matthew to continue friendly relations with both her children. A distraught Fatima points towards what seems to her as Mary's ghost, but her mother sees nothing. At night together in bed, Mathilda tells her daughter she feels she is in danger in her brother's house. She would particularly like to know how Mary died. Adrian enters to say that Matthew has been recruited in the army. He has no confidence that his son will come out of the war alive. When Fatima expresses her wish to return to Algeria, Mathilda does not answer. Adrian meets Planters and a lawyer, Borny, late at night to await developments about the bomb they planted at an Arab cafe. To their consternation, the explosion kills Matthew and Aziz. Adrian and Mathilda decide to move to Algeria, away from this desert of a house.
Still in the post-absurdist tradition, Yasmina Reza (1959-?) wrote "Art" (1994).
Time: 1990s. Place: Loiret region, France.
Serge has bought an expensive painting consisting of whitish lines on a white background. His friend, Marc, is devastated at his lack of judgment. To make light of the situation, he laughs. Serge does not. When Marc announces the purchase to his other friend, Ivan, the latter is much less upset. Ivan even says to Serge he likes the painting. Serge laughs light-heartedly, accompanied by Ivan. Serge tells Ivan that Marc's laugh was "sardonic, without charm." When Ivan reports their talk to Marc, the latter specifies that Serge laughed just to please him, in no way for the right reason, because the painting is ridiculous. Serge reports to Marc that Ivan likes the painting. Marc reports he has had somewhat a change of heart, asking himself the question: "Is the yielding to this incoherent purchase not a highly poetic gesture?" Ivan is soon to be married but is in conflict with his girl-friend over the invitation card to the wedding. She wants her stepmother to be included on the card, but since Ivan detests his own stepmother, he refuses to have her included. Marc and Serge agree that he should cancel the wedding. But Ivan says he cannot, because his boss is her uncle. Marc is exasperated by Ivan's attitude, "because he is a little courtesan," he says, "servile, fooled by money, bluffed by what he thinks is culture, culture that I definitely vomit away, moreover." At this point, Serge challenges Marc. "Who are you to impose the law?" he asks belligerently. On his part, Marc is unable to come to terms that Serge likes the purchased painting while the latter is indignant that Marc is never hurt by his opinion. Serge specifies that he never voiced the negative opinions he holds about Marc's girl-friend. When Marc insists that his friend reverse his opinion of her, he refuses. They fight. In the scuffle, Ivan is inadvertedly hit on the ear. They stop to attend him. Marc at last reveals the main reason he is so upset about the purchase, that he can no longer represent himself as Serge's mentor in measuring all things by his opinion. To prove he considers their friendship more important than the painting, Serge permits Marc to damage it with a felt-pen, to Ivan's horror. However, Serge and Marc are able to repair the damage. When asked whether he thought it could have been repaired as he drew, Marc admits he did not think so. Serge lies by saying that he did not think so either.