The Theatre of the Absurd

The most prominent example of the Theatre of the Absurd is SAMUEL BECKETT's Waiting for Godot. It presents the human condition as being utterly devoid of meaning. By violating a number of classical dramatic principles (alienation effect) BECKETT disappoints the audience´s expectations and perceptive habits. These deviations are intended to make the audience aware of the human state:

  • There is an inconsistency between the characters' intentions and their inaction.
  • The dialogue does not propel the action; it has rather a phatic than an expressive function and is used only to keep up communication.
  • The drama does not deal with any single moment of crisis or a conflict; the situation rather is a permanent state of which neither beginning nor end can be recognized.
  • There is no progress either in action or in time; the characters are trapped in a timeless stagnation; the pointlessness of existence is underlined by various repetitions and the circular structure of the action.
  • The drama has a number of indeterminate elements that illustrate the absence of any meaning.

HAROLD PINTER´s dramas, many of which are short plays (or one-act plays) express the failure of human communication. In his plays he creates a bizarre or terrifying situation around a limited number of characters. The focus is not on the action but on psychological subjects. In The Dumb Waiter (1959) Gus and Ben, in The Caretaker (1960) Davis, feel terrified by an anonymous menace from outside that they refer to by the indeterminate pronoun “they”. Their inability to communicate and to enter into social relationships is exemplified by silences and talking at cross purposes. They evade communication by not answering questions in a straightforward way, concealing their true motives, sticking to irrelevant topics. PINTER frequently uses indeterminate elements in order to make the audience actively participate in establishing the meaning of the play.

Stand: 2010
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