In 1953, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot premiered at a tiny avant-garde theatre in Paris; within five years, it had been translated into more than twenty languages and seen by more than a million spectators. Its startling popularity marked the emergence of a new type of theatre whose proponents—Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, Pinter, and others—shattered dramatic conventions and paid scant attention to psychological realism, while highlighting their characters’ inability to understand one another. In 1961, Martin Esslin gave a name to the phenomenon in his groundbreaking study of these playwrights who dramatized the absurdity at the core of the human condition.
Over four decades after its initial publication, Esslin’s landmark book has lost none of its freshness. The questions these dramatists raise about the struggle for meaning in a purposeless world are still as incisive and necessary today as they were when Beckett’s tramps first waited beneath a dying tree on a lonely country road for a mysterious benefactor who would never show. Authoritative, engaging, and eminently readable, The Theatre of the Absurd is nothing short of a classic: vital reading for anyone with an interest in the theatre.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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|Title of eBook: The Theatre of the Absurd|
|Release Date: 04-02-2009|
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|Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
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The Theatre of the Absurd
The search for the self
In his last will and testament, Murphy, the hero of Samuel Beckett's early novel of that name, enjoins his heirs and executors to place his ashes in a paper bag and take them to 'the Abbey Theatre, Lr Abbey Street, Dublin ... into what the great and good Lord Chesterfield calls the necessary house, where their happiest hours have been spent, on the right as one goes down into the pit . . . and that the chain be there pulled upon them, if possible during the performance of a piece.'1 This is a symbolic act in the true irreverent spirit of the anti-theatre, but one that also reveals where the author of Waiting for Godot received his first impressions of the type of drama against which he reacted in his rejection of what he has called 'the grotesque fallacy of realistic art-"that miserable statement of line and surface" and the penny-a-line vulgarity of a literature of notations'.2
Samuel Beckett was born in Dublin in 1906, the son of a quantity surveyor. Like Shaw, Wilde, and Yeats, he came from the Protestant Irish middle class and was, though he later lost his faith, brought up 'almost a Quaker', as he himself once put it.3 It has been suggested that Beckett's preoccupation with the problem of being and the identity of the self might have sprung from the Anglo-Irishman's inevitable and perpetual concern with finding his own answer to the question 'Who am I?', but while there may well be a grain of truth in this, it is surely far from providing a complete explanation for the deep existential anguish that is the keynote of Beckett's work and that clearly originates in levels of his personality far dee