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The Theatre of the Absurd

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In 1953, Samuel Becketts 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 proponentsBeckett, Ionesco, Genet, Pinter, and othersshattered dramatic conventions and 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.


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In 1953, Samuel Becketts 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 proponentsBeckett, Ionesco, Genet, Pinter, and othersshattered dramatic conventions and 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.

30 review for The Theatre of the Absurd

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I first stumbled on this book during my first semester - we had to write a term paper on any topic we wanted to - and I chose to write about Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which I had read back then for the first time. Reading Beckett for the first time was somewhat of a revelation for me, one of those moments that will shape you. Back then I read a few pages here and there, and was amazed how complex Esslin's analysis was. Here I am, im Hier und Jetzt, at the end of my eighth semester. During my I first stumbled on this book during my first semester - we had to write a term paper on any topic we wanted to - and I chose to write about Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which I had read back then for the first time. Reading Beckett for the first time was somewhat of a revelation for me, one of those moments that will shape you. Back then I read a few pages here and there, and was amazed how complex Esslin's analysis was. Here I am, im Hier und Jetzt, at the end of my eighth semester. During my Erasmus year I took a module on Absurdism, which proved to be one of the best experiences at university I ever had - and probably will have. Not only was the lecturer amazing (how often can one speak about anal sex and French-German animosities over the duration of a term?!), our discussions in class were superb. This module alone rekindled and fuelled my love for Absurdist fiction. After a short presentation and term paper (I wrote about "Crime and Punishment in Kafka's The Trial") we have to write a 3000-word coursework paper encompassing all the authors we've read in class - Beckett, Ionesco, Camus, Kafka, Albee, Pinter. I will write about the dichotomy between the bleak and humorous sides of the Absurd existence. When Meursault's life in Camus' L'Etranger ends with the death penalty, one is inclined to think that this couldn't be any worse. But in fact, Meursault is a man of simple pleasures: Cafe au Lait, swimming, having sex, watching people from his balcony. He is in tune with his self. His death is not bleak, but the expression of the Absurd in his life. The bleakest of the texts we covered is definitely Kafka's The Trial. Josef K. dies "like a dog" and "as if the shame would outlive him". Beckett's pseudo-couples on the other hand, especially Vladimir and Estragon, indulge in Vaudevillian word plays, unfinished jokes, and comical asides. They are inert, yes, condemned to wait for Godot, but they spend their time as best as they can. After these asides why I have read Esslin's The Theatre of the Absurd, this time completely, I must assert that this text is one of the best about Absurdism. Sure, modern texts offer seemingly better analyses, but Esslin's work is seminal and should be seen as such. As it accompanied my academic career through the last four years, I must give it five stars - no other critical text has ever held my attention for this long.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Sam

    I have never forgotten this quote (by Genet, I later figured out) since I first cut it out of this book and then inexplicably scrawled it on the wall of my first (rented) house in Sharpie: "When I beheld you, suddenly--for perhaps a second--I had the strength to reject everything that wasn't you and to laugh at the illusion. But my shoulders are very frail. I was unable to bear the weight of the world's condemnation. And I began to hate you when everything about you would have kindled my love and I have never forgotten this quote (by Genet, I later figured out) since I first cut it out of this book and then inexplicably scrawled it on the wall of my first (rented) house in Sharpie: "When I beheld you, suddenly--for perhaps a second--I had the strength to reject everything that wasn't you and to laugh at the illusion. But my shoulders are very frail. I was unable to bear the weight of the world's condemnation. And I began to hate you when everything about you would have kindled my love and when love would have made men's contempt unbearable, and their contempt would have made my love unbearable. The fact is, I hate you."

  3. 4 out of 5

    Hagar

    An important guide on the Absurdist drama and theatre! A must as reference for whatever issue related to Absurdism! Interesting and Simple and Rich in its style! It's Martin Esslin after all..and I do love the guy in fact! :D

  4. 5 out of 5

    ઈiavasĦ

    تئاتر پوچی اصطلاحیست برای گروهی از نمایشنامه نویسان دهمه ی 1950 که هر چند خود را مکتب نمیشمردند همه ظاهرا در تعابیر خاصی از مشکل انسان در عالم شریک بودند. رئوس این تعابیر را آلبر کامو در مقاله اش اسطوره ی سیزیف خلاصه کرد و مدعی شده بود که مشکل انسان عبارتست از وجود بی هدف و ناهماهنگ او با پیرامونش (ابسورد در لغت یعنی ناهماهنگ) آگاهی از این بی هدفی در هر کاری که میکنیم یک حالت رنج فلسفی پدید می آورد که مضمون اصلی کار نویسندگان ئاتر پوچیست. اسلین چهار نماینده برگزیده. آداموف روسی یونسکو از رومانی تئاتر پوچی اصطلاحیست برای گروهی از نمایشنامه نویسان دهمه ی 1950 که هر چند خود را مکتب نمیشمردند همه ظاهرا در تعابیر خاصی از مشکل انسان در عالم شریک بودند. رئوس این تعابیر را آلبر کامو در مقاله اش اسطوره ی سیزیف خلاصه کرد و مدعی شده بود که مشکل انسان عبارتست از وجود بی هدف و ناهماهنگ او با پیرامونش (ابسورد در لغت یعنی ناهماهنگ) آگاهی از این بی هدفی در هر کاری که میکنیم یک حالت رنج فلسفی پدید می آورد که مضمون اصلی کار نویسندگان ئاتر پوچیست. اسلین چهار نماینده برگزیده. آداموف روسی، یونسکو از رومانی، بکت ایرلندی و زنه ی فرانسوی همه ی اینها به نخوی در «سنت پوچی» سهم دارند سنتی که در فصل شش اسلین نشان میدهد چقدر پردامنه است. در سیرک، پانتومیم، دلقک بازی، یاوه سرایی و ادبیات خیال که رگه هایی از تمثیل دارد. تئاتر پوچی مثل تئاتر شاعرانه اتکای فراوانی به رویا و خیال دارد اما بر خلاف تئاتر شاعرانه از زبان شاعرانه به عمد پرهیز میکند و گفت و گوهای پیش پا افتاده را به جای آن میگذارد. از خوندن این کتاب بسی لذت بردم.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Andrea Delesdernier

    The definitive book on Absurdist Theatre history. I read and studied this book in college and recently purchased the book on vacation at Calico Cat Bookstore in Ventura, CA. Inspired to me pull out my favorite Absurdist authors (Beckett, Ionesca, Albee, Camus, Pinter, Vonnegut, and yes Trey Parker and Matt Stone) and dive into a modern study. "...the Theatre of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation." MARTIN ESSLIN

  6. 4 out of 5

    Leah

    From the bits and pieces of this book that I have delved into, Esslin is able to talk about lit/drama theory with as little B.S. as I have ever encountered in anyone. Nice.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Phillip

    Really I would give this book 3.5 stars if goodreads had that option, but I chose to go with the lower rating because I had high hopes for this book and they weren't exactly fulfilled. I will start by saying that I see how this book would have been really foundational in the 19060s when it came out--at that point there was still a lot of confusion about what to make of playwrights like Beckett, Ionesco, and Pinter, and here comes Martin Esslin being all, "I can dot that! I have the definitive Really I would give this book 3.5 stars if goodreads had that option, but I chose to go with the lower rating because I had high hopes for this book and they weren't exactly fulfilled. I will start by saying that I see how this book would have been really foundational in the 19060s when it came out--at that point there was still a lot of confusion about what to make of playwrights like Beckett, Ionesco, and Pinter, and here comes Martin Esslin being all, "I can dot that! I have the definitive work." But it is very clearly a work of the 1960s--late Modernism, with many of Modernism's assumptions about the world. For instance, Esslin talks--somewhat oddly--about how language language fails to get at "reality"--this is in the section on "The Significance of the Absurd"--in things like political speech and advertising, for instance. This discussion of course follows after a section on the importance of nonsense poetry, Dada, and Surrealism, which are to greater or lesser extents not interested in reality so much as sound patterns, juxtapositions of startling images, visual distortions, and challenging ideologies. But for someone reading this book from the postmodern position of 2013, Esslin's notion that "reality" could somehow be conveyed seems naive at best, reactionary at worst (in the sense that Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" can be read as reactionary).

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ali

    Martin Esslin included Ionesco in a group of playwrights-along with Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov- who practiced what he called the Theater of the Absurd, that address Albert Camus's discussion in The Myth of Sisyphus that man's search for meaning and order in futility of life. مارتین اسلین در اوج شهرت "ساموئل بکت" و "اوژن اونسکو" در ابتدای دهه ی شصت قرن بیستم به تدوین نظریه های تیاتر "ابزورد" یا آن گونه که در ایران مشهور شده "پوچی" یا "عبث نما" پرداخت. کتاب او هنوز هم پس از پنجاه Martin Esslin included Ionesco in a group of playwrights-along with Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov- who practiced what he called the “Theater of the Absurd”, that address Albert Camus's discussion in “The Myth of Sisyphus” that man's search for meaning and order in futility of life. مارتین اسلین در اوج شهرت "ساموئل بکت" و "اوژن اونسکو" در ابتدای دهه ی شصت قرن بیستم، به تدوین نظریه های تیاتر "ابزورد" یا آن گونه که در ایران مشهور شده، "پوچی" یا "عبث نما" پرداخت. کتاب او هنوز هم پس از پنجاه سال، یکی از منابع اصلی در زمینه ی این مکتب تیاتری ست که آرتور آدامو از پیشگامان آن است. اگرچه برخی آثار نمایش نامه نویسانی نظیر "پیرآندلو" و "دورنمات" را هم به این مکتب نسبت می دهند، ولی "هارولد پینتر" انگلیسی، "فرناندو آرابال" اسپانیایی، "ادوارد آلبی" آمریکایی، "اسلاومیر مروژک" لهستانی و... از دنباله روان این مکتب نمایشی قلمداد هستند که پس از جنگ دوم جهانی در اروپا و سپس در جهان شهرت یافت.

  9. 4 out of 5

    E.W.

    Anyone remotely interested in the writing of Beckett, Sartre, Camus, Genet, Pinter, Ionesco, Albee or the development of post WWII theatre should read this text.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Ola

    Used it as a textbook as a student and as a teacher. The more background information you have, the easier this is to digest. My students got lost in the "name-dropping" in certain chapters.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Eugene Koh

    Cheat code to reading The Theatre of the Absurd: read the chapter 'The Significance of the Absurd' before reading the rest of the book. This book is a timeless analysis of one of the major movements in modern theatre history, a must read for any theatre practitioner who are intent in seriously questioning their own craft and philosophy.

  12. 5 out of 5

    KyrBTh

    Εξαιρετικό βιβλίο που καθόρισε σε μεγάλο βαθμό την αντίληψη μας για το σύγχρονο θέατρο. Απαραίτητο ανάγνωσμα για όσους ενδιαφέρονται για το θέατρο, τη λογοτεχνία γενικότερο αλλά ακόμα και τη φιλοσοφία.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mojgan

    نقدهای بسیار عالی با نمونه های کاملاً ملموس

  14. 5 out of 5

    Dustin J Allen

    Cool resource if you're into weird art!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mymymble

    This book got me into university!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Iris Korll

    Onmisbaar voor de liefhebber van absurdistische literatuur.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tom Calvard

    A very useful and interesting overview of a uniquely challenging genre of theatre and its key figures and ideas. I'm not a drama expert but it seems to have stood the test of time pretty well to me.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Jeff

    Much credit is given to Martin Esslin for creating the term "theatre of the absurd," but his prime contribution really amounts to lumping together disparate playwrights who don't really fit into traditional mid-century dramatic categories. It doesn't take a very close read to see that these playwrights don't necessarily belong together, either. Esslin wisely attributes the styles of these writers to their recognition that not only can the center not hold after two world wars and the Holocaust Much credit is given to Martin Esslin for creating the term "theatre of the absurd," but his prime contribution really amounts to lumping together disparate playwrights who don't really fit into traditional mid-century dramatic categories. It doesn't take a very close read to see that these playwrights don't necessarily belong together, either. Esslin wisely attributes the styles of these writers to their recognition that not only can the center not hold after two world wars and the Holocaust but also that there was more than likely never a center in the first place. That recognition, however, was not limited to these writers, and we can see it just as easily in the more traditionally structured works of Arthur Miller and even Kander & Ebb! Nonetheless, the book does stand as an important reference. There's not much need, though, for reading it straight-through, even for a theatre scholar.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Annette

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Great book insight is tough to read, but the some of the avant-garde artists, writers have dreadful life tales, others seem to do well in this type of lifestyle and theater which is open to various types of explanations. I have certain favorite writers and producers of avant-garde theater. Alexandr Blok, Capek brothers who produced a variety of genre that fits into different theater projections, Eugene Ionesco, later

  20. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Gallo

    Ritrovo questo libro che l'algoritmo del sistema mi segnala per affinità di letture. Devo averlo da qualche parte ma non l'ho incontrato da parecchio tempo. Ricordo di averlo studiato molti anni fa quando a Londra, in una Summer School, ebbi modo di seguire un corso sul teatro dell'assurdo. Fu in quella occasione che conobbi Tom Stoppard e Harold Pinter, non proprio di persona, intendo, ma in maniera letteraria. Un libro molto interessante e utile. In quegli anni la parola "assurdo" era molto di Ritrovo questo libro che l'algoritmo del sistema mi segnala per affinità di letture. Devo averlo da qualche parte ma non l'ho incontrato da parecchio tempo. Ricordo di averlo studiato molti anni fa quando a Londra, in una Summer School, ebbi modo di seguire un corso sul teatro dell'assurdo. Fu in quella occasione che conobbi Tom Stoppard e Harold Pinter, non proprio di persona, intendo, ma in maniera letteraria. Un libro molto interessante e utile. In quegli anni la parola "assurdo" era molto di moda. Continua ad esserlo ancora oggi anche se mi pare di poter dire che l'assurdita' sia diventata ormai una "normalità...

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    A great overall history and sort of a shopping list of 'who's great' in the field of Absurd theater. The one-stop place to check out what was hitting Europe in the fifties and early Sixties on the avant-garde stages of various cities. This book has been in and out of print ever since it was published (mid-60's?). Get it, and keep it by the bedside.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mona Kamel

    This book is an unavoidable guide to the Absurdist drama. It is an interesting book written in simple language. It contains studies on some of my favorite Absurdist authors; such as, Camus, Beckett, Ionesco, Albee, Pinter, and Stoppard.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Rodia

    good

  24. 5 out of 5

    Lynn Clark

    One of the best analyses of the Theatre of the Absurd.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Tom Walsh

    The best intro to this topic I've ever read!!

  26. 5 out of 5

    Yusnia Sakti

    Good for the beginner to study Theater of The Absurd

  27. 5 out of 5

    Rezan

    This book is a great introductory of The Absurd Theatre. I have learnt a lot of issues about this literary movement from this book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jure Godler

    More informative than the Yellow Pages.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Emma

    I've got an old Pelican edition of this; it's excellent.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Diana Polansky

    I've read about half of this...need to finish.

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