Beckett, Ionesco, and the Theater of the Absurd: Crash Course Theater #45

Beckett, Ionesco, and the Theater of the Absurd: Crash Course Theater #45

Hey there! I’m Mike Rugnetta, this is Crash Course
Theater, and today we’ll be discussing the Theater of the Absurd. Godot? That’s your cue. Godot? Godot? It’s fine, plenty of time to wait for that
guy: not a lot happens in these plays. lights up, when you get around to it, I guess! INTRO
What is the Theater of the Absurd, and how absurd is it? Glad you asked! Very! Sometimes. It’s a movement that got going in the 1950s,
influenced by the events of forties. Because, after you’ve come out of a world
war in which millions of people were killed, with atrocity after atrocity, and the world
would never be the same, maybe light comedy doesn’t really do it for you anymore. The Theater of the Absurd wasn’t one of
those moments where everyone hung out in bars and had parties together. And maybe that’s good, because some of those
parties would have been… dour. No, it was more of a loose style that a bunch
of playwrights started writing in pretty much independently. And then, one day, critic Martin Esslin noticed
and wrote an essay about it, and—bam!—a movement was born. Or identified. Or whatever. The Theater of the Absurd is another style
that rejects realism. Absurdism, like Dadaism and Surrealism, is
predicted on the idea that life doesn’t really make sense. So theater shouldn’t make sense either. This isn’t absurd like comedy-in-2018, more
of a deeply dissatisfied, questioning kind of absurd. Plots are disordered. Nothing happens, or if stuff does happen,
it’s unmotivated. Words don’t make meaning in the usual way,
and characters aren’t consistent. Mysteries don’t get solved, and order doesn’t
get restored. … LOL
Philosophically, the worldview of the Theater of the Absurd is similar to existentialism,
probably because Esslin was influenced by Albert Camus. In “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Camus wrote: “A world that can be explained even with
bad reasons is a familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly
divested of illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived
of the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the
actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.” … LOL
Esslin thought that the Theater of the Absurd could help its audience to accept life as
meaningless and maybe not be so depressed about this. He wrote: “It is a challenge to accept the
human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity,
nobly, responsibly; precisely because there are no easy solutions to the mysteries of
existence, because ultimately man is alone in a meaningless world. The shedding of easy solutions, of comforting
illusions, may be painful, but it leaves behind it a sense of freedom and relief. And that is why, in the last resort, the Theatre
of the Absurd does not provoke tears of despair but the laughter of liberation.” … … LOL? There are a lot of playwrights who get labeled
absurdist, including Alfred Jarry, Guillaume Apollinaire, and also the Italian playwright
Luigi Pirandello, king of the it-happened-like-this-no-it-happened-like-that-nope-I’m-never-gonna-understand-this-because-the-world-is-fundamentally-unknowable play. We’re going to look at three other absurdist
playwrights today, Jean Genet, Eugene Ionesco, and Samuel Beckett. Jean Genet was born in France in 1910 and
was abandoned soon after. As a kid, he tried to run away a lot, and
he often stole. When he was fifteen, he was sent to French
juvie. When he turned eighteen, he joined the French
Foreign Legion, but he was drummed out for being gay. He wandered around for a while, supporting
himself with prostitution and petty theft. He was in and out of prison, and it was in
prison that he began to write, completing an experimental novel, “Our Lady of the
Flowers,” in 1944. Genet became popular with the French intellectual
crowd. So when he was threatened with life imprisonment
in 1949 for more theft, those intellectuals came together to petition the government to
free him. And the government said okay. Philosopher and playwright Jean-Paul Sartre
was such a fan that he wrote a seven hundred-page analysis of his life and work called “Saint
Genet.” When Genet turned to the theater, first with
the short play “Deathwatch,” he established the themes that would fascinate him for years:
sex, power, beauty, degradation, ritual, and theatricality itself. Most of the characters in Genet’s plays
are consciously playing roles that can suddenly be reversed. And with a shift in power dynamics comes a
shift in sexual dynamics. Reality often shifts, too, which gives the
plays a disturbing, decentering quality. You can see this in “The Balcony,” which
is set in a brothel that caters to sexual role play,
and in “The Blacks,” in which a cast of black actors perform in white face. Genet died in Paris in 1986. Let’s take a closer look at Genet’s work
by dusting off his three-character 1947 drama, “The Maids.” Grab a mop, ThoughtBubble:
“The Maids” begins with a scene between a mistress and her maid, Claire. Their relationship isn’t great. Madame insults Claire, and Claire bullies
Madame, forcing her to wear a red dress. Claire spits at her. Then an alarm clock goes off, startling both
women. We realize that “Madame” is actually the
maid Claire, and “Claire” is her sister Solange, and that this is an elaborate psychosexual
game they play, taking turns as Madame. As they wait for Madame, the phone rings. It’s Monsieur, Madame’s lover. He’s been in prison, mostly because of an
anonymous letter the maids sent. Now he is out on bail. Bad news for the maids. They’re afraid he’ll recognize their handwriting. They’re frightened, and also they’re disgusted
by their own poverty and servitude. As Solange says, “I want to help you. I want to comfort you, but I know I disgust
you. I’m repulsive to you. And I know it because—you disgust me. When slaves love one another, it’s not love.” Claire replies, “And me, I’m sick of seeing
my image thrown back at me by a mirror, like a bad smell: You’re my bad smell.” So out of revenge and disgust, and in a not
very sane attempt at self-preservation, Claire decides to murder Madame. Madame returns, and Claire puts sleeping pills
into her tea. But before she can drink it, Solange tells
her that Monsieur is free, and Madame leaves the tea untouched. The maids begin their game again, but this
time it’s darker, crueler, and even weirder. Claire is playing Madame. She orders Solange to bring her a cup of tea. Claire lies down on Madame’s bed and drinks
the poisoned tea, killing herself. Thanks, ThoughtBubble. That was not hygienic. While Genet based his play on an actual real-life
French murder, Genet was obviously not trying to create true crime or realism. Genet’s pal Sartre suggested that adolescent
boys should play all the roles as a way to enhance the unreality. But with its gowns, flowers, and sadomasochistic
humiliation, it’s already pretty unreal. Our next absurdist is Romanian playwright
Eugene Ionesco, author of deceptively simple, sometimes allegorical works like “The Chairs”
or “Rhinoceros.” Ionesco was born in Romania in 1909 and moved
between Romania and France several times. When Ionesco was almost forty, he decided
to learn English by memorizing simple sentences. Those sentences made their way into an absurdist
and sometimes silly work called “The Bald Soprano.” In this play, one nice couple, the Smiths,
invite over another nice couple, the Martins. The Martins think they are strangers to each
other and then discover they’ve been married for years. Here’s an excerpt:
MRS. MARTIN: Bazaar, Balzac, bazooka! MR. MARTIN: Bizarre, beaux-arts, brassieres! MRS. SMITH: a,e,i,o,u, a,e,i,o,u, a,e,i,o,u, i!…. MRS. SMITH: Choo, choo, choo, choo, choo, choo,
choo, choo, choo, choo, choo! The director wasn’t really sure how to stage
it, and initially the play was a flop. But other writers and intellectuals championed
it—yay, intellectuals!—and Ionesco kept going. Ionesco was influenced by Dada and the Surrealists,
and a lot of his work is about a desire to access some other, better, probably unreachable
world. He’s best known for a cycle of plays centered
on a naïve everyman figure called Bérenger who pops up in different times and situations. These plays are “The Killer,” “Rhinoceros,”
“Exit the King,” and “A Stroll in the Air.” Some of these plays have a more political
orientation, but some don’t. Bérenger is always struggling with the problem
of human endeavor and free will in a seemingly random universe. Ionesco’s plays are written in simple, sometimes
even simplistic language. But that disguises serious preoccupations
and serious despair. Because, y’know, randomness, entropy, death. Ionesco died in France in 1994. And this here is your friend and mine, Samuel
Beckett. Is Beckett the greatest modernist playwright? Yes. I’m sorry, that’s just a fact. His plays are weird and funny and horrifying
and deeply moving. Just when you think you’ve got one of his
plays nailed, the meanings have a way of sliding out from under you. We’re big fans. Beckett was born in Ireland in 1906. After university, he moved to France to teach,
where he eventually became the research assistant of James Joyce. Beckett wrote poems, novels, and short stories. Also all great. And like Genet, he was at one point stabbed
by a pimp. He also drove Andre the Giant to school on
occasion! True story. During World War Two, Beckett was active in
the Resistance. And after the war, he began his career as
a playwright, typically writing in French. His best-known play is “Waiting for Godot,”
a bleak tragicomedy from 1948 about two tramps waiting for a man who—spoiler alert—never
arrives. One critic called it a play in which nothing
happens. Twice. It’s part vaudeville and part philosophy,
and honestly – it’s pretty awesome. I mean, it’s made fun of as a quintessentially
weird, modern play for a lot of good reasons… but it is ALSO a good play. Other notable Beckett plays include “Endgame,”
“Happy Days,” “Krapp’s Last Tape,” and “Play,” because there were no titles
left, I guess. Beckett’s plays are almost completely empty
of action. The characters are barely there. The dialogue goes in circles. Every rule Aristotle ever wrote, Beckett breaks
except for unity of place. And as we all know, Aristotle never even wrote
that one! Are Beckett’s plays realistic? Nooo. So why are his plays so great? They are about people trying to live in a
world that doesn’t make any sense. And that’s, I mean, that’s most of us. They are bleak. But they’re also very funny and perversely
humane. Even in a senseless world, we still have each
other. Beckett died in 1989, and, well …
Nothing to be done. Am I? Me too. No. Not now, not now – there’s work yet to be
done! Thanks for watching. We’ll see you next time when we take a break
from all of this existential despair and the search for meaning in a seemingly random universe. Grab your Playbills and start stalking the
stage door, because Crash Course Theater is going to Broadway, baby! Oh wait. Yorick says that existential despair is there,
too. Aaargh. Caftan, curtsy, cup-o-noodles… Curtain!

100 thoughts on “Beckett, Ionesco, and the Theater of the Absurd: Crash Course Theater #45

  1. I directed a production of "The Lesson" in a bar in front of an audience of drunks. It went over surprisingly well, with a notable moment. As the professor approached the student with the knife concealed behind his back, a voice from the back slurred, "Look aaaout, Missy! He's gotta kniiiiiiife!"

  2. I studied this in college and performed in plays by Ionesco (The Leader & The Bald Soprano) and Beckett (Waiting For Godot). Great days and still love this form of theatre.

  3. Grim, honest and beautiful. This particular analysis hit me pretty deep. Thanks for continuing to make these. Kudos.

  4. Sometimes the title caption says Theatre (English) and sometimes it says Theater (American). Make your mind up please.

  5. Even my mother likes Waiting for Godot and she despises stage plays…
    Though she never articulated WHY she likes it. Hmmm.

  6. Oh, I just adore the theater of the absurd. I HAVE to read Gianet!!!! I've already read En attendant Godot and Fin de Partie and La Canatrice Chauve! Thank you, Crash Course, that's very very interesting!

  7. I saw a documentary about contortionists and the narrator was making sense of all of it.  I thought he was just making excuses.

  8. More ghastly wastes of time. More useless people. More intellectuals and critics trying to pass garbage off as substance. No wonder these plays are forgotten and disliked by everyone outside the theater world.

  9. PERFECT timing. I just started a project on Samuel Beckett for my Play Analysis class at university. Thank you for making this series!

  10. " Let's go hang our selves, we'll get an erection." Waiting for Godot was my favorite play to read when I was 16.

  11. Your attempt at grasping absurdity is uninspired. You're good at summarizing stuff tho so I guess you got that going for ya.

  12. Love Beckett's Waiting for Godot, I wrote a paper on it. I found it amazing how in this play of nothingness I could find a mirror of my relationship. Truly outstanding when a piece of art resonates with the viewer on a personal level.

  13. I know you are trying to be funny…but I’m sorry that you are just not! Sad story. Really wish you can spend more time talk about Beckett’s work…though.

  14. True story …sitting on a bench by the road ..a cop drives up ..what are you doing …i am waiting for gadauo…..drives off …i wonder if he even knew what it was

  15. If we realize we are alone in a meaningless world & we develop this sense of freedom & relief then why aren’t we all happy in our absurdity? Or the the least, content?

  16. They recently staged /Waiting for Godot/ here at the University of Minnesota; they consulted the author. It's pronounced "God-oh" or "gawd-oh."

  17. I LOVE HOW YOU MADE BECKETT ACCESSIBLE TO THE LIKES OF MEANING NEEDY PEOPLE LIKE ME! For the first time ever, I understand why I dislike this genre, tho I do love Surrealism in art. Yes life is wacky, but I prefer art that always balances out pain or despair with hope. And when I want to confront my own illusions/saving lies, I turn to Buddhism, Ibsen, or remembering to let go cuz I’m not in control.

  18. I want to write a play which is a standard romantic farce, except that it would be in at least 5 or 6 different languages. Characters would speak different languages at different times, sometimes within the same sentence. The action would proceed as if the language barrier were not there, and none of the characters would ever acknowledge that different languages were being spoken.

    “what?..the buzzing?..yes” – Samuel Beckett

  19. We say that the world doesn't make any sense, but of course that really means that WE don't make any sense. Nature makes plenty of sense, but humans are the wild cards. We are capable of empathy, kindness and sympathy, but too often we are cruel, greedy, and just plain horrible to each other on a personal, institutional, and national level. If we were more predictably kind maybe we wouldn't have absurdism, but I think that would be a pretty fair trade…

  20. “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.”

    ― Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

  21. My favorite absurdist work of fiction is Spongebob Squarepants. The early seasons of that show were a true masterpiece.

  22. Waiting for Godot is my favourite play. I saw a film of it years ago and thought it was a unique work. Now I'm going to seek out all of these other Absurdists. Thanks Mike 🙂

  23. It's hard to surpass The Bald Soprano, but one of my favorite Ionesco plays is The New Tenant. It's fairly short, punchy, and just really, really funny. We also performed that one in school, and just dragging out basically all the props that had accumulated since the theater club had been established was a riot and a half. If I recall correctly, we even dragged out the racks of costumes from the back. Good times.

  24. 1) You put up a “No Exit” sign without explanation… It’s a shame because that play (aka “In Camera”, “Huis Clos”) by Sartre is my favourite play of all time!
    2) Genet: Actually I’ve always thought The Maids should be played by (gay) men. That’s how I read it.
    And Genet wants it to be played VERY subdued, not melodramatic (read the rather vulgar expression in his directions).
    3) We did Ionesco in grade 8! Young people “get” absurd art better than “sensible” adults.

  25. You are also Funny ?
    Tnx Sir ?
    I like those people who create Videos for study and Also joke.than That lecture become interesting as well as We don't feel burden…?keep similing sir

  26. Hi Thank you for all your videos about theatre!! I have to do an exam at university about history and drammaturgy of theatre next 2 april, and you helped me a lot, your kind of talking and images help me a lot to remember!! Thanks!!!! 🙂
    Byeeeeeee!!!! 🙂

  27. "???? ??'?? ??? ????? ?? ???? ???? ???? ??????, ???????? ?? ??? ???????? ??????? ?? ??? ????????,

    ?????? ???? ??? ?????? ??? ??????? ??? ???? ? ????? ???? ??? ?? ?????? ?? ???.

    ??????? ?? ??? ??????? ?? ??? ??????."
    – Marco Diaz

  28. Solange will always have a special place in my heart after having slaved away over her monologue for my Yr 11 drama exams

  29. this show is great.big fan.tipper has a puppet theater of the absurd. and has done godot.have a look.tell him what you think

  30. This is the first video in this series where I actually had heard of all these people thanks to Wisecrack's video on the Philosophy of Saw.

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