What is the theater of the absurd

Absurd Theater - Definition, Plays, and Features

This article aims to explain what absurd theater is all about. Of course, we will mainly go into the typical and characteristic features, but also mention a few important pieces and artists. In your next literary history exercise, you should be able to quickly and confidently discuss the essential features of absurd theater.

Definition and origin

The theater of the absurd emerged mainly in the 1950s and is a special branch of theater. The emphasis on the meaninglessness of life is particularly characteristic of the theme, structure and staging.

The origins of the first performances in terms of absurd theater can be found in France. They were characterized above all by grotesque, unrealistic productions, although some linguists here demand a strict separation of early experimental pieces and later works that can be clearly assigned to the theater of the absurd.

The central characteristics of absurd theater

The main difference between early and late experimental performances of the theater of the absurd lies primarily in the intensity of the implementation. While earlier works tended to focus sporadically on surreal events and eccentric staging, later works took a much more radical path here. These also coined the term “antitheater”. This term comes from the fact that important cornerstones of classical theater were removed in the context of extreme theater of the absurd.

Time, space and unit of action hardly played a role or were even actively reduced to absurdity by deliberately integrating unrealistic data and circumstances. It is important, however, that these go beyond mere fantasy, because plays with a mystical theme and religious or magical theme do not necessarily belong to the absurd theater! The deliberate, unrealistic representation of time, space and action is central.

Illogical scenarios, incomprehensible processes and arbitrarily designed dialogues are particularly memorable characteristics of absurd theater. Here the socio-critical aspect is in the foreground and the audience should be symbolized with a completely illogical act, how lost and disoriented people are. The classic division of introduction, main part / climax and end is also not given. In general, there are hardly any guidelines or rules in theater of the absurd, which gives a lot of room for creativity.

Famous pieces

“Ubu Roi” by Alfred Jarry is considered to be one of the most popular pieces of early, experimental theater of the absurd. The premiere took place in a Parisian theater in 1896 and caused a sensation at the time, and was even dubbed a scandal by many. Many spectators were shocked by the grotesque, senseless and unrealistic staging and demonstratively left the hall before the performance was over.

The productions of the late experimental, absurd theater became even more radical. Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco are among the most important artists here, whose works are still performed in the world's most famous theaters. A particularly popular piece that you may have heard of is “Waiting for Godot”.

The interpretation of the late experimental, absurd theater was so intense that linguists are now even speaking of a continuation of surrealism. In addition, the school of psychoanalysis founded by Sigmund Freud and the associated preoccupation with the subconscious is increasingly popular in the context of absurd theater. Many works take up the aspect of self-reflection and set their main characters on a journey of discovery in order to explore their own consciousness. The motif of the meaninglessness of life is later carried on in the form of existentialism, whereby here the absurd, surreal aspect is no longer present.