The Absurdity of Samuel Beckett

Ch. 1 - Introduction Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity Ch. 5 - Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett Ch. 4 - Beckett's Absurd Characters Ch. 6 - The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character Notes & Bibliography

VI. The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character

In this chapter I am interested in the form of the Theatre of the Absurd, which I see as an optimal form for expressing Absurdity. In addition I will make some comparison with epic theatre, which I consider important in reaching a better understanding of Beckett's dramatic intentions and his plays in general.
Theatre, in its original ancient meaning THEA´pTRON (place of watching, auditorium), is a special artistic form, one of the three literary modes, narrative, lyric, dramatic, which is constituted not only of words, but also by exclusively dramatic visual components such as movement, physical gestures, scenes,...etc. It does not occur inside the human soul as other forms do (novel, poem, essay), but it happens in an outside world. In consequence, drama is a rather spectacular genre, more a visible than a literary one, the means of which is a multidimensional picture.
At the same time, drama is composed of two different spaces, which are in a mutual relationship - the stage and the auditorium. Both components, being in mutual polarity (the audience watches and the actors are watched), can exist only through communication with each other. This communication can only work if both sides are aware of their roles.
The actors can move and speak in different ways, tragic, comic, etc.; but always with the necessary precondition that nothing they speak about and do is really true. Their acts and speeches are mere fiction, and that is the main actor's activity - to play fiction. The spectators' passivity consists of accepting the fiction, in leaving real life and entering the world of fiction. Theatre becomes theatre only if both sides (actors and spectators) play their roles, which makes the fundamental principle of theatre in general.
If the general form of theatre is a fictive picture, the Theatre of the Absurd is a "picture in a picture", because its content is, at the same time, also a picture - an image, the author' subjective vision. He transforms his vision through the symbolic language of theatre (dramatic pictures) into the symbolic life situation of fictional characters. Therefore, a "picture in picture" is a picture of the author's vision, this is content, expressed in a dramatic picture, as a formal component of a dramatic play.
In times when dramatic art has shown man as protected, guided, and sometimes punished by superhuman powers, theatre held a basic religious function: the confrontation of man with the spheres of myth and religious reality, which reflected some generally known and universally accepted cosmic system. The Theatre of the Absurd has a similar function; it makes man aware of his position in the Universe, which although precarious and mysterious, expresses the absence of any such generally accepted cosmic system of values. While the previous attempts to confront man with the world reflected a coherent and generally familiar version of truth, the absurd theatre communicates and offers, as I have already sketched, the author's most intimate vision of the human situation, the meaning of existence itself, the author's own vision of the world. This is the proper subject of absurd theatre, determining its specific form, which is naturally different from the epic theatre form.
The Theatre of the Absurd does not show man in a historical, social, or cultural context, it does not communicate any general views of human life. It is not concerned with conveying information or presenting the problems or destinies of characters that exist outside the author's world (they are created by author, but have their own created life). It is not concerned with the representation of events, the narration of fates, or the adventures of characters. It is instead interested in the presentation of an individual's basic situation. "It presents individual human being's intuition of his basic situation as he experiences it".39
Since the epic character is situated in a historical and social context, he is influenced and formed by the world he lives in. He is surrounded by successive events that create his story in time and place which is within reach of the events around him. This chain of events surrounds the epic character who becomes the likeness of the world he lives in, and so tells the story. This concept of the human position in the Universe opens up questions looking into the nature of the world. Human nature is being understood through the knowledge of the nature of the world.
The absurd character is in an absolutely different position. He is not formed by his surroundings in its own image, he is not tossing about in the flood of life events and processes. On the contrary, he is isolated, static, and motionless (See chapter IV.), and thus appears and illustrates himself from inside; he is recognised through his own picture of the world he puts before us. The whole stage is a symbol showing the inside mental world of the characters, who are organic parts of it. The reality of the situation in which the absurd character appears, is a psychological reality expressed in images that are the outward projection of states of his mind. That is why the Theatre of the Absurd can be considered an image of the human being's inner world. It presents a truer picture of reality itself, reality as apprehended by an individual. "If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these have no story or plot to speak of; if a good play is judged by subtlety of characterisation and motivation, these are often without recognisable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play is to hold a mirror up to nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares; if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist in incoherent babblings".40 (Although Esslin marks the plays which are oppositions to the absurd ones "good", he does not express their artistic value, but points out by the truthful and essential comparisons the specificity and singularity of the plays of absurdity.)
While the epic character remains in the centre of the active, forming world; the absurd one stays in centre of the world picture he creates himself. Pantvn crhmatvn metron antJrvpoV (PrvtagoraV). In other words: the world exists according to man. "It means that the existence of man is not determined by anything external, lying outside of him, e.g. surroundings, history, God's order, etc.; but he is only himself, he is exclusively his own work, the result of his own decisions and behaviour". 41
In this sense, it is possible to understand the Theatre of the Absurd as a return to what was, for the first time in Greek philosophy formulated by the Sophists. They diverted human interest from nature and directed it at man and his thinking. This interest in a subject, individual human thinking, and the individual's situation corresponds with the philosophy of existentialism (Heidegger, Jaspers, Camus, Sartre...), which is focused on the subjective, individual's experience in a concrete fatal situation. While the philosophers deal with the absurdity of human existence rationally, using philosophical language; the absurd dramatists express it in concrete dramatic pictures. They offer us the opportunity to not only think about absurdity, but to feel it and experience it simultaneously with the actors and the author, who transforms his mind into a symbolic dramatic language.
I consider the plays my thesis deals with multidimensional pictures stating the author's individual feelings and, at the same time, a remarkable intimate communicative relationship between the author and his thinking, the actor's symbolic pose, and the spectator's perception.

Ch. 1 - Introduction Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity Ch. 5 - Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett Ch. 4 - Becketts Absurd Characters TOP OF THE PAGE Notes & Bibliography