ExistentialismExistentialism is a concept that became popular during the secondWorld War in France, and just after it. French playrights have often usedthe stage to express their views, and these views came to surface evenduring a Nazi occupation.
Bernard Shaw got his play “Saint Joan” past theGerman censors because it appeared to be very Anti-British. Frenchaudiences however immediately understood the real meaning of the play, andreplaced the British with the Germans. Those sorts of “hidden meanings”were common throughout the period so that plays would be able to passcensorship. Existentialism proposes that man is full of anxiety and desparewith no meaning in his life, just simply existing, until he made decisivechoice about his own future.Order now
That is the way to achieve dignity as a humanbeing. Existentialists felt that adopting a social or political cause wasone way of giving purpose to a life. Sartre is well known for the “Theatreengage” or Theatre ‘commited’, which is supposedly commited to socialand/or political action. On of the major playwrights during this period was Jean-PaulSartre. Sartre had been imprisoned in Germany in 1940 but managed toescape, and become one of the leaders of the Existential movement. Otherpopular playwrights were Albert Camus, and Jean Anouilh.
Just likeAnouilh, Camus accidentally became the spokesman for the French Undergroundwhen he wrote his famous essay, “Le Mythe de Sisyphe” or “The Myth ofSisyphus”. Sisyphus was the man condemned by the gods to roll a rock to thetop of a mountain, only to have it roll back down again. For Camus, thisrelated heavily to everyday life, and he saw Sisyphus an “absurd” hero,with a pointless existance. Camus felt that it was necessary to wonderwhat the meaning of life was, and that the human being longed for somesense of clarity in the world, since “if the world were clear, art wouldnot exist”. “The Myth of Sisyphus” became a prototype for existentialism inthe theatre, and eventually The Theatre of the Absurd.
Right after the Second World War, Paris became the theatre capitalof the west, and popularized a new form of surrealistic theatre called”Theatre of the Absurd”. Many historians contribute the sudden popularityof absurdism in France to the gruesome revelations of gas chambers and waratrocities coming out of Germany after the war. The main idea of TheTheatre of the Absurd was to point out man’s helplessness and pointlessexistance in a world without purpose. As Richard Coe described it “It isthe freedom of the slave to crawl east along the deck of a boat goingwest”.
Two of the most popular playwrights of this time include SamuelBeckett, who’s most famous piece was “Waiting for Godot”, and EugeneIoensco with “Exit the King”. Most absurdist plays have no logical plot. The absense of the plot pushes an emphasis on proving the pointlessexistance of man. Quite often, such plays reveal the human condition atit’s absolute worst.
Absurdist playwrites often used such techniques as symbolism, mime,the circus, and the commedia dell’arte, which are quite evident in the morepopular plays of the time, such as Waiting for Godot, The Bald Prima Donna,and Amedee.