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The Theatre of the Absurd, the Grotesque and Politics

A Study of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard


Jadwiga Uchman

The monograph deals with chosen aspects of modern drama based on the output of three playwrights. It discusses the works of Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard in reference to their employment of the grotesque and the theatre of the absurd. Elements of the grotesque appear in political dramas of all three playwrights. While Beckett does not shy away from absurdity in his plays, some of the early dramas of Pinter and Stoppard present a general existential condition of man, even though their strictly political plays are basically realistic in respect to form, yet satirical in their content. Most of the political plays discussed portray the absurdity of totalitarian countries, stemming from the tragicomic discrepancy between what the authorities are saying they are doing and their actual actions.

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The aim of this study is to analyse the political plays of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard in the context of the theatre of the absurd and the grotesque, which seems to be one of the features characterising this literary genre. It was Martin Esslin who coined the phrase, in 1962, when he published his book entitled The Theatre of the Absurd. Since then this critical idiom has been widely used (and abused). Several critics have made attempts to specify what it denotes exactly. In his book Esslin argues:

The Theatre of the Absurd […] can be seen as the reflection of what seems to be the attitude most genuinely representative of our own time.

The hallmark of this attitude is its sense that the certitudes and unshakeable basic assumptions of former age have been swept away. (1974, 4)

By 1942, Albert Camus was calmly putting the question, why, since life had lost all meaning, man should not seek escape in suicide. In one of the great, seminal heart-searchings of our time, The Myth of Sisyphus, Camus tried to diagnose the human situation in a world of shattered beliefs:

“A world that can be explained by reasoning, however faulty, is a familiar world. But in a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusions and light, man feels like a stranger. His is an irremediable exile, because he is deprived of memories of lost homeland, as much as he lacks the hope...

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