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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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Concluding remarks


The aim of the present thesis, as stated in the introduction, has been to analyse the political plays of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard in respect of their belonging to the theatre of the absurd and employing the grotesque as a means of artistic expression. The task has not been an easy one as, despite much criticism concerning both this genre and artistic device, an unanimously agreed opinion is difficult to find. The term the theatre of the absurd still remains, as Esslin argues “a working hypothesis” and not a description of “an organised movement.” The numerous works classified under this generic label often vary to a great extent. The same applies to the term the grotesque. After a short survey of criticism concerning these two issues, the introduction presents the way in which they will be employed in the monograph.

The distinction of three kinds of theatre of the absurd, as proposed by Patrice Pavis, is most useful in this context. The second variant, using specific structure and concentrating on the presentation of the ideas of existential philosophy is undoubtedly characteristic of most of Samuel Beckett’s dramas and also his two plays which openly deal with politics. The oeuvre of both Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard, with the exception of some of their early pieces which may be classified in this kind, may be considered only in terms of satirical absurd drama, as defined by the critic. The choosing of a definition of the term...

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