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Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd: Parabolic drama and the question of absurdity

Michael Y Bennett, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Entitled “Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd: Parabolic Drama and the Question of Absurdity,” my dissertation interrogates the conventional idea that the Theatre of the Absurd contemplates the purposelessness of life by re-examining some of the major plays of Beckett, Ionesco, Genet and Pinter. I suggest that the plays of the Theatre of the Absurd are, instead, ethical texts that contemplate how life can be made meaningful. I argue that Martin Esslin’s 1961 characterization of such work as “absurd” does not take into account a fully informed reading of Camus, and thus Esslin’s reading does not see the extent to which meaningfulness is fundamental to such cultural productions. Therefore, I push for a re-reading of these plays and playwrights that allows for decidedly meaning-making conclusions. Using an up-to-date understanding of Camus’ philosophy as a theoretical frame, I engage with the long history of Theatre of the Absurd criticism, performance histories and reviews, the genre of the parable, philosophy and performance studies. My dissertation, ultimately, argues against a strictly absurd reading and, instead, positions such work within the larger realm of ethics (in the general vein of Camus).

Subject Area

Comparative literature|Romance literature|Theater|British and Irish literature

Recommended Citation

Bennett, Michael Y, "Reassessing the Theatre of the Absurd: Parabolic drama and the question of absurdity" (2009). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3359128.