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Date of Award

5-2009

Document Type

Campus Access

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

English and American Literature

First Advisor

Jenny S. Spencer

Second Advisor

James Freeman

Third Advisor

David Lenson

Subject Categories

Comparative Literature | Literature in English, British Isles | Theatre and Performance Studies

Abstract

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 rereading 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).

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