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Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros

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1 Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros
Theatre of the Absurd Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros

2 Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994) b. Romania, near Bucharest, raised Paris
Father a lawyer, back to Romania during WWI 1922 return Romania to his father, now remarried 1928 debut as poet; degree in French 1933; continued poetry, reviews, literary criticism 1936 married; 1938 back to Paris 1945 worked in publishing house in Paris 1948 begins writing plays (Bald Soprano) Pataphysics – science of imaginary solutions w/ other artists; he acts and writes with them Became a French citizen (50) and member French Academy (70) Leading figure of literary avant-garde Activist for human rights, esp in Romania

3 “It seemed to me that {people} allow themselves to live, as it were, unconsciously. Perhaps it's because everyone, all the others, are convinced in some unformulated, irrational way that one day everything will be made clear. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for humanity. Perhaps there will be a morning of grace for me.” (Hermit, 1973) I’m pot -bellied, dumpy, small, I’ve short legs. I’m a peasant from the Danube, as I’ve said.” (Critical Inquiry, 1975) “I don’t know if you have noticed it, but when people no longer share your opinions, when you can no longer make yourself understood by them, one has the impression of being confronted with monsters, rhinos, for instance. They have that mixture of candour and ferocity. They would kill you with the best of consciences.” (Le monde 1960)

4 Ionesco Pot-bellied, dumpy, small ….

5 Rhinoceros, 1959 Ionesco’s response to fascism; the terror of brute force becomes “beauty” The struggle of one man to keep integrity (see Miller’s essay on common man tragedy) BBC radio 1st production (on heels of debate over realism w/ Kenneth Tynan) Staged 1960 at Odéon in Paris by Barrault and Orson Welles directed at Royal Court, London 1962 Martin Esslin’s Theatre of the Absurd names Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, Adamov, Pinter “absurdists” – defines new anti-realism trend

6 Theatre of the Absurd Term from Camus’ Myth of Sisyphus, 1942; out of harmony, but “one must imagine Sisyphus happy.” “If the world were clear, art would not exist.” Esslin says the authors all face the senselessness of human existence and the inadequacy of rational explanations (philosophy, religion, literature). Absurd in this case means devoid of purpose Among the absurdists, Ionesco deals more with social situations than individual, ethical choices that have ramifications

7 Sisyphus

8 Dramaturgy of Absurd Plot: logical development would be antithetical; exposition is lacking; rarely a climax. Circular structure is common. Characters: often devoid of history except as defined in stage actions. Often trapped in meaningless situations. Often can’t communicate effectively. Find meaning in absurd actions, relationships, social gestures. Theme: dramatic symbols often dominate all other elements. Background image, anyone? Language: devolves into cliché or routine; rhythm and sound may overtake denotative meaning Spectacle: stage use, objects, relationship to audience commonly symbolic and address audience as such

9 Locations Quaint French village; Act 1 very idealized
I:I Village with restaurant, grocery, street. Sunday, noon, summer I:ii Law publishing office. Next morning II Jean’s room, Monday afternoon III Berenger’s room, a few days later Big challenge is the visual of rhinos; especially Jean’s onstage transformation in Act II. Your next group project is to design this.

10 Characters Berenger: the absurd hero. Never bought the values of his community. Drinks too much; gets to work late. Jean: his foil; he fits into his small town world, the values of work, dress, socializing Daisy: ingenue Mr. Papillon: boss Botard: in office, a hard worker, populist Dudard: young man at work w/ bright future Logician: is totally misleading in this case; who cares how many horns when people are transforming? Mr. and Mrs. Boeuf Townspeople: Grocer, Housewife, Old Gentleman

11 Fascism Is never directly mentioned.
“It is my duty to stick by them. I have to do my duty.” and “If you are going to criticize them, it’s better to do so from the inside.” Dudard, p. 114 “I feel responsible for everything that happens. I feel involved – I can’t just be indifferent.” Bérenger p. 98 “(shouting out front) I’ll never join up with you!” Berenger p. 106 Botard says “we must move with the times” p.109 “everyone has a relative or close friend among them” p. 111 Daisy, so they can’t be contained Logic is used to support fascism; Berenger – never good at logic – knows intuitively it’s wrong

12 Rhinos How explicit would you be in production?




16 Influence Today Next generation of writers after Ionesco include Tom Stoppard (R&G are Dead), Edward Albee (Virginia Woolf), Arthur Kopit (Wings), Caryl Churchill (Top Girls), Vaclav Havel, Mamet and Shepard to a lesser extent. Young writers today: Suzan Lori Parks (Topdog/Underdog or The America Play), Tracy Letts (Bugs), Geneseo students… And even though it doesn’t matter: both species of African Rhinos have 2 horns. 1 of the 3 species of Asian rhinos has 2 horns.

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