Theatre of the Absurd

Swapna Mirashi

Absurdist art grew post World War II from the absurdist philosophy. Absurdism, in turn stemmed from part hopelessness from the World War, part discovery that ‘life has a meaning’ is an absurd concept.

A number of European and American dramatists of the 1950s and early 1960s – post World War II – wrote plays that challenged the basic convention of theatre and fiction writing. Their plays did not have a definite beginnings, middles and end or conflict and resolution. The only commonality between the plays was that they all gave dramatic expression to the philosophical notion of the Absurd, following the publication of Albert Camus‘s essay Le Mythe de Sisyphe (the Myth of Sisyphus) in 1942.

Post World War II, post-modern existential philosophy led to the Theatre of the Absurd. It stems from philosophy that challenges any meaning or purpose of life. Absurdists believe that life itself is meaningless and purposeless and the human quest for meaning and making sense is absurd. They propose not to struggle to make sense of the universe, instead play along with the absurdities of life – make nonsense.

What is the Theatre of the Absurd?

A genre that abandons the conventions of theatre to depict the futility of human struggle to make sense in a senseless universe.


  1. Tragicomedy – absurd and tragic imagery appear together
  2. Vaudeville elements
  3. Characters are caught in hopeless situations and are forced to do repetitive or meaningless actions
  4. Dialogue (if any) is full of clichés, wordplay, and nonsensical, even gibberish (with no purpose).
  5. Plots is cyclical, often ending where they began, with no resolution or happy ending and no definite call to action.
  6. Language is an unreliable and inadequate tool of communication. Communication is often broken (or one way)
  7. Time, place and identity of the characters are ambiguous and fluid.
  8. Use of non-realistic or surreal characters and/or situations. The emotional states may be presented through poetic metaphors (fantasy/ dreamlike imagery). Characters exist in a bubble, oblivious to the world around them. They are often symbolic, one-dimensional and have no logic to their behaviors.
  9. Meaningless or seemingly illogical plots, depict the chaos on stage that exists in the world.
  10. Repetitive or nonsensical dialogue
  11. Random and meaningless elements on the surface, but meaning normally emerges from the chaos
  12. Human condition portrayed as meaningless, absurd, illogical
  13. Language, words and communication often appear to have lost their denotative function, thus creating misunderstanding among the characters
  14. Minimal plot, minimal staging, babbling; abstract setting, arbitrary illogical action
  15. The language and poetry of Absurdist Theater emerges from concrete and objectified images of the stage
  16. Emphasis is on dramatic and not realistic
  17. great writing of dark comedy
  18. Minimalist action – only used to depict the chaos and helplessness of characters coming from a threat from outside (of control) – stems from the WWII
  19. Minimalist setting.

Experience of the Theatre of the Absurd

  1. Makes you laugh
  2. Leaves you feeling Uncomfortable, annoyed, shocked or confused or all