enpaku 早稲田大学演劇博物館


Brecht and the Theatre of the Absurd

Modernity prompted the rise of naturalistic theatre in Europe, but by the end of the 19th century, Alfred Jarry had made a pioneering stand against modern theatre with his play “Ubu Roi”. After the First World War, scientific rationalism and other ideological currents that had underpinned modern progress had come apart at the seams. Consequently, movements dedicated to overthrowing modern theatre gained traction. The Futurists, Dadaists, Surrealists, and other avant-garde schools were all experimenting with new forms of dramatic expression. Two individuals who, among others, made particularly striking breakthroughs were the Italian dramatist Luigi Pirandello (whose works include “Six Characters in Search of an Author”) and the German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht (known for works like “Mother Courage and Her Children and The Three Penny Opera”). Brecht was particularly innovative; he proposed a form of epic theatre involving what he dubbed the “Verfremdungseffekt” (alienation effect), he presented events in unfamiliar contexts or settings. The aim of the alienation effect was to hinder the audience from identifying with the characters emotionally, forcing them instead to analyse the characters’ actions in a more conscious and critical way.

During the 1950s, the theatre world was reshaped again, this time by the Theatre of the Absurd. Paris-based playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugène Ionesco, and Jean Genet produced a succession of absurdist dramas that dispensed with a clear narrative and avoided linking causes with effects. A notable absurdist drama is Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot”. This play is about two men who await the arrival of a character called Godot, who never shows up. With its universal theme of waiting in vain for a saviour, the play continues to be staged around the world – not least in areas affected by conflict and natural disasters.