“Ionesco's plays require that the audience find themselves jolted into seeing their world and themselves through the perspective of the fictional world created on stage” (Quigley). Discuss with reference to Rhinocéros and at least one other French example (not necessarily by Ionesco) of the Theatre of the Absurd.
Ionesco has labelled his plays as inherently anti-ideological, as he explainsthat ’if art functioned as an ideology it would no longer be a work of art, that is to say an autonomous creation, an independent universe with its own life and its own laws’. In this way, if a work of art if compelled simply to illustrate ideology, it is no longer a creative process, action and surprise; it is known in advance. Instead, Ionesco advocates the ‘testimony’ that playwrights canoffer other kinds of knowledge in other worlds, encouraging the enlightenment of audience members through the presentation and exploration of often-overlooked elements of the reality of the world off-stage. Furthermore, this reality with which Ionesco’s plays are concerned is a deep psychological reality, the reality of dreams which are not constrained by logic or rationalism, a reality which isnot in the audience’s extent of verisimilitude or comfort. And so, the narrative of Ionesco’s plays is an evocation of dream and nightmare sequences; exploration of phobias rather than physical realities. It aims to shock its audience out of complacency, to bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation as Ionesco sees it. Esslin notes that ‘it is a challenge to his audience toaccept the human condition as it is, in all its mystery and absurdity, and to bear it with dignity, nobly, responsibly; precisely because there are no easy solutions to the mysteries of existence, because ultimately man is alone in a meaningless world’. The play requires that the audience move through the same progression as the fictional characters on-stage in order to release themselves fromthe disillusioned lives they previously accepted. The aim of this essay is to explore this transition effected upon the audience by the fictional world on-stage, and how this is a requirement to the play’s success in Ionesco’s Rhinocéros and Les Chaises.
What is notable from the outset of both of these plays is Ionesco’s concern for dramatizing idiosyncratically typifying socialsituations. The concerns which permeate conventional theatre, which aim at promoting social change in large, identifiable social pictures lie in marked contrast to the local and exaggerated embodiments of social interaction which Ionesco depicts. In his concern for the local, Ionesco recognizes ‘that the particular takes priority over the universal for only in the particular can we encounter theuniversal.’ However, Ionesco’s preference for the local and idiosyncratic over the general and commonplace (in a conscious attempt to avoid repetition and conformism in inherent in ideological contexts) mean that the manifestations from the outset of the play are unidentifiable to the audience, a situation to which they cannot relate. This is demonstrated in the opening sequences of both Rhinocéros andLes Chaises.
In the opening sequence of Rhinocéros, a small provençal town is disrupted by ‘les bruits du gallop d’un animal puissant et lourd sont tout proches, très accélérés’ (page 23) which although is unseen by the audience, is soon proclaimed in chorus by many of the townspeople to be a rhinoceros stampeding past them on the opposite pavement. This opening introduction would seemabnormal to the audience who would find it as difficult as Bérenger to justify a possible reasoning for its being in town, who considered that it may have been from ‘le jardin zoologique’ (page 35) or perhaps ‘un cirque ambulant’ (page 36). However this only acts as a basis for the sequence of images that are to evolve, notably the emergence of the fact that the rhinoceroses stampeding about town...
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