What is the relationship between existentialism and "Theatre of the Absurd"?

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The "Theatre of the Absurd" is not so much a formal movement as it is a collective that consists of works by Western dramatists in the 1950s to 1960s that subscribe to the existentialist concept of the "absurd" as introduced by philosopher Albert Camus. Camus's idea of the absurd is...

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The "Theatre of the Absurd" is not so much a formal movement as it is a collective that consists of works by Western dramatists in the 1950s to 1960s that subscribe to the existentialist concept of the "absurd" as introduced by philosopher Albert Camus. Camus's idea of the absurd is that the human condition is characterized by the absence of any intrinsic value or hidden meaning:

Human existence might be described as 'absurd' in one of the following senses.... Many existentialists argued that nature as a whole has no design, no reason for existing. Although the natural world can apparently be understood by physical science or metaphysics, this might be better thought of as 'description' than either understanding or explanation. (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In order to communicate this, the elements in an Absurdist play are designed to reflect that very disconnect between form and meaning—all while highlighting human struggle and its unheroic futility. Since existentialism views all life as rather intelligible, the absurd makes a case for its acceptance. As such, it is to be distinguished from nihilism. The playwrights that make up the Theatre of the Absurd present narratives devoid of the logical structure that defined theatre at the time. For instance, in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, the characters are locked in a rather long-winded, endless, and ridiculous act of waiting.

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The Theatre of the Absurd was a brief literary and theatrical movement that took place in the 1950s. Absurdism, which can be defined as a belief that people exist in a disordered and meaningless world, characterizes the dramatic pieces of this movement, and the philosophy of existentialism is the foundation upon which many of these pieces stand. The hopelessness of these plays corresponds closely with the absence of logical reason and order.

Playwrights like Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet are considered true leaders of the Theatre of the Absurd. Their plays are are jarring in subject and delivery, and outcomes of the characters' lives are often left uncertain. The existentialist philosophers whose ideas are the inspiration upon which these storylines are based include Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus, who both wrote plays themselves.

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Existentialism was predicated on the notion that the traditional institutions to which people had always turned were at the end of the day powerless to explain human existence. For many existentialists, this entailed a rejection of religion, of the state, and of many societal mores. In the wake of World War II, many playwrights and authors were inspired by existentialists like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre to reject many of the conventions of drama and of literature in general. The works of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet and other absurdists rejected structures, forms and the general realism that prevailed in previous works, and they generally portrayed very bleak themes, a hallmark of existentialism. Yet  their works also, like Beckett's The End, reflect a certain individualism on the part of characters who have a mutually indifferent relationship with the societies in which they live. This, too, is a key component of existentialist thought.

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