Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco begins with the scene of a rhinoceros charging through square of a small provincial town while two characters, Jean and Berenger, sartorial opposites, sit at a table in a cafe and chat about meaningless things. The appearance of the rhinoceros charging through the square—an event which is heard but not seen, aside from the cloud of dust the passing animal raises—causes quite a stir in the town, and people rush into the scene from all directions to comment on the remarkable occurrence.
As if the scene of the rhinoceros charging through the square of a provincial town wasn't absurd enough in its own right, later in the first act the scene is repeated, with the rhinoceros charging down the street again, this time from the opposite direction. Once again people rush into the scene to comment on the recurrence of the rhinoceros charging through the town square.
In his essay "The Theatre of the Absurd," first published in 1960, Martin Esslin (1918–2002) was the first to use the term "absurd" to describe the plays of Samuel Becket (Waiting for Godot), Ionesco (The Bald Soprano, Rhinoceros), and Arthur Adamov (La Parodie, Ping-Pong):
The common denominator that characterizes their work might well be described as the element of the absurd.
The scene in Ionesco's Rhinoceros of a rhinoceros charging through the town square, and the same scene repeated, demonstrates essential elements of absurdist drama.
The play is "pure theatre," which, according to Esslin, is a kind of theatrical presentation that can arouse an audience's interest in the play and in the characters in the play even if the play is "devoid of logical motivation and unrelated to recognizable human characters, emotions, and objectives."
The dialogue between Jean and Berenger in Rhinoceros is nonsensical, cliché-ridden, and repetitive, the character motivation and development in the play seem nonexistent or wildly inconsistent, and the rhinoceros charging through the town square is utterly absurd on its face, but the play is nevertheless interesting and engaging to an audience, and ultimately meaningful because of its nonsensical and absurd elements.
The audience is drawn into the play in search of a deeper meaning for the play, which, according to Esslin, is to show the "irrationality of the human condition and the illusion of what we thought was is apparent logical structure."