Critical Context

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

To be fully understood, Eugène Ionesco’s theater must be projected against two of the twentieth century’s most important movements: Surrealism and existentialism. Though Ionesco owes much to the Surrealists, what distinguishes him from them is that, in spite of the experimental nature of some of his plays and their apparent irrationality, they seldom if ever divorce themselves from recognizable reality, as did most plays written by the Surrealists. Philosophically, Ionesco is indebted to Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Yet they attempted to express the meaninglessness, irrationality, and absurdity of modern existence by means of traditional literary conventions, exceptionally rational discourse, and lucid reasoning, whereas Ionesco believes that the notion of an absurd existence cannot be communicated intellectually; one must be made to feel it, to sense it, and to experience it.

The Bald Soprano was not a once-in-a-lifetime play for Ionesco. In fact, it contains many of the techniques, ideas, and obsessions that he developed in subsequent plays. Although his later plays cannot be said to be traditional, they do show considerable technical development and greater attention to, and perhaps better understanding of, traditional theatrical requirements. With a few exceptions, his later plays have greater complexity and breadth of meaning, and his characters gradually gain in humanity.

Les Chaises (pr. 1952; The...

(The entire section is 591 words.)