Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 166
Exit the King (French: Le roi se meurt ) is a 1962 play by Eugène Ionesco, an avant-garde French playwright who is focused on portraying the isolation and triviality of human affairs in his plays. The play takes the course of one scene, during which the king, King Berenger the...
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Exit the King (French: Le roi se meurt) is a 1962 play by Eugène Ionesco, an avant-garde French playwright who is focused on portraying the isolation and triviality of human affairs in his plays. The play takes the course of one scene, during which the king, King Berenger the First, is attended by his second wife, the Queen Marguerite. The King has long understood himself to be able to control the forces of nature. The absurdist plot does not necessarily preclude this understanding to be untrue.
When the play opens, the cows are not producing milk, and the sun is late in its course, which suggest that Berenger did in fact exert control over these natural forces. The entire play features Berenger, his wife, and his physician. As the king dies, his death is treated by his wife as a ceremony, which helps him to accept it.
The play resembles those of Samuell Beckett (whose similarly despondent play, Krapp's Last Tape, also features only one act).
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 480
Exit the King is one long, uninterrupted scene. The kingdom has been deteriorating for some time: the heater does not work, the cows do not produce milk, and the sun is late. Queen Marguerite and the Doctor understand what is coming. They believe that they must inform the King and help him prepare for death. Queen Marie, the King’s second and dearest wife, wants to protect him from the truth. Encouraged by Marie, Bérenger first denies that his death is imminent, but he must progressively face the evidence. The physician coldly presents the medical facts.
Marguerite expects the King to live his death as a “ceremony.” Marie comforts and cajoles him. In a progression as precise as the various stages described by modern physicians who study the process of dying, Bérenger denies the possibility of his demise, rebels, bargains, despairs, and finally resigns himself to it. As he weakens and loses control, his entourage vanishes. Only Queen Marguerite remains at his side. Bérenger has ceased his struggle. He looks inside; he is relieved of the metaphorical weights he carried through life. One limb, one finger at a time, he gives himself up to the Divinity of Death represented by Marguerite. She disappears, leaving the King on his throne, as still as a statue. The scenery fades away, a gray light invades the stage, and everything vanishes in a sort of mist.
Why choose a king to describe the dying process? Because to be born and to live is to take possession of the world. To die is to lose that grip, just as Bérenger witnesses the disappearance of his entourage, his kingdom, and everything else. The secondary reason is a traditional one: Being a king enlarges the character and gives him the nobility of a new King Lear. At times, Bérenger concentrates in himself the entire history of humanity; he invented fire as well as atomic fission. At other times, he is the universe itself, the light and the clouds, as if Ionesco were prophesying the end of the world.
In Ionesco’s theater, tragedy and comedy are inseparable. His tragic hero is also a mediocre bourgeois who forgets to wear his slippers. He is even a sadistic and cowardly puppet in the tradition that produced Alfred Jarry’s play Ubu Roi (wr. 1888, pr., pb. 1896; English translation, 1951). Some scenes in which Bérenger is pulled between the contradictory commands of his entourage are performed in a slapstick style. Frequent references are made to the fact that the King’s death is the subject of a play that will end shortly. These references function on two levels. From a tragic perspective, they remind the audience that the process leading to death is inexorable. In a comic perspective, they say that, in this case at least, it will only be the end of a puppet show.