Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279
Eugène Ionesco’s Exit the King (le roi se muert), written in 1962, is an absurdist play. The play takes place entirely in one scene and includes various dialogues between the king and other characters.The title character, the king, is the primary one. King Bérenger is over four hundred years old, and is nearing the end of his life, attended by just a few others. The guard has the play’s opening lines, wherein he explains that the king “invented gunpowder,” then “stole fire from the gods and set fire to everything.” His opening monologue is a bit facetious, explaining that the king also invented the wheelbarrow. The king is also joined in his demise by his two previous wives. His second wife, Marie, tells him, “there is no past and there is no future. There is only the present, and it goes right up to the end.” Marie consoles the king in his old age, and she, too, is reluctant to believe the king is dying. The first wife, Marguerite, on the other hand, is more practical in her acceptance of his imminent death. She volunteers to tell him he is dying. In addition to the wives, the Kong’s doctor and the maid, Juliette, have small parts. Juliette is a disillusioned and angsty servant, whose dialogue is limited to curt responses that evidence her poor attitude toward her work. The doctor is the play’s voice of reason. He tells the king in no uncertain terms that he is going to die. When the king insists that he die on his own terms, the doctor tells him that he has lost the power to decide.
Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 392
Bérenger the First
Bérenger the First, the king. Costumed in a deep crimson coat and a crown, and carrying a scepter, Bérenger is both a human and a mythic figure. He stole fire from the gods, invented gunpowder, and split the atom. He built Rome, New York, Moscow, and Geneva and wrote tragedies and comedies under the name of Shakespeare. On this day, however, he is dying, and his kingdom and all nature are likewise coming to an end. Bérenger struggles mightily against death, passes through many stages, and finally fades into the mist.
Queen Marguerite, Bérenger’s first wife. Queen Marguerite’s cloak is a bit shabby and her expression is severe, for she is the older wife, no longer loved. She constantly forces the reality of death on Bérenger and assumes some of his power as she leads him to his death. She disappears into nothingness at the play’s end.
Queen Marie, Bérenger’s second wife, who is first in his affection. Younger and more beautiful than Marguerite, Queen Marie wears jewels, and her cloak comes from a high-class fashion designer. Marie loves Bérenger and implores him to live, but her power over him diminishes as he moves away from her toward death. Seemingly at Marguerite’s command, Queen Marie is the first of the characters to disappear.
The Doctor, who is also the king’s surgeon, executioner, bacteriologist, and astrologer. The Doctor is dressed in red, wears a pointed hat with stars on it, and carries a telescope. He joins with Queen Marguerite in insisting that Bérenger will die. As the death nears, however, he backs out of the room, bowing and scraping and excusing himself.
Juliette, the domestic help in the palace and also a registered nurse. An overworked and blunt-speaking serving woman, Juliette nevertheless shows sympathy for the dying king and tries to help him. “We’ll stay with you,” she affirms just before she disappears.
The Guard, who is stationed in the royal palace. An overworked and overly earnest figure carrying a halberd, the Guard turns all action into official proclamations. The Guard lists all the king’s deeds and is exceedingly loyal. “I swear we’ll never leave you, Majesty,” he says just before he disappears.
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