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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

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.

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