Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 296

Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco is a meditation on life and death, and how power is just a social construct, or a man-made illusion, perhaps even a delusion. The king is inept and his authority is dependent exclusively on the title and designation he was born into.

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When the king's health deteriorates, his entourage leaves him, showing him that he only wielded his power over others because they depended on him. When he was no longer dependable, his entourage abandons him. It also illustrates the fragile nature of the king-subject dynamic: the king is only powerful when he has subjects to reign over, just as a slave master's power is linked to obedient slaves.

His kingdom is a failure and its gradual fall from grace parallels the king's own life. His two wives—Queen Marguerite and Queen Marie—represent reality and illusion, respectively. Queen Marguerite and the king's trusted physician tell him the facts of his medical condition, but Queen Marie tries to shield him from the truth by convincing him that he will be fine.

The latter's attempts leads to the king's initial denial regarding his impending demise. However, he realizes that like his crumbling empire, he will soon die. In the end, the king is completely alone, illustrating the solitary nature of death.

Since monarchy is based on man-made ideas of social and political hierarchy, and an empire—or even a society or civilization—is composed of social constructs, the world symbolically dies with the king. After all, the king is supposed to represent a divine entity on Earth, and when a deity dies, so does the universe it has created. However, in actuality life moves on after a king's death, thus reiterating that a king's accomplishments and power are nothing but illusions.

The Play

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1130

To the strains of seventeenth century courtly music, derisively played, the curtain rises on Exit the King to reveal a shabby throne room. On either side of the King’s throne are two smaller thrones for the two queens, Marguerite (the King’s first wife) and Marie (his second, and younger, wife). The room has several windows and doors; one small door leads to the King’s apartment. The King, his queens, the Doctor, and Juliette are announced by the Guard, who remains onstage with Queen Marguerite and Juliette, the servant. There is a brief glimpse of King Berenger the First, bedecked with crown and crimson robe, holding a scepter.

All is not well. It is soon apparent from the severe comments of Queen Marguerite that Berenger is losing control—of his court, his kingdom, nature, and himself. The central heating has gone out, there are cigarette butts on the floor, and the sky is overcast; even the sun has refused to cooperate with the orders of the King. The court is awakening to its last day, and as the Guard mentions a new crack in the wall, even Marguerite admits that things are moving more rapidly than she expected.

Queen Marie returns to the stage, eyes red from sobbing over the impending death of the King. Marguerite offers little sympathy: Since death is natural and inevitable, Berenger the First (of all people) should have kept this fact always in view, should have organized his life for a “decent” departure. Marguerite is determined in these last moments “to do what ought to have been done over a period of years.”

The universe seems to be folding up as well. The doctor-cum-astronomer reports to the queens that the sun is going out, that Mars and Saturn have collided and exploded, and that time itself is speeding up, with cows giving birth twice a day. However, the King, as he enters at last, slipperless, through one of the doors, is more concerned with his stiff legs and sore ribs, and the strange noises at night that...

(The entire section contains 1963 words.)

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