Last Updated on January 19, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 871
Arrabal, Fernando 1932–
A French playwright, born in Morocco, Arrabal is sometimes reminiscent of Kafka, Beckett, and Jarry. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 9-12, rev. ed.)
The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria is no fare for the light-hearted…. Arrabal makes a double indictment of a theological nature. He shows on the one hand that the 20th century theist worships a god made in man's image, and on the other that this self-worshiping man succeeds only in destroying himself. Specifically, the play charges that the God of the conventional catechism—the Architect—fails to become a genuine man, while the technological man of contemporary civilization—the Emperor of Assyria—is only a pseudo-deity. Arrabal pursues this theme by bringing to ridicule the dogma of the incarnation and the sacrament of the eucharist.
In a tour-de-force show of linguistic and theatrical pyrotechnics, Arrabal dissects Freudian symbols and Jungian archetypes as well as the traditional religion and ethics of the West. Love and hatred of the ego, ambiguity of feelings toward father and mother, education, science, justice, country or church—nothing escapes his savage attack….
Arrabal's topic is not, as some have maintained, the conflict between the happy savage and the sophisticated product of civilization; it is rather the destiny of man in the perspective of Christian theology. Arrabal toys with the problem of the link between redemption and incarnation, and with an intensity of despair which is revealed by the brutality of his sarcasms he asks the question St. Anselm asked in Cur Deus Homo: Could there be a real God who would also be a real man? Like any other playwright in the Theater of the Absurd, Arrabal proceeds not in psychological, conceptual or logical terms, but in poetic images which flash by and involve the spectator in what Antonin Artaud called dramatic trance or incantation.
Samuel Terrien, "Demons Also Believe," in The Christian Century (copyright © 1970 by Christian Century Foundation; reprinted by permission from the December 9, 1970 issue of The Christian Century), December 9, 1970, pp. 1481–86.
[And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers] puzzled and troubled me without my being able to dismiss it. [Arrabal's] early work appears to stem from the theatre of the absurd, but judging from Handcuffs on the Flowers he has added Genet-like elements of savagery, a degree of ritualistic intensity, incantatory and turbid, sprung from a venomous reaction against the constrictions of Spanish religiosity in the context of Franco's counterrevolution….
Handcuffs is about the treatment of political prisoners in present-day Spain. It is an entirely stylized play with images of the horrifying punishment, unspeakable physical humiliation and tortured dreams of the prisoners. These experiences evoke intimate memories, atavistic stirrings prompted by long suppressed childhood recollections of traditional Spanish environment and culture. The play becomes a nightmarish phantasmagoria, causing some people to speak of Artaud's "Theatre of Cruelty" and others to allude to the horrendous cinematic poetry in such a film as El Topo….
Arrabal's intention in the play … is to emit a shriek of protest against what he has experienced in his native land, where he was recently imprisoned and might have been indefinitely kept had it not been for the intervention of certain members of the P.E.N. club.
Harold Clurman, in Nation, November 29, 1971, pp. 573-74.
Fernando Arrabal's "And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers" is a tough, grinding stage exercise partially redeemed by moments of intense compassion and beauty. While much of this grisly one-acter dotes on a kind of can-you-top-this, macabre sensationalism, the Arrabal work is a genuine plea for political and ideological freedom….
Arrabal says in the program that he would like his play to be thought of as a shout. This conception dictated his own staging, relying heavily on harsh lighting, the use of various sound devices to produce jarring aural effects and abrupt physical movements by the performers.
Variety, May 17, 1972.
Of all the well-known playwrights of the Absurd, Fernando Arrabal is to me the slightest—a hack of the avant-garde. His latest production in New York, And They Put Handcuffs on the Flowers, is a religious-symbolic work about the fate of political prisoners, presumably Franco's, who have long been immured and are generally forgotten. The script strains for fearless impact but ends in sensationalism (such touches, for instance, as the eating of excrement or the fellation of Jesus). After the arty apparatus and tedious candor, all that remains is blatant pathos. If that seems a callous comment, Arrabal invites it because he pretends to the much more complex and profound level of Genet's writings about prisoners.
Stanley Kauffmann, "Stages of Discussion," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1972 by Harrison-Blaine of New Jersey, Inc.), June 24, 1972, pp. 24, 34-5.
Fernando Arrabal does not write plays for the stage so much as he writes poems for the stage. And, as with much of the best in contemporary poetry, the metaphor rather than the "story" is the message. Here [in The Architect and the Emperor of Assyria], an "emperor" arrives on an island inhabited solely by an "architect"; the two of them interact, seemingly switch roles, play out their fantasies, etc., and their exchange is rich and shimmering in image, suggestion, and a curiously moving, even overwhelming, sadness.
Lawrence Wunderlich, in Cue, July 1, 1972.
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