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The theatre of the absurd was a short-lived yet significant theatrical movement, centred in Paris in the 1950s. The beginnings of absurdism lie in avant-garde theatre experiments during the 1920s and 30s.
It was not a conscious movement per se, and no single practitioner was spearheading the emergence of this type of drama. Exponents of the form were a disconnected group of playwrights whose works were based on the philosophy of existentialism. These included Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet (with some scholars also including Arthur Adamov). Scholar Martin Esslin first coined the movement’s title in his 1961 text The Theatre of the Absurd.
Common elements in absurdist plays included illogical plots inhabited by characters who appeared out of harmony with their own existence. The typical playgoer had never seen anything like this on the European stage.
More contemporary playwrights whose selected works have been labelled absurdist include Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, Fernando Arrabal, and Peter Weiss. However, most of these playwrights deny the label attributed to them.
The theatre of the absurd will be remembered in history for many things, the most significant being Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece Waiting for Godot, today regarded as one of the great plays of the 20th century.