The Real Inspector Hound

The Real Inspector Hound The Theater of the Absurd

The Theater of the Absurd was a term coined by Martin Esslin in his 1960 essay, “Theater of the Absurd.” The term ‘Absurd’ stems from Albert Camus’ earlier work The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he explores the view that the world is devoid of inherent meaning and value: "Camus argued that humanity had to resign itself to recognizing that a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach; in that sense, the world must ultimately be seen as absurd." (Crabb)

Esslin coined the term in order to categorize works by playwrights that shared "fundamental traits...[an] attempt to convey [the authors'] sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and wonder in the face of an inexplicable universe." (Crabb) In Absurdist plays, the characters interact with a world that is meaningless, or a world in which the person becomes a puppet controlled by unseen forces. Pioneers of the genre include Samuel Beckett, Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet; later playwrights associated with the genre include Tom Stoppard, Friedrich Durrenmatt, Fernando Arrabal, Edward Albee, Boris Vian, and Jean Tardieu. The movement originated in Paris.

Most Absurdist plays are tragicomedies. The likely reason for this is that tragedy without relief is almost impossible to withstand. The comic relief makes the tragic realities of our world digestible. Additionally, these plays tend to feature illogical events, flat archetypal characters, and an incomprehensible universe. Oftentimes the narratives do not make much sense, although the plays do say something about the world in which we live. Like in Stoppard’s play, there are often language barriers and breakdowns of communication. This "distrust" of words posits, "[language]...has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges." (Crabb)

It is pretty common for Absurdism to be associated with Existentialism, but most Absurdist playwrights do not consider themselves to be Existentialist. Stoppard, the author of The Real Inspector Hound, said, “I must say I didn’t know what the word ‘existential’ meant until it was applied to Rosencrantz [and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966)]. And even now existentialism is not a philosophy I find either attractive or plausible. But it’s certainly true that the play can be interpreted in existential terms, as well as in other terms.” Absurdist plays subvert logic and mimic reality in a skewed way in order to capture the protagonists' sense of bewilderment at the confounding world around them.