|Contexts and Comparisons||Chapter 9 - Modern Drama|
|Eugène Ionesco. (9.8)|
As unlikely as it may seem, Eugène Ionesco (1912-1994) claims to have become a playwright by accident. As the son of a Romanian father and a French mother, he grew up bilingual. Wishing to acquire English as his third language, Ionesco purchased a set of records produced by the Assimil conversation method and began to transcribe the short, simple-minded exercises they contained. Amazed by the strangeness of these nonsensical sentences, Ionesco made them the basis of his first play, The Bald Soprano.
The following excerpt from that play, which Ionesco himself subtitled an "Anti-play," occurs at the beginning of the work, when Mr. and Mrs. Smith, a perfectly British couple, have visited for an evening another perfectly British couple, Mr. and Mrs. Martin. For all intents and purposes, both couples are perfectly interchangeable. To offer a plot summary of the work would be most difficult, if not beside the point, since there is no plot as such. Suffice it to say that no bald soprano ever makes an entrance, although a rather hyperactive Fireman does, and quite "eloquently" fans the flames of language.
Excerpt From Act I Of The Bald Soprano
MR. SMITH: He was the handsomest corpse in Great Britain. He didn't look his age. Poor Bobby, he'd been dead for four years and he was still warm. A veritable living corpse. And how cheerful he was!
MRS. SMITH: Poor Bobby.
MR. SMITH: Which poor Bobby do you mean?
MRS. SMITH: It is his wife that I mean. She is called Bobby too, Bobby Watson. Since they both had the same name, you could never tell one from the other when you saw them together. It was only after his death that you could really tell which was which. And there are still people today who confuse her with the deceased and offer their condolences to him. Do you know her?
MR. SMITH: I only met her once, by chance, at Bobby's burial.
MRS. SMITH: I've never seen her. Is she pretty?
MR. SMITH: She has regular features and yet one cannot
say that she is pretty. She is too big and stout. Her features are not
regular but still one can say that she is very pretty. She is a little
too small and too thin. She's a voice teacher.
MRS. SMITH: And when do they plan to be married, those two?
MR. SMITH: Next spring, at the latest.
MRS. SMITH: We shall have to go to their wedding, I suppose.
MR. SMITH: We shall have to give them a wedding present. I wonder what?
MRS. SMITH: Why don't we give them one of the seven silver salvers that were given us for our wedding and which have never been of any use to us? [Silence]
MRS. SMITH: How sad for her to be left a widow so young.
MR. SMITH: Fortunately, they had no children.
MRS. SMITH: That was all they needed! Children! Poor woman, how could she have managed!
MR. SMITH: She's still young. She might very well remarry. She looks so well in mourning.
MRS. SMITH: But who would take care of the children? You know very well that they have a boy and a girl. What are their names?
MR. SMITH: Bobby and Bobby like their parents. Bobby Watson's uncle, old Bobby Watson, is a rich man and very fond of the boy. He might very well pay for Bobby's education.
MRS. SMITH: That would be proper. And Bobby Watson's aunt, old Bobby Watson, might very well, in her turn, pay for the education of Bobby Watson, Bobby Watson's daughter. That way Bobby, Bobby Watson's mother, could remarry. Has she anyone in mind?
MR. SMITH: Yes, a cousin of Bobby Watson's.
MRS. SMITH: Who? Bobby Watson?
MR. SMITH: Which Bobby Watson do you mean?
MRS. SMITH: Why, Bobby Watson, the son of old Bobby Watson, the late Bobby Watson's other uncle.
MR. SMITH: No, it's not that one, it's someone else. It's Bobby Watson, the son of old Bobby Watson, the late Bobby Watson's aunt.
MRS. SMITH: Are you referring to Bobby Watson the commercial traveler?
MR. SMITH: All the Bobby Watsons are commercial travelers.
MRS. SMITH: What a difficult trade! However, they do well at it.
MR. SMITH: Yes, when there's no competition.
MRS. SMITH: And when is there no competition?
MR. SMITH: On Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Tuesdays.
MRS. SMITH: Ah! Three days a week? And what does Bobby Watson do on those days?
MR. SMITH: He rests, he sleeps.
MRS. SMITH: But why doesn't he work those three days if there's no competition?
MR. SMITH: I don't know everything. I can't answer all your idiotic questions!
- Why do you think Ionesco chooses the name of Bobby Watson for his "veritable living corpse"?
- What importance does the proliferation of the various Bobby Watsons have?
- How do the couple talk and relate to each other?
- How would you characterize their conversation?
- What kinds of things is Ionesco satirizing here? Is there a lesson here for the reader?
- What is the overall tone of the passage?
The Rejection of Realism - Second Phase
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Dialogue in the Theatre of the Absurd