The New Theatre: Aesthetically a Misled Motto

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The New Theatre: Aesthetically a Misled Motto

By – Dr. Mamta Srivastava, published in Vol.II, Issue.XX, September 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Dr. Mamta Srivastava is an assistant professor, dept. of English, T. R. Girls’ College, Aligarh. She has published many papers on different literary topics in many magazines and journals.


A painter picks up his brush and fills the canvas with colours, a musician binds the words in the rhythm and makes a string of melody while a poet pours out the words in the form of a lyric. By fine arts Aristotle also means painting, music and poetry. He opines that every art imitates objects of life; consequently, it is called a reflection of the society. He explains –

“For as there are persons who, by conscious art or mere habit, imitate and represent various objects through the medium of colour and form, or again by the voice; taken as a whole the imitation is produced by rhythm, language, or harmony; either singly or combined.”`1

The fine arts are regarded superior to science, social sciences and other branches of learning because they provide aesthetic pleasure and intellectual enjoyment. Chiefly, theatre reflects society and society glimpses through literature; hence its aim becomes grimmer and valuable. On one hand, it maintains social values, moral values and on the other it brings catharsis of emotions and provides pleasure. Post Modern Drama observed a great change within theatrical culture resulting in the new form of theatre — Theatre of the Absurd, Expressionism, Impressionism and Experimental theatre. Martin Esslin defines the term ‘Absurd’ in following manner:

“Absurd originally means out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable illogical………”2

Eugene Ionesco also writes in an ‘Essay on Kafka’:

“Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots….” 3.

With the advancement of New Theatre in 1950, a change came into the motif of the plays. These plays reflect meaninglessness of man’s existence in the society, utter confusion and despair in the world. No values in life, no love in relations, no sensitivity, no spirituality, Homo sapiens without knowledge and without intelligence.

The New Theatre Movement was originally a Paris-based avant-garde which was directly related to small theatres in the Quartier- Latin. Crude symbolism, cheap mystery and violence became the theme of the plays of New-theatre Playwrights. The underline current of the new theatre is absurdity – absurdity of the purpose, absurdities in the characters, absurdity in dialogues. According to them, human existence is meaningless and purposeless and there is no logic and rational argument among those characters, the dialogues are short, they have no meaning, there is no connection as well. For example, in Samuel Beckett’s ‘End Game’, there are very short and delink dialogues between characters,

Hamm: Now these days I shall show my eyes to you. (He pauses)

 It feels that they have both gone white. (He pauses)

 What is time?

 Clov: The same.

 Hamm: (Moving towards the window right.) Have you seen?

 Clov.: Yes, I have.

 Hamm.: How’s that?

 Clov.: Zero.

 Hamm: It needs to rain.

 Clov.: It will not rain. (He pauses.) 4


If we analyse the plays of Harold Pinter, Samuel Beckett and Edward Elbee, in them, life has lost its meaning, no activity, no motion takes place, only depression and dejection is seen, how a man can find aesthetic pleasure in such a lost and senseless absurdity.

In Harold Pinter’s play ‘The Room’, Rose and Bert, husband and wife, live together in a room. Mr. Kidd, a vague man regarded as the landlord creates a mystery. When Bert and Mr. Kidd go out, Rose opens the door to take the refuse out of the room; she is left stunned to find out two people, looking for a room. Wandering through the empty house they found that no.7 – Rose’s room was to let in. Again it is found very mysterious that when the room is opened a blind Negro named Riley comes and informs ‘ your father wants you to come. Come home Sal.’ She merely insists -‘ don’t call me that. ‘Meanwhile, Bert returns back and beats Riley brutally until he remains emotionless and Rose becomes blind. In the end, the room left us in horror, mystery and violence.

In the same way ‘The Dumb Waiter’ also begins with a basement room in which there are two hired killers employed by an organization to kill a person. In search of tea they entered into a kitchen of a restaurant where a dumb waiter comes with the order of ‘Two braised steak and chips, Two sago puddings, Two teas without sugar’. Somehow they fulfill the order but again the dumb waiter comes back for more complicated dishes. The two men discover a speaking tube next to the dumb waiter and Ben establishes contact with the powers above. Gus goes out to take a glass of water; the speaking tube comes to life again. Ben finds the instructions to kill the next man who enters. And it is found very horrible that the next man who enters is none else but Gus so the play has supernatural element and ends with a melodramatic note.

Samuel Beckett, a renowned name known for the Theatre of the Absurd, wrote many plays- ‘Waiting for Godot’, ‘End Game’ and ‘Krapps’s Last’ etc. In ‘Waiting for Godot’ nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.’ Two old tramps, Vladimir and Estragon believed that Godot would come but till the end he did not come. The whole saga tells that they do not believe in action but in suicide.

In the same way ‘The Zoo Story’ also delineates loneliness lack of communication among people. Peter is a writer; he is sitting in Central Park, Jerry a morally debased young man who lives “in a four- storey brownstone rooming – house on the upper West Side between Columbus Avenue and Central Park West……..The room beyond my beaver board wall is occupied by a coloured queen who always keeps his door open; well, not always but always when he’s plucking his eyebrows, which he does with Buddhist concentration.”5

His parents left him at the tender age of ten; his mother was an adulterous; after her death, he was brought up by his mom’s sister. She also died when he was in high school graduation. He became a homosexual. In the end, he provokes Peter to kill him. He can’t kill himself. Ironically he goads Peter to pick the knife and to pierce in him. He makes the sound like a wounded animal He says that this world is like a zoo where the people exist like animals: where everybody is fighting for his existence, everybody wants to dispossess the other. His anguish has burst out in following words:

”Peter, you’ve been dispossessed. You’ve lost your bench, but you’ve defended your honour. And Peter, I’ll tell you something now: you’re not really a vegetable: it’s all right you’re an animal”. 6

No doubt these plays reflect depression, anxiety and suicidal instinct of the society which is the result of growing materialism, post-war depression and decline of values. Is this the only aim of theatre? No, not at all, it is a fact, crime, negativity, nothingness, immorality, animalism etc. are also the part of the society, but the struggling spectators want a ray of hope in doomed life. At the same time, life is a mixture of all good and evil, joy and sorrow, hope and despair, victory and defeat, and life and death as well. The theatre provides us pleasure, a meaning in life.

This aesthetic pleasure does not arise out of five sense organs only, it is more sublime and elevated; it is intellectual pleasure, it is spiritual pleasure as explained by I. A. Richards in his work ‘ ‘Principles of Literary Criticism’. He adds ‘Good’ with beauty and truth which makes Satyam, Shivam, Sundaram. In my view, it is the true concept of aesthetic pleasure. Though it is difficult to reach the concept, it is not unattainable; in the same period, some other writers penned down different types of plays on contemporary themes, Arthur Miller is one of them, who insists upon courage, truth, trust, responsibility and faith as the central values of a man. According to him, the theatre is a serious business that makes or should make man more human which is to say less alone. Man is not a just microcosmic representative of the world – macrocosm.

I. A. Richards rightly says “The moralizing force of Art lies, not in its capacity to present a timid imitation of our experiences, but in its power to go beyond our experience, satisfying and harmonizing the unfulfilled activities of our nature.” 7

In my view, it is the moral responsibility of a playwright to hold values while depicting the real society with the motto of pleasure.


  1. Butcher S.H. Aristotle’s Theory of Poetry and Fine Art (a translation of Poetics) Kalyani Publishers pg 7
  2. Esslin Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Thomson Press (India) Limited pg 23
  3. Ionesco Eugene. Danz les armes de la ville’, Cahiers de la Compagnie Madeleine Renaud-Jean-Louis Barrault, Paris, No.20, October 1957.
  4. Beckett Samuel: End Game
  5. Albee Edward: The Zoo Story.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Richards I.A. Principles of Literary Criticism. pub. By Central Electric Press New Delhi pg 184
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