“Episode in the Life of an Author” - One Act Play
Form: One Act Play
Sub-genre: Absurdist farce (with features of the ‘theatre of the absurd’)
Author: Jean Anouilh (Anh’ wee)
Birth: June 23, 1910 Bordeaux, France
Death: October 3, 1987 Lausanne, Switzerland
The play is classified by the author under:
Pieces roses (theme explored with sparkling wit and comedy).
‘The play tries to substantiate the view that ‘the primary function of the theatre was, is and forever will be entertainment.’
Rhetorical Devices used in the play:
Satire, Irony, Symbols, Wit & Comedy.
Social values explored:
Love, Marital life (marriage), Friendship, Family bond, other relationships,jobs & ethics.
Love, Marital life (marriage), Friendship, Family bond, other relationships,jobs & ethics.
SYMBOLS USED IN THE PLAY:
Symbols play an integral part of communicating the writer's vision to the play, in Episode in the Life of the Author the following symbols are used:
All the characters in the play are wearing false noses and this is an indispensable part of the play. The false noses here symbolize the absurd nature of the play. More than anything Anouilh has used the false noses for all characters to show the purpose of absurd plays. The primary function of the theatre is entertainment and false noses actually justify this purpose and add a comic element to the characters. It also symbolizes that human beings no matter what they consider themselves to be, after all they are just players on the stage of the world and that their purposes of living are often falsified through the choice of their own lenses.
The leak in the play is symbolic of two important elements. Absurd plays often contradict the notion that there is always a reason behind the occurrence of things and events in our everyday life. The leak is used to symbolize that the way events and incidents happen sometimes are beyond logic and a rational explanation. It also highlights the power of myths and miracles that impact our life in an inexplicable way.
La Surette approaches the author for the money to pay for the gas bill but later he places more importance on the boots than the money. The boots here symbolize the absurd desires of human beings. Human beings have unlimited desires and wants but there is a lack of rational explanation for these desires.
We do not know why we want some things and we often do not know why we do not want some other things in life.
The Weeping Maid
Leonie, the maid is a minor character who is a member of the author’s house. She ushers all the visitors and the guests who come with their problems to the author. But all the while, she is found to be weeping throughout the play. A certain degree of suspense is maintained by Anouilh, until towards the end when we are informed that she had been weeping because she had become pregnant. Both the Author and Ardele are oblivious of her pregnancy and pay no heed to her sufferings. She is left on her own to fight her own battles. Her weeping is symbolic of the physical and mental sufferings that people go through in the walks of their daily life. It is also suggestive of how other people desert us in times of distress to face the problems of our own life although we have been living under the same roof. Poor people like the maid are exploited by powerful men; their woes unheard, their pains undivided and left to strive and struggle on their own.
The Falling Picture
The falling picture symbolizes:
Ø The wife’s temperament: Whenever Ardele leaves the study slamming the door, the picture falls down. It happens from the beginning of the play whenever she quarrels with her husband. The falling picture here shows that Ardele is a short tempered lady.
Ø The problems of marital life: It clearly reveals in the play the theme that if the husband and the wife do not have mutual trust then there will be quarrels and unrest in the house.
Ø The author’s character as a patient man: In the play Ardele addresses the Author angrily for three times and on all these occasion her slamming the door makes the picture to fall down. Whenever it happens the Author calmly picks it up and hangs it back without showing ill temper towards his wife. This clearly shows that the Author is a very patient, cool and composed man with immense tolerance.
Ø To add a comic element to the play amidst the tensions of the author’s marital life: Whenever Ardele and the Author quarrel the scene becomes serious, but in the middle of this seriousness the falling picture gives opportunity to the audience to laugh at it.
Some Satirical elements in the Play:
Satire on Media: In its Satire on Media madame Bessarabo is the target. She has come all the way from Rumania to France just to interview the Author about his last play and especially to know what he feels about Love, but often she is seen to deviate from the topic and discuss about other unimportant matters.
This particular situation also shows that the media can go to any length/extent for a sensational story. Here the media has been portrayed as taking undue advantage over the Author's private affairs and weakness.
Satire on celebrities: The celebrities are satired through the character of the Author. Their behaviors are also ridiculed towards the end of the play where the Author is no more calm and behaves agitated.
Elements of Absurdity in the play:
ü The play follows unconventional plot structures, theme and dialogues. Neither the scenes nor the time is put properly in the play. Conventional norms have been forgone to purposefully comment on the purposelessness and the meaninglessness of human existence.
The events in this play are not logically connected to each other, and to an average audience, meaningless.
ü The arrangement and the timing of events are haphazard. For instance Ardele pops into the scene irregularly at her own discretion and we do not know whether she is present in the house at other times when the author in engaged with other characters. Her irregular interruptions make no sense at all.
ü The interview is cut short several times with interventions from other characters but when they continue again they begin as if they have progressed a lot actually when nothing has been achieved.
ü The phone calls especially Gustave’s, consume a significant amount of time. The anecdotes he relates to the author has no relevancy to the author, he seems least bothered about what Gustave is saying. Nonetheless from the other end we have Gustave putting his heart and soul in explaining everything he has to offer.
ü The maid’s pregnancy is one that is very difficult to understand.
ü The actions of the characters are senseless, useless and absurd. The author is bewildered, troubled, and strangely threatened by a large number of visitors who each bring a bag of problems to him.. He has no control over what is happening in his life or his house. The final scene where he is shouting for everyone to be calm while he himself is losing control shows him as a true absurd protagonist.
ü Distrust of language as a means of communication: Language in Episode in the Life an Author is shown as an unreliable and insufficient tool of communication; the broken dialogues and conversation between Ardele and the unknown woman (Leon’s wife), the interview between Madam Bessarabo and the Author are some examples of this use of language. In this way, conventional speech seems to act as a barrier between the characters rather than serve as a means of communication.
Episode in the life of an author is an excellent example of Jean Anouilh’s individualistic style that is eminently entertaining and irresistibly theatrical. It is humorous in its absurdity and its challenges the traditional notions of plot, character development and resolution of conflict. It has characters who enter, leave and enter again as they seek order in their lives from the art of author. They seem dependent on him to rescue them from the turmoil of their lives. Some are green with envy of the earlier characters which the author created because they live in a play which is ordered. In this sense, they want him to write stories of their lives and, indeed, the play can be seen as the struggle an author goes through as a piece is written. It is as absurd drama.
The play has thirteen characters and requires little by way sets and costumes except false noses for everybody. It is an experimental play.
The language is simple and readily accessible to everyone. It challenges our ideas of order in the world and in our everyday lives. The play authenticates the view that the primary function of the theatre is entertainment.
The Theatre of the Absurd
The theatre of the Absurd is an experimental theatrical style which came into prominence after World War II in the works of writers such as Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet etc. Many absurdist plays contain grotesque (ugly) and ludicrous (comical) elements. The term ‘Absurd’ as applied to this moment carries the sense given to it by the thinkers. All these writers feel that man is “Out of Harmony” and man always finds himself in exile in a meaningless universe. The term ‘Absurd’ is also applied to the modern sense of human purposelessness in the universe without meaning or value.
The “Theatre of the Absurd” is a term coined by Hungarian-born critic Martin Esslin, who made it the title of his 1962 book on the subject. The term refers to a particular type of play which first became popular during the 1950s and 1960s and which presented on stage the philosophy articulated by French philosopher Albert Camus in his 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he defines the human condition as basically meaningless.
One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language, it seems to say, has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Dr. Culik explains, “Words failed to express the essence of human experience, not being able to penetrate beyond its surface. The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. Absurd drama uses conventionalized speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down. By ridiculing conventionalized and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically.”
Meaning of Farce:
A sub- genre of the “Theatre of the Absurd”; Farce is a type of comedy designed to provoke laughter. Farce is a type of comedy written with a sole intention to provoke hearty laughter among the audience without weighing them down with any other moral or ethical burden in the parlance of theatre. To do so it commonly employs highly exaggerated or caricatured types of characters and puts them into improbable and ludicrous situations. Besides it also makes free use of sexual mix-ups, broad verbal humour, and physical bustle and horseplay. Farce was a component in the comic episodes in medieval miracle plays. In the enduring English drama, farce is usually an episode in a more complex form of comedy.
Theme of the Play:
The play keenly follows the trends and techniques of the theme of absurdity which deals with the theme of helplessness and confusion of human beings in the modern world. The whole play appears to be full with disorder, chaos and illogical sequence of events upon which no one has any control. The protagonist (the Author) himself is in deep predicament from various angles. And to worsen the matter further all other characters come to seek consolation and solution to their problems from the Author. They all appear to be very much dependent on the Author as they all want the Author to solve their problems and troubles.
Important Features of Absurd Drama:
ü It has unusual plot structure, theme, dialogues and actions which makes it different from other traditional plays.
ü The events and actions are illogical, senseless, often useless, confusing, absurd and totally beyond the understanding of the common audience.
ü Often situations are funny absurd and often there is a lack of sequence of events. Unlike the other regular plays absurd plays are the play of situations rather than the play of sequential events.
ü The characters are often caught in a chaotic situation and find it very difficult to understand its place in the universe. They are often confused and under lots of meaningless pressures and tensions. Often the inadequacy of language for communication is also exposed and it is shown that language is an unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. In this way, conventional speech seems to act as a barrier between the characters rather than serve as a means of communication.