Eugène Ionesco : Disease and Death in the Theater of Ionesco

 DISEASE AND DEATH IN THE THEATER OF IONESCO

André J. Fabre                    2012

Ten years after his death, Eugen Ionesco is still the most celebrated playwright in France.

His life was shared between France and Romania : Ionesco was born in 1909 in Slatina near Bucharest, but, soon after, was brought by his family to Paris but,  in 1922 Ionesco returned to Romania together with his sister. There; he learnt Romanian and attended the college Sfântul Sava in Bucharest and passed the baccalaureate at the secondary school in Craiova in 1928.

in 1938, Ionesco comes back to Paris after having obtained a state grant to write a thesis (which he never finished…) on "Topics of sin and topics of death in French poetry since Baudelaire". However, when the 2nd World War was declared, he decided to return home to work there as French teacher at Sfântul Sava.

Now the situation in Romania was so bad that Ionesco, in May 1942 , had no other choice than return to France with his wife Rodica Burileanu.

A long difficult period began for Ionesco until the fifties and the premiere of his play, "The Bald Soprano" still performed at the Théatre de la Huchette in Paris : the 15000th representation was recently celebrated !

Ionesco gained gradually fame in the sixties as founder of the Theatre of Absurd, capturing, alongside Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, and Arthur Adamov, all the meaninglessness of existence.

Celebrated everywhere in the world, Ionesco, suffering since long time of a severe form of diabetes, died in Paris in 1994

In most great pieces of art, comedy and tragedy live side by side, and this is the case with Eugene Ionesco’s Exit the King, the most emblematic play of Ionesco created by Jacques Mauclair in 1962 at the Théatre de l'Alliance in Paris.

In the play, a parodic patriarch is ruling over less than a thousand prematurely-aged subjects : now he feels that death will come soon and howls against his fate, moving from denial to terror towards a final, moving, acceptance

Around the King, two rival queens, Marie who tries to make Berenger face the reality of his impending death and the sweet Marguerite, attempting to keep the King from knowing that end  is imminent.

There is also a domestic help, Juliette, the wide-eyed servant, a Guard always prone to commemorate the Past and the Doctor, central symbol of authority proclaimed: both executioner physician, astrologer and bacteriologist

Ionesco in this play views medicine as mere distraction to help humans forget their fate, disease as a disgrace to intrinsic existence and physicians as grotesque personages only anxious to assert full authority on their patients. 

Link between comedy and tragedy Exit the King was written to be a "lesson in death", remnant of Ionesco's early obsessions, when he learned, as child, that he would not live forever. Interestingly, the play was written by Ionesco while he was ill and frightened of death.

Ionesco made it clear, in a  the New York Post interview in 2008 : “I told myself that one could learn to die, that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me the most important thing we can do, since we're all of us dying men who refuse to die…”

The Théatre de l'Absurde had a deep impact in France.

 There has always bee powerful links between France and Romania in French cultural life, some of the leading names should be mentioned here:

Marthe Lahovary, princess Bibesco (1886-1973), daughter of the Minister for  Foreign Affairs in Romania Jean Lhovary, wife of Geoges Valentin, prince of Bibesco, Historian and celebrated author, who hold in her Hotel in  Île Saint-Louis one of the posh  salons of  Paris.

Constantin Brancusi, sculptor (1876-1957), one of the very first to have experimened abstract Art.

Paul Celan,(1920 1970) one of the greatest German speaking poets

Emil Cioran, french-romanian writer and philosoph (1911 1957) who left a work blending pessimism and corrosive skepticism.

Panait Istrati, another french-romanian writer (1884 1935) called the  "Bakans Gorki".

Tristan Tzara (1896 1963), founder of  "dadaïsm", a movement created to dash, through "anti-art", all cultural works and conformisms of his time.

Stéphane Lupasco (1900 1988), philosopher who developed a Non-Aristotelian logic, strongly influencing Eugène Ionesco.

Elvire Popescu (1894-1993) celebrated stage and movie actress and also Theatre director in Paris. She is considered to have been inspiration to  Henri Matisse for his famous painting, La Blouse Roumaine (1940).

 

a.fabre.fl@gmail.com

 

REFERENCES

 Béhar H.. Le théâtre dada et surréaliste. Gallimard, Paris, 1979

Bonnefoy Cl..  "Entretiens avec Eugène Ionesco". "Entre la vie et la rêve". Pierre Belfond.  Gallimard, Paris, 1966.

Cleynen-Serghiev E.. La jeunesse littéraire d'Eugène Ionesco. Paris : Presses universitaires de France, 1993

Esselin M.. The Théâtre of the absurde. Doubleday, New York. 1961

Hamdan A..  Ionescu avant Ionesco : portrait de l'artiste en jeune homme. P. Lang, Berne, 1993

Ionesco E.. Littérature roumaine suivi de Grosse chaleur.  Fata Morgana, Saint-Clément-la-Rivière, 1998

Ionescu G.. Les Débuts littéraires roumains d'Eugène Ionesco. 1926-1940. C. Winter, Heidelberg, 1989

Jacquart E.. Le théâtre de dérision. Gallimard, Paris,  1974

Plazy G.. Eugène Ionesco : le rire et l'espérance : une biographie. Julliard, Paris,  1994

Stolojan S.. Au balcon de l'exil roumain à Paris : avec Cioran. Eugène Ionesco. Mircea Eliade. Vintila Horia l'Harmattan, Paris Montréal (Québec) 1999

 

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