Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Shakespearean Antecedents of the Absurdist Genre "Translated" in the Theatre of the Absurd

Academic journal article Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations

Shakespearean Antecedents of the Absurdist Genre "Translated" in the Theatre of the Absurd

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. Though written in a period when the world was still governed by the belief in God, we can identify in Shakespeare's plays certain antecedents of the absurd drama, that were to be "translated" (so as to cite Paul Ricoeur) later by the playwrights of the Theater of the Absurd, into some brand-new plays that don't reflect identically the original version, but that rather "render certain equivalents that lack identity" (Ricoeur, 131) of certain ideas, themes and motives that also exist in the work of the great Bard.

Keywords: Shakesperean antecedents of the absurd; re-writing; "translation;" equivalents that lack identity; anxiety of influence; the Theatre of the Absurd

In his book entitled The Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin, the one who coined the name of this new dramatic genre and for the first time theorized its main characteristics, stated that: "Avandguard movements are hardly ever enterly novel and unprecedented. The Theater of the Absurd is a return to old, even archaic traditions. Its novelty lies in its somewhat unusual combination of such antecedents" (Esslin, 229).

He identified certain antecedents of the Theatre of the Absurd as originating a long time ago, in the mimeplay of antiquity, as well as in some later descendants of the antiquity mimus such as the clown and court jester, in certain abstract scenic effects of commedia dell'arte, in the Elizabethan literature tradition of dream and fantasy, in the fooling, mad scenes and verbal nonsense in some Shakespearean plays, in the fantastic allegorical elements in Lewis Caroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland or Laurence Sterne's Tristam Shandy, in the language of verbal nonsense of Edward Lear's limericks, or even in the more recent music-hall tradition, that all clearly constitute, in his opinion, antecedents of this postmodern dramatic genre (Esslin, 230).

Starting from M. Esslin's above mentioned statement on the tradition of the absurd, the present article suggests a possible parallel between three Shakespearean playsHamlet, Macbeth, A Midsummer Night's Dreamand three plays of the Theatre of the Absurd - E. Ionesco's Macbett, T. Stoppard's Rosenrantz and Guildestern Are Dead, S. Beckett's En Attendant Godot - trying to pinpoint certain absurdist literary aspects that appear in the great playwright's plays and that would be later "translated" and highly used by the dramatists of the Theatre of the Absurd.

In this article, by "translation" I do not mean only the cases when certain Shakespearean plays have been re-written by the dramatists of the absurd, feet that is obvious from the very titles of their plays, but also the adopting of certain absurdist elements that are anticipated by Shakespeare's plays and that would later become essential characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd.

For instance, if we consider Paul Ricoeur's theory on cultural translation we understand that the act of translation does not represent only a technique of conveying a message from a language into another as the interpreters do, but it becomes a paradigm for all exchanges, including those from a culture to another. Translation does not produce only exchanges but also equivalents; the amazing phenomenon is that translation transfers the meaning from a language into another or from a culture into another without rendering an identical form, but rather an equivalent form. In Ricoeur's view, cultural translation represents:

"an equivalence without identity" that serves the project of humanity without breaking its initial plurality. (Ricoeur, BOIS 1, my translation)

If Ricoeur reminds us that we live, so to say, during the after Babel period, Harold Bloom's theory on literary influences centers upon the idea that we live in the after Shakespeare period. In his book entitled the Western Canon, Bloom considers that the figure of the great playwright lies at the very centre of the western literary canon and that, in fact, Shakespeare is the canon. …

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