The uses and inadequacy of language in the theatre of Genet, Beckett and Ionesco : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in French at Massey University

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This study is an attempt to show the changing role of language in the theatre as exemplified in the works of Genet, Ionesco and Beckett. The introductory section deals with the topic of language itself, both in the theatre and in everyday life. Language in the theatre can be considered from two aspects: firstly, visual communication which includes the decor, the gestures of the actors, mime and facial expressions; and secondly, aural communication which includes the dialogue, silence for a purpose, and music. Because of the impact of such media as television and cinema, the importance of the word is diminished and this is reflected in modern drama. Genet is dissatisfied with the tradition of Western theatre and he has tried to arouse a feeling of awe in his audiences. His plays are all based around rituals, not of a religious kind, but rituals which glorify evil and end in death. His language therefore is at once exalted and incantatory, and he relies on the visual impact of his plays to a large extent. Lighting, decor and makeup are important. Because many of Genet's characters are acting in plays within plays to create a conflict between illusion and reality, the language used by one character may vary greatly. In the works of Ionesco, language becomes a theatrical object of mockery. To him, everyday language is often an inadequate means of communication and he symbolises this by ending most of his plays with an illustration of the defeat of language. This is done by showing rational arguments failing to convince, or by the complete breakdown of language into sounds or meaningless syllables. In Ionesco's plays, language is often overcome by the proliferation of matter on stage – mushrooms, chairs, cups and furniture multiply and stifle. He mocks empty social chatter by twisting common platitudes or by using well-known expressions out of context. In contrast to Ionesco, Beckett's stage is almost empty, but, like him, he distrusts language as a vehicle of communication. His characters are all afraid of the implications of silence and therefore talk to keep their thoughts at bay. The talking is rarely an attempt to impart information, or even to communicate. Even when two characters are present on stage, the conversation resembles two parallel monologues. With each successive play, Beckett has shown an increasing preoccupation with the monologue, and several of his characters are placed in situations which make monologues possible. Beckett's plays are becoming shorter and shorter and his last pieces are conducted in silence. Beckett finally relies entirely on the visual element to communicate with his audience. Thus we have three men, with three very different solutions to the problem of language. This thesis explores the different methods used by those dramatists to communicate with the audience. In most cases, language alone is not adequate.
Some French (language) throughout
Dramatists, French -- 20th century, Beckett, Samuel, 1906-1989, Ionesco, Eugene, Genet, Jean, 1910-, Criticism and interpretation