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In , Eugene Ionesco began writing The Bald Soprano , as he later confessed, almost in spite of himself, for by that time he had come to despise the theater that he had much loved in his youth. What did intrigue him was the banality of the expressions used in an English-language phrase book. One of these friends, Monique Saint-Come, showed the work to Nicolas Bataille, the director of a group of avant-garde actors working in Paris. In rehearsal, the company had first tried staging the play as parody but had soon discovered that it worked best if presented as wholly serious drama, in the realistic mode of Ibsen.
They had also experimented, trying several different endings, for example. Essentially, even after it opened, La Cantatrice chauve remained a work in progress. The first staging was poorly received. Only the dramatist Armand Salacrou and the critic Jacques Lemarchand praised it. In the s, La Cantatrice chauve was translated into various languages and widely staged; by , in the United States , where it had been translated and produced as The Bald Soprano , it was already being recognized as a modern classic, an important seminal work in the theater of the absurd, which by then was first coming into vogue in America.
Eugene Ionesco Ionescu was born in Slatina, Romania, on November 26, , the son of a municipal official and a French mother working as a civil engineer for a Romanian railway company.
He lost contact with the family. However, in , at age thirteen, Ionesco had to return to Romania. The uprooting was traumatic, for it required that Ionesco learn a new language and once more live with his tyrannical father, whom he despised, both for his familial violence and his devious political fence straddling.
During his studies, Ionesco made connections in Romanian literary circles and established. His work focused on novelists, poets, and philosophers rather than playwrights. He claimed, in fact, that the great French classical dramatists held little interest for him, though Shakespeare did. He would later come to writing plays almost by accident. In , Ionesco and his wife went to France so that he could complete a doctoral thesis on French poetry, and though World War II forced him to return to Romania, in , having obtained an exit visa, he returned to France, living near poverty in Marseilles.
In , the year he acquired French citizenship, Ionesco was able to have the play produced at the Theatre des Noctambules in Paris before a small, largely unenthusiastic audience. The work marked the debut of Ionesco as one of the new playwrights of the avant-garde theater centered in Paris and quietly launched a dramatic career that by the s, his most prolific period, brought him world-wide acclaim.
In , he was elected to the Academie Francaise. He died on March 28, Smith, whose first names remain unknown. It is an English evening, and the pair is engaged in English activities. He reads a newspaper while she darns socks. The silence is broken by an English clock that strikes seventeen times, prompting Mrs.
Smith continues to read and click his tongue. He finally responds when she concludes that one Dr. MacKenzie-King was to be trusted because he underwent a liver operation before performing the same operation on a patient.
Smith to conclude that the doctor was not conscientious. After the clock strikes seven times, then three more times, Mr. In the ensuing dialogue, the couple disclose that Bobby Watson was married to Bobby Watson, and, further, that there is whole clan of Bobby Watsons. Threaded through the Watson discussion are several inconsistencies and contradictions, so it is never clear, for example, whether the first named Bobby Watson had died recently, or one, or two, or three, or even four years before.
The discussion leads into a brief altercation. Smith, apparently deaf to what Mrs. Smith has just said, asks her what she would say if she saw men behaving like women, powdering their noses, using rouge on their lips, and consuming whiskey. When Mrs. Smith complains about his kind of joking, and in a snit throws socks across the room, Mr. Mary enters to explain that she is the maid and has just spent the afternoon with a male companion, and, further, that the guests, the Martins, have arrived.
After complaining that Mary should not have gone out, the Smiths leave to dress while Mary greets the Martins. The Martins sit facing each other and, after an uncomfortable silence, begin a polite exchange in which, through elaborate, lengthy deduction, they come to the belief that they are, in fact, husband and wife, though neither can actually recall knowing the other.
Since then they have lived in the same London apartment and have even slept in the same bed. Further, they are named Donald and Elizabeth, the names of their respective husband and wife, and have a child named Alice who has one red and one white eye.
As the clock strikes one, they embrace, sit in the same armchair and promptly fall asleep. Mary re-enters to confide a secret to the audience—that the Martins are not really Donald and Elizabeth.
After the Martins awake, the Smiths enter to welcome them. Smith is effusive in her greetings, but her husband ungraciously complains about their tardiness. The Smiths then sit facing the Martins, who have returned to their original seats. They attempt to engage in conversation, but their efforts are punctuated with silences that precede each rather pointless remark. Martin then tells of seeing a man bend over to tie his shoe lace, an event that the rest consider rather extraordinary.
The ringing doorbell then interrupts the conversation, but when Mrs. Smith goes to the door to see who has arrived, nobody is there. That fact leads to an argument between Mr. After a second ring with a similar outcome, Mrs. Smith takes the position that a ringing doorbell indicates that there is no one there, and when it rings a third time, she refuses to go to the door.
The argument, becoming slightly heated, is interrupted with the arrival of the Fire Chief, who appears when Mr. Smith opens the door after the fourth ring. The Fire Chief, in uniform and wearing a huge shining helmet, greets everyone and is quickly drawn into the controversy over the significance of the ringing doorbell. After conceding that both Smiths are partly right, he sits down, announcing that he has no time to stay. He is under orders to put out all fires in the city.
The Smiths deny that there is a fire in their house, prompting the Chief to announce that things are not going well, that fires have been few and minor, limiting profits. After remarking that he has no right to extinguish the fires of clergymen and that naturalized citizens are not entitled to fire protection, he offers to tell the others some stories.
There follows a series of incongruous tales, told in turn by the Chief, Mr. Smith, Mrs. Smith, and the Chief again. The stories provoke both irrelevant and irreverent remarks from the listeners, though none of the stories makes any sense.
Because Mrs. The Smiths and Martins are annoyed by her temerity, but the Fire Chief recognizes her, and he and Mary have a joyous but brief reunion. Mary, over Mrs. The question occasions a brief embarrassment before Mrs. After the Chief departs, the Smiths and Martins begin an exchange of increasingly nonsensical and discontinuous statements, full of phrases characteristic of language phrase books.
As sense breaks down into repeated word fragments—mere syllables—the four characters grow increasing hostile and aggressive, until they are all angrily screaming. Then, after the lights go out and come back on, the play begins again, with the Martins taking the place of the Smiths in the opening moment, speaking the very same lines.
He is looking for fires, under orders to put out any that he finds. He observes that the fire-extinguishing business is not good, that profits are down.
Although a little more brusque than the others, like the Martins and Smiths he is superficially polite. He takes the role of an adjudicator and confessor, trying to restore peace between Mr. Smith, who have engaged in a nonsensical argument over whether or not a ringing doorbell indicates that there is actually someone at the door.
He is also a raconteur, though his stories are wholly nonsensical, without logical continuity, unity, or intelligible point. One of them is a shaggy-dog saga that meanders aimlessly along, confusing everybody. When Mary enters, she and the Fire Chief embrace, revealing that they were engaged in a former relationship.
That disturbs the Martins and Smiths who are class conscious and find the affair inappropriate. Like his host, Mr. Smith, and the two wives, Donald Martin is distinguished only by having no distinguishing qualities at all. When he and Mrs. Martin first enter, they begin their inane exchange of information from which they deduce that they are husband and wife. The two mirror each other in their banal, excessively polite language and their ridiculous inability to make a logical leap to the conclusion that their tediously repetitive banter finally draws them.
These are mechanical puppets or interchangeable parts, not pliable humans. When the Smiths re-enter, the two couples engage in further pleasantries, a pastiche of non sequiturs consisting of vapid observations and tidbits of very conventional wisdom. All seem to grow excited over the most mundane behavior, such as a man bending over to tie his shoe or reading a newspaper. Their responses seem artificial, their words ludicrously inappropriate to the situation.
Like the others, Mr. Martin also seems utterly without any important convictions. He is timorous and excessively apologetic. He can not even take a side in the silly doorbell argument between Mr.
The only times that he seems in the least genuine in the expression of his feelings are when he airs his class-conscious biases against Mary, some sexist remarks about women, and in the cacophonous exchange of verbal nonsense in which the characters heatedly engage just before the end of the play.
Like her husband, Elizabeth Martin is a human cipher. In their initial exchanges, her speech, except in the nouns of address, is virtually indistinguishable from that of Mr. For example, she is apprehensive about disclosing that she saw the man who bent over to tie his shoe for fear that she will not be believed.
The Bald Soprano
It holds the world record for the play that has been staged continuously in the same theatre for the longest time. By the s, The Bald Soprano had already been recognized as a modern classic and an important seminal work in the Theatre of the Absurd. With a record number of interpretations, it has become one of the most performed plays in France. The idea for the play came to Ionesco while he was trying to learn English with the Assimil method. Impressed by the contents of the dialogues, often very sober and strange, he decided to write an absurd play named L'anglais sans peine "English without toil". Other possible titles which were considered included Il pleut des chiens et des chats, "It's raining cats and dogs", translated in French literally ;  "L'heure anglaise"  and "Big Ben Follies". Its actual title was the result of an error in rehearsal by actor Henri-Jacques Huet : the fire chief's monologue initially included a mention of "l'institutrice blonde" "the blonde schoolteacher" , but Huet said "la cantatrice chauve", and Ionesco, who was present, decided to re-use the phrase.
The Bald Soprano Summary
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