Existentialism and Existentialism in plays

Essay by hrw2cuteHigh School, 11th gradeA+, March 2005

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Existentialism is a concept that became popular during the second

World War in France, and just after it. French playwrights have often used

the stage to express their views, and these views came to surface even

during a Nazi occupation. Bernard Shaw got his play "Saint Joan" past the

German censors because it appeared to be very Anti-British. French

audiences however immediately understood the real meaning of the play, and

replaced the British with the Germans. Those sorts of "hidden meanings"

were common throughout the period so that plays would be able to pass


Existentialism proposes that man is full of anxiety and despair

with no meaning in his life, just simply existing, until he made decisive

choice about his own future. That is the way to achieve dignity as a human

being. Existentialists felt that adopting a social or political cause was

one way of giving purpose to a life.

Sartre is well known for the "Theatre

engage" or Theatre 'committed', which is supposedly committed to social

and/or political action.

On of the major playwrights during this period was Jean-Paul Sartre.

Sartre had been imprisoned in Germany in 1940 but managed to escape, and

become one of the leaders of the Existential movement. Other popular

playwrights were Albert Camus, and Jean Anouilh. Just like Anouilh, Camus

accidentally became the spokesman for the French Underground when he wrote

his famous essay, "Le Mythe de Sisyphe" or "The Myth of Sisyphus". Sisyphus

was the man condemned by the gods to roll a rock to the top of a mountain,

only to have it roll back down again. For Camus, this related heavily to

everyday life, and he saw Sisyphus an "absurd" hero, with a pointless

existence. Camus felt that it was necessary to wonder what the meaning...