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...