Four Plays Summary & Study Guide

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Four Plays Summary & Study Guide Description

Four Plays Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Topics for Discussion and a Free Quiz on Four Plays by Eugène Ionesco.

This collection of short works by French playwright Eugene Ionesco portrays life as defined by the philosophy of absurdism, a belief system which suggests there is no order or sense in the ways of either the universe or humanity. This sense of chaos plays out in the characters, relationships and situations of all four plays in this collection, which also develop themes relating to the use of language and the dangers of passion.

The first play in this collection, The Bald Soprano, focuses on the relationship between two married couples - the Smiths, for whom everything (including the chiming of the clock) is English, and the Martins, for whom everything (including their marital status) is a discovery. Their polite, if nonsensical, evening of conversation is interrupted first by the Smiths' maid and then by the unexpected and unnecessary arrival of The Fire Chief, searching for non-existent fires. After The Fire Chief leaves, conversation between the Smiths and the Martins becomes even more nonsensical, degenerating into shouted argument. At the climax of the argument the lights suddenly black out - and when they come back up again, the Martins are in the same position and saying the same lines as the Smiths at the beginning of the play.

The narrative of the second play, The Lesson, tracks the reversal of roles during the encounter between an elderly Professor and his young female Pupil. Again through the use of nonsensical language and absurd ideas, the story tracks each character's journey of challenge, confrontation, and transformation. Specifically, the Professor moves from submissive carefulness through direct (and impatient) teaching into murderous bullying, while the Pupil begins as confident, articulate and charming, becomes bewildered and vulnerable, and eventually becomes completely submissive, broken, and ultimately dead. As happened in The Bald Soprano, the ending is in fact a beginning - after the Pupil's body is taken away, the doorbell rings to herald the arrival of a new pupil.

In the third play, Jack or The Submission, nonsense language and images are again used to define the relationship between the sullen rebellious Jack and his bossy family, who are desperate for him to honor his agreement (to do what isn't initially clear) and behave like a proper son. Eventually Jack gives in, and his family brings along the Robert family, including Roberta - the girl Jack's family wants him to marry. When Jack sees she only has two noses, however, he refuses to go through with the marriage. Roberta's sister Roberta comes in, and when she reveals she has three noses, Jack agrees to at least spend time with her. After their families leave, Roberta seduces Jack into a more intimate relationship, and the families celebrate the new relationship with a dance described in stage directions as being deliberately grotesque and embarrassing.

The fourth and final play, The Chairs, relies less on nonsense language than on a nonsense situation to make its point. An Old Man and an Old Woman, husband and wife for seventy five years, inhabit a room that is, for all intents and purposes, a lighthouse. Their conversation reveals they are expecting the arrival of some important guests who, when they finally do arrive, are invisible. The Old Man and Woman treat them as though they're both invisible and real, bringing more and more chairs into the increasingly crowded room as more and more guests arrive. Eventually the Old Couple is crowded right into the wall, where they celebrate first the arrival of the (invisible) Emperor, whom the Old Man believes has come to honor him, and then the arrival of the (visible) Orator, who the Old Man says at first is going to speak for him. The Old Man realizes, however, that after the visit from the Emperor he has nothing left to live for, so he and the Old Woman jump out the window into the sea. The Orator indicates he can neither hear nor speak, writes nonsense words on a chalkboard, and goes. The audience is left with the increasingly loud sound of the invisible guests.

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