University of Gloucestershire
This essay explores the application of absurdism to political drama in two plays, Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead and Saviana Stănescu’s Waxing West. I first argue for a need to reappraise the commonly accepted judgement that Stoppard’s early plays, including Rosencrantz, are apolitical, and situate that work in the tradition of absurdist yet politically engaged drama. Rosencrantz, which the Czech-born British writer Stoppard began writing on a Ford Foundation residency in 1964 West Berlin, can be read in part as his attempt to imagine what life on the eastern side of the wall might be like, whilst emphasising the existential questions and basic human desires and fears shared by people on both sides. I then show how the New York-based Romanian playwright Stănescu’s Waxing West examines the horrors of the Ceauşescu regime and “9-11” using an absurdist style and fantastic terms to challenge the aporia associated with personal and collective trauma. Both playwrights depart from literal realism to illustrate the effect of political events on individual lives, illuminating the theatre of the absurd that we call reality.
Keywords: theatre of the absurd, contemporary drama, political drama, Stoppard, Stănescu, playwriting, Romania, Czechoslovakia, United Kingdom, America, Berlin, GDR, Ceauşescu, Rosencrantz, Hamlet.