Jean-Paul Sartre

Definition

Theater

  • (1905 - 80) French existentialist philosopher, novelist,and playwright who, with Jean Anouilh, dominated the postwarFrench theater. In 1964 he refused the Nobel Prize for literature.

    In 1929 Sartre graduated from the école Normale Supérieure,where he formed a lifelong partnership with his fellow student Simonede Beauvoir, the writer and feminist. His melodramatic plays exploremoral conflicts with a deep Gallic pessimism, while also functioningas sounding boards for the existentialism he popularizedin the 1940s. The first, Les Mouches, an interpretation ofthe Orestes story, opened in 1943 in Paris. As The Flies itwas produced in New York in 1947 and in London in 1951. The one-actHuis-Clos opened in Paris in 1944 and was subsequently producedin London as Vicious Circle and in New York as No Exit.The plot involves a man and two women who are imprisoned in an ornatesitting-room; it transpires that they have recently died and are condemnedto spend eternity together. As each begins to taunt the other twothey gradually realize that they have been thrown together to createa special hell for one another: in Sartre's celebrated phrase "Hellis other people."

    Morts sans sépultures (1946), about a groupof captured Resistance fighters, was seen in London as Men WithoutShadows (1947) and in New York as The Victors (1948). LeDiable et le bon dieu (1951), based on the Faust of Goethe,is often regarded as Sartre's best dramatic work. His other playsinclude Nekrassov (1955), about a confidence trickster whoassumes the identity of the Soviet ambassador, and the wartime dramaLes Séquestrés d'Altona (1959), produced in 1961in London as Loser Wins and in 1965 in New York as The Condemnedof Altona. Sartre's adaptation of the elder Dumas's Keanwas seen in 1953 in Paris, reworked as a US musical in 1961, and producedat the Oxford Playhouse in 1970 (later transferring to London).

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