Ionesco, Eugène

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Ionesco, Eugène

(özhĕn` yŏnĕs`kō), 1912–94, French playwright, b. Romania. Settling in France in 1938, he contributed to Cahiers du Sud and began writing avant-garde plays. His works stress the absurdity both of bourgeois values and of the way of life that they dictate. They express the futility of human endeavor in a universe ruled by chance. His play La Cantatrice chauve (1950; tr. The Bald Soprano, 1965) was suggested by the idiotic phrases in an English language textbook; it has become an enormously popular classic of the theater of the absurd. Among Ionesco's other plays are La Leçon (1951), Les Chaises (1952), Victimes du devoir (1953), Le Nouveau locataire (1957), Tueur sans gages (1958), Rhinocéros (1959), Photo du colonel (1967), Le roi se meurt (1963), and Jeux de massacre (1970). He wrote about the theater in Notes and Counternotes (1962, tr. 1964); a memoir, Present Past, Past Present (1968, tr. 1971); and the novel The Hermit (1974). His plays are all available in English translation.


See studies by L. C. Pronko (1965), R. N. Coe (rev. ed. 1971), A. Lewis (1972), and M. Lazar (1982).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Ionesco, Eugene


Born Nov. 26, 1912, in Slatina, Rumania. French playwright. One of the founders of the modern theater of the absurd. Member of the French Academy (1970). Rumanian by origin. Resident of France since 1938.

In his early grotesque farces and allegories that parodied the alogism of language clichés and the automatism of stereotyped philistine thinking, Ionesco turned typical everyday situations inside out and gave them a buffoon-like incongruous cast (The Bald Soprano, staged 1950, published 1953; The Chairs, staged 1952, published 1954; and Amédéé, or How to Get Rid of It, staged and published 1954).

In his later parable plays, Ionesco tried to switch from criticism of insipid language and conformist consciousness to criticism of bureaucratic totalitarianism and fascist degradation of the bourgeois philistine. However, the social evil with which the individualist-loner clashed acquired a metaphysical aspect in Ionesco’s works (The Killer, staged and published 1958; Rhinoceros, published 1959; and A Stroll in the Air, staged and published 1963, Russian translation 1967). Exit the King (published 1963) interwove tragic variations of death motifs with a satire on dictatorship in general.

In later plays, the reality that formerly had been satirized was replaced by capricious phantasmagoria. Ionesco’s confusion and gloom deepened, reducing the playwright to a reiteration of decadent themes (Thirst and Hunger, staged and published 1966, and Macbett, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, 1972). His publicistic works became limited to bitter carping on the way the world is organized and to hysterical attacks against the socialist camp.


Théâtre, [vols.] 1–4. Paris [1954–66].
La Photo du colonel. Paris, 1962.
Notes et contre-notes. Paris, 1966.
In Russian translation:
Nosorog. Postscript by N. Naumov. Inostrannaia Literatura, 1965, no. 9.
Gnev. In Iskusstvo kino, 1966, no. 9.
Khameleon pastukha. In Voprosy Hteratury, 1969, no. 8.


Boiadzhiev, G. Teatral’nyi Parizh segodnia. [Moscow] 1960.
Mikheeva, A. Kogda po stsene khodiat nosorogi… Teatr absurda E Ionesko. Moscow, 1967.
Proskurnikova, T. B. Frantsuzskaia antidrama (50–60-e gody). Moscow, 1968.
Benmussa, S. Eugène Ionesco. Paris, 1966.
Donnard, J. H. Ionesco dramaturge ou Tartisan et le démon. Paris, 1966.
Serreau, G. Histoire du “nouveau théâtre.” Paris, 1966.
Théâtre français d’aujourd’hui, [vols.] 1–2 (Compilation, introductory article, and biographical data on writers by L. Zonina.) [Moscow] 1969.
Revzina, O. G., and I. I. Revzin. “Semioticheskii eksperiment na stsene.” Uch. zap. Tartuskogo un-ta, 1971, issue 5.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.