Vladmir: Do you want a carrot?
Estragon: Is that all there is?
Vladmir: I might have some turnips.
Estragon: Give me a carrot. (Vladmir rummages in his pockets, takes out a turnip and gives it to Estragon, who takes a bit out of it.) It's a turnip!
Vladmir: Oh pardon! I could have sworn it was a carrot.
—Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot
The absurdist movement is one of the most hilarious and depressing artistic and philosophical movements. After all the death and horror of World War I people started realizing that the institutions and beliefs that they put their faith in - the government, the church, the military, technology, society, etc. - were not intrinsically right. The only reason they had any power or sway is because people let them have power and sway. In short, people started to realize that the foundations they had built their life upon had no foundations themselves. This led to the modernist movement.
The absurdism stage is considered part of the modernist movement; while it agreed that everything was pointless (not that), it also saw the funny side to things. We go about our lives doing the most banal, bizarre things, even though when you really got down to it there wasn't a reason for them. We do things that are, in fact, Absurd. As a result, expect to hear lots of repetitive dialogue with no real point (see page quote).
There is a significant offshoot centered around absurdist plays known as the Theatre of the Absurd, a term coined by critic Martin Esslin. This was probably the closest thing to a true "school" of art that absurdism ever got, even though none of the playwrights would likely agree to the label.
It is important to make the distinction between Absurdism as the movement, the loosely related philosophy and general absurdist humor. Monty Python is well known for their absurdist sense of humor, but would not be considered Absurdists.
- Beat: If the characters aren't repeating one another's lines, there's a good chance they're not saying any at all. You'd be correct if you guessed that some absurdist plays are light on the plot.
- Black Comedy
- Crapsack World
- Parrot Exposition, often distilled to the point of Redundancy Department of Redundancy
- True Art Is Incomprehensible: Most people (read:everyone who isn't too proud to admit it) will tell you most Absurdist works make no goddamn sense. Then again, that's the point.
- Word Salad
- World Limited to the Plot
- Edward Albee
- Samuel Beckett
- Friedrich Durrenmatt
- Eugene Ionesco
- Jean Genet
- Charles Ludlam
- Suzan-Lori Parks
- Harold Pinter
- Sam Shepard's plays tend to be borderline examples.
- More specifically, he began writing well after most of the other playwrights on this list and as a result his plays are more postmodernist than modernist. On the other hand, his works invoke a similar set of tropes and he was clearly influenced by the Theatre of the Absurd. Maybe best to call him post-absurd.
- Tom Stoppard
- The Bald Soprano, by Eugene Ionesco
- The Maids, by Jean Genet
- The Metamorphosis, by Franz Kafka
- The Mystery of Irma Vep, by Charles Ludlam
- Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead
- Waiting for Godot
- Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?