Fernando Arrabal: Tragic Farce

  • Peter Norrish
Part of the The Humanities Research Centre/Macmillan Series book series (HRC)


Ritual, defined by Genet as repetitive recognition of a transcendental state, but reduced by him in practice to symbolic, tragic masquerades, has much wider connotations in the work of Fernando Arrabal, ranging from ones that profess to be sacred to ones that are plainly primitive or even distinctly earthy. Critical interpretation of the symbolism within Arrabal’s ritual has tended to concentrate on its possible social and metaphysical implications,1 but the extensive interviews which Arrabal himself has given2 lead one to think that such an approach is more speculative than one which concentrates on more personal and psychological factors. For Arrabal himself has constantly referred in these interviews to the autobiographical nature of most of his writing, particuarly his obsession with unhappy childhood memories and the nightmares they contain. ‘Writing is perhaps a compensation, a liberation for me,’ he adds.3


Frequent Nightmare Transcendental State Perfect Prescription Metaphysical Implication Early Play 
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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    For example, T.J. Donahue, The Theater of Fernando Arrabal: A Garden of Earthly Delights (New York and London: New York University Press, 1980), and J.-J. Daetwyler, Arrabal (Lausanne: Editions L’Age d’Homme, 1975). For a more general and summary interpretation, see P.L. Podol, Fernando Arrabal (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978).Google Scholar
  2. and J.-J. Daetwyler, Arrabal (Lausanne: Editions L’Age d’Homme, 1975).Google Scholar
  3. For a more general and summary interpretation, see P.L. Podol, Fernando Arrabal (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978).Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    The most important are A. Schifres, Entretiens avec Arrabal (Paris: Editions Pierre Belfond, 1969),Google Scholar
  5. B. Knapp, Off-Stage Voices: Interviews with Modern French Dramatists (New York: Whitston 1975),Google Scholar
  6. and A. Chesneau and A. Berenguer, Entretiens avec Arrabal (Grenoble: Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1978).Google Scholar
  7. 3.
    In Knapp, op. cit., p. 83.Google Scholar
  8. 4.
    J.M. Davis, Farce (London: Methuen, 1978), p. 1.Google Scholar
  9. 5.
    A. Tissier (ed.), Introduction, La Farce en France de 1450 à 1550 Tissier (Paris: Centre de documentation universitaire et Société d’édition et d’enseignement supérieur réunis, 1976) vol. I’ p. 17.Google Scholar
  10. 6.
    Cf. J.D. Shaughnessy (ed.), The Roots of Ritual (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1973).Google Scholar
  11. 7.
    G. Dumur, Gazette Littéraire (Gazette de Lausanne), 21 June 1967.Google Scholar
  12. 8.
    Arrabal’s plays were sometimes written and published well in advance of their first performance. Some published plays have not been produced at all. In view of this, the dates given for his plays, unless specified otherwise, are not those when they were first performed but those when they were written (sources: B. Gille, Fernando Arrabal (Paris: Seghers, 1970) andGoogle Scholar
  13. F. Raymond-Mundschau, Arrabal (Paris: Editions universitaires, 1972).Google Scholar
  14. 9.
    In Donahue, op. cit., pp. 132, 135.Google Scholar
  15. 10.
    In the programme for this production, F. Arrabal, LArchitecte et lEmpereur dAssyrie, Théâtre V (Paris: Christian Bourgois, 1967) pp. 77–8;Google Scholar
  16. also quoted by Daetwyler, op. cit., p. 15. Ionesco stresses the surprise element, the tense situation, and the violent, dynamic image. The Christian Bourgois edition of Arrabal’s collected Théâtre is referred to throughout this chapter.Google Scholar
  17. 12.
    D. Knowles, ‘Ritual Theatre: Fernando Arrabal and the Latin-Americans’, The Modern Language Review, 70, no. 3 (July 1975) 526–38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 13.
    F. Arrabal, Le ciel et la merde, in Théâtre, IX (Paris, 1972) pp. 25, 81.Google Scholar
  19. 14.
    T. Bishop, Introduction, LArchitecte et lEmpereur dAssyrie, by Arrabal, in LAvantgarde théâtrale: French Theatre since 1950 (New York: New York University Press, 1975) p. 344.Google Scholar
  20. 15.
    In Daetwyler, op. cit., p. 76.Google Scholar
  21. 16.
    In Schifres, op. cit., p. pp. 22–3.Google Scholar
  22. 17.
    In Knapp, op. cit., p. 83.Google Scholar
  23. 18.
    For the fullest account of these and other events during Arrabal’s childhood and youth, see Raymond-Mundschau, op. cit.Google Scholar
  24. 22.
    Arrabal uses ‘panique’ partly with the normal meaning of the word, to describe frightened behaviour — his own, and that of his main characters, with whom he often openly identifies himself. He once described himself as ‘an homme panique’ (‘and that is no joke,’ he added), and he explained that ‘homme panique’ also refers to anyone who refuses to take risks or commit any heroic act or dangerous deed. (Cf. Knapp, op. cit., p. 88). ‘Panique’ is also used as a collective distinguishing label, a vague kind of trademark, applied both to Arrabal’s work and also to that of some of his close friends, in particular Jodorowsky, a Chilean playwright and film-maker, and Roland Topor, the artist. The god Pan is partly the reason for the choice of the word by the group of friends, because it suggests the limitless nature of the concept (Pan = All), and because, as Arrabal commented, ‘we thought it amusing that the god Pan was a buffoon who provoked laughter, then inspired terror’ (Cf. Schifres, op. cit., p. 40). But perhaps the most important usage of the word ‘panique’ is a term meant to encompass, in pictureque form, the essentially ritualistic elements of his dramatic art. His theatre is, he says, ‘a feast both sacrilegious and sacred, erotic and mystic,’ and he wants the directors of his plays to create ‘an extraordinary theatrical event, a magnificent ceremony, a real theatre of panic with its rituals and its rites, its initiations and sacrifices.’ (In Knapp, op. cit., p. 93.) He does in fact give exceptionally great freedom to his directors. He also stresses, as elements of this new theatre, the themes of confusion, chance and memory.Google Scholar
  25. 23.
    Cf. A.J.W. Taylor, ‘Prisons of a Kind, and of the Mind’, New Zealand Medical Journal (June, 1979) 436–9.Google Scholar
  26. 32.
    A. Artaud, Oeuvres complètes, IV (Paris: Gallimard, 1964) p. 109.Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    Buñuel is described as one of Arrabal’s ‘spiritual ancestors’ in T. Bishop, LAvantgarde théâtrale, loc. cit., p. 343. He might also be looked upon as a contemporary, whose films of the 1960s and 1970s reveal similar tastes, including a strong dislike for what he clearly regards as bourgeois repressiveness. Bishop links Goya as well as Buñuel with Arrabal in spiritual kinship, and indeed one thinks of the grotesque behaviour in Arrabal’s extraordinary prose work LEntenement de la sardine (The Burial of a Sardine), which is clearly reflected in some of his plays, and is based on the famous carnival painting.Google Scholar
  28. 36.
    P.L. Podol, for example, says that Arrabal’s use of the repeating cycle in LArchitecte et lEmpereur dAssyrie is reminiscent of this Argentinian writer (op. cit., p. 73).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Peter Norrish 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter Norrish
    • 1
  1. 1.University of WellingtonNew Zealand

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