Born, St Germain de Joux, 1903
Died, Créteil, 1995
The following biography by Jerome P. Crabb was originally published on this site on October 8, 2006.

French dramatist Jean Tardieu was born in St Germain de Joux on November 1, 1903.  He earned a degree in literature and spent his early years working for a publishing house.  During this early period, Tardieu honed is writing skills in the field of poetry, developing an austere style of lyrical poetry based on the work of Mallarmé. He published several collections of poetry during the 1930s.  After World War II, at about the same time that dramatists such as Beckett, Genet, and Ionesco were conducting their first theatrical experiments, Tardieu also turned his attention to the stage.  During this period, he served as head of dramatic programming and later director of programs at France-Music, and the success of French National Public Radio after WWII has often been attributed to his efforts.

Often associated with the Theatre of the Absurd, Tardieu’s early experiments, such as Qui Est Là and Le Meuble depict strange, nightmarish episodes, often culminating in death.  In Le Serrure, a man enters a brothel to fulfill his sexual fantasies. As he stares through a keyhole, he excitedly describes his fantasy girl as she discards one piece of clothing after another.  Once she reaches a state of complete nudity, however, she does not stop—she continues her ghoulish strip-tease, discarding cheeks, eyes, nose, until she is nothing but a fleshless skeleton.  Overcome with ecstasy, the man throws himself against the door, killing himself upon impact.  The madam enters and, inspecting the body, proclaims: “I think … the gentleman … is satisfied.” 

Some of Tardieu’s most interesting experiments explore the possibilities of a completely abstract theatre.  In Eux Seuls Le Savent he depicts a highly dramatic conflict, the details of which remain a complete mystery.  We watch as his characters quarrel violently, refer to hidden motives, and yet we never learn their secrets or even their relationships to one another.  As the title suggests, “only they know it.”  In this play, Tardieu successfully demonstrates the revolutionary idea of a plotless theatre.  But he would go even further.

In his later plays, Tardieu pursues a complete devaluation of language, his dialogue often consisting of banal fragments of conversation, lists of foods, strings of names, or indistinct murmurs intended to rise and fall musically but remain undecipherable.  Words, he seemed to believe, have little or no value as a vehicle for communication, but may serve a purpose as units of music, gaining value from their position and harmony.  He explores this hypothesis in plays such as La Sonate and Les Trois Messieurs in which each character plays the role of a musical instrument, speaking words according to the musical requirements of the “play.”  Martin Esslin sums up the evolution of Tardieu's plays as "extending from the fantastic and eerie to the purely lyrical, and beyond it into the sphere of a wholly abstract theatre in which language loses all conceptual content and merges into music." In A Voice Without Anyone (Une Voix Sans Personne), Tardieu even goes so far as to attempt to write a play with no characters at all—only an empty room.

Although Tardieu’s work earned him accolades (the Grand Prix of the Académie Française in 1972, the Critics Prize in 1976, the National Grand Prix for Literature in 1993) and attracted the attention of talented directors, he never achieved the same following as many of the more popular absurdist playwrights.  Esslin calls Tardieu "a playwright's playwright, a dedicated pioneer bent on enlarging the vocabulary of his art. Alone among the playwrights of the avant-garde, Tardieu can claim that his work spans the entire gamut of exploration." However, perhaps for this very reason—because so much of Tardieu’s efforts were spent on constant experimentation—he never focuses in on his own particular area of expertise, and as a result none of his works attain the same hypnotic power as the masterpieces of the Theatre of the Absurd.

Still, Tardieu inspires a dedicated following, even to this day, and several of his plays have been translated into English, including two collections: The Underground Lovers: And Other Experimental Plays, and Going...Going...Gone! The Client Dies Twice: Three Plays.

Jean Tardieu died in Créteil on January 27, 1995.


  • Quotes on Absurdism - A collection of quotations about the Theatre of the Absurd.
  • Theatre of the Absurd - A history and analysis of this dramatic movement, which includes the work of such dramatists as Beckett, Ionecso, Genet and Pinter.
  • Theatre of the Absurd - An overview.
  • Theatre of the Absurd: An Essential Reading List - A list of must-reads for anyone interested in absurdist theatre.
  • Three Plays of the Absurd - In this collection of plays, Walter Wykes creates a series of modern myths, tapping into something in the strata of the subconscious, through ritualism and rich, poetic language. The worlds he creates are brand new and hilarious, yet each contains an ancient horror we all know and cannot escape and have never been able to hang one definitive word on.
  • Purchase Plays by Jean Tardieu

Home · Theatre Links · Monologues · One Act Plays · Bookstore · © 2006