Places: The Bald Soprano

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: La Cantatrice chauve, 1954 (English translation, 1956)

First produced: 1950, at the Théâtre des Noctambules, Paris

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*London

*London. Bald Soprano, TheGreat Britain’s capital city, in a suburb of which Mrs. Smith and her husband live. Numerous references to things English are enhanced by stage directions that continually stress Englishness. Almost all these references occur, however, in the first quarter of the play, because as it progresses, its geographical location decreases in importance.

Smiths’ sitting room

Smiths’ sitting room. Living room of the London suburban flat in which the Smiths live. The reassuring dullness of a humdrum middle-class English home in 1950 conflicts with the illogical events and incongruous conversations that occur within it. The sitting room remains an essential context even when geographical location ceases to matter. The numerous discrepancies between setting and action emphasize Ionesco’s challenge to social conventions, warn against placing trust in language (even when it obeys the rules of grammar and syntax), and exemplify its potential meaninglessness.


*Australia. Subject of a subtle joke, when Mrs. Smith regrets not drinking some Australian burgundy–a wine that was not obtainable in England during the 1950’s. After such wine later became available in England, Ionesco’s joke became unnoticeable.


*Andrinopolis (an-dree-NAP-oh-lihs). Also known as Adrianople and later Edirne, a Turkish city near the Greek frontier, where Mrs. Parker’s Balkan grocer obtained his yogurt-maker’s diploma before emigrating to England. Balkan yogurt, later popular in England, was unheard of when the play was first produced and would have puzzled the play’s 1950’s audiences. The grocer originated in Romania, likewise in Eastern Europe. With this group of references, Ionesco, himself Romanian, shares a joke with spectators in the know.

BibliographyBradby, David. Modern French Drama 1940-1990. 2d ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991. In his discussion of the New Theatre, which flourished in France after World War II, Bradby suggests that The Bald Soprano is the “ultimate form of audience aggression.” Beautifully contextualizes the playwright’s first effort with those of other absurdists.Coe, Richard N. Ionesco: A Study of His Plays, 1971 (revised and enlarged edition).Cohn, Ruby. From “Desire” to “Godot”: Pocket Theater of Postwar Paris. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989. In examining some of the great plays that opened in some of the tiniest theaters in Paris after World War II, Cohn describes the original production of The Bald Soprano, including curious and often funny backstage details. An illuminating appreciation of the script and its performance.Dobrez, L. A. C. The Existential and Its Exits: Literary and Philosophical Perspectives on the Works of Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1986. Emphasizing the philosophical aspects of absurdist theater, the author explores Ionesco’s most successful dramatic works. Addresses the play’s peculiar mixture of tragedy and comedy.Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d ed. New York: Penguin, 1980. A pioneering critique that views Ionesco’s work as basic to the absurdist repertory and provides fascinating information on how and why Ionesco wrote The Bald Soprano. A definitive work on absurdism; includes useful biographical and production data.Hayman, Ronald. Eugène Ionesco, 1976 (revised edition).Jacobsen, Josephine J., and William R. Mueller. Ionesco and Genet: Playwrights of Silence, 1968.Lamont, Rosette C., ed. Ionesco: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1973.Lane, Nancy. Understanding Eugene Ionesco. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1994. A reexamination of the playwright’s career and works.Lazar, Moshe, ed. The Dream and the Play: Ionesco’s Theatrical Quest, 1982.Morris, Kelly, ed. Genet/Ionesco, the Theater of the Double: A Critical Anthology, 1969.Pronko, Leonard C. Eugène Ionesco, 1965.Schechner, Richard. “Eugène Ionesco,” in On Contemporary Literature, 1969.
Categories: Places