Image Is All: The Levels of Reality in Genet’s The Balcony
Jean Genet's Le Balcon (or The Balcony) is an absurdist play in which the main structure is the “philosophical battle between illusion and reality” (Savona 1983: 76) and this essay will investigate some of the levels of reality within an absurdist and existentialist context in Genet's play. The play itself “offers a spectacularly theatrical exploration of the relationship between fantasy and reality” (Patterson 2005: 32) whilst also seeking “to negate reality itself” (Innes 2001: 438). Whilst also attempting to transform reality into a fantasy world in which its characters can escape the dismay of daily life, it is “also designed to be a moving play which...keeps the audience aware that it is a play” they are watching and not allowing them to get lost in the world of illusion, fantasy and desire that the characters are trapped in (Reck 1962: 23). This echoes a technique used as part of Brecht's Verfremdungseffekt, and by keeping the spectator at a critical distance, they become observers and thus can learn something about their own lives and the world in which they live.
The play is set in Madame Irma’s Maison d’illusions (or house of illusions) which to the spectator is clearly a brothel, but not a brothel in the conventional sense. In the brothel, men of everyday walks of life (for example a plumber) act out sexual fantasies with the women that work there. Their sexual fantasies are by no means conventional either, for example the ‘clients’ of the brothel take on the personas of powerful men, namely a bishop, an executioner, a judge and a general. From the exposition of the play, it is unclear that the bishop isn’t actually a bishop as the costume, dialogue and action of the bishop are completely authentic aside from the fact that the powerful characters “tower over all the other actors as well as the audience” (McMahon 1963: 110). This is visually unrealistic and takes the spectator away...
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