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Martin Julius Esslin OBE (6 June 1918  – 24 February 2002) was a Hungarian-born English producer and playwright dramatist, journalist, adaptor and translator, critic, academic scholar and professor of drama best known for coining the term "Theatre of the Absurd" in his work of that name (1961). John Calder, dramatic material publisher and Samuel Beckett confidante, found Esslin's book "the most influential theatrical text of the 1960s."[1]

Born Julius Pereszlényi (Hungarian: Pereszlényi Gyula) in Budapest, Esslin moved to Vienna with his family at a young age. He studied Philosophy and English at the University of Vienna and also graduated from the Reinhardt Seminar as a producer. Of Jewish descent, he fled Austria in the wake of the Anschluss of 1938.

Esslin defined the 'Theatre of the Absurd' as that which

... strives to express its sense of the senselessness of the human condition and the inadequacy of the rational approach by the open abandonment of rational devices and discursive thought.

Esslin's definition encompassed not only Beckett's works but those of Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, Gunter Grass and Edward Albee amongst others.

He began working for the BBC in 1940, serving as a producer, script writer and broadcaster. He was head of BBC Radio Drama 1963-77, having previously worked for the external European Service. After leaving the BBC he held senior academic posts at Florida State and Stanford Universities.

He also adapted and translated many works from the original German, for example many plays of Wolfgang Bauer between 1967 and 1990. Original works included the seminal Theatre of the Absurd, and The Field of Drama.


  • The Theatre of the Absurd, 3rd ed., 1980

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