How Did Learning to Speak English Lead to Eugene Ionesco Writing His First Play?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends about theater and whether they are true or false.

THEATER URBAN LEGEND: Eugene Ionesco was inspired to write his first play at the age of 40 while learning English.

Eugene Ionesco was one of the more acclaimed playwrights of the “Theatre of the Absurd” movement of the mid-20th Century (along with Samuel Beckett).

Ionesco did not begin his career as a playwright, though. Originally, his works were poetry and literary criticism. He did not write his first play until he was in his 40s. The origin of that first play is fascinating.

You see, when he turned 40, Ionesco (who was born in Romania and lived in Romania and France for his entire life) decided to learn English. He used the famed Assimil method to learn English. The Assimil method (formed by a company in France) involves learning full sentences in the language that you are trying to learn (while you have the translation of the sentence in your native language to let you know what it means). These phrases presumably eventually give you an understanding of the new language.

Over the years, many people have parodied the somewhat strange sentences given to students to learn (in particular, the first sentence in the original course to learn English was “”My taylor is rich but my english is poor,” a phrase that became parodied frequently).

While studying the sentences, Ionesco became fascinated by how strange they were and ultimately he was inspired to turn them into dialogue for a play (if not the exact sentences, sentences like them).

This play, originally written in Romanian and then translated by Ionesco into French, became what we now know as The Bald Soprano.

The play is marked by characters who practically talk over each other in non-sequiturs.

Thus began Ionesco’s acclaimed career as a playwright.

Pretty crazy, eh?

The legend is…

STATUS: True

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One Response to “How Did Learning to Speak English Lead to Eugene Ionesco Writing His First Play?”

  1. Le Théâtre de la Huchette, in Paris, has been playing Inoesco’s La Cantatrice chauve (alias The Bald Soprano) since 1957. This week’s representation will be the 18,073th!

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