Neil Cornwell
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Antecedents to the absurd
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This chapter focuses on the antecedents to the absurd. It first traces the antecedents of the absurd to the older stages of Greek theatre, and reveals that the absurd can be found in Greek tragedy, which returned to the European consciousness during the Italian Renaissance. The chapter then studies absurdity as seen in medieval drama, which featured a dramatised allegory of morality, and the works of Laurence Sterne and Jonathan Swift. It describes Sterne's work as ‘nonsense prose’ and reveals that Swift's ‘gloomy world’ in prose and poetry came from medieval forebears, and even had an affinity with the danse macabre tradition. The final part of the chapter examines the adoption of the ‘Romantic grotesque’ and pre-Surrealist nonsense by several popular authors, including Charles Dickens, Lewis Caroll, Nikolai Gogol and Ugo Foscolo.

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