Rhinoceros (French original title Rhinocéros) is a play by Eugène Ionesco, written in 1959. The play was included in Martin Esslin's study of post-war avant garde drama, "The Theatre of the Absurd", although scholars have also rejected this label as too interpretatively narrow. Over the course of three acts, the inhabitants of a small, provincial French town turn into rhinoceroses; ultimately the only human who does not succumb to this mass metamorphosis is the central character, Bérenger, a flustered everyman figure who is initially criticized in the play for his drinking, tardiness, and slovenly lifestyle and then, later, for his increasing paranoia and obsession with the rhinoceroses. The play is often read as a response and criticism to the sudden upsurge of Communism, Fascism, and Nazism during the events preceding World War II, and explores the themes of conformity, culture, mass movements, mob mentality, philosophy and morality.
The play starts in the town square of a small provincial French village. Two friends – the eloquent, intellectual but incredibly prideful Jean, and the simplistic, shy, kind-hearted drunkard Bérenger – meet up in a coffee house to talk about an unspecified urgent matter. Instead of talking about what they were supposed to, Jean becomes furious at Bérenger's tardiness and drunken state and berates him until a rhinoceros rampages across the square, considerably startling the people there. The people there begin to discuss what has happened when another rhinoceros appears and crushes a woman's cat. This generates incredible outrage and people begin to band together to argue that the presence of these rhinos should not be allowed. The beginning of a mass movement is seen on stage.
Bérenger arrives late for work at the local newspaper office, but the newspaper's receptionist Daisy (with whom Bérenger is in love), covers for him. At the office, an argument has broken out between the sensitive and logical Dudard and the violent, temperamental Botard; since Botard does not believe a rhinoceros could actually appear in France despite all the claims by eyewitnesses that one did.
Suddenly, Mrs. Bœuf (the wife of a fellow employee) appears to say that her husband has turned into a rhinoceros and that streets are plagued with people who have turned into them. Botard argues against the existence of the so-called "rhinoceritis" movement that Mrs. Bœuf claims is occurring, saying that the local people are too intelligent to be tricked by the empty rhetorics of a mass movement. Despite this, Mr. Bœuf (turned into a rhinoceros) arrives and destroys the staircase that leads out of the office, trapping all the workers and their boss, Mr. Papillion, inside. Mrs. Bœuf joins her husband by jumping down the stairwell while the office-workers escape through a window.
Bérenger goes to visit Jean in order to apologize for the previous day's argument they had, but finds him in bed, heavy with a sickness he has never had before. The two friends begin to argue again, initially about the possibility of people actually turning into rhinos and then about the morality of the transformations. Jean is initially staunchly against the rhinos, but gradually grows lenient. As the scene progresses, Jean's skin turns greener and greener, the bumps in his head grow into a horn, his voice grows hoarse and he begins to pace around his apartment like a caged beast. Finally, he proclaims that rhinoceros have just as much of a right to life as humans and that "Humanism is dead, those who follow it are just old sentimentalists" before he turns into a rhino himself and chases Bérenger out of his apartment.
Everyone in town has succumbed to rhinoceritis save for Bérenger, Dudard and Daisy. Bérenger is locked up in his apartment, yelling at the rhinos that rush by for having destroyed civilization until Dudard arrives to check on him. Dudard trivializes the transformations by saying that people have the right to choose what they do, even transform; but Bérenger insists that the transformations could not be voluntary since his friend Jean had initially hated the rhinos and that he was probably brainwashed. Dudard counterargues that people can change their minds and gradually grows more accepting until he concludes that he must "follow [his] peers and [his] leaders" before departing and turning into a rhino.
Just before he departs, Daisy arrives. She and Bérenger realize that they are left completely alone – the only humans left in a world of monsters. Bérenger professes his love for Daisy and she seems to reciprocate. They attempt, albeit briefly, to have a normal life amongst the rhinoceroses. After Bérenger suggests that they attempt to re-populate the human race, Daisy begins to move away from him, suggesting that Bérenger does not understand love. She comes to believe the rhinoceroses are in the right – they who are truly passionate. Bérenger slaps Daisy without thinking, immediately recanting his action. They consider their state with Bérenger exclaiming that, "in just a few minutes we have gone through twenty-five years of married life!" They attempt to reconcile, but fail. As Bérenger examines himself in a mirror for any evidence of transformation, Daisy quietly leaves to join the rhinoceroses.
Discovering he is completely alone, Bérenger laments his behavior with Daisy. In his solitude he begins to doubt his existence – his language, his appearance, and his mind. Alone, he finds himself in the wrong and attempts to change into a rhinoceros. He struggles and fails. He returns to the mirror, face-to-face with his fate and breaks down as he struggles to accept the place he has given himself. Suddenly, he snaps out of it and renews his vow to take on the rhinos. Bérenger valiantly shouts "I'm not capitulating!" to the audience before returning to the window to hurl abuse at the passing rhinoceros.
The Meaning of Rhinoceros
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The American scholar Anne Quinney argued that play while obviously not based on real events was autobiographical with Bérenger betrayed by the entire human race including Daisy who rather be rhinoceros reflected Ionesco's own youth in Romania. Ionesco was born in Romania to a Romanian father and French mother. Ionesco's father was a Romanian ultra-nationalist of the Orthodox faith with little political scruples who was willing to support whatever party was in power while his mother was a French Protestant who came from a family of Sephardic Jews who came had converted to Calvinism to better fit into French society. Ionesco was not Jewish, but in the increasing anti-Semitic atmosphere of Romania in the interwar period where Jews were considered to be a "race" rather than a religion, Ionesco was considered to be Jewish. The Israeli historian Jean Ancel wrote from the mid-19th century onward, the Romanian intelligentsia had a "schizophrenic attitude towards the West and its values". Most of the Romanian intelligentsia considered the West, especially France to be their role model, but at the same time antisemitism was rampant in Romania. The intensely Francophile Romanian intelligentsia had proclaimed the French values of liberté, égalité, fraternité to be their own as they considered France, Romania's "big Latin sister" to be their role model, but regarded Romanian Jews as a people who did not really belong in Romania. Most Romanian Jews were Ashkenazi Jews whose ancestors had moved to Romania in the 18th and 19th centuries from Poland. A recurring claim of the Romanian radical right was that almost all Romanian Jews were either illegal immigrants from Poland or that those Jews who were granted Romanian citizenship in 1923 were illegal immigrants who had fraudulently obtained their Romanian citizenship. In the 19th century, the newly independent Romanian state proved very reluctant to grant citizenship to Romania's Jews, and a volatile atmosphere of antisemitism flourished with many intellectuals like A. C. Cuza claiming the Jews were a foreign and alien body in Romania that needed to be removed.  
Until 1859, the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia-which formed the core of the Romanian state-had been ruled by the Ottoman Empire, so there was a certain distance not only geographically, but also culturally and economically between Romania and the West. The Romanian elite wished to close the cultural and economic gap by Westernizing Romania and turning Romania into the "France of Eastern Europe", a promise that was never achieved. The most virulent and violent anti-Semitic movement in interwar Romania was the fascist Legion of the Archangel Michael founded in 1927, better known as the Iron Guard whose leader Corneliu Zelea Codreanu, aka Căpitanul (the Captain) had preached a mixture of Eastern Orthodox mysticism, anti-Semitic "Christian racism", a glorification of death and violence and a demand that all "true" Romanians submit to the will of the Iron Guard under the Căpitanul to achieve their "destiny". Codreanu often described his vision of a future Romania as one where all "true" Romanians would be subsumed into his mass movement, creating a mystical "national community" uniting the souls of all Romanians-dead, living and yet to be born-into one. In this Romania, all non-conformity would be ruthlessly stamped out and the "aliens" as Codreanu described Romania's minorities (27% of the entire population) would have no place. In contrast to the traditional idea that Romania would follow the path of its "Latin sister" France, Codreanu promoted a xenophobic, exclusive ultra-nationalism, where Romania would follow its own path and rejected French ideas about universal values and human rights. Codreanu was an intensely charismatic man whose populist message bashing the elites and the Jews made him beloved by ordinary people. Many women found Codreanu very sexy with one awestruck woman recalling: "The Captain [Codreanu] came from a world of Good, a Prince of the Lights ... a medieval knight, a martyr and a hero" as an explanation as to why she had to submit to Codreanu's will. Despite being married and preaching the importance of upholding the values of the Orthodox Church, Codreanu was a great womanizer who like his hero Stephen the Great never had his womanizing held against him, which was instead seen as proof as his powerful masculinity. Romania had dominated by the often corrupt National Liberal Party until the 1928 elections, who had promoted the industrialization of Romania to make the country into the "France of Eastern Europe", and the Great Depression seemed to many Romanians to signal the bankruptcy both literally and metaphorically of decades of National Liberal rule. As the National Liberals were the party of Romania's Francophile elite, the Iron Guard made a great point of stressing their pride in being Romanian, wearing bagfuls of soil to show their commitment to "Romanian genius", boasted that they spoke Romanian instead of French and through extremely nebulous about what sort of economic policies they would pursue beyond expelling all the Jews and confiscating their assets seemed to suggest that they were content to have Romania remain an agrarian country. Ancel described the Iron Guard as a death cult which rejected all the values of modern society in favor of an intense glorification of death where to kill and/or to be killed for the Legion were the only things that really mattered. The Legion's propaganda featured much death imagery and its members' performed macabre, vampiric initiation rituals such as drinking each other's blood to emphasize that by joining the Legion that they had abandoned their individuality and had all became one. The Iron Guard was known for its bloodthirsty brand of antisemitism with perhaps its most infamous exploit was during a pogrom in Bucharest in January 1941 where 60 Jews were skinned at a meatpacking plant. The American minister (ambassador) to Romania Franklin Mott Gunther who toured the meat-packing plant where the Jews were slaughtered with the placards reading "Kosher meat" on them reported back to Washington: "Sixty Jewish corpses were discovered on the hooks used for carcasses. They were all skinned....and the quantity of blood about was evidence that they had been skinned alive". In the 1930s, much of the younger generation of the Romanian intelligentsia had rejected the traditional Francophilia and enthusiastically joined the Iron Guard with its mystical message that all Romanians needed to become one and its rejection of Western values. Ancel noted that the Legion was first and foremost a movement of young people with university students being especially attracted to the Iron Guard.     
Ionesco had been a leading member of the so-called "Young Generation" of Romanian intellectuals who came of age in the early 1930s, embraced the avant-garde and were regarded as one of the most brilliant generations of Romanian intellectuals ever. Other members of the "Young Generation" whose mentor was Nae Ionescu included Emil Cioran, Constantin Noica, Mircea Eliade and Mihail Sebastian. As a young man, the Francophile democrat Ionesco was horrified at the way that so many of his generation had embraced the Iron Guard and he wrote the play Rhinoceros in which people transform into mindless rhinoceros as an allegory for the way in which so many young people in 1930s Romania had become Legionaries, fanatically chanting such mindless slogans such as "Kill the Jews!" and "Long live death!". As a university student, Ionesco saw one of his professors, the very popular Nae Ionescu who taught philosophy at the University of Bucharest use his lectures to recruit his students into the Legion. Ionesco complained in a letter to a friend how was it possible for such an intelligent man as Ionescu to preach such hate-filled nonsense? The partly Jewish Ionesco was especially terrified as many of his friends who were once liberals had joined the Iron Guard and become fanatical anti-Semitics. In an interview in 1970, Ionesco explained the play's message as an attack on those Romanians who become caught up in the "ideological contagion" of the Legion:
"University professors, students, intellectuals were turning Nazi, becoming Iron Guards one after another. We were fifteenth people who used to get together, to find arguments, to discuss, to try to find arguments opposing theirs. It was not easy...From time to time, one of the group would come out and say "I don't agree at all with them, to be sure, but on certain points, I must admit, for example the Jews...". And that kind of comment was a symptom. Three weeks later, that person would become a Nazi. He was caught in a mechanism, he accepted everything, he became a Rhinoceros. Towards the end, it was only three or four of us who resisted".
In 1936, Ionesco wrote with disgust that the Iron Guard had created "a stupid and horrendously reactionary Romania". Romanian university students were disproportionately over-represented in the Iron Guard, a fact which rebuts the claim that Iron Guard attracted support only from social "losers". Romania had a very large intelligentsia relative to its share of the population with 2.0 university students per one thousand of the population compared to 1.7 per one thousand of the population in far wealthier Germany while Bucharest had more lawyers in the 1930s than did the much larger city of Paris. Even before the Great Depression, Romania's universities were turning out far more graduates than what there were jobs for, and a mood of rage, desperation and frustration prevailed on campuses as it was apparent to most Romanian students that the middle class jobs that they were hoping for after graduation did not exist. In interwar Romania, Jews played the much same role as Greeks and Armenians did in the Ottoman Empire and the ethnic Chinese minorities do in modern Malaysia and Indonesia, namely a commercial successful minority much resented for their success. The Legion's call to end the "Jewish colonization" of Romania by expelling all the Jews, whom the Legion claimed were all illegal immigrants from Poland, and confiscate their assets so that Christian Romanians could rise up to the middle class was very attractive to many university students. Codreanu's call for a Romania without individualism, where all Romanians would be spiritually united together as one greatly appealed to the young people who believed that when Codreanu created his "new man" (omul nou) would be the moment that an utopian society would come into existence. Ionesco felt that the way in which so many of his generation, especially university students had abandoned the French ideas about universal human rights in favor of the death cult of the Legion to be a "betrayal" both personally and in wider political sense about sort of society Romania should be. As a young writer and playwright in 1930s Bucharest who associated with many leading figures of the intelligentsia, Ionesco felt more and more out of place as he clung to his humanist values while his friends all joined the Legion, feeling much as Bérenger does by the end of Rhinoceros as literally the last human being left on an earth overrun by rhinoceros.   In an interview with a Romanian newspaper shortly before his death in 1994, Ionesco stated about how Rhinoceros related to his youth in Romania:
"It is true. I had the experience of an extrême droite. And of the second hand left, which had been a radical socialist...Maybe I should had belonged to the left for a while, maybe I should have been of the left before being-not of the right-of the non-left, an enemy of the left. But at a certain moment, the left was no longer the left, at a certain moment the left become a right of horror, a right of terror and that's what I was denouncing, the terror".
In Rhinoceros, all of the characters except Bérenger talk in cliches, for an example when first encountering the rhinoceros all of the characters sans Bérenger insipidly exclaim "Well, of all things!", a phrase that occurs in the play twenty-six times. Ionesco was suggesting that by vacuously repeating cliches instead of meaningful communication, his characters had lost their ability to think critically and were thus already partly rhinoceros. Likewise, once a character repeats a platitudinous expression such as "It's never too late!" (repeated twenty-two times in the play) or "Come on, exercise your mind. Concentrate!" (repeated twenty times), the other characters start to mindlessly repeat them, which further shows their herd mentality. In the first act, the character of the logician says: "I am going to explain to you what a syllogism is...The syllogism consists of a main proposition, the secondary one and a conclusion". The logician gives the example of: "The cat has four paws. Isidore and Fricot have four paws. Therefore, Isidore and Fricot are cats". Quinney sums up the logician's thinking as: "The logic of this reasoning would allow any conclusion to be true based on two premises, the first of which contains the term that is the predicate of the conclusion and the second of which contains the term that is the subject of the conclusion". Based on this way of thinking as taught by the logician, the character of the old man is able to conclude that his dog is in fact a cat, leading him to proclaim: "Logic is a very beautiful thing", to which the logician replies as "As long as it is not absurd". It is at this moment that the first rhinoceros appears. One of the leading Romanian intellectuals in the 1930s who joined the Iron Guard was Emil Cioran who in 1952 published in Paris a book entitled Syllogismes d'amertume. After Cioran joined the Legion in 1934, he severed his friendship with Ionesco, an experience that very much hurt the latter. The character of the logician with his obsession with syllogisms and a world of pure reason divorced from emotion is a caricature of Cioran, a man who claimed that "logic" demanded that Romania have no Jews. More broadly, Ionesco was denouncing those whose rigid ways of thinking stripped of any sort of humanist element led them to inhumane and/or inane views.
In the first act of the play, the characters spent much time debating whatever the rhinoceros that have mysteriously appeared in France are African or Asian rhinoceros and which of the two types were superior to the other, a debate that Ionesco meant to be a satire on racism. Regardless of whatever the rhinoceros are African or Asian, the French characters comfortably assume their superiority to the rhinoceros; ironically the same people all become rhinoceros. Bérenger's friend Jean judges the superiority of African vs. Asian rhinoceros by their number of horns (making him a caricature of those people who judge other people by the color of their skin) and at one point shouts at Bérenger: "If anybody got horns, it is you! You are an Asiatic Mongol!". A recurring theme in Nazi propaganda were that the Jews were an "Asiatic" people who were unfortunately living in Europe who had horns, a message that many of the French become familiar with during the German occupation of 1940-44, which Ionesco alluded to by the way in Jean taunts Bérenger over his supposed horns and being "Asiatic". Ionesco intended the character of Jean, an ambitious functionary whose careerism robs him of the ability to think critically to be satiric portrayal of the French civil servants who served Vichy. At various points in the play, Jean shouts out such lines as "We need to go beyond moral standards!", "Nature has its own laws. Morality against Nature!" and "We must go back to primeval integrity!". When Jean says "humanism is all washed up", Bérenger asks: "Are you suggesting we replace our moral laws with the law of the jungle?". Lines such as these show that Ionesco also created the character of Jean as a satire of the Iron Guard which all attacked all the humanist values of the modern West as "Jewish inventions" designed to destroy Romania and claimed there was a "natural law" in which "true" Romanians would discover their "primal energy" as the most purest section of the "Latin race" and assert their superiority over the "lower races". Notably, the more Jean rants about "natural laws" trumping all, the more he transforms into a rhinoceros. When Romanian nationalism first emerged in the late 18th century-at a time when the Romanians in Bukovina and Transylvania were ruled by the Austrian Empire while the Romanians in Moldavia, Wallachia and the Dobruja were ruled by the Ottoman Empire-there was an intense emphasis on the Latinity of the Romanians, who were depicted as a lonely island of Latin civilization in Eastern Europe surrounded by "Slavic and Turanian barbarians". The reference to "Turanian barbarians" was to both the Turks and the Magyars who both "Turanian" peoples from Asia. This tradition of seeing Romania as a bastion of Latinism threatened by enemies everywhere culminated in the 1930s where the Iron Guard argued there were "natural laws" that determined Romania's struggle for existence, which allowed the Legion to justify any act of violence no matter how amoral as necessary because of the "natural laws". Ionesco parodied the Legion's talk of "natural laws" and "primeval values" by putting dialogue that closely resembled the Legion's rhetoric into Jean as he transforms into a green rhinoceros.
At the same time, Ionesco also attacked in Rhinoceros the French intelligentsia, a disproportionate number of whom were proud members of the French Communist Party in the 1950s. As an anti-Communist Romanian émigré living in France, Ionesco was often offended by the way in which so many French intellectuals embraced Stalinism and would either justify or deny all of the crimes of the Stalin regime under the grounds that the Soviet Union was a "progressive" nation leading humanity to a better future. Ionesco satirized French Communist intellectuals with the character of Botard, who is easily the most left-wing character in the play. Botard professes himself to be the champion of progressive values, saying about the debate in regards to the debate over the superiority of African vs. Asian rhinoceros that: "The color bar is something I feel strongly about, I hate it!". But at the same time, Botard shows himself to be rigid, small-minded and petty in his thinking, using Marxist slogans in place of intelligent thought. Most notably, Botard is unable to accept the fact of Rhinoceritis despite overwhelming evidence of its existence. For an example, Botard dismisses Rhinoceritis as: "An example of collective psychosis, Mr. Dudard. Just like religion-the opiate of the people!". Despite seeing the rhinoceroses with his own eyes, Botard convinces himself that Rhinoceritis is all a gigantic capitalist plot, dismissing Rhinoceritis as an "infamous plot" and "propaganda". Ionesco created the character of Botard as a caricature of French Communist intellectuals who managed to ignore overwhelming evidence of Stalin's terror and proclaimed the Soviet Union to be the "Worker's Paradise, dismissing any evidence to the contrary as mere anti-Soviet propaganda. A further attack on Communism was provided by the character of the pipe-smoking intellectual Dudard. Ionesco stated in an interview that: "Dudard is Sartre". Ionesco disliked Jean-Paul Sartre-France's most famous intellectual in the 1950s-for the way in which he sought to justify Stalin's murderous violence as necessary for the betterment of humanity as a betrayal of everything that a French intellectual should be, and intended the character of Dudard who always finds excuses for the rhinoceros as a caricature of Sartre who always found excuses for Stalin.
Ionesco also intended Rhinoceros as a satire of French behavior under the German occupation of 1940-44. The green skin of the rhinoceros recalled not only the green uniforms of the Iron Guard, but also the green uniforms of the Ordnungspolizei who enforced German power in France during the occupation. Several French critics when they saw the premiere of Rhinoceros in 1960 wrote in their reviews that the green skin of the rhinoceros invoked memories of the Occupation with the Ordnungspolizei in their green uniforms and the Wehrmacht in their muddy green uniforms. During the Occupation, the French applied nicknames to the Germans that often used the word vert, calling the Germans haricots verts (green beans), sauterelles verts (green locusts), and race verte (green race). In France during the occupation, the color green was indelibly associated with the Germans. 
For the French people, the defeat of June 1940 came as a very profound shock, something that they could never imagine would actually happen. The experience of the Occupation was a deeply psychologically disorienting one for the French as what was once familiar and safe become strange and threatening. Many Parisians could not get over the shock experienced when they first saw the huge swastika flags hanging over the Hôtel de Ville and on top of the Eiffel Tower. The British historian Ian Ousby wrote:
"Even today, when people who are not French or did not live through the Occupation look at photos of German soldiers marching down the Champs Élysées or of Gothic-lettered German signposts outside the great landmarks of Paris, they can still feel a slight shock of disbelief. The scenes look not just unreal, but almost deliberately surreal, as if the unexpected conjunction of German and French, French and German, was the result of a Dada prank and not the sober record of history. This shock is merely a distant echo of what the French underwent in 1940: seeing a familiar landscape transformed by the addition of the unfamiliar, living among everyday sights suddenly made bizarre, no longer feeling at home in places they had known all their lives."
 Ousby wrote that by the end of summer of 1940: "And so the alien presence, increasingly hated and feared in private, could seem so permanent that, in the public places where daily life went on, it was taken for granted". At the same time France was also marked by disappearances as buildings were renamed, books banned, art was stolen to be taken to Germany and as time went on, various people, especially Jews were arrested and deported to death camps. Afterwards, many of the French learned to accept the changes imposed by the German occupation, coming to the conclusion that Germany was Europe's dominant power and the best that could be done was to submit and bow down before the might of the Reich. The more difficult and dangerous choice of becoming a résistant to the German occupation was taken only by a minority of brave people; estimates of those French who served in the Resistance varied from 2%-14% of the population depending on the historian and what one chooses to define as resistance. Many historians argued that such activities like writing for an underground newspaper, sheltering Jews and Allied servicemen, providing intelligence to the Allies or sabotaging the railroads and factories counts as resistance. Only about 2% of the French population or about 400, 000 people engaged in armored resistance during the Occupation. In Rhinoceros, the characters are shocked and horrified that people are turning into brutal rhinoceros, but during the course of the play learn to accept what is happening, as just the French people were shocked by their defeat in 1940, but many learned to accept their place in the "New Order" in Europe. Dudard expresses collaborationist feelings to the rhinoceros, saying: "Well, I'm surprised, too. Or rather I was. Now I am getting used to it". Dudard also says of the rhinoceros: "They don't attack you. If you leave them alone, they just ignore you. You can't say they are spiteful". Dudard's statements recall those feelings of the French who were initially shocked to see German soldiers, policemen and the SS marching around their cities and towns in 1940, but swiftly learned that if offered no resistance, the Germans would usually leave them alone to live their lives (provided that they were not Jewish).   Along the same lines, Bérenger wonders "Why us?", asking how Rhinoceritis could possibly be happening in France. Bérenger goes on to say:
"If only it happened somewhere else, in some other country, and we'd just read about it in the papers, one could discuss it quietly, examine the question from all points of view and come to an objective conclusion. We could organize debates with professors and writers and lawyers, blue-stockings and artists and people and ordinary men in the street as well-it would be very interesting and instructive. But when you're involved yourself, when you suddenly find yourself up against brutal facts, you can't help feeling directly concerned-the shock is too violent for you to stay detached."
Besides alluding to the German occupation, lines such as these also recall Ionesco's youth in Romania in the 1930s. Bérenger, the hard-drinking, slovenly, kindly everyman is regarded as the alter ego of Ionesco.  In an interview, Ionesco said:
"The Rhinoceroses, rhinoceritis and rhinoceration are current matters and you single out a disease that was born in this century. Humanity is besieged by certain diseases, physiologically and organically, but the spirit too is periodically besieged by certain diseases. You discovered a disease of the 20th century, which could be called after my famous play, rhinoceritis. For a while, one can say that a man is rhinocerised by stupidity or baseness. But there are people-honest and intelligent-who in their turn may suffer the unexpected onset of this disease, even the dear and close ones may suffer...It happened to my friends. That's why I left Romania".
Aspects of Bérenger who stubbornly remains human and vows never to give in recall Ionesco's own youth in Romania in the shadow of the Iron Guard. Jean and Dudard both mock Bérenger for weakness because he drinks too much and believes in love which they view as signs of lack of self-control, but Ionesco said about Bérenger that the strength of the modern hero "stemmed from what may be taken for weakness". When Bérenger declares his love for Daisy, it is a sign that he still retains his humanity, despite the way that others mocked him for believing in love. Ionesco wrote during his youth, he had the "strange responsibility" of being himself, feeling like the last (metaphorical) human being in Romania as : "all around me men were metamorphosed into beasts, rhinoceros...You would run into an old friend, and all of sudden, right before your eyes, he would start to change. It was if his gloves had become paws, his shoes hoofs. You could no longer talk intelligently with him for he was not a rational human being". Quinney noted that in both French and English, the word rhinoceros is both a singular and plural term, and argued that Ionesco made people transform into rhinoceros in his play as indicating that when an individual becomes part of a herd mindlessly following others, such a man or a woman lose part of their humanity. Ionesco chose to stay in Romania to fight against the "rhinoceroization" of the intelligentsia despite the way in which one by one his friends all become Legionaries or refused to talk him out of cowardice until the regime of General Ion Antonescu passed a law in 1940 that forbade all Jews (defined in racial terms) from participating in the arts in Romania in any way or form. Quinney argued that Ionesco's théâtre de l'absurde plays were a form of "lashing out" against his friends who in his youth had abandoned him for the Legion, and reflected his dual identity as both Romanian and French. Quinney maintained that terror felt by Bérenger at being the last human left in the world reflected Ionesco's own terror as saw his friends caught up in youthful idealism all become Legionaries while the rest were either too cynical or cowardly to resist the Legion. Quinney further argued that the Rhinoceros was an allegory of and attack on the Legion of the Archangel Michael has been ignored by too many literary scholars who have seen Ionesco only as a French playwright and neglected the fact that Ionesco saw himself as both Romanian and French.
In April 1960 the play was performed by the English Stage Company at the Royal Court Theatre in London, England under the direction of Orson Welles with Laurence Olivier as Bérenger, Joan Plowright as Daisy, and Michael Bates, Miles Malleson and Peter Sallis in the cast. The production moved to the Strand Theatre (now the Novello Theatre) that June. Following the move Dudard and Daisy were played by Michael Gough and Maggie Smith. In 1961, a production of Rhinoceros opened on Broadway, at the Longacre Theater under the direction of Joseph Anthony. Eli Wallach played Bérenger, Anne Jackson appeared as Daisy, Jean Stapleton played Mrs. Bœuf (Mrs. Ochs in this adaptation), and Zero Mostel won a Tony Award for his portrayal of Jean.
The play was adapted to an urban American setting for a 1973 film (also called Rhinoceros) directed by Tom O'Horgan and starring Zero Mostel as John (Jean in the play), Gene Wilder as Stanley (Bérenger) and Karen Black as Daisy. The play was also adapted for a 1990 musical, titled Born Again at the Chichester Festival Theatre, by Peter Hall, Julian Barry and composer Jason Carr. The setting was relocated to an American shopping mall.
The Royal Court Theatre revived the play in 2007 and starred Benedict Cumberbatch as Bérenger and directed by Dominic Cooke. The Bangalore Little Theatre, in collaboration with the Alliance Française de Bangalore, presented Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, a play in the Theatre of the Absurd tradition.This adaptation is written by Dr.Vijay Padaki, a veteran in Theatre. In 2016 Rhinoceros was adapted and directed by Wesley Savick. It was performed by Modern Theatre in Boston.
Awards and honors
Original Broadway production
|1961||Tony Award||Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play||Zero Mostel||Won|
|Best Direction of a Play||Joseph Anthony||Nominated|
|Outer Critics Circle Award||Special Award||Won|
Influenced by Rhinoceros's satiric attack on the Iron Guard, the Israeli historian Jean Ancel used the term "rhinoceroization" to describe how Romanian intellectuals were subsumed by the appeal of the Legion of the Archangel Michael in particular and radical antisemitism in general in his 2002 book The History of the Holocaust In Romania.
- Quinney (2007) pp. 37, 39-40
- Ancel (1999) p. 463
- Ancel (2011) p. 31
- Ancel (2011) p. 12
- Bucur (2003) p. 68
- Quinney (2007) pp. 39, 41-42
- Crampton (1997) p. 115
- Simpson (1988) p. 255
- Hale (2011) p. 85
- Quinney (2007) pp. 41-42
- Quinney (2007) p. 42
- Hale (2011) p. 87
- Crampton (1997) p. 115
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