No Exit – 1st Day of Lenaia 2021

When Inez, Estelle and Garcin arrive in hell, they are perplexed by the fact that it doesn’t look like what people say. No fire, no devils, no torture. They have just been locked up together, in an ordinary living-room, where apparently, they will have to stay forever. No monsters are here to boil them or break their bones. The place looks perfectly safe, as if they were still on earth among the living. But the three of them are locked up together. They will soon discover that the torture is not physical and that the monsters will not be inhuman devils.

French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, who was pioneer in questions about existentialism, also signed several plays among which No Exit (in French Huis Clos). Apart from the valet who led them to the room, the only three characters of the play, have the exact personality that each of the other ones needs. The cruel discovery of what it is to exist and to see one’s own existence completely chained to the words and the sight of the others, happens like a revelation in a context where no one can be without the other ones. Food for thought, even for those who are still living.


INEZ: Yes, I see. Look here! What’s the point of play-acting, trying to throw dust in each other’s eyes? We’re all tarred with the same brush.

ESTELLE: How dare you!

INEZ: Yes, we are criminals – murderers – all three of us. We’re in hell, my pets; they never make mistakes, and people aren’t damned for nothing.

ESTELLE: Stop! For heaven’s sake.

INEZ: In hell! Damned souls – that’s us, all three!

ESTELLE: Keep quiet! I forbid you to use such disgusting words.

INEZ: A damned soul – that’s you, my little plaster saint. And ditto our friend there, the noble pacifist. We’ve had our hour of pleasure, haven’t we? There have been people who burned their lives out for our sakes – and we chuckled over it. So now we have to pay the reckoning.

GARCIN: Will you keep your mouth shut, damn it!

INEZ: Well, well! Ah, I understand now. I know why they’ve put us three together.

GARCIN: I advise you to – to think twice before you say any more.

INEZ: Wait! You’ll see how simple it is. Childishly simple. Obviously there aren’t any physical torments – you agree, don’t you? And yet we’re in hell. And no one else will come here. We’ll stay in this room together, the three of us, for ever and ever… In short, there’s someone absent here, the official torturer.

GARCIN: I’d noticed that.

INEZ: It’s obvious what they’re after – an economy of man-power – or devil-power, if you prefer. The same idea as in the cafeteria, where customers serve themselves.

ESTELLE: Whatever do you mean?

INEZ: I mean that each of us will act as a torturer for the two others.

(Silence. They let the words sink in.)

GARCIN: No, I shall never be your torturer. I wish neither of you any harm, and I’ve no concern with you. None at all. So the solution’s easy enough; each of us stays put in his or her corner and takes no notice of the others. You here, you here, and I there. Like soldiers at our posts. Also, we mustn’t speak. Not one word. That won’t be difficult; each of us has plenty of material for self-communing. I think I could stay ten thousand years with only my thoughts for company.

ESTELLE: Have I got to keep silent, too?

GARCIN: Yes. And that way we–we’ll work out our salvation. Looking into ourselves, never raising our heads. Agreed?

INEZ: Agreed.

ESTELLE: I agree.

GARCIN: Then – good-by.

(Inez sings to herself while Estelle has been plying her powder-puff and lipstick. She looks round for a mirror, fumbles in her bag, then turns toward Garcin.)

ESTELLE: Excuse me, have you a glass? Any sort of glass, a pocket-mirror will do. (Garcin remains silent.) Even if you won’t speak to me, you might lend me a glass.

INEZ: Don’t worry. I’ve a glass in my bag. It’s gone! They must have taken it from me at the entrance.

ESTELLE: How tiresome! (Estelle shuts her eyes and sways, as if about to faint. Inez runs forward and holds her up.)

INEZ: What’s the matter?

ESTELLE: I feel odd. Don’t you ever get taken that way? When I can’t see myself I begin to wonder if I really and truly exist. I pat myself just to make sure, but it doesn’t help much.

Jean-Paul Sartre, No Exit (Huis-Clos)

Huis Clos first performance in Paris, Vieux-Colombier Theatre, 1944

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