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Theatre of Chaos – Beyond Absurdism, Into Orderly Disorder

Theatre of Chaos – Beyond Absurdism, Into Orderly Disorder

William W. Demastes


In this unique and invigorating study, chaos theory and quantum mechanics are employed as the basis for a clearer understanding of the often confusing contemporary theatre world. Examining numerous antecedents to contemporary thought on chaos and the cultural roots of the notion of chaos, links are provided to playwrights ranging from Shakespeare to Ibsen and Tom Stoppard, Sam Shepard, and Tony Kushner. William Demastes investigates parallel developments across the arts and sciences: connections between the dramatic naturalism of the late nineteenth century and Newtonian thought, for example, and Theatre of the Absurd and disorderly chaos theory.


After centuries of isolation and increased specialization, the author contends, it may once again be time to consider the “arts” and “sciences” not as two isolated enterprises but to acknowledge interrelations between them. These intersections confirm that “orderly disorder” is displacing a far more rigid and less viable system of knowing our world, and ushering in a rich, varied, and forward-looking theory of existence for contemporary society.

Cambridge University Press


William W. Demastes

A graduate of California (Berkeley, AB), Georgia (Athens, MA), and Wisconsin (Madison, PhD.), is LSU’s San Diego II Alumni Professor of English. He teaches modern and contemporary American and British drama, drama as genre, and Shakespeare studies.


He has numerous books on drama including “Beyond Naturalism”, “Theatre of Chaos”, “Staging Consciousness”, and “Comedy Matters”, as well as single-author studies on Tom Stoppard, John Guare, Spalding Gray, and Clifford Odets. He has edited several volumes of the annually-released Best American Short Plays series and served as editor of the Research and Production Sourcebooks series. Other edited works include “Realism and the American Dramatic Tradition” and “Interrogating America Through Theatre and Performance”.


In 2019 he was named LSU’s Distinguished Research Master and has several other university teaching and research awards to his credit. In the past he has served as Director of the Master of Arts in Liberal Arts Program, Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, and LSU Faculty Athletics Representative.


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