La Leçon

The Lesson
Shimer College production
Written by Eugène Ionesco
Characters Professor • Pupil • Maid
Date premiered February 1951 (1951-02)
Place premiered Paris, France
Original language French
Genre One-act
Theatre of the Absurd
Setting France
The Lesson (French: La Leçon) is a one-act play by Eugène Ionesco. It was first performed in 1951 in a production directed by Marcel Cuvelier (who also played the Professor).[1] and Claude Mansard played the Maid and Rosette Zuchelli played the Pupil. Since 1957 it has been in permanent production at Paris' Théâtre de la Huchette, on an Ionesco double-bill with The Bald Soprano.[2] The play has been regarded as an important work of what some critics have called the "Theatre of the Absurd."

Plot summary

The play takes place in the office and dining room of a small French flat. The Professor, a man of about 50 to 60, is expecting a new Pupil (aged 18). The Professor's Maid, a stout, red-faced woman of about 40 to 50, worries about the Professor's health. As the absurd and nonsensical lesson progresses, the Professor grows more and more angry with (what he perceives as) the Pupil's ignorance, and the Pupil becomes more and more quiet and meek. Even her health begins to deteriorate, and what starts as a toothache develops into her entire body aching. At the climax of the play, the Pupil is stabbed and murdered by the Professor, after a long bout of non sequiturs (which are frequently used in Ionesco's plays). The play ends with the Maid greeting a new Pupil, taking the play full circle, back to the beginning.


The Danish choreographer Flemming Flindt adapted the play as the libretto to a score by Georges Delerue for his first ballet, The Private Lesson (Enetime) in 1963. The Professor in Flindt's adaptation is a ballet teacher.[3] The ballet was commissioned by Danish television and received its 1964 stage premiere in Paris with the Royal Danish Ballet on tour. Among other companies, it is danced by the Joffrey Ballet and the leading role has been performed by Rudolf Nureyev as well as other danseurs.[4]



  • Banham, Martin, ed. 1998. The Cambridge Guide to Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge UP. ISBN 0-521-43437-8.

External links

  • Eugène Ionesco & La Leçon Eugène Ionesco, La Leçon, 1951

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