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Samuel Beckett

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Trish Everett

on 16 March 2015

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Transcript of Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett and Theatre of the Absurd
These plays flout all the standards by which drama has been judged for many centuries; they must therefore appear as a provocation to people who have come into the theatre expecting to find what they would recognize as a well-made play.

Come and Go
So what are the Absurdist playwrights trying to do?
Communicate experience in the best way they can, recognizing that not everything felt or experienced can be shown realistically
Theatre of the Absurd
Outgrowth of the Avant Garde movements of the 20's and 30's (like
Four Saints
Ubu Roi
Reaction to WWI ("The War to End All Wars"), WWII (The war that proved war is quite possibly inevitable), and the prsistent threat of nuclear annihilation.
Term coined by Martin Esslin, covers mostly European playwrights from the 40's, 50's and 60's. Prominent playwright include Arthur Adamov, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, Harold Pinter and Samuel Beckett.
"Share the view that man is inhabiting a universe with which he is out of key. Its meaning is indecipherable and his place within it is without purpose. He is bewildered, troubled and obscurely threatened." - Dr. Jan Cuilk

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) spent adult life in exile.
Moved to Paris to teach after studying French and Italian at Trinity College, Dublin
In Paris, befriended by James Joyce and began to win acclaim for his poetry, short stories, and novels.
After WWII began to write exclusively in French, later translating into English for publication and performance
Waiting for Godot
was an international sensation and is perhaps one of the most frequently produced and translated plays of this century.

Waiting For Godot
Beckett's Productions
Krapp's Last Tape
Happy Days
Written Response
What is Happy Days about? What response did it trigger when you watched the performance? What did it remind you of? Write a few sentences about how you felt after watching this play.
"A good many playwrights who have been classed under this label, when asked if they belong to the Theatre of the Absurd, will indignantly reply that they belong to no such movement - and quite rightly so. For each of the playwrights concerned seeks to express no more and no less his own personal vision of the world." - Martin Esslin
Martin Esslin on Theatre of the Absurd
The movement is not unified but Esslin coined the term as a useful device to describe what he saw happening in a group of playwrights' work.
A well-made play is expected to present characters that are well-observed and convincingly motivated:
A well-made play is expected to entertain by the ding-dong of witty and logically built-up dialogue:
A well-made play is expected to have a beginning, a middle, and a neatly tied-up ending:
[absurd] plays often contain hardly any recognizable human beings and present completely unmotivated actions
in some of these [absurd] plays, dialogue seems to have degenerated into meaningless babble. .
[absurd] plays often start at an arbitrary point and seem to end just as arbitrarily
By all the traditional standards of of critical appreciation of the drama, these plays are not only abominably bad, they do not even deserve the name drama. -Esslin, Introduction to "Absurd Drama" (Penguin Books, 1965)
So How do you make sense of the absurd?
"If the critical touchstones of conventional drama did not apply to these plays, this must surely have been
due to a difference in objective
, the use of different artistic means, to the fact, in short, that
these plays were both creating and applying a different convention of drama

It is just as senseless to condemn an abstract painting because it lacks perspective or a recognizable subject-matter as it is to reject Waiting for Godot because it has no plot to speak of. In painting a composition of squares and lines an artist like Mondrian does not want to depict any object in nature, he does not want to create perspective. Similarly, in writing Waiting for Godot Beckett did not intend to tell a story, he did not want the audience to go home satisfied that they knew the solution to the problem posed in the play.
Hence there is no point in reproaching him with not doing what he never sought to do; the only reasonable course is to try and find out what it was that he did intend.
" -Esslin

Piet Mondrian
represent the experience of dreaming
convey a poetic image or series of images in time that is basically static
"If, in the traditional play, the action goes from point A to point B, and we constantly ask, 'what's going to happen next?', here we have an action that consists in the gradual unfolding of a complex pattern, and instead we ask, 'what is it that we are seeking? What will the completed image be when we have grasped the nature of the pattern?' " -Esslin
the playwrights concerned no longer believe in the possibility of neatness of resolution
expressing a sense of wonder, of incomprehension, and at times of despair, at the lack of cohesion and meaning that they find in the world
express a sense of shock at the absence, the loss of any such clear and well-defined systems of beliefs or values.
...the waning of religious faith that had started with the Enlightenment and led Nietzsche to speak of the 'death of God' by the eighteen-eighties; the breakdown of the liberal faith in inevitable social progress in the wake of the First World War; the disillusionment with the hopes of radical social revolution as predicted by Marx after Stalin had turned the Soviet Union into a totalitarian tyranny; the relapse into barbarism, mass murder, and genocide in the course of Hitler's brief rule over Europe during the Second World War; and, in the aftermath of that war, the spread of spiritual emptiness in the outwardly prosperous and affluent societies of Western Europe and the United States. There can be no doubt: for many intelligent and sensitive human beings the world of the mid twentieth century has lost its meaning and has simply ceased to make sense. -Esslin
critique of language, an attack on fossilized forms of language devoid of meaning
channel a sense of clowning akin to silent film acting of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy
articulate the experience of the exile
attacks the comfortable certainties of religious or political orthodoxy.
shock audience out of complacency and bring it face to face with the harsh facts of the human situation
Happy Days
the need for companionship
static rituals become monotony
unchanging rituals are also change
the failure of language-
monologue does not equal dialogue
what do words mean when no one is listening
words fail and have no meaning- hog, it vs. them for her hair, etc.
“Language generally in Beckett’s world is not a means of conveying meaning, but a balm for the sores of existence.” -Stanley Gontarski, Irish Lit Scholar
the approach of death

Final Waltz music
Full transcript