Topic: ArtComedy

Last updated: March 22, 2019

Viewed as “a late modernist, the last modernist, and the first postmodernist” (Abbott, 1988: p. 306), Samuel Beckett is the only man who “in this century has most single-mindedly dedicated himself to the exploration of … being, identity and presentation” (Connor, 1988: p. 1). For this essay, I will specifically discuss his plays (such as Waiting for Godot and Not I) from which theatre of the Absurd emerged as well as Samuel Beckett’s legacy with reference to Martin Esslin and other playwrights such as Peter Brook.

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) was an avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and a poet and is most widely recognized for his famous play, ‘Waiting for Godot’ in which “nothing happens, twice” (Vivian Mercier as cited by Hayman, 1979: p.2). His contributions have been vast as well as significant as he confidently rejected the naturalistic system put forward by Konstantin Stanislavsky and instead encouraged to show the state of a human mind, “I can’t see any trace of system anywhere” (Fletcher et al, ?: p. 34).The novelist was born in Ireland, and although he had “little talent for happiness” (Pilling, 1976: p.1), he “had a happy childhood” (Pilling, 1976: p.

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1) and was largely interested in vaudeville and black comedy, all of which proved to influence him and become evident in his future works. His relationship with his mother, was also explored in some of his later works. Samuel was always academically successful, but several deaths of member of his family, especially of a “girl cousin he was particularly close to” (Pilling, 1976: p1.) led to a depressing state of mind, and played a great deal in Beckett’s works and his ideology of human existence overall.Growing up, Samuel Beckett was a successful athlete, he “went running, played cricket and rugby .

. and went fishing” (Pilling, 1976: p.1) and completed a degree in Modern Languages at the Trinity College; this eventually led Beckett to move to Paris and work alongside James Joyce as his assistant. Samuel Beckett did research for his book that became Finnegans Wake and although the two were fond of each other, was not ever-lasting. After rejoicing with “his friend Alfred Péron … the first stirrings of what has come to be called ‘modernism’ began to be heard” (Pilling, 1976: p. 3).

Beckett was rejecting the Joycean principle whose style became increasingly abstract; “Beckett’s conception of his undertaking, what we would now call his postmodernism, recognized that an absolute break with the past, a complete supersession of what had gone before, was itself the product of a teleological or modern form of thinking. Proust and Joyce therefore became .. telling points of reference in an ongoing dialogue between past and present” (Begam, 1996: p. 14).

Beckett wanted to offer a tragicomic view on the mental state of mind which is exactly what the play Waiting for Godot explores.Written in 1949 yet published in 1953, the play consists of two acts of two tramps waiting for someone, named Godot, who never arrives. Initially, the play didn’t receive the response it wanted or in my opinion deserved, “the critics who were uncomprehending … Beckett’s approach was so radical it provoked fierce resistance” (Gussow, 1996: p. 8). However, I seek to disagree as I believe that although Beckett was creating a new style, he was putting truth on stage, just in a very specific and minimalist way. The importance of language is heightened and explored in the play, the first dialogue outlines colloquialism, fallibility of language and repetition “Help me off with this bloody thing” (Beckett, 1953: p.

1) and is therefore very informative to the audience. Beckett’s “vision was as humane as it was tragic” (Gussow, ?, p. ) – putting on a play for humans exploring humanity, although original, isn’t hard to comprehend. I feel that the reason why the play wasn’t taken kindly was that people were afraid of familiarity – the inner desperation of the two tramps was visible throughout and there were enough pauses to allow audience to consider their thoughts. People were afraid to see the worst outcome of themselves on that stage. Unknowingly to Beckett, because of this “contemporary classic” (Esslin, 1965: p.1) Theatre of the Absurd was born.

Similarly, Not I explores the mental state and according to Billie Whitelaw (Gussow. 1996), the audience were trying to escape this “mouth” therefore the staff turned off the lights in the loo’s, so they couldn’t hide. Samuel Beckett’s work presents a radical challenge to the conventional prizing of literary novelty and originality.


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