The Play (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
Embers, a radio play, begins not with words but with sounds: the “sea scarcely audible,” followed by footsteps in the sand. Only then does the listener hear a human voice speaking a single word, “on,” followed by the sea again, followed by the voice—louder and more insistent this time, repeating the same word, as it will say, then repeat as a command, the words “stop” and “down.” Each time, Henry obediently yet reluctantly does what the voice (his own) first says, then commands him to do. Thus in a few brief strokes, the dramatic pattern for this brief play is established—an alternating rhythmical dialogue of sounds and words. Whenever the voice pauses, as it frequently does, the sea becomes audible once again. Within this macro-dialogue there exist a number of micro-dialogues involving Henry and the voices he hears, recollects, imagines, or projects. The first is with his father, drowned in the same sea before which Henry sits, the father who is now “back from the dead,” Henry says, “to be with me.” In dialogue with this silent ghost, whose body has never been recovered, Henry makes plain his ambivalence both toward the sea he fears, yet to which he finds himself drawn, and toward the father he once sought to escape but now conjures up from death to act as his sole audience and chief source of reproach for his wasted life.
Henry’s garrulous monologue includes (or metamorphoses into) his retelling a story he began...
(The entire section is 1251 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Dramatic Devices (Masterplots II: Drama, Revised Edition)
In Embers Beckett combines two dramatic modes that he used separately and quite effectively in earlier plays: the monologue, as in Krapp’s Last Tape (pr., pb. 1958), and radio drama, as in All That Fall (pr., pb. 1957). The monologue is particularly well suited to Beckett’s needs, for it allows him to focus the audience’s attention on the character’s existential predicament, his aloneness in the world. However, insofar as this aloneness is less physical than mental or metaphysical—a matter not of place and social relationships but of the void both without and within—the staging of the dramatic monologue poses a significant obstacle to the realization of the existential predicament in that pure and extreme form in which Beckett has conceived it.
Beckett’s bleak vision of blind human persistence and progressive detachment and diminishment leads to radio drama (or, taken in a slightly different direction, to mime plays, such as Acte sans paroles [pr., pb. 1957; Act Without Words, 1958]). All That Fall, the first of Beckett’s radio plays, is for the most part a play performed on radio, having a rather full cast of eleven more or less “realistic” characters. Embers, Beckett’s second, exploits the form to far better advantage, for as Enoch Brater has noted, radio drama provides “an ideal medium for the transmission of the interior consciousness” that Beckett has made one of...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Sources for Further Study
Abbot, H. Porter. Beckett Writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996.
Astro, Alan. Understanding Samuel Beckett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.
Cohn, Ruby. Just Play: Beckett’s Theater. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.
Esslin, Martin. “Samuel Beckett and the Art of Broadcasting.” Encounter 45 (September, 1975): 38-46.
Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d ed. London: Methuen, 2001.
Gussow, Mel. Conversations with and About Beckett. New York: Grove-Atlantic, 1996.
Homan, Sidney, ed. Beckett’s Theaters: Interpretations for Performance. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1984.
Kenner, Hugh. A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996.
Lyons, Charles R. Samuel Beckett. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983.
McCarthy, Patrick A., ed. Critical Essays on Samuel Beckett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.
Worth, Katherine J. “Beckett and the Radio Medium.” In British Radio Drama, edited by...
(The entire section is 152 words.)