Beckett, Samuel (Drama Criticism)
Samuel Beckett 1906-1989
(Full name Samuel Barclay Beckett) Irish-born French playwright, novelist, poet, short story writer, screenwriter, and essayist.
The following entry presents criticism on Beckett's dramatic works from 1957 through 2001.
Beckett is one of the most celebrated and influential dramatists of the twentieth century. His play En attendant Godot (1953; Waiting for Godot), with its incongruent plot and seemingly pointless dialogue, helped advance the concept of a “Theater of the Absurd” and is regarded as a masterpiece. Beckett's plays utilize non-standard and minimalist staging techniques and experimental language and character development. Beckett continually strove to remove the physicality of the dramatic experience, e.g. elaborate staging, intricate sets, etc., in an attempt to illustrate the inner turmoil of humanity, and to force the audience to reach a higher level of understanding without relying on the traditional forms of theater. Beckett's innovative style and stark exploration into the human condition were considered ground-breaking and his influence is apparent throughout contemporary theater.
Beckett was born in Dublin on April 12, 1906 to a middle-class family. As a youth he was more inclined to athletics than academics, not showing interest in literature until his third year at Trinity College, Dublin, as a student of modern languages. Upon receiving his B.A. in 1927, he departed for France and lectured at Ecole Normal Superieure in Paris, where he became acquainted with James Joyce. Beckett worked with Joyce as an assistant and copier during the writing of Joyce's Finnegans Wake, and Joyce's modernist style began to shape Beckett's writing. After two years abroad, Beckett returned to Ireland in 1931 and the following year produced his first play, Le Kid (1931). Beckett was dissatisfied with life in Ireland and suffered from debilitating bouts of depression; in 1932, he relocated to Paris. In 1935, he attended a lecture by Carl Gustav Jung about the illusion of consciousness and the uncontrolled unconscious—themes that are widely developed and analyzed in Beckett's drama. During World War II, Beckett joined the French Resistance and worked within that organization until his cell was infiltrated and he was forced to leave Paris. After the war ended, Beckett was awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance, and he settled again in Paris as a writer. Waiting for Godot was written in 1948 and 1949, but the playwright thoroughly reworked the play before it was finally produced in 1953. Waiting for Godot is widely considered Beckett's finest play. He continued to write novels and plays, producing his next full-length play, Fin de partie (1957; Endgame) in the same minimalist, existentialist style of Waiting for Godot, furthering his conveyance of ideas through experimental dramatic techniques and unique staging concepts. Although his last full length play was written in 1961 (Happy Days), Beckett wrote many short plays (or dramaticules), screenplays, and television dramas in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1969, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for contributing “a body of work that, in new forms of fiction and the theater, has transformed the destitution of modern man into his exultation.” Beckett died on December 22, 1989.
Regarded as one of the most controversial and seminal works of twentieth-century drama, Waiting for Godot is noted for its minimal approach to dramatic form, powerful imagery, and concise, fragmented, and repetitive dialogue. Traditional plays begin with some action or event that results in dramatic conflict, an imperative element to Aristotelian dramatic theory. Waiting for Godot begins with no precipitative movement, only an abstract struggle involving the passage of time. Vladimir and Estragon, two vagabonds, wait on a desolate plain to keep an appointment with someone called M. Godot. Their purgatorial wait has been interpreted by some as religious faith, the hopelessness of the human condition, or as an example of postcolonial discourse. Beckett encouraged unique interpretations of his works and refused to concede that Waiting for Godot had a definitive meaning. Likewise, Endgame is a play that is also open to many interpretations. In Endgame, Beckett again focused on two characters, bedraggled survivors of an apparent holocaust. The two men, Clov and Hamm, are faced with the nothingness of their existence as they attempt to validate their lives, eventually falling back on memories to justify their existence. Beckett further developed his innovative theatrical techniques and metaphysical concerns in Krapp's Last Tape (1958) and Happy Days. In Happy Days, the protagonist, Winnie, continues her daily rituals while being buried up to her waist in earth. She seems uncaring and almost welcomes this entombment, and by the second act of the play, she is buried up to her neck. Winnie believes that the earth stabilizes her and keeps her grounded, lest her insubstantiality should cause her to float into the sky. Beckett's preoccupation with disembodied heads and faces resurfaces in his later short plays That Time (1976), A Piece of Monologue (1979), Ohio Impromptu (1981), and What Where (1983), all of which feature heads with long white hair and an aged appearance. In Not I (1972), the main character is a disembodied mouth floating high above the stage. The Mouth seems to be forced into confessing her faults to a lone Auditor in a Dante-esque purgatory. Beckett used darkness, voice, repetition, and silence to heighten the feeling of damnation, hopelessness, and introspection in much of his drama.
Beckett's portrayal of a world of insignificance and incomprehensibility has led many critics to identify Waiting for Godot with existentialism, the Theater of the Absurd, postmodernism, and nihilism. Although his works contain slapstick and dark comedy, his characters are often grotesquely exaggerated caricatures—oblivious to predictability and their impending demise. Many critics contend that Beckett's progression from language to silence and light to darkness reflects the author's growing pessimistic vision, yet some feel that by stripping down the characters to the basest levels, Beckett actually proposed rebirth. Some commentators note the numerous biblical allusions, repetitions, and ironic devices in his plays. His works have been interpreted as religious ideologies, chess analogies, atheist texts, and Eastern existentialism, yet Beckett warned against trying to perceive his intended thought, often commenting that his works have no definitive meaning and advocating the individual's right to personal interpretation.
Le Kid [with Georges Pelorson] 1931
En attendant Godot 1953; produced in English as Waiting for Godot 1955
*Acte sans paroles 1957; produced in English as Act without Words 1959
*Fin de partie 1957; produced in English as Endgame 1958
Krapp's Last Tape 1958
Acte san paroles II [Acts without Words II] 1960
Happy Days 1961
Spiel 1963; produced in English as Play 1964
Va et vient 1966; produced in English as Come and Go 1966
Not I 1972
That Time 1976
A Piece of Monologue 1979
Ohio Impromptu 1981
What Where 1983
Collected Shorter Plays 1984
The Complete Dramatic Works 1986
All That Fall 1957
Words and Music 1962
Rough for Radio I 1975
Rough for Radio II 1975
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Criticism: General Commentary
SOURCE: Mayoux, Jean-Jacques. “The Theatre of Samuel Beckett.” Perspective 11, no. 3 (autumn 1959): 142-55.
[In the following essay, translated from the French version originally published in the October 1957 issue of Etudes Anglaises, Mayoux highlights Beckett's “laying open” the essence of human existence in Waiting for Godot, Endgame, All That Fall, and The Unnamable.]
I. AN OVERALL VIEW
I shall assume, in order to save time and space, that Samuel Beckett is well-known as a fifty-three year old Irishman who, in the last thirty years or so, has written admirably in two languages: poems, essays, fiction. His turning towards the theatre in about 1950 was probably due in part to expediency and perhaps to necessity, for the theatre, through visible but illusory forms, presents us with an unreal reality, a make-believe action. Those who have ceased to believe in reality, readily compare it to a theater, and foremost among them is Epictetus the Stoic.
Remember that you are an actor in a drama, of such a kind as the author pleases to make it. If short, of a short one; if long, of a long one. If it be his pleasure you should act a poor man, a cripple, a governor or a private person, see that you act it naturally. For this is your business, to act well the character assigned to you; to choose it is another's....
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SOURCE: Metman, Eva. “Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays.” Journal of Analytical Psychology 5, no. 1 (January 1960): 41-63.
[In the following essay, Metman explores the different embodiments of God, treatment of women, and the depiction of the human condition in Beckett's earlier dramatic works.]
Jung (1951, Coll. Wks. [Collected Works], p. 121) speaks of a class of schizophrenic and neurotic patients whose illness “seems to lie in their having something above the average, an overplus for which there is no adequate outlet.” And he continues: “We may then expect the patient to be consciously or—in most cases—unconsciously critical of the generally accepted views and ideas.”
The impression one gains in such cases is that there is somehow more wisdom in their madness than in the kind of sanity in which the majority feels safe. These patients do not find their feet in the world unless they succeed in integrating those notions which can form the nucleus of adequate self-expression. As long as they have not reached this point, they tend to vacillate between moods of inflated rebellion and of deep despair and sense of failure. Their disorientation seems to be an unconscious compensation for what has been described as a contemporary threat to the uniqueness of the individual. This threat of collectivization has been called...
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SOURCE: Guicharn, Jacques, and June Beckelman. “Existence on Stage: Samuel Beckett.” In Modern French Theatre: From Giraudoux to Beckett, pp. 193-220. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1961.
[In the following essay, Guicharn and Beckelman examine the irony of the characters' acknowledgement and awareness of their own existence in Beckett's plays.]
Despite the success of Genêt, Adamov, and Ionesco, despite the recent interest in Jean Vauthier and Arrabal, Samuel Beckett is still considered the unquestionable originator of a new conception of theatre. Since the 1952-53 season, during which he was in danger of being eclipsed by more established names, critics and a great majority of the public have almost unanimously recognized the importance of his first play En attendant Godot.
Today there is little point in defending Beckett's play. The play is “important,” it is new, it lives, it represents a true insight into a way of feeling typical of our times, it goes even further and formulates a definition of man that transcends our times. It invents a new form of dramatic expression; in fact it would seem like the end result of a long search—through the bitterness of naturalistic plays, the mysticism of Catholic drama, the transcendency of poetic theatre—in the attempt to express man's fundamental drama. With Godot theatre avoids anecdote and established...
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SOURCE: Cohn, Ruby. “Play and Player in the Plays of Samuel Beckett.” Yale French Studies 29 (spring-summer 1962): 43-8.
[In the following essay, Cohn studies the layers of reality and unreality in Beckett's plays and discusses the characters' awareness of the symbiotic nature of these (un)realities.]
Plato seems to be the first extant writer to view man as a puppet of the gods, and in his wake many authors have dubbed man an actor on the stage of the world. Since the metaphor was particularly dear to those beggar-philosophers, the Cynics, it is scarcely surprising that it also fascinates that contemporary creator of beggar-philosophers, Samuel Beckett. From variations on the old metaphor of theatrum mundi, where man the actor performs for an Eternal Spectator, Beckett creates a new semi-cynical drama.
In Beckett's first play, Eleuthéria (written 1947, but never produced or published) a man of letters, Henri Krap, closes Act I and his life with the appropriate line, “Rideau.” Various characters refer to the play in which they play; a spectator jumps on-stage to criticize and interfere with the action; a glazier, summoned to fix a broken window, acts like a director during a rehearsal, and there is even a pirandellesque allusion to the author, named Beckett, pronounced Bequet.
In Waiting for Godot, although there is no mention of Beckett as...
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SOURCE: Wilcher, Robert. “‘What's It Meant to Mean?’ An Approach to Beckett's Theatre.” Critical Quarterly (summer 1976): 9-37.
[In the following essay, Wilcher maintains that in his works, Beckett strives to defy definition and leave the audience/readers disconcerted, yet searching for their own understanding.]
Just as the ‘quality of language’ in Proust was more important than ‘any system of ethics or aesthetics’ [according to Beckett], so the quality of an experience in Beckett's theatre becomes more important than any system of ‘meaning’ that might be extracted from the words of the text or from the ‘symbolism’ of the sets, characters, and actions. A dramatic art is created that is ‘symbolic without symbolism’.
The purpose of this article is to explore further the implications of [his] statement ‘form is content, content is form’ for Beckett's drama and to show that the allegorical approach, which is misleading when applied to the novels, is even less appropriate as a response to the plays (12).
For all his obvious familiarity with a wide range of philosophical speculation, Beckett has persistently rejected the philosopher's quest for a systematic statement about the nature of reality. … It is by the operation of habit, he argues in Proust, that man contrives to ignore changes both internal and external,...
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SOURCE: Connor, Steven. “‘What? Where?’ Presence and Repetition in Beckett's Theatre.” In Rethinking Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Lance St. John Butler and Robin J. Davis, pp. 1-19. New York, N.Y.: St Martin's Press, 1990.
[In the following essay, Connor analyzes the voices, sounds, silences, and use of repetition in Beckett's plays. Connor contends that without being able to depend on physicality, the sounds coupled with the repetitions create a “space” for the audience's inspection.]
Beckett's turn to the theatre has often been represented as the expression of a longing for an art of visibility and tangibility as a relief from the epistemological disintegrations which Beckett described in his interview with Israel Schenker in 1956—‘no “I,” no “have,” no “being.” No nominative, no accusative, no verb. There's no way to go on.’1 Michael Robinson, for example, sees the theatre as ‘the only direction in which a development was possible’, since the theatre ‘promises a firmer reality than a subjective monologue written and read in isolation; perhaps on the stage the reality behind the words may be revealed by the action which often contradicts that literal meaning’.2 Beckett himself has testified to the sense of relief that he gets from working in drama:
Theater ist für mich zunächst eine...
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SOURCE: Elam, Keir. “Dead Heads: Damnation-Narration in the ‘Dramaticules.’” In The Cambridge Companion to Beckett, edited by John Pilling, pp. 145-66. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Elam illustrates Beckett's repetitive use of aged, disembodied heads and faces in his later short plays to represent death, darkness, the afterlife, and Hell on Earth. Elam makes many comparisons between these short plays and Dante's Inferno and Purgatorio.]
E un ch'avea perduti ambo li orecchi per la freddura, pur col viso in giùe disse ‘Perché cotanto in noi ti specchi?’(1)
Dante, Inferno, Canto xxxii
BECKETT'S ‘DRAMATICULES’: THE DYING AND THE GOING
When, in 1978, the actor David Warrilow asked Samuel Beckett to write him a play about death,2 he would appear to have been guilty of a fortunate tautology. Fortunate, because the playwright's generous response to the request was the beautiful miniature A Piece of Monologue (1979), whose opening is surely his most chillingly paradoxical statement of the chosen theme: ‘Birth was the death of him’ (CSPL, [Complete Shorter Plays] 265). But a tautology nonetheless, at least according to the play's protagonist, Speaker, who—as if in reply to the actor—denies that any other topic is even thinkable, or...
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SOURCE: Brater, Enoch. “Opening Lines: Reading Beckett Backwards.” Samuel Beckett Today 6 (1997): 19-29.
[In the following essay, Brater studies the uniqueness of many of the opening lines from Beckett's plays, explores their portent, and probes the non-linear aspects of the plays.]
Although Beckett has often been discussed as a modernist writer of termination, of “reckoning closed and story ended,” his work as a whole displays a remarkable range of beginnings. Even before he took up writing for the stage seriously, he had calculated on the effect of opening a story with a line an early piece of fiction might have called a real “stinger.” Murphy, the novel published in 1938 by Chatto & Windus, opens with a serious and memorable non-starter: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” Unlike Shakespeare's Hamlet, which begins so promisingly with a suspenseful “Who's there?,” here the sense of an endgame is nicely embedded in the effort of merely beginning, an action at once lame, impotent, futile—and dazzling, initiating a pattern Beckett will make familiar to us in his writings over the next fifty years: “What am I to do, what shall I do, what should I do, in my situation, how proceed? By aporia pure and simple?” And although it might be argued that in this bold imaginative world the end is already in the...
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SOURCE: Kennedy, Andrew. “Beckett and the Modern/Postmodern Debate.” Samuel Beckett Today 6 (1997): 255-65.
[In the following essay, Kennedy argues that although Beckett's plays have postmodernist elements, they are fundamentally different from true postmodern works.]
Our general topic (at the Strasbourg colloquium, April 1996) invited paradox. For the title itself invokes a set of binary critical terms that Beckett never used, and might well have abhorred, as he had a clear perception of the superficiality and cramping effect of critical terms.1 Moreover, Beckett critics have also tended to avoid our current terminology of ‘isms’: a quick check through a representative collection of books on Beckett shows that the postmodern debate itself tended to be avoided—except by Ihab Hassan, note 7—until the appearance of the New Casebooks critical collection on Waiting for Godot and Endgame in 1992, illuminatingly edited by Steven Connor and one of my starting points here.2 Even studies of Beckett's late work—the work that does cross and cross-fertilise the era usually referred to as ‘postmodern’—tend to avoid this terminology, fearing an intellectual quicksand. Thus Enoch Brater prefers ‘minimalism’ as a keyword, and Jonathan Kalb the ‘avant-garde’, covering more in time yet less in controversy than ‘postmodernism’.3
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SOURCE: Lawley, Paul. “‘The Rapture of Vertigo’: Beckett's Turning-Point.” Modern Language Review 95, no. 1 (January 2000): 28-40.
[In the following essay, Lawley probes Beckett's characters' tendency to leave the known—albeit unhappy—stability of their lives and throw themselves, unbalanced, toward death, chaos, and subsequent rebirth.]
In interview, Samuel Beckett always evinced a sharp sense of the shape of his creative life. There had been a large shift and it had been relatively sudden, a recognizable turning-point: ‘Molloy and the others came to me the day I became aware of my own folly’ [‘le jour où j'ai pris conscience de ma bêtise’], he told Gabriel D'Aubarède in 1961; ‘only then did I begin to write the things I feel.’1 The nature of the shift is clear from a number of sources. The work of James Joyce was the necessary point of reference in Beckett's definition of the folly and the feelings that compelled expression. His statement to Israel Shenker in 1956 is based upon the contrast with Joyce:
The difference is that Joyce is a superb manipulator of material—perhaps the greatest. He was making words do the absolute maximum of work. There isn't a syllable that's superfluous. The kind of work I do is one in which I'm not master of my material. The more Joyce knew the more he could. He's tending toward omniscience...
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SOURCE: Haney, William S, II. “Beckett Out of His Mind: The Theatre of the Absurd.” Studies in the Literary Imagination 34, no. 2 (fall 2001): 39-55.
[In the following essay, Haney uses Eastern philosophies to explain the levels of consciousness in Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame.]
Playwrights such as Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Harold Pinter write in a context in which traditional narratives, or what Lyotard calls grand or metanarrative (31-35), no longer inspire confidence, leaving society with a sense of alienation and loss. These dramatists were impelled by their historical and cultural contexts to explore the mind's reality through a medium that involved the physical embodiment of characters on stage, in spite of the absence of decisive meaning. As Martin Esslin has pointed out, going from the medium of language and a reliance on meaning or conceptuality in communication toward a concern with immediate experience belongs to a long tradition in the history of Western literature involving pantomime and the carnivalesque (328-29). This tradition focuses on the individual's basic circumstances rather than on the ideological makeup of his or her social identity. As portrayed in drama by Henrik Ibsen and August Strindberg and in fiction by James Joyce, this tradition explores the reality of the mind and its direct contact with the phenomenal...
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Criticism: En Attendant Godot (Waiting For Godot)
SOURCE: Kern, Edith. “Drama Stripped for Inaction: Beckett's Godot.” Yale French Studies 14 (winter 1954-55): 41-7.
[In the following essay, Kern studies the characters in Waiting for Godot and contends that they are analogies for the entire human race.]
Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was staged—with extraordinary imagination and sensitivity—by Roger Blin at the Théâtre de Babylone in 1953. Critics immediately hailed it as the masterpiece of the season, as the greatest theatrical event since the first French production of a Pirandello play. Jean Anouilh called it the “musichall sketch of Pascal's Pensées performed by the Fratellini clowns,” and Dussane wrote, in Samedi-Soir, of “an almost Shakespearian clownery from which suddenly a kind of creaking poetry jumps in your face like a Jack-in the-box.” In Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Frankfort and other German cities where the original cast toured to present the play, reactions were equally fervent and favorable. The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch were invoked for comparison, and Beckett was proclaimed as the writer who had saved existentialism from “drooling.” No wonder that Waiting for Godot has since been translated into English, German, Spanish, Flemish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Dutch (with Beckett himself the creator of the English version).1
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SOURCE: Bugliani, Ann. “The Biblical Subtext in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 16, no. 1 (fall 2001): 15-38.
[In the following essay, Bugliani highlights the parallels between Waiting for Godot's characters' blind beliefs and the faith required of Christians concerning God, Christ, and redemption.]
More has been written on Samuel Beckett and his opus than on any other twentieth century author. There are over 2500 entries on Beckett in the MLA bibliography. Yet despite this intense critical attention, the Nobel prize laureate's use of Biblical material remains controversial. Some critics dismiss its importance, basing themselves on his famous remark: “Christianity is a mythology with which I am perfectly familiar, and so I use it.”1 Others clearly overestimate it, placing Beckett in the tradition of Old Testament prophets.2 Still others, perhaps most, acknowledge its importance but debate its meaning or significance. All the major Beckett scholars have commented on this material in the context of broader critical considerations, but few have given it their undivided attention, which is what I propose to do here.
A COUNTRY ROAD. A TREE. EVENING.3
As I revisit the Biblical material in Waiting for Godot, I begin by noting the significance of the scenic indications. The...
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Criticism: Fin De Partie (Endgame)
SOURCE: Kumar, K. Jeevan. “The Chess Metaphor in Samuel Beckett's Endgame.” Modern Drama 40, no. 4 (winter 1997): 540-52.
[In the following essay, Kumar notes that chess is the underlying metaphor in Beckett's Endgame and explains the characters' inability to move, need for protection, and use of pawns as metaphors for human existence.]
Samuel Beckett's drama depicts a relentless search for the central self1 or the ultimate being which remains unidentified, unseen and unattainable. Time makes this search an unending process by presenting the seeker with the illusion of being static and at the same time creating a flux, making the distinction between illusion and reality blurred. The central self which eschews the seeker is often presented in Beckett's works as a non-existent entity. In Waiting for Godot the central self that the tramps could never get at is presented as the enigmatic Godot2 Alain Robbe-Grillet observes that “Godot is the inaccessible self.”3 In Watt this non-existent central reality takes the form of Mr. Knott, who never makes his appearance and who is continuously sought out.4 In the course of this futile search, man is caught within the infinity of Time, and bewilderment at the nature of Time finds its expression in such telling phrases as Vladimir's “Time has stopped”5 or Hamm's “time was...
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SOURCE: Williams, Paul. “Samuel Beckett's Endgame.” English Review 11, no. 3 (February 2001): 17.
[In the following essay, Williams explores the rejection of God and God's works in Endgame, and underscores humankind's ability and almost eagerness to self-destruct in a nuclear era.]
Endgame appears to be set after a nuclear war, although this is only suggested and never made explicit. The characters inhabit a desolate world that is ‘corpsed’ outside the walls of their dwelling, an ‘other hell’ where the earth has been ‘extinguished’. It is a barren place, where the ‘light is sunk’ and the land is immersed in a grey glow. We are told there ‘are no more coffins’ and that the ‘whole place stinks of corpses’. This points us towards the idea that humanity has been virtually wiped out, with the suggestion that the survivors are unable to contain the numbers of the dead.
There are other indicators. We are told that the time is always ‘Zero’, and ground zero is the point on the Earth's surface directly above or below an exploding nuclear bomb. The flash from such a bomb could have caused Hamm's blindness. A post-nuclear setting would also suggest a possible interpretation of the play's title—the term ‘endgame’ can refer to the last stage of a game in chess, where few pieces remain. However, I think it is misleading to think of...
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Criticism: Spiel (Play)
SOURCE: Gontarski, S. E. “Staging Himself, or Beckett's Late Style in the Theatre.” Samuel Beckett Today 6 (1997): 87-97.
[In the following essay, Gontarski appraises Beckett's reworking of his earlier plays and the changes they have undergone, paying particular attention to Play.]
In the early 1960s the nature of Samuel Beckett's writing for the theatre changed profoundly as he increased his direct advisory role in productions of his work and as he finally began to take full charge of directing his own plays. The experiences of staging himself had a double effect, altering his writing of new plays and, as important, but almost wholly ignored in current criticism, offering Beckett the opportunity to rethink, re-write, and finally re-create previously published work. That revisionist impulse—characteristic of Beckett's creative process at least as early as the rewriting of Dream of Fair to Middling Women into several of the stories of More Pricks than Kicks—broke through the restrictions of publication with Play in 1964. In the now-famous letter to George Devine of 9 March 1964, Beckett not only adjusted the da capo ending of Play but essentially redefined the dramatic conflict of the work:
The last rehearsals with Serreau [notes Beckett] have led us to a view of the da capo which I think you should know about....
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Criticism: That Time
SOURCE: Lawley, Paul. “That Time and the Dynamics of Being.” Journal of Beckett Studies 10, nos. 1-2 (fall 2000/spring 2001): 173-86.
[In the following essay, Lawley concentrates on the roles that voice, silence, movement, and stillness play in illuminating defensive mechanisms of human existence in That Time.]
“Esse est percipi. […] No truth value attaches to the above, regarded as of merely structural and dramatic convenience.”1 Despite the severe authorial qualification appended to the Berkeleian proposition upon which Beckett bases Film (written in 1963, produced in 1964), the relevance of the dictum to Beckett's drama is manifest, if not necessarily simple.2 Indeed, the author's insistence seems disingenuous, for in connection with these plays the phrase is, as a point of reference, so convenient that (as Murphy might have said) convenience is not the word. “Esse est percipi […] might stand as the epigraph for his complete dramatic works,”3 wrote J. C. C. Mays. For, as H. Porter Abbott has remarked, “Beckett never let up in his presentation of the agony of perceivedness.”4 The moments we are most likely to call to mind concern visual perception. There is Vladimir's question to the boy in Waiting for Godot: “You're sure you saw me, eh, you won't come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me...
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SOURCE: Boxall, Peter. “Freedom and Cultural Location in Beckett's Eleuthéria.” Samuel Beckett Today 7 (1998): 245-58.
[In the following essay, Boxall examines the recurrent themes of boundaries, limits, and freedom in Eleuthéria, Beckett's often overlooked first full-length play.]
An anomaly in the oeuvre, Eleuthéria, Beckett's first full-length play, is largely disregarded by his critics. In many of the critical anthologies and monograph studies that appear on Beckett every year, Eleuthéria does not even appear in the index. This neglect could be attributed to a number of factors, not least of which is the general perception that it is not a very good play. When it is mentioned or discussed, it is most often dismissed as dramatic juvenilia, as Beckett's inchoate bash at a mélange of theatrical styles before he settles down to write Waiting for Godot, where he finds his feet as a dramatist. Beckett's own reluctance later in life to have it published or performed has contributed to the sense that the play is clumsy, unsubtle, and not worthy of serious consideration alongside his more characteristic dramatic works.1 Many of the common objections to Eleuthéria are justified. There are moments when the play's pastiche becomes derivative rather than critical, and at times it lacks the economy and clarity of dramatic expression that marks much of...
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Westendorp, Tjebbe. “Samuel Beckett: 1906-1989.” In Irish Playwrights, 1880-1995, edited by Bernice Schrank and William W. Demastes, pp. 3-22. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1997.
Provides a listing and synopsis of Beckett's plays.
Campbell, Charles. “Representation and the Unpresentable.” Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 15, no. 2 (spring 2001): 55-67.
Examines absences and silences that have a deeper symbolic meaning in Beckett's plays.
Campbell, Julie. “The Semantic Krapp in Krapp's Last Tape.” Samuel Beckett Today 6 (1997): 63-72.
Discusses the double entendre of “Krapp,” elimination, and disposal in Krapp's Last Tape.
———. “Staging Embers: An Act of Killing?” Samuel Beckett Today 7 (1998): 91-104.
Explores the difficulties of restaging a Beckett play in another medium. Campbell contends that changing Embers from a radio play to a stage production would damage the play.
Chung, Moonyoung. “The Mother/Daughter Relationship in Beckett: Footfalls and Rockaby.” In Irish University Review 29, no. 2 (autumn-winter 1999): 281-93.
Argues that women are not ignored in Beckett's work. Chung...
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