Critical Context

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

Among Anouilh’s best-known dramatic efforts, Becket was written at the approximate midpoint of a distinguished, sometimes controversial, dramatic career that spanned more than fifty years. Arguably the most “theatrical” French playwright of the mid-twentieth century, Anouilh had long since shunned the traditional classifications of “comedy” and “tragedy,” preferring such personal terminology as “black” plays (Le Voyageur sans bagage, pr., pb. 1937; Traveller Without Luggage, 1959; Antigone), “pink” plays (L’Invitation au chateau, pr. 1947; Ring Round the Moon, 1950), “grating” plays (La Valse des toreadors, pr., pb. 1952; Waltz of the Toreadors, 1953), and “costume” plays such as The Lark and Becket. Indeed, many of the “black” plays contain elements of comedy, just as the “pink” plays bear tragic undertones to complement their comic surface. Becket, perhaps the most successful of Anouilh’s historical plays, combines tragic and comic elements in approximately equal balance, barely avoiding melodrama in such scenes as that of Gwendolen’s death. As a product of the author’s full maturity, preceded by several lesser efforts, Becket displays a sureness of touch and a depth of vision absent from such earlier efforts as Antigone; at the same time, its monumental scope and glossy surface relate it closely to the commercial or boulevard theater that...

(The entire section is 614 words.)