Samuel Beckett Samuel Beckett Drama Analysis

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Samuel Beckett Drama Analysis

(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

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The dramatic works of Samuel Beckett reflect the evolution of his interests in various means of artistic expression, as he composed plays for stage, radio, cinema, and television. In his stage plays, he parodies traditional dramatic action and borrows the techniques used in other modes of entertainment. His themes are not constant, but they are grimly developed through a steady mood of ironic laughter if not outright sarcasm. Like the character “O” who runs from the camera’s eye (“E”) in Film, Beckett’s art finds its form in a flight from conventional expectations and traditional observations. What seems meaningless and absurd is shown to be the only meaning possible in a universe where the human experience of consciousness (as subject) seems trapped by a nature and body (as object) without consciousness. Laughter is an intellectual triumph over material absurdity, and self-denial is self-affirmation. Beckett’s plays are made of such paradoxes.

Whether it is in the nameless characters in Play, the lone and aging Krapp awaiting imminent death in Krapp’s Last Tape, the pathetic Winnie sinking in her grave in Happy Days, the dying family in the masochistic Endgame, the monotonous life of waiting of Estragon and Vladimir in Waiting for Godot, or the down-and-outers in other dramatic works, Beckett demonstrates a preference for passive characters who attempt to make sense of an increasingly absurd existence and who struggle to survive in a universe that lacks love and meaningful relationships.

As a critic, a transitional thinker, an innovator, and a postmodernist who probed the human condition and sensed the absurdity of the modern world, Beckett tried to link art and life into unusual theatrical images in order to etch human beings’ inner world and the human experience of consciousness. Even though his vision of life and the human predicament is discouraging, his plays are rich with clownish characters, slapstick humor, word games, irony, and sarcasm, allowing laughter to triumph over material absurdity.

Beckett is best known as the author of four intriguingly powerful stage plays; Waiting for Godot, Endgame, Krapp’s Last Tape, and Happy Days. His later work has begun to receive critical attention, particularly those plays that focus on women, such as Play and especially Not I. With his first stunningly successful stage play, however, there is not a woman to be seen. Only two tramps, two strangely united male travelers, and a boy are on the stage of Waiting for Godot.

Waiting for Godot

In this play, Beckett established his major tone of comic despair, with his characters resigned to waiting for something to happen that never happens. He also created his major dramatic style out of vaudevillian and silent-film skits by clownish characters who are determined to endure without understanding why they must. In two acts that mirror each other in language and action, Waiting for Godot mocks audience desire for significant form and visionary comprehension of human experience. The two protagonists are tramps by the name of Estragon (called Gogo) and Vladimir (called Didi). They seem doomed to repeat forever the experiences played out in the two acts, as they wait for the arrival of a mysterious person known to them only as Godot. This Godot never does arrive. Instead, a lordly fellow named Pozzo appears in the first act, leading his servant Lucky by a rope; in the second act, these two reappear, though Pozzo is now blind and Lucky is dumb.

The spareness of plot and scarcity of characters are reinforced by the stark setting. Only a tree (leafless in act 1, bearing a few leaves in act 2) and a lonely country road mark the location of this play’s action through a day of trivial concerns by the two tramps. The interruption by Pozzo and Lucky of their monotonous life of waiting is dramatic, but it is drained of its significance by the incomprehension of the characters who participate in it. The dialogue of the four characters is, in its variety,...

(The entire section is 3,171 words.)