illustrated portrait of Irish novelist and playwright Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett

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What were the main influences that led Samuel Beckett to write plays such as Waiting for Godot?

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There is one source for studying all of Beckett’s influences: the definitive biography by James Knowlson, Damned to Fame. (Dierdre Bahr's unauthorized biography has been discredited.) His education, at Trinity College, together with his exposure to the great Italian literature—Machiavelli, Petrarch, but most influential, Dante (he studied The Divine Comedy thoroughly)—was only the beginning of his total absorption of Western culture.  As an Irishman, he was influenced by Yeats and Synge, of course, and served some time as a companion of James Joyce.  Unamism, as expressed in the French cafe writers such as Romain, was a particular influence, but his philosophical views were developed from his vast reading, and then from his experiences in Paris at the Ecole Normale Superieure.  He was not a typical writer writing in a stream of literary traditions, but an independent thinker trying to find a way to “eff the ineffable”  (there was a French cyclist, for example, who rode his bike backward in Paris, named Godeaux).  The genius of his writing, especially stage work, was his success at expressing the emptiness and directionlessness of existentialism, as analysed by Kierkegaard, Sartre, and Wittgenstein.

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