The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

The plot of Samuel Beckett’s radio play Words and Music is at once dismayingly simple in its minimalist reductiveness and disturbingly complex in the ways in which the play’s basic components are combined. The play opens with only two of its three characters present. While Music (comprising a small orchestra) tunes up, Words breaks in rather peremptorily to rehearse his speech on one of Beckett’s favorite subjects, Sloth. As soon becomes clear, the relationship between Words and Music is antagonistic; each implores, loathes, interrupts, and seeks to gain ascendancy over the other until they hear the sound of Croak, in his bedroom slippers, approaching from the distance. Croak arrives as lord and peacemaker, addressing Words and Music as “my comforts,” “my balms,” and more familiarly, and comically, as Joe and Bob, whom he advises to be “friends.”

After rhetorically begging their forgiveness for his being late and then offering some vague fragments of explanation (“on stairs,” “in tower”), Croak considers their theme for the evening. After some thought, he decides on love. With only one exception, Croak expresses himself elliptically by means of sighs, groans, single words, short (usually two-word) phrases, and by thumping his club. Called on first, Words responds by repeating the same speech he had been rehearsing at the very beginning of the play, substituting “love” for “sloth” wherever necessary. Neither Croak’s sigh nor his thumping dissuades Words from continuing until Croak thumps his club a second time and calls for Bob (Music). Even then Words only falters; he does not stop until Croak summons Music more forcefully: “Bob!” Only then does Words cease, and Music begin, playing “as before.” Croak, perhaps displeased by Words’s incessant protestations and pleadings, demands that Music play more loudly, which Music does, thereby drowning out Words but also losing his own earlier expressiveness.

At this point there is a pause which signals that the play’s first cycle is over and the next about to begin, repeating the first in general outline though not in all particulars. Croak’s gentle summons, “Joe sweet,” evokes more words from Words, which in turn...

(The entire section is 916 words.)