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The Absurdity of Samuel Beckett

Written by eastern writer on Tuesday, December 25, 2007

by Eva Navratilova

Beckett became popular and well-known more because of Waiting for Godot than any of his other works. His plays, my thesis concentrates on four of them, placed him in the centre of the Theatre of the Absurd, one of the major movements in modern drama since the end of World War II.

This literary dramatic movement, between 1950 and 1960, which revolutionised both English and world drama, connected the dramatists (Edward Albee, Eugene Ionesco, Harold Pinter, Jean Genet, Vaclav Havel...etc.) whose work is an expression of their personal experience, which Albert Camus characterised as Absurdity in his book of essays The Myth of Sisyphus.i The author's personal experience and intimate feelings are the central inspirational sources of all their theatrical images reflecting both their state of mind and their spirit. The feelings of Absurdity as a literary-creative motivation, connecting a number of literary artists and philosophers, is also evident in the four plays; Endgame, Happy Days, Krapp's Last Tape, and Waiting for Godot, which I am going to deal with.

Beckett presents the reader with four different images of the same, unforeseeable, sudden, fatal, life feeling. In the same way a painter transforms his visions into colourful spots, he transforms his mind into the symbolic language of an imaginary life situation. The reader or the on-looker gets directly into the centre of the author's world as an observer. Beckett's plays are like multidimensional theatrical pictures connecting literary art with visual ones giving us, through the form of play, evidence about the author's personal experience. I consider Beckett's dramatic art to be an expression of his most intimate visions on the fundamental philosophical question about the place of the human being in the surrounding world.

I have divided my thesis into five chapters through which I try to introduce the main themes and motifs recurring in Beckett's plays. At the same time, I intend to point at the way why Beckett's dramatic expression of some basic human philosophical problems corresponds with what was formulated in the fields of philosophy through philosophical language.

After a short introduction (chapter I) and a brief look at the life and personality of Samuel Beckett (chapter II), I attempt to define Absurdity (chapter III), I deal with the problem about how and when it appears and with what human fate it is connected.

In chapter IV I am interested concretely in Beckett's absurd character and the concrete situation in which he is placed. That is, at the same time, Beckett's exclusive theme he deals with in his dramatic writings as well as in his novels.

The next chapter (Chapter V), which is the core of the whole work, is an analysis of the motif of time and the motif of "waiting for" which recurs in the all four of Beckett's plays. The lives of Beckett's characters seem to be unbearable and the end, death, very slow in coming. Here I am interested in the characters' tragic lasting between life and death, which are not mutually exclusive; Beckett's characters live in a state which is a combination of these two and the only thing they long and hope for is the final arrival of "real death" which never approaches quickly.
In the last, quite theoretical chapter (Chapter VI), I deal with the form of the Absurd Theatre which creates the world of the absurd character. I argue that theatre is the optimal form for expressing Absurdity and also make a comparison with epic theatre.

Since Waiting for Godot was first performed (as En attendant, in Paris on 5 January 1953), there has been a flood of criticism, probing not only the "real" meaning, but the influences, the symbols, the style, and the method of Beckett's dramatic work. (As to Beckett himself, he was quite unwilling to illuminate his writings by providing any comment explaining the meaning of his novels and plays.)

This thesis is an attempt to look into Beckett's absurdity through the four images of his four major plays with no exigencies to formulate any general and definitive intellectual reflection by which Beckett could be labelled with a specific attributes. I see Beckett's dramatic work as art which has its own status independent of all of the additional interpretation, as a kind of art which affects mostly the emotions perception rather than the reason.

Read more this book:
Ch. 2 - A Brief Outline of the Life of Samuel Beckett
Ch. 3 - The Theory of Absurdity
Ch. 4 - Beckett's Absurd Characters
Ch. 5 - Beckett's Absurd Characters in Time
Ch. 6 - The Theatre of the Absurd as the World of the Absurd Character
Ch. 7 - Conclusion
Notes & Bibliography


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