The post-World War II period saw a similar fragmentation of drama as had occurred in the novel
and poetry after World War I. In one sense traditional realist theatre had become an anachronism
since both cinema and television could represent the real world with greater authenticity. This
mirrored the way in which the invention of photography had displaced figurative painting in terms of
its superior realism.
Furthermore the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the horrors of the Nazi death camps
left a sense of existential nullity and absurdity, a situation which provoked a variety of responses
from writers and artists. The German theorist T. W Adorno (1903-69) questioned the very possibility
of art after Auschwitz. The artist whose work provided the strongest response to Adorno's challenge
was Samuel Beckett.
• The aftermath of World War II increased by the Cold War.
• The atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps.
• The Allies’ atomic bomb.
• Disillusionment coming from the realization that Britain had been reduced to a second-class
• 1906~Samuel Barclay Beckett
． Born in Dublin, on April 13, 1906 - Solitude and loneliness.
• 1923-1927: French, Italian and English at Trinity College.
• 1928-1936 : in Paris, Beckett was introduced to James Joyce.
． Ireland, France, England and Germany.
• 1937: settled down in Paris.
• 1947: Beckett began to write in French.
• 1961: married Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil.
• 1969: Nobel Prize for literature.
• 1989: Becket died in Paris on December 22.
The Theatre of the Absurd and Beckett
The Theatre of the Absurd is a name which is generally used to characterise several European and
American dramatists of the 1950s and early 1960s. The main feature of this trend is to give dramatic
expression to the concept of the `absurd', a concept which spread throughout the literary and artistic
world after the publication of Albert Camus' essay The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). The Theatre of the
Absurd gives expression to feelings like loss, lack of purpose and confusion. It springs from
feeling that the universe has been deprived of every form of values and the man’s actions
become senseless: the war has destroyed everything and the life becomes devoid of purpose and
without religious roots.
• Awareness of man’s propensity to evil and
conscience of the destructive power of
• The lack of moral assurance and the decline of
The disillusionment with both the liberal and
social theories about economic and social progress.
• Mistrust in the power of reason A sense of anguish, helplessness
and rootlessness developed
especially among the young
The French Existentialism
• Existentialism saw man trapped in a hostile world.
• Human life was meaningless and this created a sense of confusion, despair and emptiness.
• The universe was not rational and defied any explanation.
• The main exponent of this philosophical current was the French Jean Paul Sartre.
• Existentialists presented the absurdity of human condition by means of a lucid language and
The main themes of the theatre are:
- the meaninglessness of the life and
- the lack of communication between people.
Among the most famous dramatists associated with the Theatre of the Absurd are Camus, Jean
Genet, Eugène Ionesco, Alfred Jarry and Boris Vian.
• Absence of a real story or plot.
• No action since all actions are insignificant.
• Vagueness about time, place and the characters.
• The value of language is reduced; in fact, what happens on the stage transcends, and often
contradicts, the words spoken by the characters.
• Extensive use of pauses, silences, miming and farcical situations which reflect a sense of
• Incoherent babbling makes up the dialogue.
• The sense of man’s alienation.
• The cruelty of human life.
• The absence or the futility of objectives.
• The meaninglessness of man’s struggle.
The Beckett’s originality is
- the feeling of absurdity that generates the divorce between man and his life and his
conscience is conditioned by death and by his tragic destiny and devoid of aim.
- Beckett did not use conventional technique: everything is abstract and irrational because he
wanted to show the irrational of human condition. For this reason his plays have neither
a) beginning nor ending and
b) the characters and the time are vague,
c) the scenery is bare (a chair or a tree),
d) the dialogues incoherent, full of pause and the words are not important: the language has
lost its function of communication, and Beckett used a common and informal
language. Moreover he reduced everything to essential.
WAITING FOR GODOT
The first performance of Waiting for Godot in English in 1955 caused a great commotion
among the intellectual community, though to most it was incomprehensible. Beckett's
theatre, like his prose, completely removed the illusion of realism which both the theatre and the
novel had tried to develop and sustain, and replaced it with a theatre and a language of `bits and
scraps'. Although Beckett's work has been connected with the Theatre of the Absurd it is very
different from that of the other great absurdist, Ionesco whose plays are usually more fantastical and
comic in tone. Beckett's plays on the other hand not only find life and society absurd, they also find
Thus Beckett's position is very different from that of Modernists like Eliot and Joyce, who
saw art as a pseudo-religious form of salvation from the spiritual and moral emptiness of
modern life. Art itself is part of the absurd tyranny of existence, in as far as it is an act of
creation and continuance.
Absence of a traditional structure
The play is divided into two acts;
- it has no development in time, since there seems to be no past or future, just a repetitive present, and a
dreary stability characterizes the world portrayed;
- it has no setting but a country road and a bare tree;
- it has no plot, for events do not mean anything in the course of time;
- it has no characters in the traditional sense, as a character presupposes some personality or something to rep-
- it has no action, since the static situation of waiting is described;
- it has no dialogue in the conventional sense, since the characters are unable to provide each other with
information either about their present situation, or about their recent experience and current events in the
Vladimir and Estragon, or Didi and Gogo as they call each other, are never described as tramps: for the
author they are two human beings perpetually concerned with questions about the nature of the self, world
and God. They are complementary, since they are different aspects of a single whole. Vladimir is more
practical, he never dreams and he keeps waiting; Estragon is a dreamer, sceptical about Godot and always
complaining about mysterious persons who beat him during the night.
Pozzo and Lucky are physically linked to each other by a rope as well as by a tyrannical relationship of
master and servant; Lucky is slavish and stands for the power of the mind, while Pozzo is the oppressor and
represents the power of the body. The name of the character Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for is
Godot, which is probably the result of adding the French suffix "ot", meaning "little", to the English
"God". This may justify a religious interpretation of the play.
Lack of coherence
Waiting for Godot presents the Absurd as the essence of the human condition: the characters
grope for meaning in their life: nothing is given or taken for granted; no heroism is allowed, the
only possible reality for them is endless waiting.
The language of the play is informal, but it does not serve the purpose of communication: dialogue is
only sketched and each character, who usually follows his own thoughts. appears to be perfectly aware
that the words he produces are just a way to fill his endless waiting. Another device used to show the
lack of communication of characters is use of para-verbal language, such as pauses, silences and gags.
The comic and the tragic
A grotesque humour pervades the daily routine of the characters, whereas tragic and desperate tones express
Beckett's assumption: man's increased knowledge has only made him aware of the uselessness of his
learning, since the forces which regulate the universe cannot be understood. Beckett's pessimism is intensified
by his perception of the dreariness and meaningless of human life, and by his notion of time as a series of