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“Nothing had happened, with all the clarity and solidity of
something […] For the only way one can speak of nothing is to
speak of it as though it were something, just as the only way
one can speak of God is to speak of him as though he were a
man, which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time, and as the
only way one can speak of man, even our anthropologists have
realized that, is to speak of him as though he were a termite.”
From Beckett’s novelWatt (1943)
BE CK E TT: ON WRITING IN FRE NCH
Some of his explanations for writing in French rather than English:
It has “the right weakening effect” (to Herbert Blau, 1960)
“You couldn‟t help writing poetry in [English]” (to Richard Coe,
“I took up writing again—in French—with the desire of
impoverishing myself still further.” (to Judovic Janvier, 1968)
BECKETT AND THE ABSURD
Theater of the Absurd = a critical term invented by the US
scholar Martin Esslin in his 1961 book The Theatre of the Absurd.
“Theatre of the absurd” or “absurdism” in theatre studies refers
specifically to post-WWII plays that exhibit the characteristics that
WHAT ESSLIN MEANT BY ABSURD
Absurd has a very specific meaning for Esslin, which he derived from
Existentialist philosophers of the 1940s and „50s, particularly Albert
FROM CAMUS'S THE MYTH OF
What, then, is that incalculable feeling that deprives the mind of the sleep
necessary to life? A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a
familiar world. But, on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of
illusions and lights, man feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without
remedy since he is deprived of the memory of a lost home or the hope of
a promised land. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and
his setting, is properly the feeling of absurdity.
SOME COMMON FEATURES OF
THEATRE OF THE ABSURD
• The play world appears to be governed by rules, but the rules seem strange and arbitrary and
are never fully explained (to the audience or, sometimes, to the characters).
• These ambiguous, arbitrary rules make the play world seem irrational in ways that are both
humorous and unsettling. Often, they create situations in which the characters “can‟t win.”
• Language does not do what characters want it to do. Either it is too “tired” or “weak” to do
its job, or it is “unruly” and “untrustworthy.” Again, this is usually both funny and
• The play mixes elements reminiscent of “light” entertainment forms (vaudeville, circus,
comic strips, popular films) with “heavy” philosophical themes.
• The overall aesthetic tends to be rough and poor—the stage setting is very bare or cluttered
with junk, props are broken or worn-out, etc.
OTHE R PL AY WRIGHTS ASSOCIATE D
Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet (France)
Griselda Gambaro (Argentina)
Alejandro Jodorowsky (Chile)
Edward Albee (US)
Harold Pinter (UK)
Tawfiq el-Hakim (Egypt)
BECKETT AND PSYCHOANALYSIS
Beckett went through two years of intensive therapy in the 1930s with the
experimental psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion. He also read psychoanalytic theory
extensively. Themes in his work that may have been (partly) inspired by
• Stream-of-consciousness speech (also inspired by James Joyce and Proust).
• Characters that appear to be projections of parts of other characters‟ psyches.
• Characters projecting personality traits or emotional impulses onto objects
• Characters who seem to display symptoms of psychiatric disorders (as they
were understood in the 1940s/50s/60s), especially ones that affect perception
• The theme of traumatic repetition and “back formation” (Freud).
• The theme of “birth trauma” (Otto Rank)
BECKETT AND FILM
Before becoming a novelist, Beckett made an unsuccessful attempt
to become an apprentice to the great Russian director Sergei
Eisenstein. Eventually, he made a short film, called Film (1965),
starring Buster Keaton, as well as a series of plays for radio and
BECKET ON WAITING FOR GODOT
“It means what it says.”
“If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God and not