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(Post-War drama) The Theatre of the Absurd SAMUEL BECKETT (1906-1989) 1953/1955.

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Presentation on theme: "(Post-War drama) The Theatre of the Absurd SAMUEL BECKETT (1906-1989) 1953/1955."— Presentation transcript:

1 (Post-War drama) The Theatre of the Absurd SAMUEL BECKETT (1906-1989) 1953/1955

2 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 power. The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett Historical background Only Connect... New Directions The nuclear bombing of Hiroshima, 1945 The infamous entrance to Auschwitz.

3 Awareness of man’s propensity to evil and conscience of the destructive power of scientific knowledge. The lack of moral assurance and the decline of religious faith. 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 Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett New meaning of existence

4 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 = ABSURD The main exponent of this philosophical current was the French Jean Paul Sartre. The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett French existentialism Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980)


6 “ANGRY YOUNG MEN” EDUCATED middle class or working class playwrights (left-wing ideas) Also called the KITCHEN-SINK DRAMA ( squalid setting) Formally NOT innovative plays  REALISTIC PLAYS but INNOVATIVE CONTENT  STRONG CLASS CONSCIOUSNESS Frustration of the younger generation who rejected their parents’ middle class values and wanted to expose their unfair situation Direct/real language of the working class Attacks against the establishment (the ruling classes and their values) main exponent = John Osborne – Look back in Anger (1956)

7 The theatre of the Absurd Influence of Camus and Sartre (existentialism)  pessimistic view of man’s existence= no purpose at all in man’s life, totally absurd = After 2 world wars, in a world with no religion, with no belief  Man is lost ? A BIG existential question WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF HUMAN EXISTENCE?

8 NO MEANING AT ALL A tragic situation Beckett’s plays want to represent just this The absurdity and Irrationality of Human Existence To represent this … …he could not follow a realistic form of drama  INNOVATIVE FORM

9 Main THEMES of Beckett’s plays (influenced by existentialism) The sense of man’s alienation. The cruelty of human life. The absence or the futility of objectives. The meaninglessness of man’s struggle

10 The theatre of the Absurd Term applied to a group of dramatists: Rumanian Ionesco, Russian Adamov (Beckett met them in Paris) Beckett (the most representative) but not a “school” (each worked on his own)

11 First written in French and performed in Paris  En Attendant Godot (1953) (written in a foreign language to maintain the language as simple and detached as possible) Then translated (by Beckett himself) into English (1954) and performed in London  Waiting for Godot ( 1955 ) General situation of B’s plays All of his characters ARE TRAPPED by a situation from which they can not escape (buried in earth, in dustbins)

12 Main features: plot TRADITIONAL DRAMA There is a story developing in time Portrait of society through realistic characters who move in a definite period of time the audience can identify themeselves with the characters WAITING FOR GODOT NO STORY, NO PLOT (static work) nothing happens The characters interact to fill up their time, pauses and silences are as important as words They quarrel, they put on or off boots (estragon) or hat (vladimir) they speak but not to communicate something – they just fill up the time to avoid silence Emphasis on INNER REALITY (A DRAMA OF THE MIND)

13 Main features: time TRADITIONAL DRAMA Events narrated in a chronological way, there is a development, a climax, a conclusion WAITING FOR GODOT No development in time No past, no future = the characters do not remember their past or figure out their future one day similar to the following Not a beginning not an end (sort of nightmare) First act almost identical to the second

14 Main features: setting TRADITIONAL DRAMA = Realistic setting and scenery WAITING FOR GODOT A country road, a bare tree (everywhere) Symbolical setting (expressionism= the representation of the mind and its existential desolation and despair)

15 Main features:CHARACTERS Two tramps ESTRAGON (gogo) and VLADIMIR (didi) Other two tramps POZZO (the boss) and LUCKY (the slave) The boy announcing the arrival of GODOT (that never comes) Who is godot? It may recall the idea of God (In French= Little God) Go +. (dot) (they want to go but they do not move) N.B.: Beckett never said it was God This is what the characters do: just WAITING FOR GODOT (main theme) Godot = something/someone that could relieve man from an unbearable situation But…… GODOT NEVER COMES

16 Main features: characters TRADITIONAL DRAMA Realistic characters with their personalities Belonging to a specific social class WAITING FOR GODOT Tramps - No defined personality or social class – (symbolical of an existential situation) COMPLEMENTARY (two different aspects of the same personality = body (gogo) and mind (didi) they need each other Vladimir (didi  dìt dìt – he speaks)  more intellectual, he plays with his hat Estragon (gogo  go,go – problems with his boots) – he has to do with corporal activities (he is angry, sleepy, he always complains he is beaten by someone during the night,) + Pozzo (the oppressor/ the power of the body) Lucky (the slave / the power of the mind, he can speak-when he has his hat on) COMPLEMENTARY, too = Linked to each other by a rope, kept by Pozzo (but the in the second act the role is the opposite – Pozzo is blind and needs Lucky who has become dumb) GODOT The “saviour” or the “saving event” that never comes

17 Main features: language TRADITIONAL DRAMA Realistic, Characters speak to communicate WAITING FOR GODOT Incoherent babbling, puns, gags (language loses its meaning too) Many PAUSES, MIMING, SILENCES What happens on the stage is often contradicted by the words spoken by the protagonists Vladimir “Well, Shall we go? Estragon “ Yes, let’s go” [they do not move]

18 Main features: Style It is pervaded by a grotesque humour (irony about everything because everything is equally meaningless) It may be considered a Tragi-comedy Tragedy= they would like to commit suicide to put an end to their absurd, desperate situation Comedy= There is no tragic end, they fail, they cannot escape their existential situation Its tone is tragic and desperate.

19 Life (1906 -1989) IRISH - Born in Dublin (Anglo-Irish parents) Graduated in Modern Languages (French, Italian) at Trinity College, Dublin 1928 Paris (lecturer at Ecole Normale) Influenced by EXISTENTIALISM ( Camus, Sartre ) Met Ionesco and Adamov in Paris Back to Ireland: Teacher at Trinity College Dublin 1931 (25 years old)  vagabond years across Europe  finally Paris (1936)

20 …life World War II  fought in the Resistance Movement 1945 definetely in Paris (met Joyce) Wrote in French and English, indifferently En Attendant Godot = Instant success He wrote other plays (Endgame, Happy days), critical essays, radio plays. 1969 NOBEL PRIZE for LITERATURE

21 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  Pozzo and Lucky / Godot-God  Many interpretations have been provided about Pozzo and Lucky, and most are wanting.  However, there some basic questions that must be answer: Why Pozzo and Lucky are in the Play? Why in the first act, their presence lasts for almost half of the act?  It is not enough to say that say, as Martin Esslin does, that Pozzo and Lucky represents materiality and spirituality respectively.

22 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  I believe that Pozzo is Godot/God, and he functions as a material deployment of the two tramps dependence.

23 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  On page 17 they state that they are ‘tied’ to Godot.  In the first act, Pozzo has in fact tied Lucky to him, with a rope that allows him to control Lucky.  In the second act, Pozzo is tied to Lucky, does this suggest that Pozzo is a creation of Lucky?  Does Lucky, then, represent Vladimir and Estragon, and therefore Humanity?  Pozzo comes and goes, he never reveals who he really is, and with his departure leaves Vladimir and Estragon waiting for ever.

24 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  Some Conclusions  Moreover, it is in the act of waiting that we experience the flow of time in its purest, most evident form. If we are active, we tend to forget the passage of time, we pass the time, but if we are merely passively waiting, we are confronted with the action of time itself.  As Beckett points out: There is no escape from the hours and days. Neither from tomorrow nor from yesterday because yesterday has deformed us, or been deformed by us. […] The flow of time confronts us with the basic problem of being.

25 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  Waiting is to experience the action of time, which is constant change: Pozzo is blind, Lucky is dumb. And yet, as nothing real ever happens, that change is in itself an illusion.  The ceaseless activity of time is self-defeating, purposeless and therefore null and void.  The more things change, the more they are the same. ‘The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops’ says Pozzo (32).

26 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  One day is like another, and when we die, we might never have existed: Pozzo: Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time?… One day, is that not enough for you, one day like any other day, he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we’ll die, the same day, the same second… They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams and instant, then it’s night once more (103).  Vladimir and Estragon live in hope: they wait for Godot, whose coming will bring the flow of time to a stop.

27 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  Again, it seems to be concerned with the fortuitousness of salvation: (Lucky 45). God, who does not communicate with us (aphasia), cannot feel for us, and condemns us for reasons unknown.

28 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  That Waiting for Godot is concerned with the hope of salvation through the workings of grace seems clearly established both from Beckett’s own evidence and from the text itself.  But the act of waiting for Godot is shown as essentially absurd.  And suicide remains their favourite solution. The failure to commit suicide leads them to rationalize waiting: ‘I’m curious to hear what he has to offer. Then we’ll take it or leave it’ (13).

29 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  Godot’s function seems to be to keep his dependents unconscious.  In this view the hope, that habit of hoping, that Godot might come after all is the last illusion that keeps Vladimir and Estragon from facing the human condition and themselves in the harsh light of fully conscious awareness.  For a brief moment Vladimir is aware of the full horror of the human condition: The air is full of our cries….But habit is a great deadener. At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on… I can’t go on. What have I said? (105).

30 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  The routine of waiting for Godot stands for habit, which prevents us from reaching the painful but fruitful awareness of the full reality of being.  Vladimir’s and Estragon’s pastimes are, as they repeatedly indicate, designed to stop them from thinking. ‘We’re in no danger of thinking any more… Thinking is not the worst… What is terrible is to have thought’ (71).

31 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  The hope of salvation may be merely an evasion of the suffering and anguish that spring from facing the reality of the human condition.  And this is the play all about. It does not provide answers, but hints that we should accept nothingness.  In this there is a clear relationship to the Existentialist philosophy of the time (Jean-Paul Sartre).

32 Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  If, for Beckett as for Sartre, human beings have the duty of facing the human condition as a recognition that at the root of our being there is nothingness, liberty, and the need of constantly creating ourselves in a succession of choices, then Godot might well become an image of what Sartre calls ‘bad faith’ – ‘The first act of bad faith consists in evading what one cannot evade, in evading what one is’ (L’Être et la Néant, 111)

33 t205 “We’ll come back tomorrow” ( from about minute 6 of the video ) FILM (English) THEATRE (English) t206 “Waiting” (from about minute 1:35 of the video) Miscellaneous scenes from Waiting for Godot THEATRE (Italian) HAPPY DAYS HAPPY DAYS

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