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Lecture 31  Beckett's theatre is stark, fundamentally minimalist, and deeply pessimistic about human nature and the human situation.

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Presentation on theme: "Lecture 31  Beckett's theatre is stark, fundamentally minimalist, and deeply pessimistic about human nature and the human situation."— Presentation transcript:

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2 Lecture 31

3  Beckett's theatre is stark, fundamentally minimalist, and deeply pessimistic about human nature and the human situation.

4  Themes in plays include: mirroring own search for freedom, revolving around a young man's efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations, life means waiting, killing time and clinging to the hope that relief may be just around the corner  trades in plot, characterization, and final solution, which had hitherto been the hallmarks of drama, for a series of concrete stage images

5  language is useless, for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the unexpressable  characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly

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7 Waiting for Godot is a two-act stage drama classified as a tragicomedy. In 1965, critic Martin Eslin coined the term theater of the absurd to describe Godot and other plays like it.  As a result, these plays also became known as absurdist dramas.

8 A group of dramatists in 1940's Paris believed life is without apparent meaning or purpose; it is, in short, absurd, as French playwright and novelist Albert Camus ( ) wrote in a 1942 essay, "The Myth of Sisyphus." Paradoxically, the only certainty in life is uncertainty, the absurdists believed. An absurdist drama is a play that depicts life as meaningless, senseless, uncertain. For example, an absurdist's story generally ends up where it started; nothing has been accomplished and nothing gained. The characters may be uncertain of time and place, and they are virtually the same at the end ofthe play as they were at the beginning.

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10 The language in an absurdist drama often goes nowhere. Characters misunderstand or misinterpret one another, frequently responding to a statement or a question with a non sequitur or a ludicrous comment. The dialogue sometimes resembles the give- and-take of the classic Abbot and Costello vaudeville routine in which the two comedians are discussing a baseball game. A player named "Who" is on first base. Abbot does not know the name of the player, so he asks Costello, "Who's on first?"

11  The absurdity of the dialogue is the author’s way of calling attention to the seeming absurdity of life. For Samuel Beckett, the world wobbles on its axis, and the people who inhabit it do not always think logically or or talk sensibly.

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13 The structure of a typical absurdist drama is like a spaceship orbiting earth or a Ferris Wheel revolving on an axle: The spaceship and the Ferris wheel endlessly repeat their paths. If only the passengers on the spaceship and the Ferris wheel could break free and fly off on their own... but they cannot. They are tethered to forces beyond their control. The same is true of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. They wait for Godot at the beginning of the play, wait for Godot in the middle of the play, and wait for Godot at the end of the play. Godot never comes. So Vladimir and Estragon continue to revolve—but never evolve. They are caught in the absurdity of continuously moving but never progressing.

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15  Waiting for Godot qualifies as one of Samuel Beckett's most famous works.  Originally written in French in 1948, Beckett personally translated the play into English.  The world premiere was held on January 5, 1953, in the Left Bank Theater of Babylon in Paris. The play's reputation spread slowly through word of mouth and it soon became quite famous.  Other productions around the world rapidly followed.  The play initially failed in the United States, likely as a result of being misbilled as "the laugh of four continents." A subsequent production in New York City was more carefully advertised and garnered some success.

16 Act One :  Vladimir and Estragon are near a tree to wait for Godot.  Pozzo and Lucky enter. Pozzo talks with Vladimir and Estragon, Lucky, dancing and thinking, makes them happy.  After Pozzo and Lucky leave, a boy tells Vladimir that Godot will not come that evening.  Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but they do not move as the curtain falls.

17 Act Two :  The next day, Vladimir and Estragon again near the tree to wait for Godot.  Pozzo and Lucky enter again, but Pozzo is blind and Lucky is dumb.  Pozzo does not remember meeting the two men before.  After they leave, Vladimir and Estragon continue to wait.  And then the boy enters, he tells Vladimir that Godot will not come.  He insists that he did not speak to Vladimir yesterday.  After he leaves, Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave, but they do not move again, ending the play.

18 Dark comedy or Black comedy refers to fictional works that blend aspects of the genres of tragedy and comedy. In English literature from Shakespeare's time to the nineteenth century, tragicomedy refers to a serious play with a happy ending; however, dark comedy may end up at with a static plot.

19 ‘If I knew, I would have said so in the play’ [Beckett]  The uncertainties and irreducible ambiguities are an essential element of its total impact  In Waiting for Godot, the feeling of uncertainty it produces, the ebb and flow of this uncertainty – from the hope of discovering the identity of Godot to its repeated disappointment – are themselves the essence of the play

20  Beckett’s plays lack plot even more completely than other works of the Theatre of the Absurd  Instead of linear development, presented is Beckett’s intuition of the human condition by a method that is essentially polyphonic

21  Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation  The sequence of events and the dialogue in each act are different: - they encounter Pozzo and Lucky under differing circumstances; - they attempt suicide and fail, for different reasons; - the boy arrives but does not recognise our protagonists, and tells them Mr Godot can not come  Variations merely serve to emphasise the essential sameness of the situation

22  Beckett often focused on the idea of “the suffering of being.”  Most of the play deals with the fact that Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for something to alleviate their boredom.  Godot can be understood as one of the many things in life that people wait for.  The play has often been viewed as fundamentally existentialist in its take on life. Analytical Plot

23  The fact that none of the characters retain a clear mental history means that they are constantly struggling to prove their existence.  Waiting for Godot is part of the Theater of the Absurd. This implies that it is meant to be irrational.  Absurd theater does away with the concepts of drama, chronological plot, logical language, themes, and recognizable settings. There is also a split between the intellect and the body within the work.  Thus Vladimir represents the intellect and Estragon the body, both of whom cannot exist without the other.

24 The play has a circular structure  it ends almost exactly as it begins. The two acts are symmetrically built  the stage is divided into two halves by a tree, the human races into two, Vladimir and Estragon. It is pervaded by a grotesque humour. Its tone is tragic and desperate. The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett Analytical Setting/structure Waiting for Godot, London, Peter Hall Co. Only Connect... New Directions

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26 Waiting for Godot consists of two men unable to act, move, or think in any significant way while they kill time waiting for a mysterious man, Godot. The characters fail to realize that this very act of waiting is a choice; instead, they view it as a mandatory part of their daily routine. Even when these men manage to make a conscious decision, they can’t translate that mental choice into a physical act. They often "decide" to leave the stage, only to find that they are unable to move. Such inaction leads to stagnancy and repetition in the seemingly endless cycle of their lives.

27  What is the barrier between the decision to act and action itself in Waiting for Godot? Why are the men unable to move after they’ve decided to do so?  Are Vladimir and Estragon condemned to wait for Godot, or is the act of waiting a choice itself?  Does Lucky’s position as a servant seem to be a choice on his part?

28  If Vladimir and Estragon realized they had the freedom of choice, they could break their daily cycle of habit and inaction. The problem is one of consciousness.  Vladimir and Estragon are fully aware of their situation and of their ability to choose, but the uncertainty surrounding the result of any potential action prevents them from breaking the stagnant cycle of their waiting.

29  Waiting for Godot is hailed as a classic example of "Theatre of the Absurd," dramatic works that promote the philosophy of its name.  This particular play presents a world in which daily actions are without meaning, language fails to effectively communicate, and the characters at time reflect a sense of artifice, even wondering aloud whether perhaps they are on a stage.

30 Vladimir and Estragon’s situation is so absurd that it doesn’t resemble any reality we’re familiar with. How is it possible, then, that the play can comment on our own lives? Does Beckett suggest a level of absurdity in the real world? Do Estragon and Vladimir recognize that their actions are absurd? Or does everything seem "normal" to them? How do the absurd characters of Pozzo and Lucky comment on Gogo and Didi? Who seems more rational? At one moment is the play meta-fictional? In other words, where do the characters seem to reveal an understanding (or at least a suspicion) that they are part of a contrived reality? How does this affect the way we see the play?

31  Waiting for Godot is a play driven by a lack of truth – in other words, uncertainty. Characters are unable to act in any meaningful way and claim this is so because they are uncertain of the consequences.  Without the presence of objective truth, every statement is brought to question, and even common labels (color, time, names) become arbitrary and subjective.

32  The portrait of daily life painted by Waiting for Godot is a dismal one. It is repetitive and stagnant. It lacks meaning and purpose and entails perpetual suffering.  The solution (which none of the characters take) would seem to be action and choice despite the ever-presence of uncertainty, and an awareness of one’s surroundings and past actions.  As one character says, "habit is a great deadener" – our actions should stem from conscious choice rather than apathy.

33 Time presents a slew of problems in Waiting for Godot. The very title of the play reveals its central action: waiting. The two main characters are forced to whittle away their days while anticipating the arrival of a man who never comes. Because they have nothing to do in the meantime, time is a dreaded barrier, a test of their ability to endure. Because they repeat the same actions every day, time is cyclical. That every character seems to have a faulty memory further complicates matters; time loses meaning when the actions of one day have no relevance or certainty on the next.

34  Religion is incompatible with reason in Waiting for Godot. Characters who attempt to understand religion logically are left in the dark, and the system is compared to such absurd banalities as switching bowler hats or taking a boot on and off.  Religion is also tied to uncertainty, since there is no way of knowing what is objectively true in the realm of faith.

35  Friendship is tricky in Waiting for Godot, as each character is fundamentally isolated from every other.  Relationships teeter between a fear of loneliness and an essential inability to connect. This tension is central to the play.  The problems that keep characters apart vary from physical disgust to ego to a fear of others’ suffering.

36  Every character in Waiting for Godot seems to live in a prison of his own making.  Each is confined to a state of passivity and stagnancy by his own inability to act.  The one character who is literally the slave of another is no more restricted than those who are technically free; in fact, he may be more free because he is at least aware of his imprisonment.

37  Suffering is a constant and fundamental part of human existence in Waiting for Godot. Every character suffers and suffers always, with no seeming respite in sight.  The hardship ranges from the physical to the mental, the minor to the extreme. It drives some men to find companionship (so as to weather the storm together), causes others to abuse their companions (to lessen the suffering of the self), and for still others leads to self-isolation (since watching people suffer is a kind of anguish on its own).

38 None of the characters in Waiting for Godot shy away from the fact that death is inevitable. In fact, death becomes at times a solution for the inanity of daily life. The main characters contemplate suicide as though it were as harmless as a walk to the grocery store, probably because there’s nothing in their life worth sticking around for anyway. They ultimately do not commit suicide because they claim not to have the means, but also because they are uncertain of the result of their attempt (it may work, it may fail). Because they can’t be sure of what their action will bring, they decide on no action at all.

39  Why do Estragon and Vladimir want to kill themselves?  Why don’t they?  If death is inevitable and ever- impending, as Pozzo points out, how do we live our lives with any sense of purpose? Does Waiting for Godot propose a solution to this problem?

40 Vladimir and Estragon are lowly bums. Their only material possessions—besides their tattered clothes—are a turnip and a carrot. Nevertheless, they have not given up on life; they do not descend into depression, pessimism, and cynicism. Even though they frequently exchange insults, they enjoy each other’s company and help each other. Above all, though, they wait. They wait for Godot. They do not know who he is or where he comes from. But they wait just the same, apparently because he represents hope.

41 Vladimir and Estragon are homeless rovers attempting to find an answer to a question all human beings face: What is the meaning of life? Godot may have the answer for them. So they wait. After Godot fails to appear on the first day, they return to the tree the next day to continue waiting. He does not come. Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave the area. However, the stage direction at the end of the play says, "They do not move." Apparently, they plan to continue their search for meaning by continuing to wait for Godot.

42 Vladimir and Estragon depend on each other to survive. Although they exchange insults from time to time, it is clear that they value each other's company. One could imagine Pozzo without Lucky—until the second act, when the audience learns he has gone blind. Unable to find his way, Pozzo is totally dependent on Lucky. Lucky, of course, is tied to Pozzo—by a rope and by fear of being abandoned.

43 Life is tedious and repetitive for Vladimir and Estragon. In the first act of the play, they meet at a tree to wait for Godot. In the second act, they meet at the same tree to wait for Godot. Irish critic Vivian Mercer once wrote in a review of the play, "Nothing happens, twice."

44 The Theatre of Absurd and Samuel Beckett ( )

45  Of all the English-language modernists, Beckett's work represents the most sustained attack on the realist tradition.  He, more than anyone else, opened up the possibility of drama and fiction that dispense with conventional plot and the unities of place and time in order to focus on essential components of the human condition.  Writers like Václav Havel, John Banville, Aidan Higgins and Harold Pinter have publicly stated their indebtedness to Beckett's example, but he has had a much wider influence on experimental writing since the 1950s, from the Beat generation to the happenings of the 1960s and beyond. The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett

46 1. Effects of World War II (62 million people killed [37.5 million in WWI]; million in concentration camps; 3. atomic bomb and the promise of annihilation)

47 Existentialism The Paradox of Consciousness Theatre of the Absurd (No Exit by Sartre) absurd content but rational form or presentation (No Exit by Sartre) absurd content but rational form or presentation form and content merge to form a truer art

48  The term "Theatre of the Absurd" was coined by Martin Esslin in a book of the same name; Beckett and Godot were centerpieces of the book.  Esslin claimed these plays were the fulfillment of Albert Camus's concept of "the absurd"; this is one reason Beckett is often falsely labeled as an existentialist.

49  Though many of the themes are similar, Beckett had little affinity for existentialism as a whole.  Broadly speaking, the plays deal with the subject of despair and the will to survive in spite of that despair, in the face of an uncomprehending and, indeed, incomprehensible world.

50  The words of Nell—one of the two characters in Endgame who are trapped in ashbins, from which they occasionally peek their heads to speak—can best summarize the themes of the plays of Beckett's middle period: Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that.... Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like the funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more.

51  The term theater of the absurd derives from the philosophical use of the word absurd by such existentialist thinkers as Albert CAMUS and Jean Paul SARTRE.  Camus, particularly, argued that humanity had to resign itself to recognizing that a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach; in that sense, the world must ultimately be seen as absurd.

52  The playwrights loosely grouped under the label of the absurd endeavor to convey their sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and wonder in the face of an inexplicable universe.  They rely heavily on poetic metaphor as a means of projecting outward their innermost states of mind.  Hence, the images of the theater of the absurd tend to assume the quality of fantasy, dream, and nightmare; they do not so much portray the outward appearance of reality as the playwright's emotional perception of an inner reality.

53  Thus Beckett's Happy Days (1961) expresses a generalized human anxiety about the approach of death through the concrete image of a woman sunk waist-deep in the ground in the first act and neck-deep in the second; and Ionesco's Rhinoceros (1960; Eng. trans., 1960) demonstrates the playwright's anxiety about the spread of inhuman totalitarian tendencies in society by showing the population of a city turning into savage pachyderms.

54  One of the most important aspects of absurd drama was its distrust of language as a means of communication.  Language had become a vehicle of conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Words failed to express the essence of human experience, not being able to penetrate beyond its surface.  The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication.

55  Absurd drama uses conventionalized speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which is distorts, parodies and breaks down.  By ridiculing conventionalized and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically.  Conventionalized speech acts as a barrier between ourselves and what the world is really about: in order to come into direct contact with natural reality, it is necessary to discredit and discard the false crutches of conventionalized language.

56  Objects are much more important than language in absurd theatre: what happens transcends what is being said about it.  It is the hidden, implied meaning of words that assume primary importance in absurd theatre, over an above what is being actually said.  The Theatre of the Absurd strove to communicate an undissolved totality of perception - hence it had to go beyond language.

57  Absurd drama subverts logic. It relishes the unexpected and the logically impossible. …In trying to burst the bounds of logic and language the absurd theatre is trying to shatter the enclosing walls of the human condition itself.  Our individual identity is defined by language, having a name is the source of our separateness - the loss of logical language brings us towards a unity with living things. In being illogical, the absurd theatre is anti-rationalist: it negates rationalism because it feels that rationalist thought, like language, only deals with the superficial aspects of things.  Nonsense, on the other hand, opens up a glimpse of the infinite. It offers intoxicating freedom, brings one into contact with the essence of life and is a source of marvelous comedy.

58  No dramatic conflict in the absurd plays! Dramatic conflicts, clashes of personalities and powers belong to a world where a rigid, accepted hierarchy of values forms a permanent establishment.  Such conflicts, however, lose their meaning in a situation where the establishment and outward reality have become meaningless.

59  However frantically characters perform, this only underlines the fact that nothing happens to change their existence. Absurd dramas are lyrical statements, very much like music: they communicate an atmosphere, an experience of archetypal human situations.  The Absurd Theatre is a theatre of situation, as against the more conventional theatre of sequential events. It presents a pattern of poetic images. In doing this, it uses visual elements, movement, light.

60 HISTORICAL BACKGROUND NEW MEANING OF EXISTENCE FRENCH EXISTENTIALISM SAMUEL BECKETT 1. The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett

61 The Theatre of the Absurd: main features Only Connect... New Directions Absence of a real story or plot. No action since all actions are insignificant. Vagueness about time, place and the characters.

62 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 anguish. Incoherent babbling makes up the dialogue.

63 The Theatre of the Absurd: Main Themes Only Connect... New Directions The sense of man’s alienation The cruelty of human life The absence or the futility of objectives The meaninglessness of man’s struggle

64 No Setting: a desolate country road and a bare tree. Time: evening. Characters: two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, bored by a day of nothingness; Pozzo and Lucky. The Theatre of the Absurd: Main Themes Waiting for Godot

65 Loss of the sense of external meaning Loss of belief in reason and faith Believes in only that which we can see, that which “exists” (e.g., Plato’s “essence” and Spinoza’s “substance” are out the philosophical window)

66 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

67 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. French existentialism Jean Paul Sartre ( )

68 French existentialism 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 logical reasoning. Jean Paul Sartre ( )

69 Existentialism states: “There is, therefore, no preexistent spiritual realm, no soul…,no cosmic compassion for or interest in human life, no afterlife, no transcendence of worldly existence, no cosmic meta-narrative, no angels and devils…, no divine will, no preset destiny, no inevitable fate.”

70 Existentialism believes 1. life has no preset or external meaning of its own Life is reflection 2. Life is (without human creation of it) meaningless the myth of Sisyphus 3. Humans, therefore, are free (free will is important) free will is important Humanity’s only chance at dignity lies in Truth /Fact

71 the courage to face the truth, that we are alone in an uncaring universe --“I can’t go on; I must go on; I’m going the courage to face the fact / possibility that life is meaningless and yet to still go on -- the courage and dignity of Sisyphus when at the top of the hill he sees the rock roll back and realizes his meaninglessness and yet still goes down to set to work again.

72 There are two possible interpretations of the existence of human consciousness: a. A divine gift b. A cosmic joke

73 fire of the gods, part of the divine plan, consciousness brings us all our joy (love, art, etc.) A divine gift consciousness was never intended for humans and brings us only suffering, pain, and the existence of evil. A cosmic joke

74 Existentialism The Paradox of Consciousness Theatre of the Absurd (No Exit by Sartre) absurd content but rational form or presentation (No Exit by Sartre) absurd content but rational form or presentation form and content merge to form a truer art

75 Social AcceptanceBeckett PlotObscure, non consequential SettingSymbolic, bare ThemeMeaninglessness of human experience Stage DirectionsRepetitive, frequent LanguageEveryday, meaningless The Theatre of the Absurd and Samuel Beckett Beckett: Critical Analysis Only Connect... New Directions

76 Vladimir and Estragon are complementary. Lucky and Pozzo are linked by a relationship of master and servant. Vladimir and Lucky represent the intellect. Analytical Mapping of characters Only Connect... New Directions Waiting for Godot, London, Peter Hall Co.

77 Estragon and Pozzo stand for the body. The two couples are mutually dependent. The character the two tramps are waiting for is Godot  Biblical allusions in this name. Only Connect... New Directions Analytical Mapping of characters

78 Estragon  Estragon is one of the two protagonists.  He is a bum and sleeps in a ditch where he is beaten each night.  He has no memory beyond what is immediately said to him, and relies on Vladimir to remember for him.  Estragon is impatient and constantly wants to leave Vladimir, but is restrained from leaving by the fact that he needs Vladimir.  It is Estragon's idea for the bums to pass their time by hanging themselves. Estragon has been compared to a body without an intellect, which therefore needs Vladimir to provide the intellect.

79 Vladimir  Vladimir is one of the two protagonists.  He is a bum like Estragon, but retains a memory of most events.  However, he is often unsure whether his memory is playing tricks on him.  Vladimir is friends with Estragon because Estragon provides him with the chance to remember past events.  Vladimir is the one who makes Estragon wait with him for Mr. Godot's imminent arrival throughout the play. Vladimir has been compared to the intellect which provides for the body, represented by Estragon.

80 Lucky Lucky is the slave of Pozzo. He is tied to Pozzo via a rope around his neck and he carries Pozzo's bags. Lucky is only allowed to speak twice during the entire play, but his long monologue is filled with incomplete ideas. He is silenced only by the other characters who fight with him to take of his hat. Lucky appears as a mute in the second act.

81 a boy The boy is a servant of Mr. Godot. He plays an identical role in both acts by coming to inform Vladimir and Estragon the Mr. Godot will not be able to make it that night, but will surely come the next day. The boy never remembers having met Vladimir and Estragon before. He has a brother who is mentioned but who never appears.

82 Pozzo Pozzo is the master who rules over Lucky. He stops and talks to the two bums in order to have some company. In the second act Pozzo is blind and requires their help. He, like Estragon, cannot remember people he has met. His transformation between the acts may represent the passage of time.


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