Art & Literature

10 things I learned from Samuel Beckett

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Samuel Beckett is one of the most influential playwrights of the twentieth century, and a key player in the modernist movement. His plays range from the slightly odd to the downright insane, but always with lessons to be learned.

1. Never question anything. If a character is in a bin, that’s normal. If a woman is buried up to her neck in sand, that’s normal too. And if there’s no character on stage, just a mouth? Totally normal.

2. Dialogue between characters must be repetitive, circular and extremely annoying. There is meaning behind this, and if you haven’t worked it out yet then you’re clearly an ignoramus.

3. It is possible to have play that consists solely of four hooded figures walking around a square to percussion music for ten minutes. If you don’t believe me, watch some for yourself. This is definitely not mind-numbingly dull, there are patterns in it. Yes, patterns.

4. Never show a Beckett play to a friend who does a non-humanities course. They will never respect you again for paying actual money to study and analyse it.

5. There is no possible wrong way in which to interpret one of Beckett’s plays. If you want to write an essay about how Krapp’s Last Tape is clearly a secret message that the apocalypse is nigh and we will soon be overrun by extraterrestrials, then go for it. No-one really knows what they’re about anyway.

6. Any setting for a Beckett play must be a barren, post-apocalyptic style world, inhabited by two or three main characters who have a child-like dependence on each other, and have lost all hope. It is not acceptable to explain how or why they got to this state – the audience must be left to wonder what on earth is going on.

7. You can never have too many pauses in a play. Or questions.

8. Characters don’t need boring names like Jack or Lucy. Names like Estragon, Pozzo, Hamm, Clov and Nagg are far more interesting.

9. In Endgame, when you read/saw that two characters are in bins, you definitely didn’t immediately think of Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street. That would undermine the seriousness and complexity of the play.

10. You can wait for Godot all you like, but he’s never going to come.

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