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A CurtainUp Feature: Playwrights'Album
An Overview of Samuel Beckett's Career

Wood and Metal Sculpture by Jay Moss
(Photo: Elyse Sommer)
Personal Statistics
Samuel Barclay Beckett was born into a conventional middle-class Protestant family on Good Friday, April 13 1906 in Foxrock, near Dublin, Ireland. He died in his adopted home in Paris, France on December, 22, 1989.

Beckett's father, William Beckett Jr., was a surveyor. His mother, Mary Roe Beckett (known as May), was a nurse before her marriage. He attended Earlsfort House School in Dublin and continued his education at Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, and at Trinity College, Dublin, where he majored in French and Italian. He excelled in his studies and in sports, playing cricket and rugby and received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1927 and his Master of Arts degree in 1931. During a two year exchange program in Paris he lectured on English at the Ecole Normale Superieure.

Beckett taught briefly at Trinity College, Dublin, occasionally published poems and short stories and traveled throughout Europe, eventually settling in France where he joined James Joyce's circle. While Joyce exerted enormous influence on Beckett. But Beckett was no slavish follower, and found Joyce's flamboyant writing style a point of departure. However, Joyce's method of moving subliminally into the minds of his characters was the stylistic inspiration for his trilogy of novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable.

In 1938, while walking with friends on a Paris street, he was stabbed with a knife by a panhandler. A young piano student named Suzanne Deschevaux-Dumesnil was on scene to telephone for an ambulance. Though Beckett fully recovered from the wound the episode affected him deeply Miss Deschevaux-Dumesnil and settling with her in Paris, remaining there during the World WarII and working for the French resistance and the Irish Red Cross earned him the Medaille de Resistance and the Croix de Guerre.

The war had an enormous impact on Beckett's plays and novels and the post-war years proved to be intensely productive and creative. It was widely thought that his experiences in hiding during the war were an inspiration for Waiting for Godot as well as the novel Mercier and Camier. It was at this time that he began writing in French because he felt it t was "too easy to write poetry" in his native English. Thus his seminal work, Waiting for Godot or En Attendant Godot was first produced in Paris, in 1953. Until then he was largely unknown but it took just another 15 years for him to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature (He did not attend the award ceremony in Sweden).

As Beckett's work became more obtuse and difficult to fathom (a play called Breath was actor-less and lasted less than a minute), the writer himself became more reclusive. He wrote to the end of his life, never abandoning his exteme minimalist style, and in fact increasing it.
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Trademarks Of Beckett's Plays
Theatergoers, whether or not they have seen a Beckett play, the term Beckettian has become a common allusion for bleakness and despair. Beckett's plays, were marked by stark simplicity and compression of language. While despairing, his plays were full of compassion, tragi-comic rather than straight tragedies (to wit, the vaudevillian bits of business in Waiting for Godot). His style and themes changed contemporary theater and his delving into the limits of language made him a major player in the Theater of the Absurd (the "anti-theater" movement heightened by the tragedies of World War II). Godot, falls under the rubrik of "absurdist."

Over time Beckett's writing kept scholars and directors busy pondering metaphoric subtleties and meaning. Beckett discouraged this and when Alan Schneider, a frequent Beckett director asked Beckett who Godot was, he was told "If I knew, I would have said so in the play."

Playwrights whose spiritual father Beckett became included two who are themselves giants-- Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. At the Williamstown Theater's double bill of Albee's The Zoo Story and Pinter's The Dumb Waiter, Beckett was present as the spiritual matchmaker since the numerous connection to DiDi and GoGo of Waiting For Godot were plain to see. Last summer, the Berkshire Theater Festival bookended Pinter's The Caretaker with . . .Godot so that Pinter's tipped hat to the hilarious scene in each that sees a tramp with feet aching from badly fitting shoes.

Invariably some theatergoers will watch a Beckett play without a clue as to what it was supposed to mean. And there will be some viewers annoyed at not feeling as uplifted, and by turns amused and deeply moved, by plays that have been dubbed "great. " Beckett enthusiasts, on the other hand, wouldn't miss the chance to see any production, especially since these plays often attract some of our finest thespians.
Chronology of Plays
The title most likely to ring a bell with contemporary theater goers and also most likely to be revived on one stage or another are Waiting For Godot, Endgame, Krapp's Last Tape and Happy Days. Beckett's oeuvre also included a variety of fiction and non-fiction works, including a trilogy of experimental novels (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable stylistically inspired by James Joyce.
Eleutheria (1940s; published 1995)
Waiting for Godot (1952)
Act Without Words I (1956)
Act Without Words II (1956)
All That Fall (1956 -radio play)
From an Abandoned Work (1957-radio play) Endgame (1957)
Krapp's Last Tape (1958)
Rough for Theatre I (late 1950s)
Rough for Theatre II (late 1950s)
Embers (1959-radio play) Happy Days (1960)
Rough for Radio I & II (1961-Radio Play)
Words and Music (1961Radio Play)
Cascando (1962-Radio Play)
Play (1963)
Come and Go (1965)
Eh Joe (1965-TV)
Breath (1969)
Not I (1972)
Ghost Trio (1975 TV) That Time (1975)

Footfalls (1975)
ut the clouds. . . (1976 TV)
A Piece of Monologue (1980)
Quad I + II (1981 TV)
Rockaby (1981)
Ohio Impromptu (1981
Nacht und Träume (1982 TV)
Catastrophe (1982)
What Where (1983)

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(Beckett also wrote short stories and essays)
Dream of Fair to Middling Women (1932; published 1992)
Murphy (1938)
Watt (1945; published 1953)
Mercier and Camier (1946; published 1974)
Molloy (1951)
Malone Dies (1951)
The Unnamable (1953)
How It Is (1961)

The Expelled (1946)
The Calmative (1946)
The End (1946)
The Lost Ones (1971)
Company (1980)
Ill Seen Ill Said (1981)
Worstward Ho (1983)
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Links To Reviews and Features in Curtainup's Archives
and then you go on. . . .an Anthology of the Works of Samuel Beckett/Beckett adapted by Bob Jaffe (Berkshires & New York)
Beckett/Albee/3 monologues by Beckett; Counting the ways by Albee
Eh Joe (London 2006)
Eh Joe (Off-Off Broadway 2000)
Endgame (London)
Endgame (Irish Rep)
Happy Days (2005)
Happy Days
Happy Days (London)
Happy Days (London-2007)
Krapp's Last Tape
The Lost Ones-Beckett-- adapted by Carter Jahncke (DC)
Waiting for Godot/Samuel Beckett (London 2009)
Waiting For Godot(Broadway 2009)
Waiting For Godot(Berkshire Theatre Festival, 2008)
Waiting For Godot(Off-Broadway, 2006)
Waiting For Godot(Off-Broadway, 2005)
Waiting For Godot(London)
Waiting For Godot(London)
Beckett, the Spiritual MatchmakerBehind the Summer 2001 Mating of Albee and Pinter (Berkshires)
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Quotes by and About Beckett and From Beckett Plays
If I could begin all over again, knowing what I know now, the results would always be the same. — and then you go on. . . — from an Anthology of the Works of Samuel Beckett

. . . I'm afraid to go on because to go on is to find me. . . to go on is to lose me and begin again — from an Anthology of the Works of Samuel Beckett

Yes, great love God knows why . . . Even me . . . But I found a better . . . As I hope you heard . . . Preferable in all respects . . . Kinder . . . Stronger . . . More intelligent . . . Better looking . . . Cleaner . . . Truthful . . . Faithful . . . Sane . . . Yes . . . I did all right. — Voice in Eh, Joe.

Nothing is funnier than unhappiness. — Nell in Endgame

Did you ever have an instant of happiness?—-Hamm
Not to my knowledge.—-Clov in Endgame

Yes, something seems to have occurred, something has seemed to occur, and nothing has occurred, nothing at all, you are quite right, Willie.—Winnie in Happy Days.

Yes, something seems to have occurred, something has seemed to occur, and nothing has occurred. . . —Winnie in Happy Days.

A kiss makes an indescribable sound. —Samuel Beckett, from one person adaptation of The Lost Ones, a prose piece.

Well, shall we go? — Estragon
Yes, let's go. —Vladimir
the motionless tramps in Waiting for Godot

Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot? That Pozzo passed, with his carrier, and that he spoke to us? Probably. But in all that what truth will there be?— Vladimir in Waiting for Godot

We are all born mad. Some remain so.—Estragon
Was I sleeping, while others suffered? Am I sleeping now? Tomorrow when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today?—Vladimir
Exchange in Waiting for Godot

What do we do now that we are happy? — Estragon
Wait for Godot. — Vladimir
Exchange in Waiting for Godot

You must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.— last words of The Unnamable, a novel.

{Waiting for Godot}. . .a masterpiece that will cause despair for men in general and for playwrights in particular.— Jean Anouhil about the premiere production.

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.— Worstward Ho

I cannot explain my plays. Each must find out for himself what is meant. —Samuel Beckett

After 'Godot' plots could be minimal; exposition, expendable; characters, contradictory; settings, unlocalized, and dialogue, unpredictable. Blatant farce could jostle tragedy. —Ruby Cohn, Beckett scholar.

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