Samuel Beckett



  • (1906 - 89) Irish playwright and novelist who was awardedthe Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. His plays, which often dispensewith plot, action, and even character, are the most celebrated worksassociated with the Theatre of the Absurd. Their bleak visionof the futility of human existence in an indifferent universe is offsetby humour and stoicism.

    Born near Dublin, he moved to Paris in 1928, where he beganto write poetry, essays, and stories under the influence of his friendJames Joyce. After further spells in Dublin and London, he settledpermanently in Paris in 1937; most of his best-known works were writteninitially in French. His wartime work with the French Resistance earnedhim the Croix de Guerre.

    Beckett wrote a series of novels in relative obscurity beforefinding sudden fame when his first play En attendent Godot(Waiting for Godot) was produced (by Roger Blin) in Parisin 1953. The work achieved an immediate succès de scandale.In 1957 came the one-act Fin de partie (Endgame),produced a year later in London with the monologue Krapp's LastTape.

    Oh! les beaux jours (Happy Days) is a monologuefor an actress buried up to her waist - subsequently up to herneck - in sand. It had its debut in 1961 in New York and wasseen in London a year later. In 1976 the play opened the NationalTheatre building on the South Bank of the Thames in a production starringPeggy Ashcroft. Beckett had sat in on rehearsals when Ashcroftfirst performed the work in 1974 and showed his characteristic obsessionwith detail. His minute directions to the extremely experienced andinstinctive Ashcroft, on which hand to use to unpack a handbag andwhat to do with her hat and glasses, nearly ended their collaboration - fortunately she had a month to recover before opening night.

    Beckett's later works for the stage, which include the monologuesNot I (1971) and Rockaby (1980), became increasinglyaustere and minimalist. Although critics often praised his work forits almost classical sense of form, the writer himself disagreed."I was in hospital once," Beckett once told Harold Pinter."There was a man in another ward, dying of throat cancer. Inthe silence, I could hear his screams continually. That's the onlykind of form my work has."