Creator / Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett (1906—1989) was an Irish playwright, theatre director, poet and novelist. His early work is generally dark comedy with a lot of references to art, music and philosophy; his mature work loses all the youthful cleverness and combines great compassion for the old, weak, infirm or ill with plentiful amounts of gallows humour; his late work is even more stripped down and goes into Mind Screw territory.

His works include:
  • Act Without Words I and II
  • Endgame
  • Not I
  • Play
  • Waiting for Godot
  • Murphy
  • Watt
  • Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable
  • Happy Days


  • Animate Inanimate Object: The plot of Act Without Words I is that an unnamed man is annoyed by objects that move on their own.
  • Beige Prose / Purple Prose: Beckett's prose works are an odd (and deliberate) mix of overwrought and comically banal.
  • Body Motifs: Immobile limbs, the scatological, and blindness are very common.
  • The Dividual: His protagonists often come in pairs.
  • The Ghost: Godot, Youdi, and many others.
  • I Just Want to Be Free: A trait shared by the "seedy solipsist" characters like Murphy and Krapp. However, their idea of freedom tends to involve retreating into their minds and disengaging from the outside world entirely, and they find themselves unable to do that for various reasons. Victor Krap, from the unpublished play Eleutheria, expresses it quite memorably:
    I have always wanted to be free ... That's all I desire. At first I was a prisoner of other people. So I left them. Then I was the prisoner of myself. That was worse. So I left myself.
  • Minimalism: His plays tend to be shorter than most other plays. Also, he generally calls for minimal staging. His novels also increasingly tended toward this, culminating in The Unnameable, which lacks almost everything that traditionally constitutes a novel.
  • Minimalist Cast: He often uses this, most notably with Play (which has three characters), Act Without Words I (which has one character menaced by an unseen outside force) and Breath has no characters.
  • Mouthscreen: In an extremely minimalist production by the BBC of Not I, this is all that can be seen of actress Billie Whitelaw as she performs the extended monologue, of a woman on the brink of insanity describing her life. The camera never moves from a full-screen shot of her lips and moving mouth.
  • My Beloved Smother: Beckett had a very difficult relationship with his mother, and it informed much of his later writing.
  • Thematic Series: Although Beckett himself never specifically grouped them together, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnameable are generally referred to as "The Trilogy" and are seen as products of the same literary experimentation. Not I and That Time are also seen as companion pieces.
  • The Storyteller: The characters often recite fragments of bleak, unnerving stories to sustain their meagre existence and keep themselves going.
  • The Voice: Pre-recorded offstage voices were a feature of the later part of his career, such as May's mother in Footfalls.
  • Third-Person Person: Many of his characters are unable or unwilling to refer to themselves with "I", due to being deeply alienated from themselves. The protagonist of That Time even berates himself on the issue.
    "for God's sake did you ever say I to yourself in your life come on now [Eyes close.] could you ever say I to yourself in your life"
  • Toilet Humour: Lots. Not for nothing is one of his protagonists named "Krapp".
  • Wall of Text: All three of the trilogy novels feature long stretches of stream-of-consciousness prose, but Molloy takes it to an extreme, with the eighty-page first chapter comprising only two paragraphs.
  • "World of Cardboard" Speech: The final lines from Krapp's Last Tape is considered one of the most stirring in late 20th Century theatre:
    Perhaps my best years are gone. When there was a chance of happiness. But I wouldn't want them back. Not with the fire in me now. No, I wouldn't want them back.