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Samuel Beckett

Born Samuel Barclay Beckett
13 April 1906(1906-04-13)
Foxrock, Dublin, Ireland
Died 22 December 1989 (aged 83)
Paris, France
Pen name Andrew Belis [1]
Occupation Novelist, playwright, poet, essayist
Language English, French
Nationality Irish
Genres Drama, fictional prose, poetry, screenplays, experimental, absurdist fiction, existential fiction
Literary movement Modernism
Notable work(s) Waiting for Godot
Notable award(s) Nobel Prize in Literature

Samuel Barclay Beckett (13 April 1906 – 22 December 1989) was an Irish avant-garde writer, dramatist and poet, writing in English and French. Beckett's work offers a bleak outlook on human culture and both formally and philosophically became increasingly minimalist.

As a student, assistant, and friend of James Joyce, Beckett is considered one of the last modernists; as an inspiration to many later writers, he is sometimes considered one of the first postmodernists. He is also considered one of the key writers in what Martin Esslin called "Theatre of the Absurd." As such, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.[2]

Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 for his "writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation".[3] Beckett was elected Saoi of Aosdána in 1984. He died in Paris of respiratory problems.



Early life and education

The Beckett family (originally Becquet) were rumoured to be of Huguenot stock and to have moved to Ireland from France after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes of 1598, though this theory has been criticised as unlikely.[4] The Becketts were members of the Church of Ireland. The family home, Cooldrinagh in the Dublin suburb of Foxrock, was a large house and garden complete with tennis court built in 1903 by Samuel's father William. The house and garden, together with the surrounding countryside where he often went walking with his father, the nearby Leopardstown Racecourse, the Foxrock railway station and Harcourt Street station at the city terminus of the line, all feature in his prose and plays. Beckett's father was a quantity surveyor and his mother a nurse.[5]

Samuel Beckett was born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906 to William Frank Beckett, a 35 year old Civil Engineer, and May Barclay (also 35 at Beckett's birth); they had married in 1901. Beckett had one older brother, Frank Edward Beckett (born 1902). At the age of five, Beckett attended a local playschool, where he started to learn music, and then moved to Earlsford House School in the city centre near Harcourt Street. In 1919, Beckett went to Portora Royal School in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh—the school Oscar Wilde attended. A natural athlete, Beckett excelled at cricket as a left-handed batsman and a left-arm medium-pace bowler. Later, he was to play for Dublin University and played two first-class games against Northamptonshire. As a result, he became the only Nobel laureate to have an entry in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack, the "bible" of cricket.[6]

Early writings

Beckett studied French, Italian, and English at Trinity College, Dublin from 1923 to 1927. While at Trinity, one of his tutors was the eminent Berkeley scholar and Berkelian Dr. A. A. Luce. Beckett graduated with a B.A., and—after teaching briefly at Campbell College in Belfast—took up the post of lecteur d'anglais in the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. While there, he was introduced to renowned Irish author James Joyce by Thomas MacGreevy, a poet and close confidant of Beckett who also worked there. This meeting was soon to have a profound effect on the young man, and Beckett assisted Joyce in various ways, most particularly by helping him research the book that would eventually become Finnegans Wake.[7]

In 1929, Beckett published his first work, a critical essay entitled "Dante...Bruno. Vico..Joyce". The essay defends Joyce's work and method, chiefly from allegations of wanton obscurity and dimness, and was Beckett's contribution to Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress, a book of essays on Joyce which also included contributions by Eugene Jolas, Robert McAlmon, and William Carlos Williams, among others. Beckett's close relationship with Joyce and his family, however, cooled when he rejected the advances of Joyce's daughter Lucia owing to her progressing schizophrenia. It was also during this period that Beckett's first short story, "Assumption", was published in Jolas's periodical transition. The next year he won a small literary prize with his hastily composed poem "Whoroscope", which draws from a biography of René Descartes that Beckett happened to be reading when he was encouraged to submit.

In 1930, Beckett returned to Trinity College as a lecturer. He soon became disillusioned with his chosen academic vocation, however. He expressed his aversion by playing a trick on the Modern Language Society of Dublin, reading a learned paper in French on a Toulouse author named Jean du Chas, founder of a movement called Concentrism; Chas and Concentrism, however, were pure fiction, having been invented by Beckett to mock pedantry.

Beckett resigned from Trinity at the end of 1931, terminating his brief academic career. He commemorated this turning point in his life by composing the poem "Gnome", inspired by his reading of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship and eventually published in the Dublin Magazine in 1934:

Spend the years of learning squandering
Courage for the years of wandering
Through a world politely turning
From the loutishness of learning.[8]

After leaving Trinity, Beckett began to travel in Europe. He also spent some time in London, where in 1931 he published Proust, his critical study of French author Marcel Proust. Two years later, in the wake of his father's death, he began two years' treatment with Tavistock Clinic psychoanalyst, Dr. Wilfred Bion, who took him to hear Carl Jung's third Tavistock lecture, an event which Beckett would still recall many years later. The lecture focused on the subject of the "never properly born," and aspects of it would become evident in Beckett's later works including Watt and Waiting for Godot.[9] In 1932, he wrote his first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, but after many rejections from publishers decided to abandon it; the book would eventually be published in 1993. Despite his inability to get it published, however, the novel did serve as a source for many of Beckett's early poems, as well as for his first full-length book, the 1933 short-story collection More Pricks Than Kicks.

Beckett also published a number of essays and reviews around the time, including "Recent Irish Poetry" (in The Bookman, August 1934) and "Humanistic Quietism", a review of his friend Thomas MacGreevy's Poems (in The Dublin Magazine, July–September 1934). These two reviews focused on the work of MacGreevy, Brian Coffey, Denis Devlin and Blanaid Salkeld, despite their slender achievements at the time, comparing them favourably with their Celtic Revival contemporaries and invoking Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot and the French symbolists as their precursors. In describing these poets as forming 'the nucleus of a living poetic in Ireland',[10] Beckett was tracing the outlines of an Irish poetic modernist canon.

In 1935 — the year that Beckett successfully published a book of his poetry, Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates —, he was also working on his novel Murphy. In May of that year, he wrote to MacGreevy that he had been reading about film and wished to go to Moscow to study with Sergei Eisenstein at the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. In mid-1936, he wrote to Sergei Eisenstein and Vsevolod Pudovkin, offering to become their apprentices. Nothing came of this, however, as Beckett's letter was lost owing to Eisenstein's quarantine during the smallpox outbreak, as well as his focus on a script re-write of his postponed film production. Beckett, meanwhile, finished Murphy, and then, in 1936, departed for extensive travel around Germany, during which time he filled several notebooks with lists of noteworthy artwork that he had seen, also noting his distaste for the Nazi savagery which was then overtaking the country. Returning to Ireland briefly in 1937, he oversaw the publishing of Murphy (1938), which he himself translated into French the next year. He also had a falling-out with his mother, which contributed to his decision to settle permanently in Paris (where he would return for good following the outbreak of World War II in 1939, preferring — in his own words — "France at war to Ireland at peace").[11] His was soon a known face in and around Left Bank cafés, where he strengthened his allegiance with Joyce and forged new ones with artists like Alberto Giacometti and Marcel Duchamp, with whom he regularly played chess. Sometime around December 1937, Beckett had a brief affair with Peggy Guggenheim, who nicknamed him "Oblomov" after the titular figure in Ivan Goncharov's novel.[12]

In Paris, in January 1938, while refusing the solicitations of a notorious pimp who ironically went by the name of Prudent, Beckett was stabbed in the chest and nearly killed. James Joyce arranged a private room for the injured Beckett at the hospital. The publicity surrounding the stabbing attracted the attention of Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, who knew Beckett slightly from his first stay in Paris; this time, however, the two would begin a lifelong companionship. At a preliminary hearing, Beckett asked his attacker for the motive behind the stabbing, and Prudent casually replied, "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur. Je m'excuse" ("I do not know, sir. I'm sorry").[13] Beckett occasionally recounted the incident in jest, and eventually dropped the charges against his attacker—partially to avoid further formalities, but also because he found Prudent to be personally likeable and well-mannered.

World War II

Beckett joined the French Resistance after the 1940 occupation by Germany, working as a courier, and on several occasions over the next two years was nearly caught by the Gestapo.

In August 1942, his unit was betrayed and he and Suzanne fled south on foot to the safety of the small village of Roussillon, in the Vaucluse département in the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region. Here he continued to assist the Resistance by storing armaments in the back yard of his home. During the two years that Beckett stayed in Roussillon he indirectly helped the Maquis sabotage the German army in the Vaucluse mountains,[14] though he rarely spoke about his wartime work.

Beckett was awarded the Croix de guerre and the Médaille de la Résistance by the French government for his efforts in fighting the German occupation; to the end of his life, however, Beckett would refer to his work with the French Resistance as 'boy scout stuff'.[15] '[I]n order to keep in touch',[16] he continued work on the novel Watt (begun in 1941 and completed in 1945, but not published until 1953) while in hiding in Roussillon.

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In 1945, Beckett returned to Dublin for a brief visit. During his stay, he had a revelation in his mother’s room in which his entire future literary direction appeared to him. This experience was later fictionalized in the 1958 play Krapp's Last Tape. In the play, Krapp’s revelation, perhaps set on the East Pier in Dún Laoghaire (though nothing in the play would substantiate this presumption) during a stormy night, and some critics have identified Beckett with Krapp to the point of presuming Beckett's own artistic epiphany was at the same location, in the same weather. However, most literary critics would caution against equating a character's experiences with those of their authors. Throughout the play, Krapp is listening to a tape he made earlier in his life; at one point he hears his younger self saying this: “...clear to me at last that the dark I have always struggled to keep under is in reality my most...” Krapp fast-forwards the tape before the audience can hear the complete revelation.

Beckett later revealed to James Knowlson (which Knowlson relates in the biography Damned to Fame[17]) that the missing words on the tape are "precious ally". Beckett claimed he was faced with the possibility of being eternally in the shadow of Joyce, certain to never best him at his own game. Then he had a revelation, as Knowlson says, which “has rightly been regarded as a pivotal moment in his entire career." Knowlson goes on to explain the revelation as told to him by Beckett himself: "In speaking of his own revelation, Beckett tended to focus on the recognition of his own stupidity ... and on his concern with impotence and ignorance. He reformulated this for me, while attempting to define his debt to James Joyce: 'I realized that Joyce had gone as far as one could in the direction of knowing more, [being] in control of one’s material. He was always adding to it; you only have to look at his proofs to see that. I realized that my own way was in impoverishment, in lack of knowledge and in taking away, in subtracting rather than in adding.'" Knowlson explains: "Beckett was rejecting the Joycean principle that knowing more was a way of creatively understanding the world and controlling it ... In future, his work would focus on poverty, failure, exile and loss -- as he put it, on man as a 'non-knower' and as a 'non-can-er.'"[17]

In 1946, Jean-Paul Sartre’s magazine Les Temps Modernes published the first part of Beckett’s short story "Suite" (later to be called "La fin", or "The End"), not realizing that Beckett had only submitted the first half of the story; Simone de Beauvoir refused to publish the second part. Beckett also began to write his fourth novel, Mercier et Camier, which was not to be published until 1970. The novel, in many ways, presaged his most famous work, the play Waiting for Godot, written not long afterwards, but more importantly, it was Beckett’s first long work to be written directly in French, the language of most of his subsequent works, including the poioumenon, a "trilogy" of novels he was soon to write: Molloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. Despite being a native English speaker, Beckett chose to write in French because—as he himself claimed—in French it was easier for him to write "without style." [18]

Beckett is publicly most famous for the play Waiting for Godot. In a much-quoted article, the critic Vivian Mercier wrote that Beckett "has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice." (Irish Times, 18 February 1956, p. 6.) Like most of his works after 1947, the play was first written in French with the title En attendant Godot. Beckett worked on the play between October 1948 and January 1949.[19] He published it in 1952, and premiered it in 1953. The English translation appeared two years later. The play was a critical, popular, and controversial success in Paris. It opened in London in 1955 to mainly negative reviews, but the tide turned with positive reactions by Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times and, later, Kenneth Tynan. In the United States, it flopped in Miami, and had a qualified success in New York City. After this, the play became extremely popular, with highly successful performances in the U.S. and Germany. It is still frequently performed today.

As noted, Beckett was now writing mainly in French. He translated all of his works into the English language himself, with the exception of Molloy, whose translation was collaborative with Patrick Bowles. The success of Waiting for Godot opened up a career in theatre for its author. Beckett went on to write a number of successful full-length plays, including 1957's Endgame, the aforementioned Krapp's Last Tape (written in English), 1960's Happy Days (also written in English), and 1963's Play.

In 1961, in recognition for his work, Beckett received the International Publishers' Formentor Prize, which he shared that year with Jorge Luis Borges.

Later life and work

The 1960s were a period of change, both on a personal level and as a writer. In 1961, in a secret civil ceremony in England, he married Suzanne, mainly for reasons relating to French inheritance law. The success of his plays led to invitations to attend rehearsals and productions around the world, leading eventually to a new career as a theatre director. In 1956, he had his first commission from the BBC Third Programme for a radio play, All That Fall. He was to continue writing sporadically for radio, and ultimately for film and television as well. He also started to write in English again, though he continued to write in French until the end of his life.

Tomb of Samuel Beckett at the Cimetière de Montparnasse

In October 1969, Beckett, on holiday in Tunis with Suzanne, learned he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Suzanne, who saw that her intensely private husband would be, from that moment forth, saddled with fame, called the award a "catastrophe." [20] While Beckett did not devote much time to interviews, he would still sometimes personally meet the artists, scholars, and admirers who sought him out in the anonymous lobby of the Hotel PLM St. Jacques in Paris near his Montparnasse home.[21]

Suzanne died on 17 July 1989. Suffering from emphysema and possibly Parkinson's disease and confined to a nursing home, Beckett died on 22 December of the same year. The two were interred together in the Cimetière du Montparnasse in Paris, and share a simple granite gravestone which follows Beckett's directive that it be "any colour, so long as it's grey."


Beckett's career as a writer can be roughly divided into three periods: his early works, up until the end of World War II in 1945; his middle period, stretching from 1945 until the early 1960s, during which period he wrote what are probably his best-known works; and his late period, from the early 1960s until Beckett's death in 1989, during which his works tended to become shorter and his style more minimalist.

Early works

Beckett's earliest works are generally considered to have been strongly influenced by the work of his friend James Joyce: they are deeply erudite, seeming to display the author's learning merely for its own sake, resulting in several obscure passages. The opening phrases of the short-story collection More Pricks than Kicks (1934) affords a representative sample of this style:

It was morning and Belacqua was stuck in the first of the canti in the moon. He was so bogged that he could move neither backward nor forward. Blissful Beatrice was there, Dante also, and she explained the spots on the moon to him. She shewed him in the first place where he was at fault, then she put up her own explanation. She had it from God, therefore he could rely on its being accurate in every particular.[22]

The passage is rife with references to Dante Alighieri's Commedia, which can serve to confuse readers not familiar with that work. At the same time, however, there are many portents of Beckett's later work: the physical inactivity of the character Belacqua; the character's immersion in his own head and thoughts; the somewhat irreverent comedy of the final sentence.

Similar elements are present in Beckett's first published novel, Murphy (1938), which also to some extent explores the themes of insanity and chess, both of which would be recurrent elements in Beckett's later works. The novel's opening sentence also hints at the somewhat pessimistic undertones and black humour that animate many of Beckett's works: 'The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new'.[23] Watt, written while Beckett was in hiding in Roussillon during World War II, is similar in terms of themes, but less exuberant in its style. This novel also, at certain points, explores human movement as if it were a mathematical permutation, presaging Beckett's later preoccupation—in both his novels and dramatic works—with precise movement.

It was also during this early period that Beckett first began to write creatively in the French language. In the late 1930s, he wrote a number of short poems in that language, and these poems' spareness—in contrast to the density of his English poems of roughly the same period, collected in Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates (1935)—seems to show that Beckett, albeit through the medium of another language, was in process of simplifying his style somewhat, a change also evidenced in Watt.

Middle period

The most famous work by Beckett; Waiting for Godot (in French En attendant Godot)

After World War II, Beckett turned definitively to the French language as a vehicle. It was this, together with the aforementioned "revelation" experienced in his mother's room in Dublin—in which he realized that his art must be subjective and drawn wholly from his own inner world—that would result in the works for which Beckett is best remembered today.

During the 15 years subsequent to the war, Beckett produced four major full-length stage plays: En attendant Godot (written 1948–1949; Waiting for Godot), Fin de partie (1955–1957; Endgame), Krapp's Last Tape (1958), and Happy Days (1960). These plays—which are often considered, rightly or wrongly, to have been instrumental in the so-called "Theatre of the Absurd"—deal in a very blackly humorous way with themes similar to those of the roughly contemporary existentialist thinkers, though Beckett himself cannot be pigeonholed as an existentialist. 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";[24] this is one reason Beckett is often falsely labeled as an existentialist. Though many of the themes are similar, Beckett had little affinity for existentialism as a whole.[25]

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. 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.[26]

Beckett's outstanding achievements in prose during the period were the three novels Molloy (1951), Malone meurt (1951; Malone Dies) and L'innommable (1953: The Unnamable). In these novels—sometimes referred to as a "trilogy", though this is against the author's own explicit wishes[27]—the reader can trace the development of Beckett's mature style and themes, as the novels become more and more stripped down, barer and barer. Molloy, for instance, still retains many of the characteristics of a conventional novel—time, place, movement and plot—and is indeed, on one level, a detective novel. In Malone Dies, however, movement and plot are largely dispensed with, though there is still some indication of place and the passage of time; the "action" of the book takes the form of an interior monologue. Finally, in The Unnamable, all sense of place and time are done away with, and the essential theme seems to be the conflict between the voice's drive to continue speaking so as to continue existing and its almost equally strong urge to find silence and oblivion. It is tempting to see in this a reflection of Beckett's experience and understanding of what the war had done to the world. Despite the widely-held view that Beckett's work, as exemplified by the novels of this period, is essentially pessimistic, the will to live seems to win out in the end; witness, for instance, the famous final phrase of The Unnamable: 'I can't go on, I'll go on'.[28]

Subsequent to these three novels, Beckett struggled for many years to produce a sustained work of prose, a struggle evidenced by the brief "stories" later collected as Texts for Nothing. In the late 1950s, however, he managed to create one of his most radical prose works, Comment c'est (1961; How It Is). This work relates the adventures of an unnamed narrator crawling through the mud while dragging a sack of canned food, and was written as a sequence of unpunctuated paragraphs in a style approaching telegraphese:

you are there somewhere alive somewhere vast stretch of time then it's over you are there no more alive no more than again you are there again alive again it wasn't over an error you begin again all over more or less in the same place or in another as when another image above in the light you come to in hospital in the dark[29]

Following this work, it would be almost another decade before Beckett produced a work of non-dramatic prose, and indeed How It Is is generally considered to mark the end of his middle period as a writer.

Late works

Beckett's poster in Paris, France

Throughout the 1960s and into the 1970s, Beckett's works exhibited an increasing tendency—already evident in much of his work of the 1950s—towards compactness that has led to his work sometimes being described as minimalist. The extreme example of this, among his dramatic works, is the 1969 piece Breath, which lasts for only 35 seconds and has no characters (though it was likely intended to offer ironic comment on Oh! Calcutta!, the theatrical revue for which it served as an introductory piece[30]).

In the dramas of the late period, Beckett's characters—already few in number in the earlier plays—are whittled down to essential elements. The ironically titled 1962 Play, for instance, consists of three characters stuck to their necks in large funeral urns, while the 1963 television drama Eh Joe—written for the actor Jack MacGowran—is animated by a camera that steadily closes in to a tight focus upon the face of the title character, and the 1972 play Not I consists almost solely of, in Beckett's words, 'a moving mouth with the rest of the stage in darkness'.[31] Many of these late plays, taking a cue from Krapp's Last Tape, were concerned to a great extent with memory, or more particularly, with the often forced recollection of haunting past events in a moment of stillness in the present. Moreover, as often as not these late plays dealt with the theme of the self confined and observed insofar as a voice either comes from outside into the protagonist's head, as in Eh Joe, or else the protagonist is silently commented upon by another character, as in Not I. Such themes also led to Beckett's most politically charged play, 1982's Catastrophe, dedicated to Václav Havel, which dealt relatively explicitly with the idea of dictatorship. After a long period of inactivity, Beckett's poetry experienced a revival during this period in the ultra-terse French poems of mirlitonnades, some as short as six words long. These defied Beckett's usual scrupulous concern to translate his work from its original into the other of his two languages; several writers, including Derek Mahon, have attempted translations, but no complete version of the sequence has been published in English.

Though Beckett's writing of prose during the late period was not so prolific as his writing of drama—as hinted at by the title of the 1976 collection of short prose texts entitled Fizzles, which was illustrated by American artist Jasper Johns—he did experience something of a renaissance in this regard beginning with the 1979 novella Company, and continuing on through 1982's Ill Seen Ill Said and 1984's Worstward Ho, later collected in Nohow On. In the prose medium of these three so-called '"closed space" stories',[32] Beckett continued his preoccupation with memory and its effect on the confined and observed self, as well as with the positioning of bodies in space, as the opening phrases of Company make clear:

A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine.

To one on his back in the dark. This he can tell by the pressure on his hind parts and by how the dark changes when he shuts his eyes and again when he opens them again. Only a small part of what is said can be verified. As for example when he hears, You are on your back in the dark. Then he must acknowledge the truth of what is said.[33]

Beckett wrote his final work, the 1988 poem "What is the Word" (also known by its French name, Comment dire), in the hospital and nursing home where he spent his final days. The poem grapples with an inability to find words to express oneself—a theme echoing Beckett's earlier work, perhaps amplified by his sickness late in life.


Samuel Beckett depicted on an Irish commemorative coin celebrating the 100th Anniversary of his birth.

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 [34] 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. In an Irish context, he has exerted great influence on poets such as John Banville, Derek Mahon, Thomas Kinsella, as well as writers like Trevor Joyce and Catherine Walsh who proclaim their adherence to the modernist tradition as an alternative to the dominant realist mainstream.

Many major 20th-century composers, including Luciano Berio, György Kurtág, Morton Feldman, Pascal Dusapin, Scott Fields, Philip Glass and Heinz Holliger, have created musical works based on his texts. Beckett's work was also an influence on many visual artists, including Bruce Nauman, Douglas Gordon, Alexander Arotin, and Avigdor Arikha; Arikha, in addition to being inspired by Beckett's literary world, also drew a number of portraits of Beckett and illustrated several of his works.

Beckett is one of the most widely discussed and highly prized of twentieth century authors, inspiring a critical industry to rival that which has sprung up around James Joyce. He has divided critical opinion. Some early philosophical critics, such as Sartre and Theodor Adorno, praised him, one for his revelation of absurdity, the other for his works' critical refusal of simplicities; others such as Georg Lukács condemn for 'decadent' lack of realism.[35]

American critic Harold Bloom pays attention to his atheism of Anglican source, compared with James Joyce's, former Catholic. "Beckett and Joyce shared the aversion to Christianity in Ireland. The two chose Paris and atheism."[36]

Since Beckett's death, all rights for performance of his plays are handled by the Beckett estate, currently managed by Edward Beckett, the author's nephew. The estate has a controversial reputation for maintaining firm control over how Beckett's plays are performed and does not grant licences to productions that do not strictly adhere to the writer's stage directions. Historians interested in tracing Beckett's blood line were, in 2004, granted access to confirmed trace samples of his DNA to conduct molecular genealogical studies to facilitate precise lineage determination.

Some of the best known pictures of Beckett were taken by photographer John Minihan, who photographed him between 1980 and 1985 and developed such a good relationship with the writer that he became, in effect, his official photographer. Some consider one of these to be among the top three photographs of the 20th century.[37] However, it was the theatre photographer John Haynes[38] who took possibly the most widely reproduced image of Beckett: it is used on the cover of the Knowlson biography, for instance. This portrait was taken during rehearsals of the San Quentin Drama Workshop at the Royal Court Theatre in London, where Haynes photographed many productions of Beckett's work.

On December 10, 2009, the newest bridge across the River Liffey in Dublin was opened and named the Samuel Beckett Bridge in his honour. The bridge, depicting a harp on its side, was designed by the celebrated Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, who fittingly had also designed the James Joyce Bridge further upstream opened on Bloomsday (June 16) 2003. Attendees at the official opening ceremony included Beckett’s niece Caroline Murphy, his nephew Edward Beckett, poet Seamus Heaney and Barry McGovern.[39]

Selected bibliography

Dramatic works











  • Whoroscope (1930)
  • Echo's Bones and other Precipitates (1935)
  • Collected Poems in English (1961)
  • Collected Poems in English and French (1977)
  • What is the Word (1989)
  • Selected Poems 1930-1989 (2009)


  • Anna Livia Plurabelle (James Joyce, French translation by Beckett and others) (1931)
  • Negro: an Anthology (Nancy Cunard, editor) (1934)
  • Anthology of Mexican Poems (Octavio Paz, editor) (1958)
  • The Old Tune (Robert Pinget) (1963)
  • What Is Surrealism?: Selected Essays (André Breton) (various short pieces in the collection)


  1. ^ Fathoms from Anywhere - A Samuel Beckett Centenary Exhibition
  2. ^ Rónán McDonald, ed., The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2007, pg. 17, via Google Books
  3. ^ The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969
  4. ^ Cronin, 3–4
  5. ^ Samuel Beckett - 1906-1989
  6. ^ On his mother's side, he was descended from the Roe family. Beckett's Athletics - paper by Steven O'Connor
  7. ^ Knowlson, 106
  8. ^ Collected Poems, 9
  9. ^ Beckett, Samuel. (1906 - 1989) - Literary Encyclopedia
  10. ^ Disjecta, 76
  11. ^ Israel Shenker, 'Moody Man of Letters', The New York Times, 5 May 1956; quoted in Cronin, 310
  12. ^ This character, she said, was so looed by apathia that he "finally did not even have the willpower to get out of bed". (Quoted in Gussow 1989.)
  13. ^ Knowlson, 261
  14. ^ Knowlson, 304–305
  15. ^ The Modern Word
  16. ^ Quoted in Knowlson, 303
  17. ^ a b Knowlson, 1997, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, pp. 352–353.
  18. ^ Knowlson, 324
  19. ^ Knowlson, 342
  20. ^ Knowlson, 505
  21. ^ Happiest moment of the past half million: Beckett Biography -
  22. ^ More Pricks than Kicks, 9
  23. ^ Murphy, 1
  24. ^ Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969.
  25. ^ Ackerley, C. J. and S. E. Gontarski, ed. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
  26. ^ Endgame, 18–19
  27. ^ The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Reader's Guide to His Works, Life, and Thought, 586
  28. ^ Three Novels, 414
  29. ^ How It Is, 22
  30. ^ Knowlson, 501
  31. ^ Quoted in Knowlson, 522
  32. ^ Nohow On, vii
  33. ^ Nohow On, 3
  34. ^ Chequer, Brad. "Beginning to End - Ending to Begin - or, Some Brilliance and Bullshit on Samuel Beckett". The Cutting Ball. 
  35. ^ Adorno, Theodor W. Trying to Understand Endgame [1961], The New German Critique, no. 26, (Spring-Summer 1982) pp.119–150. In The Adorno Reader ed. Brian O'Connor. Blackwell Publishers. 2000
  36. ^ Bloom, Harold. El canon occidental (tr. to spanish The Western Canon). Barcelona, 2005. Ed. Anagrama. ISBN 84-339-6684-7. p. 509
  37. ^ 1998 edition of The Royal Academy Magazine, the "Image of the century"
  38. ^ Photographer John Haynes's website
  39. ^ Irish Times, 11/12/2009



Primary sources

  • Beckett, Samuel. Collected Poems in English and French. New York: Grove Press, 1977.
  • Endgame and Act Without Words. New York: Grove Press, 1958.
  • How It Is. New York: Grove Press, 1964.
  • More Pricks than Kicks. New York: Grove Press, 1972.
  • Murphy. New York: Grove Press, 1957.
  • Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho. Ed. S.E. Gontarski. New York: Grove Press, 1996.
  • Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. New York: Grove Press, 1995.
  • Waiting for Godot: A Tragicomedy in Two Acts. New York: Grove Press, 1954.

Secondary sources

  • Ackerley, C. J. and S. E. Gontarski, ed. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 2004.
  • Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett: A Biography. Vintage/Ebury, 1978. ISBN 0-09-980070-5.
  • Casanova, Pascale. Beckett. Anatomy of a Literary Revolution. Introduction by Terry Eagleton. Londres / New York : Verso Books, 2007
  • Caselli, Daniela. Beckett's Dantes: Intertextuality in the Fiction and Criticism. ISBN 0-7190-7156-9.
  • Cronin, Anthony. Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist. New York: Da Capo Press, 1997.
  • Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. Garden City, NY: Anchor Books, 1969.
  • Fleming, Justin. Burnt Piano. Xlibris, 2004 (Coup d'État & Other Plays)
  • Fletcher, John. About Beckett. Faber and Faber, London, 2006. ISBN 978-057-1-23011-2.
  • Gussow, Mel. "Samuel Beckett Is Dead at 83; His 'Godot' Changed Theater." The New York Times, 27 December 1989.
  • Igoe, Vivien. A Literary Guide to Dublin. Methuen Publishing, 2000. ISBN 0-413-69120-9.
  • Kelleter, Frank. Die Moderne und der Tod: Edgar Allan Poe–T. S. Eliot–Samuel Beckett. Frankfurt/Main: Peter Lang, 1998.
  • Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 1996.
  • Mercier, Vivian. Beckett/Beckett. Oxford University Press, 1977. ISBN 0-19-281269-6.
  • O'Brien, Eoin. The Beckett Country. ISBN 0-571-14667-8.
  • Ricks, Christopher. Beckett's Dying Words. Oxford University Press, 1995. ISBN 0-19-282407-4.
  • Simpson, Alan. Beckett and Behan and a Theatre in Dublin with portraits by Reginald Gray. Routledge and Kegan Paul 1962


External links


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

One is what one is, partly at least.
We are all born mad. Some remain so.

Samuel Beckett (1906-04-131989-12-22) was an Irish playwright, novelist, poet and winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. He wrote mainly in English and French.



  • The only sin is the sin of being born.
    • As quoted in "Samuel Beckett Talks About Beckett" by John Gruen, in Vogue, (December 1969), p. 210
    • Compare "The tragic figure represents the expiation of original sin, of the original and eternal sin of him and all his 'soci malorum,' the sin of having been born. 'Pues el delito mayor / Del hombre es haber nacido.'" from his essay Proust, quoting Pedro Calderón de la Barca's La vida es sueño (Life is a Dream).
  • If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot.
    • As quoted in The Essential Samuel Beckett: An Illustrated Biography, by Enoch Brater (revised edition, 2003) ISBN 0-500-28411-3, p.75
  • It means what it says.
    • Said about Waiting for Godot, from Jonathan Croall, The Coming of Godot (2005) ISBN 1-840-02595-6, p.91
  • I grow gnomic. It is the last phase.
    • The Letters of Samuel Becket 1929–1940 (2009), p. 209
  • I think the next little bit of excitement is flying. I hope I am not too old to take it up seriously, nor too stupid about machines to qualify as a commercial pilot. I do not feel like spending the rest of my life writing books that no one will read. It is not as though I wanted to write them.
    • The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929–1940 (2009), p. 362

Watt (1943)

Grove Press, 1959, ISBN 0-394-17216-7
  • The long blue days, for his head, for his side, and the little paths for his feet, and all the brightness to touch and gather. Through the grass the little mosspaths, bony with old roots, and the trees sticking up, and the flowers sticking up, and the fruit hanging down, and the white exhausted butterflies, and the birds never the same darting all day long into hiding. And all the sounds, meaning nothing. Then at night rest in the quiet house, there are no roads, no streets any more, you lie down by a window opening on refuge, the little sounds come that demand nothing, ordain nothing, explain nothing, propound nothing, and the short necessary night is soon ended, and the sky blue again all over the secret places where nobody ever comes, the secret places never the same, but always simple and indifferent, always mere places, sites of a stirring beyond coming and going, of a being so light and free that it is as the being of nothing.
    • Part I (p. 39)
  • We are no longer the same, you wiser but not sadder, and I sadder but not wiser, for wiser I could hardly become without grave personal inconvenience, whereas sorrow is a thing you can keep adding to all your life long, is it not, like a stamp or an egg collection, without feeling very much the worse for it, is it not.
    • Part I (p. 50)
  • For the only way one can speak of nothing is to speak of it as though it were something, just as the only way one can speak of God is to speak of him as though he were a man, which to be sure he was, in a sense, for a time, and as the only way one can speak of man, even our anthropologists have realized that, is to speak of him as though he were a termite.
    • Part II (p. 77)
  • But he had turned, little by little, a disturbance into words, he had made a pillow of old words, for his head.
    • Part II (p. 117)
  • But he had hardly felt the absurdity of those things, on the one hand, and the necessity of those others, on the other (for it is rare that the feeling of absurdity is not followed by the feeling of necessity), when he felt the absurdity of those things of which he had just felt the necessity (for it is rare that the feeling of necessity is not followed by the feeling of absurdity).
    • Part II (p. 133)
  • Consider: the darkening ease, the brightening trouble; the pleasure pleasure because it was, the pain pain because it shall be; the glad acts grown proud, the proud acts growing stubborn; the panting and trembling towards a being gone, a being to come; and the true true no longer, and the false true not yet. And to decide not to smile after all, sitting in the shade, hearing the cicadas, wishing it were night, wishing it were morning, saying, No, it is not the heart, no, it is not the liver, no, it is not the prostate, no, it is not the ovaries, no, it is muscular, it is nervous.
    • Part III (p. 201)
  • Bid us sigh on from day to day,
    And wish and wish the soul away,
    Till youth and genial years are flown,
    And all the life of life is gone.
    • Addenda (p. 248)

The Expelled (1946)

  • Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don’t there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.
  • They were most correct, according to their god.
  • I have always been amazed at my contemporaries’ lack of finesse, I whose soul writhed from morning to night, in the mere quest of itself.
  • I felt ill at ease with all this air about me, lost before the confusion of innumerable prospects.
  • Yes, I don’t know why, but I have never been disappointed, and I often was in the early days, without feeling at the same time, or a moment later, an undeniable relief.
  • Poor juvenile solutions, explaining nothing. No need then for caution, we may reason on to our heart’s content, the fog won’t lift.
  • Does one ever know oneself why one laughs?
  • The short winter’s day was drawing to a close. It seems to me sometimes that these are the only days I have ever known, and especially that most charming moment of all, just before night wipes them out.
  • I don’t know why I told this story. I could just as well have told another. Perhaps some other time I’ll be able to tell another. Living souls, you will see how alike they are.
  • They never lynch children, babies, no matter what they do they are whitewashed in advance

The Calmative (1946)

  • All I say cancels out, I’ll have said nothing.
  • It’s to me this evening something has to happen, to my body as in myth and metamorphosis, this old body to which nothing ever happened, or so little, which never met with anything, wished for anything, in its tarnished universe, except for the mirrors to shatter, the plane, the curved, the magnifying, the minifying, and to vanish in the havoc of its images.
  • I marshalled the words and opened my mouth, thinking I would hear them. But all I heard was a kind of rattle, unintelligible even to me who knew what was intended.
  • How tell what remains ? But it’s the end. Or have I been dreaming, am I dreaming ? No no, none of that, for dream is nothing, a joke, and significant what is worse.
  • To think that in a moment all will be said, all to do again.

The End (1946)

  • I didn’t feel well, but they told me I was well enough. They didn’t say in so many words that I was as well as I would ever be, but that was the implication.
  • The earth makes a sound as of sighs and the last drops fall from the emptied cloudless sky. A small boy, stretching out his hands and looking up at the blue sky, asked his mother how such a thing was possible. Fuck off, she said.
  • My appearance still made people laugh, with that hearty jovial laugh so good for the health.
  • It was long since I had longed for anything and the effect on me was horrible.
  • I felt weak, perhaps I was.
  • A mask of dirty old hairy leather, with two holes and a slit, it was too far gone for the old trick of please your honour and God reward you and pity upon me. It was disastrous.
  • I tried to groan, Help! Help! But the tone that came out was that of polite conversation.
  • Normally I didn’t see a great deal. I didn’t hear a great deal either. I didn’t pay attention. Strictly speaking I wasn’t there. Strictly speaking I believe I’ve never been anywhere.
  • Do you ever think? The voice, God forbid.
  • I knew it would soon be the end, so I played the part, you know, the part of-how shall I say, I don’t know.
  • To contrive a little kingdom, in the midst of the universal muck, then shit on it, ah that was me all over.
  • The memory came faint and cold of the story I might have told, a story in the likeness of my life, I mean without the courage to end or the strength to go on.

Molloy (1951)

  • Don't wait to be hunted to hide, that's always been my motto.
  • But is it true love, in the rectum? That’s what bothers me sometimes.
  • And once again I am I will not say alone, no, that's not like me, but, how shall I say, I don't know, restored to myself, no, I never left myself, free, yes, I don't know what that means but it's the word I mean to use, free to do what, to do nothing, to know, but what, the laws of the mind perhaps, of my mind, that for example water rises in proportion as it drowns you and that you would do better, at least no worse, to obliterate texts than to blacken margins, to fill in the holes of words till all is blank and flat and the whole ghastly business looks like what is, senseless, speechless, issueless misery.
  • To restore silence is the role of objects.
  • To him who has nothing it is forbidden not to relish filth.
  • And truly it little matters what I say, this or that or any other thing. Saying is inventing. Wrong, very rightly wrong. You invent nothing, you think you are inventing, you think you are escaping, and all you do is stammer out your lesson, the remnants of a pensum one day got by heart and long forgotten, life without tears, as it is wept.
  • The fact is, it seems, that the most you can hope is to be a little less, in the end, the creature you were in the beginning, and the middle.
  • My life, my life, now I speak of it as of something over, now as of a joke which still goes on, and it is neither, for at the same time it is over and it goes on, and is there any tense for that ? Watch wound and buried by the watchmaker, before he died, whose ruined works will one day speak of God, to the worms.
  • All the things you would do gladly, oh without enthusiasm, but gladly, all the things there seems no reason for your not doing, and that you do not do! Can it be we are not free? It might be worth looking into.
  • It sometimes happens and will sometimes happen again that I forget who I am and strut before my eyes, like a stranger.
  • Anything worse than what I do, without knowing what, or why, I have never been able to conceive, and that doesn’t surprise me, for I never tried. For had I been able to conceive something worse than what I had I would have known no peace until I got it, if I know anything about myself.
  • In me there have always been two fools, among others, one asking nothing better than to stay where he is and the other imagining that life might be slightly less horrible a little further on.
  • Yes, there were times when I forgot not only who I was, but that I was, forgot to be.
  • What do you expect, one is what one is, partly at least.
  • To know nothing is nothing, not to want to know anything likewise, but to be beyond knowing anything, to know you are beyond knowing anything, that is when peace enters in, to the soul of the incurious seeker.
  • Having heard, or more probably read somewhere, in the days when I thought I would be well advised to educate myself, or amuse myself, or stupefy myself, or kill time, that when a man in a forest thinks he is going forward in a straight line, in reality he is going in a circle, I did my best to go in a circle, hoping in this way to go in a straight line. For I stopped being half-witted and became sly, whenever I took the trouble… and if I did not go in a rigorously straight line, with my system of going in a circle, at least I did not go in a circle, and that was something.
  • What I assert, deny, question, in the present, I still can. But mostly I shall use the various tenses of the past. For mostly I do not know, it is perhaps no longer so, it is too soon to know, I simply do not know, perhaps shall never know.
  • I don’t like animals. It’s a strange thing, I don’t like men and I don’t like animals. As for God, he is beginning to disgust me.
  • Unfathomable mind, now beacon, now sea.
  • I was not made for the great light that devours, a dim lamp was all I had been given, and patience without end, to shine it on the empty shadows. I was a solid in the midst of other solids.
  • I get up, go out, and everything is changed. The blood drains from my head, the noise of things bursting, merging, avoiding one another, assails me on all sides, my eyes search in vain for two things alike, each pinpoint of skin screams a different message, I drown in the spray of phenomena.
  • To decompose is to live too, I know, I know, don't torment me, but one sometimes forgets. And of that life too I shall tell you perhaps one day, the day I know that when I thought I knew I was merely existing and that passion without form or stations will have devoured me down to the rotting flesh itself and that when I know that I know nothing, am only crying out as I have always cried out, more or less piercingly, more or less openly. Let me cry out then, it's said to be good for you. yes let me cry out, this time, then another time perhaps, then perhaps a last time.
  • There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature, and freaks are common.
  • Not to want to say, not to know what you want to say, not to be able to say what you think you want to say, and never to stop saying, or hardly ever, that is the thing to keep in mind, even in the heat of composition.
  • Tears and laughter, they are so much Gaelic to me.

Malone Dies (1951)

  • Let me say before I go any further that I forgive nobody. I wish them all an atrocious life and then the fires and ice of hell and in the execrable generations to come an honoured name.
  • Or I might be able to catch one, a little girl for example, and half strangle her, three quarters, until she promises to give me my stick, give me soup, empty my pots, kiss me, fondle me, smile to me, give me my hat, stay with me, follow the hearse weeping into her handkerchief, that would be nice. I am such a good man, at bottom, such a good man, how is it that nobody ever noticed it?

Waiting for Godot (1952)

2 Acts. Premiere in Paris. First published in French and translated by the author himself into English.

Act I

Estragon: Nothing to be done.
Vladimir: I'm beginning to come round to that opinion.

Vladimir: You should have been a poet.
Estragon: I was (Gesture towards his rags.) Isn't that obvious?

Vladimir: Come on, Gogo, return the ball, can't you, once in a while?
Estragon: (with exaggerated enthusiasm). I find this really most extraordinarily interesting.

Estragon: Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot.
Estragon: (despairingly). Ah!

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?
Vladimir: Hmm. It'd give us an erection.
Estragon: (highly excited). An erection!
Vladimir: With all that follows. Where it falls mandrakes grow. That's why they shriek when you pull them up. Did you not know that?
Estragon: Let's hang ourselves immediately!

Pozzo: The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep, somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh. (He laughs.) Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors. (Pause.) Let us not speak well of it either. (Pause.) Let us not speak of it at all.

Vladimir: That passed the time.
Estragon: It would have passed in any case.
Vladimir: Yes, but not so rapidly.

Boy: (in a rush). Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening but surely tomorrow.

Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, let's go. (They do not move.)

Act II

Vladimir: (sententious.) To every man his little cross. (He sighs.) Till he dies. (Afterthought.) And is forgotten.

Vladimir: Let us not waste our time in idle discourse! (Pause. Vehemently.) Let us do something while we have the chance! It is not every day that we are needed. Not indeed that we personally are needed. Others would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late! Let us represent worthily for once the foul brood to which a cruel fate consigned us!

Estragon: (aphoristic for once). We are all born mad. Some remain so.

Pozzo: I woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune. (Pause.) Sometimes I wonder if I'm not still asleep.

Pozzo: The blind have no notion of time. The things of time are hidden from them too.

Pozzo: (suddenly furious). Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It's abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we'll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you? (Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.

Vladimir: 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? (Estragon, having struggled with his boots in vain, is dozing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He'll know nothing. He'll tell me about the blows he received and I'll give him a carrot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the grave digger puts on the forceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He listens.) But habit is a great deadener. (He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (Pause.) I can't go on! (Pause.) What have I said?

Estragon: I can't go on like this.
Vladimir: That's what you think.

The Unnamable (1954)

  • The tears stream down my cheeks from my unblinking eyes. What makes me weep so? From time to time. There is nothing saddening here. Perhaps it is liquefied brain.
  • Deplorable mania, when something happens, to inquire what.
  • In order to obtain the optimum view of what takes place in front of me, I should have to lower my eyes a little. But I lower my eyes no more. In a word, I only see what appears close beside me, what I best see I see ill.
  • What they were most determined for me to swallow was my fellow creatures. In this they were without mercy. I remember little or nothing of these lectures. I cannot have understood a great deal. But I seem to have retained certain descriptions, in spite of myself. They gave me courses on love, on intelligence, most precious, most precious. They also taught me to count, and even to reason. Some of this rubbish has come in handy on occasions, I don’t deny it, on occasions which would never have arisen if they had left me in peace. I use it still, to scratch my arse with.
  • These things I say, and shall say, if I can, are no longer, or are not yet, or never were, or never will be, or if they were, if they are, if they will be, were not here, are not here, will not be here, but elsewhere.
  • To go on means going from here, means finding me, losing me, vanishing and beginning again, a stranger first, then little by little the same as always, in another place, where I shall say I have always been, of which I shall know nothing, being incapable of seeing, moving, thinking, speaking, but of which little by little, in spite of these handicaps, I shall begin to know something, just enough for it to turn out to be the same place as always, the same which seems made for me and does not want me, which I seem to want and do not want, take your choice, which spews me out or swallows me up, I’ll never know, which is perhaps merely the inside of my distant skull where once I wandered, now am fixed, lost for tininess, or straining against the walls, with my head, my hands, my feet, my back, and ever murmuring my old stories, my old story, as if it were the first time.
  • I, of whom I know nothing, I know my eyes are open, because of the tears that pour from them unceasingly.
  • All this business of a labour to accomplish, before I can end, of words to say, a truth to recover, in order to say it, before I can end, of an imposed task, once known, long neglected, finally forgotten, to perform, before I can be done with speaking, done with listening, I invented it all, in the hope it would console me, help me to go on, allow me to think of myself as somewhere on a road, moving, between a beginning and an end, gaining ground, losing ground, getting lost, but somehow in the long run making headway.
  • Dear incomprehension, it’s thanks to you I’ll be myself, in the end.
  • At no moment do I know what I’m talking about, nor of whom, nor of where, nor how, nor why, but I could employ fifty wretches for this sinister operation and still be short of the fifty-first, to close the circuit, that I know, without knowing what it means.
  • The essential is to go on squirming forever at the end of the line, as long as there are waters and banks and ravening in heaven a sporting god to plague his creatures, per pro his chosen shits.
  • What a joy to know where one is, and where one will stay, without being there. Nothing to do but stretch out comfortably on the rack, in the blissful knowledge you are nobody for all eternity. A pity I should have to give tongue at the same time, it prevents it from bleeding in peace, licking the lips.
  • How all becomes clear and simple when one opens an eye on the within, having of course previously exposed it to the without, in order to benefit by the contrast.
  • What can it matter to me, that I succeed or fail ? The undertaking is none of mine, if they want me to succeed I’ll fail, and vise versa, so as not to be rid of my tormentors.
  • Bah, the latest news, the latest news is not the last.
  • Ah if only this voice could stop, this meaningless voice which prevents you from being nothing, just barely prevents you from being nothing and nowhere, just enough to keep alight this little yellow flame feebly darting from side to side, panting, as if straining to tear itself from its wick, it should never have been lit, or it should never have been fed, or it should have been put out, put out, it should have been let go out.
  • Yes, in my life, since we must call it so, there were three things, the inability to speak, the inability to be silent, and solitude, that’s what I’ve had to make the best of.
  • This place, if I could describe this place, no place around me, there’s no end to me, I don’t know what it is, it isn’t flesh, it doesn’t end, it’s like air…
  • Perhaps it's done already, perhaps they have said me already, perhaps they have carried me to the threshold of my story, before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.

Texts for Nothing (1955)

  • Tears, that could be the tone, if they weren't so easy, the true tone and tenor at last.
  • My keepers, why keepers, I'm in no danger of stirring an inch, ah I see, it's to make me think I'm a prisoner, frantic with corporeality, rearing to get out and away.
  • Here's my life, why not, it is one, if you like, if you must, I don't say no, this evening. There has to be one, it seems, once there is speech, no need of a story, a story is not compulsory, just a life, that's the mistake I made, one of the mistakes, to have wanted a story for myself, whereas life alone is enough.

Endgame (1957)

  • Hamm: Can there be misery (he yawns) loftier than mine?
  • Hamm: Ah, the old questions, the old answers, there's nothing like them!
  • Nell: Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.
    Nagg: Oh?
    Nell: 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.
  • Hamm: Look at the ocean!
    (Clov gets down, takes a few steps towards window left, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, turns the telescope on the without, looks at length. He starts, lowers the telescope, examines it, turns it again on the without.)
    Clov: Never seen anything like that!
    Hamm (anxious): What? A sail? A fin? Smoke?
    Clov (looking): The light is sunk.
    Hamm (relieved): Pah! We all knew that.
    Clov (looking): There was a bit left.
    Hamm: The base.
    Clov (looking): Yes.
    Hamm: And now?
    Clov (looking): All gone.
    Hamm: No gulls?
    Clov (looking): Gulls!
    Hamm: And the horizon? Nothing on the horizon?
    Clov (lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, exasperated): What in God's name could there be on the horizon? (Pause.)
    Hamm: The waves, how are the waves?
    Clov: The waves? (He turns the telescope on the waves.) Lead.
    Hamm: And the sun?
    Clov (looking): Zero.
    Hamm: But it should be sinking. Look again.
    Clov (looking): Damn the sun.
    Hamm: Is it night already then?
    Clov (looking): No.
    Hamm: Then what is it?
    Clov (looking): Gray. (Lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, louder.) Gray! (Pause. Still louder.) GRRAY! (Pause. He gets down, approaches Hamm from behind, whispers in his ear.)
    Hamm (starting): Gray! Did I hear you say gray?
    Clov: Light black. From pole to pole.
    • An explanation of the universe outside the room of Endgame
  • Hamm: What's he doing?
    (CLOV raises lid of NAGG's bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)
    Clov: He's crying.
    (He closes lid, straightens up)
    Hamm: Then he's living.

Krapp's Last Tape (1958)

  • Krapp: 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.

Worstward Ho (1983)

  • All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
  • Enough. Sudden enough. Sudden all far. No move and sudden all far. All least. Three pins. One pinhole. In dimmost dim. Vasts apart. At bounds of boundless void. Whence no farther. Best worse no farther. Nohow less. Nohow worse. Nohow naught. Nohow on.

Imagination Dead Imagine (1965)

  • No way in, go in, measure.
  • No, life ends and no, there is nothing elsewhere, and no question now of ever finding again that white speck lost in whiteness, to see if they still lie still in the stress of that storm, or of a worse storm, or in the black dark for good, or the great whiteness unchanging, and if not what they are doing.

Quotes about Beckett

  • Why can't you write the way people want?
    • Frank Beckett, to his brother Samuel
    • The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929–1940 (2009)
  • Nothing happens, twice.
  • The prospect of reading Beckett's letters quickens the blood like no other's, and one must hope to stay alive until the fourth volume is safely delivered.
    • Tom Stoppard, blurb on dust jacket of The Letters of Samuel Beckett 1929–1940 (2009)

External links

Wikipedia has an article about:

Simple English

Samuel Beckett (April 13, 1906December 22, 1989) was born in Dublin in Ireland. He was a writer of books, plays, and poetry. He also translated other famous works of literature. He was given the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969.

His most famous play is Waiting For Godot. It has often been acted on stage and has been on TV.

Many writers of plays (playwrights) and others think he is one of the most important writers of the 20th century. There have been many books written about him.

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