Absurdity in Beckett, Pinter and Shakespeare

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An-Najah National University
Faculty of Arts
Department of English

Absurdity in Beckett, Pinter and Shakespeare

Written by:
Anas Kamal Khanfar


Supervised by:
Dr.Odeh Odeh

In Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the B.A. Degree in English

2nd Semester – 2008/2009

Literature review

Life is absurd as a game of chess which is played by a blind man and a sighted man from the point of view of the observer to the patient. In this paper, absurdity is observed and detected in a critical point of view that covers Shakespeare's "Hamlet", Beckett's Endgame and Pinter's "The Birthday Party". Absurdity in these works is at two levels which are character's absurdity and language's absurdity. Bradbrook (1986) analyzes Shakespeare's works deeply that his analysis of Hamlet in Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is excellent that he talks about the absurdity of Hamlet's utterances with his uncle and with his mother. Styan (1981) devotes a complete section for Beckett's and Pinter's plays which can be considered a pure fountain of absurd dramatic works. Styan talks about Hamm and Clov's absurdity in Endgame that he describes Hamm's life as "Empty". Then, he talks about Stanley as an absurd character in Pinter's "The Birthday Party". Then, he talks about the absurdity of the speech of Goldberg and McCann whenever they talk to him. Esslin (1976) gives a comprehensive background about the theatre of the absurd from the French theatre of the absurd to the moment of proliferation of this theatre all over the world. Then, he talks about Beckett and the search for the self in Endgame as an example presenting the empty life of the characters, the lack of mission, and the emptiness, the floating state of the characters and the purposelessness of the characters' life.

Kenner (1980) adds his own touch in a deep analysis of the emptiness of life in Endgame. He analyzes the emptiness in life in the play by mentioning many lines especially the one which talks about life as a “heap”. He adds that quotation as a strong and obvious example of the theme of the play which is life’s absurdity. Kott (1965) adds a new definition of absurdity which is absurd nature. Kott says that nature is absurd that he quotes Hamm’s words when he says “nature has forgotten us”. He redefines absurdity by saying that nature neglects people and forces them to be in a circular fixed life. He also talks about Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” saying that Hamlet is an absurd character in a life that is a big game in which characters or people are obliged to follow the rules. All these works demonstrate the body of my paper seeking to illustrate the idea of absurdity and the theatre of the absurd. Each of which shows a different aspect in a theme which is the theatre of the absurd and its embodiments.

General background

Esslin (1976) traces the meaning of the word absurd to "out of harmony” in a musical context. Hence its definition:" out of harmony with reason or propriety, is incongruous, unreasonable, and illogical. In common usage “absurd" may simply mean" ridiculous " , but this is not the sense in which Camus uses the word ,and in which it is used when we speak of the Theatre of the Absurd. In an essay on Kafka, Ionesco(1957) defines his understanding of the term as follows:" Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose… cut off from his religious ,metaphysical ,and transcendental roots , man is lost that all the actions become senseless, absurd ,useless". The end of the Second World War was a sign for the dominance of Paris in art in the West. French theatre was soon associated with a short-lived eruption of surrealism, which came to be known as “theatre of the absurd". The leaders of this movement were Beckett and Ionesco.Beckett's Waiting for Godot and Endgame became the twin sisters to Ionesco's Exit the King. Beckett, then, can be considered the father of absurd drama. Esslin (1976) says that this does not mean that...
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