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For Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary
Dispensa per gli studenti del corso di Letteratura Teatrale Inglese (Lettorato)
Dott. Ewan Glenton
FACOLTÀ DI LETTERE E FILOSOFIA
1. THE VICTORIAN AGE 2. THE 20TH CENTURY 3. MODERNIST LITERATURE 4. EXISTENTIALISM 5. ALBERT CAMUS 6. JOHN OSBORNE’S LOOK BACK IN ANGER 7. SAMUEL BECKETT 8. HAROLD PINTER
3 9 12 15 17 20 24 28
1. THE VICTORIAN AGE
Victorian Morality Victorian morality is a distillation of the moral views of people living at the time of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) in particular, and to the moral climate of Great Britain throughout the 19th century in general, that were in stark contrast to the morality of the previous Georgian period. It is not actually specifically tied to this historical period and can describe any set of values that espouses sexual repression, low tolerance of crime, and a strong social ethic. Due to the prominence of the British Empire, many of these values were spread across the world. Historians now regard the Victorian era as a time of many contradictions. A plethora of social movements concerned with morals co-existed with a class system that imposed harsh living conditions upon many. The apparent contradiction between the widespread cultivation of an outward appearance of dignity and restraint and the prevalence of social phenomena that included prostitution and child labour were two sides of the same coin: various social reform movements and high principles arose from attempts to improve the harsh conditions.
Queen Victoria, Albert & Family (Franz Xaver Winterhalter, 1846)
The term Victorian has acquired a range of connotations, including that of a particularly strict set of moral standards, which are often applied hypocritically. This stems from the image of Queen Victoria – and her husband, Prince Albert, perhaps even more so – as innocents, unaware of the private habits of many of her respectable subjects; this particularly relates to their sex lives. This image, however, is mistaken: Victoria’s attitude toward sexual morality was a consequence of her knowledge of the corrosive effect of the loose morals of the aristocracy in earlier reigns upon the public’s respect for the nobility and the Crown. The Prince Consort as a young child had experienced the pain of his parents’ divorce after they were involved in public sexual scandals. Young Albert’s mother had left his family home and she died shortly thereafter. Two hundred years earlier, the Puritan republican movement, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, had temporarily overthrown the British monarchy and, during England’s years as a republic, the law imposed a strict moral code on the people (such as abolishing Christmas as too indulgent of the sensual pleasures). When the monarchy was restored in 1660, a period of loose living and debauchery appeared to be a reaction to the earlier repression. The two social forces of Puritanism and libertinism continued to motivate Britain’s collective psyche from the Restoration 3
This was particularly significant in the public perceptions of the Hanoverian monarchs who immediately preceded Queen Victoria. freedom. Toward the end of the century. the interplay between high cultured morals and low vulgarity was thoroughly embedded in British culture. and cynicism. From Jane Austen in the 1810s. whose conduct in office was the cause of much scandal. and other strong moral values opposed greed. perhaps the most famous being the racy tell-all My Secret Life by the pseudonym Walter (allegedly Henry Spencer Ashbee). time travel. movements for justice. and the magazine The Pearl.wikipedia. such as Oscar Wilde. homosexuals were regarded as abominations and homosexuality was illegal. In the same way. many famous men from the British Isles. which was published for several years and reprinted as a paperback book in the 1960s. However. observed and recorded these conditions. Oscar Wilde Throughout the whole Victorian era. her uncle George IV was commonly perceived as a pleasure-seeking playboy. However they also wrote explicit erotica. exploitation. dominated by agriculture. Homosexual acts were a capital offence until 1861. Adapted from: http://en. were notorious homosexuals.onward. By the time of Victoria. in particular. For most. was often proscribed so people instead used the language of flowers. finally. Verbal or written communication of emotion or sexual feelings. the world was restricted to 4 . Britain in 1800 had changed little in centuries. Some current historians now believe that the myth of Victorian repression can be traced back to early twentieth-century views. for instance. the world of literature moved from comedies of country manners to blistering portraits of urban poverty and. throughout the Victorian Era. a member of the Bloomsbury Group. The writings of Charles Dickens. who wrote Eminent Victorians. many large trials were held on the subject. via Charles Dickens’ pictures of mid century London life. while Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels carried out much of their analysis of capitalism in – and as a reaction to – Victorian Britain. Although the Industrial Revolution had already begun. to HG Wells’ The Time Machine in 1895.org * All Change in the Victorian Age It’s all there in popular fiction. It was a rural country. Not bad for 80-odd years. such as those of Lytton Strachey. For instance.
Steam changed everything. and the working week was reorganised to promote ever-greater efficiency. not surprising when the fastest thing on earth was a galloping horse. Monday – when no work was done – was gradually phased out and to compensate. It was horsepower or nothing. With greater speed came a greater need for industries and businesses to make more and make it quicker. but long hours. Factories had foremen and life became correspondingly more regimented. They chose towns and cities. Horizons were limited and life was slow. Manchester and Sheffield quadrupled between 1801 and 1851. Factories provided secure and predictable income. Once islands in a sea of fields. Working life was becoming increasingly regulated. and this new block of weekend leisure time coincided with the development of spectator sports like cricket and football. And what an impact. and they 5 . and the rise of music hall entertainment for the new working classes. they forged ahead as farm-workers made redundant by steam migrated to the nearest town to find work. Agricultural incomes depended on variable harvests and weather. Traction engines saw fields ploughed twenty times faster than before. work stopped around midday on Saturday and did not resume until Monday morning. Although the steam engine was first invented in 1769 by James Watt. It was only in the nineteenth century that the real impact of steam would be fully felt. Cities were the masters now. needing the agricultural economy to sustain them. more powerful. much as it had been in 1600. The old custom of St. At a time of massive population expansion in Britain (from 9 million in 1801 to 36 million in 1911). and daylight and the seasons ruled the countryside. and could work independently of natural power sources. Bradford and Glasgow grew eightfold. It was faster. and factories could be anywhere. New loyalties were needed to fill some of the vacuum caused by the demise of close-knit rural communities. A new division between ‘work’ and ‘leisure’ emerged. for decades his monopoly had prevented significant development and kept prices high. London was almost foreign. cities were expanding even faster. But all that was about to change. such as water. But it was not all bad news. Steam made this possible and changed working life forever.their village – where their family had probably lived for generations – and the nearest market town. If you lived in Somerset. Gone were the days when work was dictated by natural forces: steam engines were servant to neither season nor sunshine. covering 100 miles a day at best. The clocking-on machine was invented in 1885 and time and motion studies to increase efficiency would be introduced only some twenty years later.
Proud of their accomplishments. with the opening line. the countryside was attracting ever less interest. Application of the steam engine to machinery early in the 19th century had drawn millions of people from rural cottages and hand looms to work in factories. going up to London to vote for higher duties on imported corn and stiffer penalties against poachers. sentimental. Adapted from: Bruce Robinson: All Change in the Victorian Age (http://www. many of them lived private lives as freely as bearded young rebels today. against bitter protest from landowners and loud applause from industrialists. ‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’. The comic stereotypes in the satirical magazine Punch – caricaturing agricultural labourers as backward yokels in smocks and chewing straws – flourished in the 1870s and live on to this day. or the survival of the fittest. In the towns. Commerce and business brought a new spirit of self-help. The Corn Laws spelled out the shifting balance of power. It fitted the ethos of the age. Many of the middle class (itself a new term dating only from 1812) became concerned about the godlessness of the working classes when it emerged that only 50 per cent of the eligible population attended a church service on Census Sunday in 1851. Even more sharply than ours. workers lived in unspeakable slums near the factories. The nineteenth century was a world of free markets. their world was divided between ‘the two nations’. we can see that the surface of respectability the Victorians presented was often only a protective convenience covering feelings and conduct not unlike our own. Efforts to form unions or associations to bargain with employers met with brutal opposition. Passed in 1815 to fix the price of corn and protect the interests of the agriculturists that then dominated Parliament. and the owner in his spacious house on the hill above. Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) described the theory of natural selection.didn’t come from the church. popularised in the 1859 book of the same name by Samuel Smiles. The technological revolution the Victorians were born into was in its way as violently disruptive as that of our atomic age. This spirit of competition extended even as far as science. Meanwhile. It was every man for himself.bbc. Thousands of unemployed workers 6 . was increasingly popular. sitting as vestrymen and justices of the peace. Now that we know more about them. the rich and the poor. with all moves towards paternalism – in areas such as public health and poor laws – fiercely resisted. Methodism. away from the smoke and filth and noise. they were repealed only three decades years later. hunting. these nineteenth century yuppies encapsulated the spirit of this cut-throat capitalism. or manor houses on rents from vast inherited estates. Under it. The modern world was opening up new opportunities for those who would work hard enough to take them. A new breed of self-made man – never a woman – had emerged. The aristocracy – the titled classes and the landed gentry – still lived in castles. Farmers were passé: everything that was anything was urban. and conventional. But if the Anglican Church was seen to be losing the working classes.co. halls. free trade and laissez-faire government. stressing hard work and self-discipline.uk/history) * The ‘Two Nations’ – the rich and the poor The time is long past when ‘Victorian’ meant everything prudish.
while in the countryside starving farmhands set fire to barns.] that it absolves and liquidates all engagements of man.. in Past and Present: We have profoundly forgotten everywhere that cash-payment is not the sole relation of human beings. devoted herself to over-elaborate dress and filled her house with tasteless bric-a-brac. An exception was Thomas Carlyle (17951881). a tax levied upon the landowners of the parish where they lived. the son of peasants. The Calvinism underlying the Puritan ethic regarded wealth as a visible sign of God’s approval. If infirm from sickness or old age. or even death. transportation. Most of the contemporary thinkers and critics were themselves of middle-class origin: John Ruskin (1819-1900) was the son of a wine merchant. Since sanctity of property demanded sanctity of the marriage bond. Absorption in possessions and paucity of culture appear in portraits of the middle class throughout the 19th century. commercial honesty and marital fidelity went hand in hand – failure in either outlawed a man from respectable society. By the mid 19th century. Heavy-handed justice. the merchant or millowner’s success was tangible evidence of his success in cut-throat competition for trade. And he had been too busy to find time for much education. who. to the last sixpence. they were given relief out of the ‘poor rate’. the other middle-class characteristic. he left reading and artistic affairs to his wife. failed to end the violence. probably one 7 . when wages could not support a man and his family. was not unrelated to materialism.. who accused this new ‘Working Aristocracy’ of Mammonism. while Mathew Arnold (1822-1888) was the grandson of a customs collector and the son of a schoolmaster. and to acquire it and bequeath it to one’s children was the duty of an honest businessman. when England made itself the workshop of the world. with equally meagre intellectual development and plenty of servants. the sum covenanted for? What have I to do with them more?” Hard Times (Sir Hubert von Herkomer. Respectability.demonstrated in the streets of the cities. we think [. The employers belonged to the great middle class that arose during the Industrial Revolution. the poor were cared for by the parish in a hospital or poorhouse. The two traits that dominated the middle class are the same ones for which the younger generation today repudiates its bourgeois background: materialism and respectability. exclaiming. “My starving workers?” answers the rich Mill-owner: “Did I not hire them fairly in the market? Did I not pay them. 1885) In earlier times. High moral principles grounded in Protestant religion guaranteed the legitimacy of the children who would inherit it. which sentenced culprits to long terms of hard labour.
Another report described half-naked women working in some mines. children. protected only by rules designed in Elizabethan times for apprentices living in a careful master’s family. ed. gave help to the indigent only in the big new workhouses built for groups of several parishes. was far from adequate.surviving from monastic days or established long since by charitable bequest. Adapted from: Gordon S. Haight. were all thrown together. in hope of discouraging idleness. into which men.: The Portable Victorian Reader (Penguin. If. no workers and few millowners sat in Parliament. and the appalling conditions revealed by their reports horrified even the Tory opposition. in either mill or mine. Children of six or seven were working in mills twelve hours a day. children of five or six made to sit solitary in the dark all day long. unemployment or sickness. opening and shutting ventilating doors. the sick and aged. their lot might be desperate. Moreover. followed by the 1842 act forbidding the employment of women in the mines or of boys under the age of ten. enforcement of these acts. young girls crawling on all fours to draw trucks of coal or iron ore. and in other trades child labour was never treated systematically. First Reform Bill was the opening wedge of democratic government. Aghast at these revelations. lunatics and delinquents. women. they were farmed out to brutal masters. 8 . like Dickens’ Oliver Twist. But the mushroom factory towns had no such means of dealing with poverty. But. 1972). The huge sprawling towns spawned by the Industrial Revolution were functioning under the same regulations as when they were villages of one or two parishes. six days a week. More than two hundred seats in the House of Commons were filled by the borough-owners without any election. Though it gave the vote to only one out of six males. The New Poor Law of 1834. Commissions were set up to determine what was needed. Parliament passed the first significant Factory Act in 1833. in 1830.
and the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires were dismantled at the war’s conclusion. Canada. and Free France from the west. The war ended with the dropping of two atomic bombs on Japan. as new inventions such as machine guns. and Russia. culminating in World War II (1939-1945). and the Ottoman Empire). plunging Germany in particular into economic depression. divided by the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall. Britain was arguably the world’s most powerful nation. they soon became hostile to one other as the competing ideologies of communism and capitalism occupied Europe. However. the Warsaw Pact in eastern Europe) were prepared 9 . ally with a powerful economy based on consumer goods and trade. When the conflict ended in 1945. THE 20TH CENTURY The early arms race of the 20th century escalated into a war which involved many powerful nations: World War I (1914-1918). World War I brought about the end of the royal and imperial ages of Europe and established the United States as a major world military power. Germany and Spain in the 1920s and 1930s. Fascism. chemical weapons. tanks. In addition to annexing much of the colonial possessions of the vanquished states. becoming major allies of the United States under capitalist economies and relatively democratic governments. the United States and the Soviet Union emerged as very powerful nations. all areas recaptured by the Soviet Union (East Germany and eastward) were essentially transitioned into Soviet puppet states under communist rule. producing a growing power vacuum in Europe. Allies during the war. Meanwhile. sparked by Nazi Germany's aggressive expansion at the expense of its neighbours. Its military expansion into eastern Asia and the Pacific Ocean helped to bring the United States into World War II. Germany was defeated by the Soviet Union in the east and by the D-Day invasion of the United Kingdom. western Europe was influenced by the American Marshall Plan and made a quick economic recovery. gained momentum in Italy. and 20 million dead. the Triple Entente exacted punitive restitution payments from their former foes. Britain. and its empire began to shrink. Austria-Hungary. later replaced by the United States and joined by Italy) emerged victorious over the Triple Alliance (Germany. Germany was divided between the western powers and the Soviet Union. its economy was ruined by World War I. World War II left about 60 million people dead. The Russian Empire was plunged into revolution during the conflict and transitioned into the first ever communist state. Meanwhile. After more than four years of trench warfare in western Europe. Japan had rapidly transformed itself into a technologically-advanced industrial power. those powers who had formed the Triple Entente (France. At the beginning of the period. and grenades created stalemates on the battlefield and millions of troops were killed with little progress made on either side.S. a movement which grew out of post-war angst and was accelerated by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Japan later became a U. The military alliances headed by these nations (NATO in North America and western Europe.2. This war drastically changed the way war was fought. the United States.
were waged to contain the spread of communism. Broadway. had 10 . Europe slowly united. and environmental problems in newly industrializing countries. rock and roll. and nuclear weapons were produced in the tens of thousands. By the end of the century. and the hip-hop lifestyle. fast food. and human rights. has helped to relieve famine. though awareness of the problem permeated societies. though pollution continued apace. leading many top rock bands (such as Swedish ABBA) to sing in English. In many countries. and poverty. and to contain local wars and conflicts. especially in Europe. This is believed by some historians to have staved off an inevitable war between the two. Russia. some progress had been made in cleaning up the environment in first-world countries. American culture spread around the world with the advent of Hollywood. such as India and China. the United Nations was established as an international forum in which the world’s nations could get together and discuss issues diplomatically.to wage total war with each other throughout the Cold War (1947-91). In approximately the last third of the century. big-box stores. including the ‘British Invasion’ into American music.S. concern about humankind’s impact on the Earth’s environment caused environmentalism to become a major citizen movement. This was known as mutually assured destruction (MAD). such as the Korean War (1950-1953) and the Vietnam War (1957-1975). most of the European-colonized world in Africa and Asia gained independence in a process of decolonization. to exert a strong influence over many world affairs. into what eventually became the European Union. After World War II. international sovereignty. Although the Soviet Union and the United States never directly entered conflict with each other. as neither could win if their full nuclear arsenals were unleashed upon each other. including the UK. and the drain of the two world wars. China and Japan. This. pop music. Meanwhile. the movement was channelled into politics partly through Green parties. politically and economically. in concert with various United Nations and other aid agencies. Following World War II. a ripple effect led to the dismantling of communist states across eastern Europe and their rocky transitions into market economies. several proxy wars. It has enacted laws on conducting warfare. disease. which consisted of 15 European countries by the end of the century. sufficient to end most life on the planet had they ever been used. Peacekeeping forces consisting of troops provided by various countries. After the Soviet Union collapsed under internal pressure in 1991. among other things. caused Europe to lose much of its long-held power.. U. the wars empowered several nations. British culture continued to influence world culture. environmental protection. The period was marked by a new arms race.
including pressure on finite natural resources.wikipedia.65 billion to about 6 billion. Adapted from: http://en. conflict. Medical science and the Green Revolution in agriculture enabled the world’s population to grow from about 1.grown rapidly.org 11 . poverty. Increasing awareness and pessimism over global warming began in the 1980s. and severe overcrowding in some areas. major environmental issues. sparking one of the most heated social and political debates by the turn of the century. This rapid population increase quickly became a major concern and directly caused or contributed to several global issues.
The highest art will be that which in its conscious content presents the thousandfold problems of the day. Left to Right: Samuel Beckett. Menno ter Braak. with bleeding hands and hearts. 1939). Jean Toomer. of ordering. Scott Fitzgerald. Dylan Thomas.. Virginia Woolf Modernist literature attempted to move from the bonds of Realist literature and to introduce concepts such as disjointed timelines. Eliot. Jaroslav Hašek. MODERNIST LITERATURE Modernism as a literary movement reached its height in Europe between 1900 and the mid-1920s. in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity. Lawrence. The best and most extraordinary artists will be those who every hour snatch the tatters of their bodies out of the frenzied cataract of life. B. Marcel Proust. W. Djuna Barnes. hold fast to the intelligence of their time. and others. James Joyce. Ezra Pound. Gertrude Stein’s abstract writings. Mr. H. and artists are creatures of their epoch. of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history” (Ulysses. of external culture. William Faulkner. who. for example. Robert Frost. F..D. D. Gertrude Stein. Eliot expounded in his discussion of James Joyce’s Ulysses: “In using the myth. T. have often been compared to the fragmentary and multi-perspectival Cubism of her friend Pablo Picasso. 1923). the art which has been visibly shattered by the explosions of last week. Robert Musil. Moreover. Virginia Woolf. The Modernist emphasis on radical individualism can be seen in the many literary manifestos issued by various groups within the movement. Joseph Conrad.S. Modernist literature can be viewed largely in 12 . H. Ezra Pound (by Wyndham Lewis. such as painting.” The cultural history of humanity creates a unique common history that connects previous generations with the current generation of humans. Mikhail Bulgakov. Ernest Hemingway. ‘Modernist’ literature addressed aesthetic problems similar to those examined in non-literary forms of contemporaneous Modernist art. Dylan Thomas. S. The general thematic concerns of Modernist literature are well-summarised by the sociologist Georg Simmel: “The deepest problems of modern life derive from the claim of the individual to preserve the autonomy and individuality of his existence in the face of overwhelming social forces. Mina Loy. Katherine Mansfield. Yeats. Hugh MacDiarmid. It is simply a way of controlling. 1903). Modernist literature involved such authors as Knut Hamsun (whose novel Hunger (1890) is considered to be the first ‘modernist’ novel). Andrei Bely. (Hilda Doolittle). and the Modernist re-contextualization of the individual within the fabric of this received social heritage can be seen in the ‘mythic method’ which T. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him . The concerns expressed by Simmel above are echoed in Richard Huelsenbeck’s First German Dada Manifesto of 1918: “Art in its execution and direction is dependent on the time in which it lives. Rainer Maria Rilke. Franz Kafka. Paul Laurence Dunbar. of historical heritage. Boris Pasternak. and of the technique of life” (The Metropolis and Mental Life.3. Order and Myth.
Key figures of the 20th century include Luigi Pirandello. absurdist theatre. but as the makers of modern theatre as well.org * Modern Theatre…Modernist Theatre The modern theatre is the theatre of today. often moves beyond the limitations of the Realist novel with a concern for larger factors such as social or historical change. Alfred Prufrock by T. Eugene O'Neill. Brecht. Modernist literature. A great deal of experimental theatre also rejected the conventions of realism and earlier forms. at least in Europe and America. Harold Pinter. that feminist theatre capitalised deftly on certain implications of Brechtian theatre. Konstantin Stanislavski. an this is particularly prominent in ‘stream of consciousness’ writing. Modernist literature often features a marked pessimism. Freud. like Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922). They bestride the gap between ‘Modernism’ and the modern. among others. Many Modernist works. Their modernism. Examples include: epic theatre. became hard to anchor for many whose primary experience was of incoherence and fragmentation. Adapted from: http://en. and Artaud flourished. Bertolt Brecht. are marked by the absence of any central. Marx. They were the Symbolists. Eliot (1915). Antonin Artaud. It is often designed to be partial. Post-nineteenth-century life. or that contemporary ‘physical theatre’ owes its birth to the experiments of Meyerhold – or perhaps Artaud. practitioners like Augusto Boal or Peter Stein or Lev Dodin. supremely. Meyerhold. Virginia Woolf and James Joyce (1882-1941). Modernism created the ‘avant-garde’: those who not only introduced new subject matter to art. And so on. The richness and originality which they brought to art and culture were almost overwhelming. Thus. and postmodern theatre. Examples can be seen in the work of. infiltrates and influences all aspects of modern theatre. the Futurists. Modernism was perhaps most forcibly characterised by its awareness that the old certainties of life and society. S. Certainly in theatre. and others. however.terms of its formal. as narrative and narrator are collapsed into a collection of disjointed fragments and overlapping voices. with art which deliberately shocks or which deliberately – even joyfully – breaks conventions. contentious. and all the other innovators and iconoclasts of that period. Dario Fo and Tony Kushner. the Expressionists. and Artaud may be regarded not only as the makers of Modernist theatre. ‘Modernist’ theatre refers to the theatre of the first fifty or so years of the last century. Samuel Beckett. 13 . heroic figure at all. religion and culture. moreover. the Surrealists. We may argue. the ‘makers of modern theatre’. two exact contemporaries. examining subject matter that is traditionally mundane – a prime example being The Love Song of J. the giants of the end of the twentieth century. a clear rejection of the optimism apparent in Victorian literature in favour of portraying alienated or dysfunctional individuals within a predominantly urban and fragmented society. but did so by the use of new methods and new forms. were fractured for ever by the ideas of Darwin. the likes of Stanislavski. for example. and it often seems that artists ever since have been working out the implications of their ideas. stylistic and semantic movement away from Romanticism. Meyerhold.wikipedia. when Stanislavski. Modernism is usually – and correctly – associated with startling novelty. and challenging. Brecht. That is why they were. constantly if implicitly refer in their work to that of their precursors.
they were also responses to the perceived fragmentation of experience. Insofar as this was the case. We might suggest that Stanislavski wanted to heal it.The avant-garde artistic movements of the Modernists. Adapted from: Robert Leach: Makers of Modern Theatre: An Introduction (Routledge. between them these attitudes encompass the range of Modernist theatre. that Meyerhold wanted to make it cohere beyond the stage in the spectator (in Roland Barthes’ sense. were not only themselves fragments of the greater ‘Modernist’ culture. that Brecht wanted to use it for political purposes. therefore. he wanted ‘the death of the theatre artist’). 2004). 14 . and that Artaud wanted to cauterise.
that many of the major philosophers identified as existentialists. and the postwar years found a very diverse coterie of writers and artists linked under the term: Dostoevsky.’ ‘existentialism’ is a term that belongs to intellectual history. Ibsen. Ingmar Bergman It is sometimes suggested. parodized in countless books and films by Woody Allen. filmmakers such as Jean-Luc Godard and Ingmar Bergman were also understood in existential terms. that existentialism is merely this bygone cultural movement rather than an identifiable philosophical position. that the term should be restricted to Sartre’s philosophy alone. Its definition is thus to some extent one of historical convenience. André Malraux. Jean-Luc Godard Existentialism was as much a literary phenomenon as a philosophical one. Sartre’s own ideas were and are better known through his fictional works than through his more purely philosophical ones. while in Paris there were Jean Genet. therefore. and through the wide dissemination of the postwar literary and philosophical output of Sartre and his associates – notably Simone de Beauvoir. Maurice MerleauPonty. and Albert Camus – existentialism became identified with a cultural movement that flourished in Europe in the 1940s and 1950s. EXISTENTIALISM Like ‘rationalism’ and ‘empiricism. It is worth noting. and the expatriate Samuel Beckett.4. Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche. however. By the mid 1970s the cultural image of existentialism had become a cliché. alternatively. André Gide. The nineteenth century philosophers. But while a philosophical definition of existentialism may not entirely 15 . and Kafka were conscripted. or. The term was explicitly adopted as a self-description by Jean-Paul Sartre. came to be seen as precursors of the movement. actually repudiated the label. including Camus and Martin Heidegger.
it is equally true that all the themes popularly associated with existentialism – dread. and so on – find their philosophical significance in the context of the search for a new categorial framework. commitment. Nor will it suffice to adopt the point of view of practice and add categories drawn from moral theory – neither scientific nor moral inquiry can fully capture what it is that makes me myself. to understand what a human being is it is not enough to know all the truths that natural science – including the science of psychology – could tell us. nothingness. Jean-Paul Sartre In the existential view. governed by the norm of authenticity. its flight from the iron cage of reason. and while the idea that philosophy cannot be practiced in the disinterested manner of an objective science is indeed central to existentialism. But while it is true that the major existential philosophers wrote with a passion and urgency rather uncommon in our own time. its character as a gesture of protest against academic philosophy. freedom. its anti-system sensibility. boredom. existentialism may be defined as the philosophical theory which holds that a further set of categories. Without denying the validity of scientific categories (governed by the norm of truth) or moral categories (governed by norms of the good and the right).stanford. To approach existentialism in this categorical way may seem to conceal what is often taken to be its heart – namely. and while Sartre’s thought must loom large in any account of existentialism. the absurd. Adapted from: http://plato. together with its governing norm. alienation. the concept does pick out a distinctive cluster of philosophical problems and helpfully identifies a relatively distinct current of 20th and now 21st century philosophical inquiry.edu/entries/existentialism/ 16 . is necessary to grasp human existence.ignore the cultural fate of the term.
He also had a brief marriage during this period. during World War I’s Battle of the Marne. ALBERT CAMUS (1913-1960) Albert Camus Albert Camus was born on 7 November 1913. He would subsequently attend lectures at the University of Algiers from 1932 through 1953. in Mondovi. almost third-world neighbourhood. Belcourt was a crowded. including positions as a police clerk and salesman. As a result of the disease. Camus was accepted into the University of Algiers’ school of philosophy. Between 1931 and 1935. he buried himself in studies and participation in local athletic teams. in the Belcourt section of Algiers. According to Camus’ accounts. His father died in 1914. 17 . as Albert was. an instructor noticed young his intellect. Albert’s mother was left to raise her son alone. in extreme poverty. He distinguished himself in sports as a leader and competitor. and when he entered a local Belcourt school. In 1930. In academic pursuits. Sadly. Camus reduced his studies to a part-time pursuit. Camus wanted to be a teacher. The Workers’ Theater was intended to present socialist plays to Algiers’ working population. helping him pass the lycée entrance exams in 1923. Camus worked in a string of low-paying jobs. and founded The Workers’ Theater in 1935. A lycée is an exclusive secondary school for students destined to university. Widowed and nearly deaf. his mother was permanently melancholy. Albert’s grandmother was dying of liver cancer. since Camus hoped to educate the workers. never losing his enthusiasm for learning. War was to remain a constant throughout Camus’ life – and his literature.5. While a student at the University. but could never pass the required medical exam due to his tuberculosis. The theatre company survived until 1939. there was little possibility of her earning a reasonable income. while an uncle living in the house was paralyzed. his studies were interrupted by severe tuberculosis. Still. a stormy relationship with the party which continued throughout his life. She moved the family to Rue de Lyon. Camus joined and then left the Communist Party. however. young Albert also excelled. Camus’ family represented all human misery and misfortune. which ended in divorce. Algeria. in accordance with his own beliefs. To escape this home life. The disease took away one of his most important possessions – his strength. The family had been forced to move there so a grandmother could raise Albert and his older brother. An important step out of poverty. The teacher tutored Albert. he remained a socialist.
Camus toured the United States. hoping to establish himself as a reporter in the leftist press. and it was during this period that Camus formalised his philosophy that human life was sacred. and found a teaching position in Oran. and The Plague. In less than a year. was widely misunderstood as a philosophy of hopelessness. Camus did hold that life was absurd – defying logical explanation. he produced some of his greatest essays and short stories. The Outsider). as well as filling notebooks with his thoughts on philosophy and politics. Camus left Algiers for Paris. Camus became editor of Combat in 1943. and Camus returned to North Africa. the German army invaded France. His editorship lasted only a few short months. no matter how inexplicable existence might be. Lo Straniero (The Stranger) In 1941 Camus was compelled to return to France and join the French Resistance. he considered life valuable and worth defending. Camus remarried in Africa. he compiled a detailed account of the lives of poor Arabs in Kabyles. Camus wrote for the Alger-Republicain. and found that French Existentialism.k. In late 1939 and early 1940. a socialist paper. known as ‘Combat’ – also the name of the organization’s newspaper. His columns and reports often called upon people to act in accordance with strict moral principals. Poster for Luchino Visconti’s 1967 film. the Soir-Republicain. Unfortunately. and ultimately irrational. While the American public thought existentialism 18 . editing the paper for four years. He joined a clandestine resistance cell. Camus wrote drafts of The Stranger (a. As a reporter. However. The invasion of France left a terrible impression upon Camus. Camus later published a collection of essays on the conditions and ethnic discrimination faced by the Arabs. The Myth of Sisyphus. as promoted by Jean-Paul Sartre. Following the war. he edited another socialist paper. as the paper closed in the midst of tensions between Algiers and France.a.Between 1937 and 1939. In 1940. During the following year.
a fictionalised account of his family history. After recovering in 1951. marking Camus’ return to novels. writing and publishing political essays. at the age of thirty-one. 1960. Camus succumbed to illness in 1949 – a relapse of his tuberculosis. It seems almost fitting that Camus died at the pinnacle of his career as a writer. and artistic rebellion. bringing him back into favour in intellectual circles. France. on January 4. and this work as a translator led to successful French-language productions of plays by Larivey. The book was well-received. in fact. accompanied by other difficulties. a collection of his thoughts on metaphysical. The book so angered some of his counterparts that he was ostracised by many French intellectuals. For two years he remained in seclusion. It was this work that led to Camus’ split with long-time friend. He spent the next few years translating his favourite plays. The Fall was published in 1956. he published The Rebel. it was clear that Camus spoke for many French workers.es 19 . historical. The following year. While the political party never matured. The stress of The Rebel’s reception among philosophers and historians led Camus to seek more relaxing work. Camus was a leading voice of social change. Among his papers was the novel The First Man. he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was killed in a freak car accident near Sens. Jean-Paul Sartre. leading to renewed interest in Camus and his works. Camus responded by attempting to form a socialist party of his own. In 1944. His rejection of Marxism led to attacks from the Communists in France and other countries. Buzzati.uv. and William Faulkner.was devoid of morality. Camus’ experiences in Algiers and France had led to a strong ethical system. He belonged to no political party and was fiercely independent. Adapted from: http://mural. This novel was published in 1995.
writing in the Independent newspaper at the time of Osborne’s death in 1994. like the Observer newspaper’s influential critic Kenneth Tynan. and taunts his friends over their acceptance of the world around them.6. Coward et al wrote about an affluent bourgeoisie at play in the drawing-rooms of their country homes. intellectually restless and thwarted. or sections of the upper middle-class comfortable in suburbia. “When somebody breaks the mould so comprehensively it’s difficult to describe what it feels like”. lives with them. reserving much of his 20 . There were those. written in just one month. and to shock with its bluntness. argues. JOHN OSBORNE’S LOOK BACK IN ANGER (1956) Left: Richard Burton and Mary Ure in the 1958 film. Arnold Wesker described Osborne as having “opened the doors of theatres for all the succeeding generations of writers”. struggling with their existence in bedsits or terraces. In the same paper. reads the papers. Jimmy. Terrence Rattigan and others. lives with his wife Alison. marked a new voice on the British stage. He rages to the point of violence. Jimmy Porter. Osborne and the writers who followed him were looking at the working class or the lower middle class. His friend Cliff Lewis. London By Paul Bond 14 September 1999 The first production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger in 1956 provoked a major controversy. Howard Brenton. which dominated the West End stage in the early 1950s. The play The three-act play takes place in a one-bedroom flat in the Midlands. The ‘kitchen sink’ dramatists – as their style of domestic realism became to be known – sought to convey the language of everyday speech. Look Back in Anger came to exemplify a reaction to the affected drawing-room comedies of Noel Coward. There were others who hated both it and the world that Osborne was showing them. who saw it as the first totally original play of a new generation. said. Right: John Osborne An inarticulate hope: Look Back in Anger by John Osborne Playing at the Royal National Theatre. But even these critics acknowledged that the play. Look Back in Anger. the daughter of a retired Colonel in the British Army in India. who helps Jimmy run a sweet stall. lower middleclass and university-educated.
But despite the plot’s shortcomings (which were recognised even by such a fierce admirer as Tynan). it still has the power to startle. which even a fine revival like this production has. It was a time when actors auditioned in suits or the sort of starched twin-pieces that Helena wears before she moves in with Jimmy. Or to understand the intellectual courage of saying about a gay man. The admiration of Colonel Redfern for Jimmy’s principles and his amusement at Jimmy’s description of Mrs Redfern as “an overfed. Helena moves in with Jimmy. Something’s gone wrong somewhere. as it was put in a Daily Express article from December 1959 which is quoted in the programme: “Out of this decade has come the Illusion of Comfort. As if I give a damn which way he likes his meat served up”. The production stays close to Osborne’s original stage-image. Osborne’s script became almost a template for the new school of writers. let a recognisable human face emerge from that little mass of India rubber and wrinkles. It is clear from Osborne’s script that there was no lack of a sense of life’s difficulties around at the time. the title is projected onto the curtains like a jazz album cover. having lost Jimmy’s baby. Between scenes. This enables it to show the play as standing at a crossroads both of the British stage and also of political and historical epochs. Jimmy is hurt because everything is the same. The language. for example. Matilda Ziegler’s Helena also captures a lost period of weekly repertory theatre. But I doubt it. At the time. Alison’s father. Alison says to him “You’re hurt because everything is changed. and we have lost the sense of life’s difficulty”. is with the melodramatic qualities of the narrative. Helena calls Alison’s father to take her away from the flat. says to her: If only something – something would happen to you. The situation is exacerbated by the arrival of Helena. And neither of you can face it. Please – if only I could watch you face that. He arrives while Jimmy is visiting the mother of a friend and takes Alison away. Thanks to a fine performance from William Gaunt.bile for Alison’s friends and family. unaware of Alison’s pregnancy. still has the power to shock. are set against his total lack of comprehension of what Jimmy’s life actually means. It is difficult. and wake you out of your beauty sleep! If you could have a child. such as when Jimmy. a world evoked with such nostalgia in The Dresser. to imagine jazz being quite as exotic as it is for Jimmy. too. homosexuality was still illegal in Britain. Helena can no longer stand living with Jimmy and leaves. “He’s like a man with a strawberry mark – he keeps thrusting it in your face because he can’t believe it doesn't interest or horrify you particularly. Let it grow. Alison returns to visit. but still totally understandable within the framework of the play. Before the show. But the emphasis had shifted from the martyred expressions of the British ruling class and their “white man’s burden”. of companies travelling the country with precisely the sort of play that Look Back in Anger was attacking. and it is difficult to present his work without being aware that there is a faint whiff of formula about it. There was an audible intake of breath from the audience when Jimmy fell into Helena’s arms. Appalled at what she finds. hasn’t it?” Or. overprivileged old bitch”. Finally Alison returns to Jimmy and his angry life. wreaths of cigarette smoke rise up the curtains. An era is evoked. an actress friend of Alison’s from school. Some of the imagery and language doesn’t travel too well historically and reflects only the preoccupations of the era. As soon as she has gone. the sympathy felt by Colonel Redfern. It is a tribute to Gregory Hersov’s direction and Michael Sheen’s performance as Jimmy that this does not seem overblown or ridiculous. as represented in Colonel Redfern. and it would die. to a more serious appraisal of life 21 . for Jimmy came as a revelation. I wonder if you might even become a recognisable human being yourself. The problem.
living constantly with the threat of something erupting in front of her. entreating Alison and Cliff to show some enthusiasm. and that we’re actually alive”. 22 . to the point when he decides that he does not want to stay in the flat. Hughes shows us Cliff as someone who is keeping the peace by hiding his real character – by playing along with all the games. “Let’s pretend that we’re human beings. Emma Fielding does a good job playing Alison. in the presence of such evident and blazing vitality. Here he has Jimmy and Cliff perform a variety-style number. It is a fascinating comparison: Hancock. I marvel at the pedantry that could ask them. He is marvellously. firing off his vindictive gags almost because he can do nothing else. Michael Sheen adds another layer to this in his spluttering soliloquies. wrote. In Jimmy Porter. Sheen has a lightness of touch that suits Jimmy’s failed jokes and misplaced comments. to appearing as Alison’s real friend. who has grown up with the one attitude but has been forced by her situation into the other. Osborne. “Why don’t we have a little game?” he asks. was fascinated by end-of-pier music hall and vaudeville. unreasonably idealistic in a wildly unfocussed way. Osborne created what came to be seen as a model of the ‘angry young man’ – railing at the lack of passion of his age.for those outside that ruling class. reviewing the first production in the Star. Is it the Class Struggle or simply sex?” This incoherence in Jimmy’s rage is both strength and a limitation to the play. throughout his work. retreating into his pseudo-literary takes on vaudeville. on the other hand. Robert Wright. From his role as Jimmy’s foil in the early exchanges. Why don't Chekhov’s people do something? Is the sun justified in scorching us? It is just this “evident and blazing vitality” that Michael Sheen represents so well. The impact Osborne had on British theatre is incalculable. he used vaudeville and its washed-up performer Archie Rice in a brilliant take on the crisis in post-war British society. who described Jimmy as “the completest young pup in our literature since Hamlet”. “Don’t be afraid to sleep with your sweetheart just because she’s better than you”. carrying with them an echo of Tony Hancock’s ridiculous suburban pretensions. Fielding gives a good performance as the woman who tolerates Jimmy’s invective. Perhaps the only truly sympathetic character in the play is Cliff. ultimately cannot stay with Jimmy precisely because of the destruction of all her old certainties. “He obviously wants to shake us into thinking but we are never quite clear what it is he wants us to think about. the parodist of lower-middle-class aspirations. criticised those who attacked the recklessness of Jimmy’s attacks. More than any other writer of his generation. Kenneth Tynan. Helena. as well as his more furious denunciations of the absence of passion. and not explaining more carefully the crisis in which Jimmy finds himself. Is Jimmy’s anger justified? Why doesn’t he do something? These questions might be relevant if the character had failed to come to life. and Jimmy Porter. Hughes gives a magnificent portrayal of solidness. Whilst Alison is forced to accept Jimmy’s rages because her family background has robbed her of any other viable option. Sheen articulates the realisation of a man who has reached the limits of the possibilities open to him but is struggling to retain his dignity. the raging expression of the frustrations of the lower middle class. Sheen gives a marvellous performance of a man running in circles trying to find a way out. as well as trading cheap cracks in true hackneyed music hall style. here excellently played by Jason Hughes. Spluttering with indignation. one year later. Under Hersov’s direction. In The Entertainer. Osborne has often been criticised for not seeing a way out. With Look Back in Anger he brought class as an issue before British audiences. Osborne was fascinated by the tragedy lurking at the heart of the light entertainment performance.
and the possibility of a way forward. What makes Jimmy’s statement so interesting is precisely the historical context in which it occurs. Active indignation is linked up with hope. Nonetheless. That’s why he’s so futile.It is apparent from the text that Osborne recognised this limitation. Jimmy yearns for passion. Kenneth Tynan.wsws. that the class system was still mysteriously intact. In this respect..” Such a statement could be read as the voice of pessimistic nihilism. who referred to the play’s “instinctive leftishness” in his Observer review. There’s no place for people like that any longer – in sex. as a result of the domination of intellectual life by Stalinism and social democracy. brave causes left.” There is a vision.. saying. There remains somewhere at the play’s core – even if it cannot be explained – hope. Trotsky described it as “a book dictated by terror in the face of life. wrote in a piece on ‘The Angry Young Movement’ that Jimmy Porter “represented the dismay of many young Britons [. to that impasse. albeit confused and unclear. Helena criticises Jimmy. Osborne. such as the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It seems almost a recognition that within his own work there are insufficient answers. He doesn’t know where he is.org 23 . Writing about Celine’s novel Journey to the End of Night.. but I thought if you loved me. of the possibilities of human existence. rather than by indignation.. active in various protests at the time. however confused. it needn’t matter. and weariness of it. In Celine’s book there is no hope.” That is clearly not the case here. even tacitly.. When Alison returns to him he tells her. and he’ll never amount to anything. He’ll never do anything.. it is also possible to see a challenge. or anything. a belief in humanity. it is possible to see in the play expressions of the political impasse that had been reached in Britain during the 1950s.] who came of age under a Socialist government. or where he’s going.. when they went out into the world. There remains a belief that somehow people can survive the worst and perhaps even overcome it.. and clings to the idea of it. Adapted from: http://www. or politics. yet found. “I may be a lost cause. This goes hand-in-hand with Jimmy’s statement that “people of our generation aren’t able to die for good causes any longer. There aren’t any good.” It is the mistaken association of the post-war Labour government with the failure of socialism per se that accounts for Porter’s frustration. articulated his own sentiments through his lead character.
Whenever he happened to pass through Paris. after rejecting advances from James Joyce’s daughter. April 13. He joined the underground movement and fought for the resistance until 1942. he would call on Joyce. near Dublin. The unhappy boy soon grew into an unhappy young man. would not allow anyone to penetrate his solitude. so he set out on a nomadic journey across Europe. During World War II. Looking back on his childhood. even after it had become occupied by the Germans. When asked why he had attacked Beckett. he was stabbed in the street by a man who had approached him asking for money. all the while writing poems and stories and doing odd jobs to get by. a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of some of the lost and confused souls that would populate the writer’s later works. England. Shortly after he arrived. a mutual friend introduced him to James Joyce. however.7. and Beckett soon became an apostle of the older writer. Raised in a middle class. He was difficult to engage in any lengthy conversation – it took hours and lots of drinks to warm him up – but the women could not resist him. A year later. Beckett finally settled down in Paris in 1937. the prisoner replied “Je ne sais pas. Ireland. In 1928. “I had little talent for happiness. He once remarked. Beckett made his way through Ireland. Protestant home. often so depressed that he stayed in bed until mid afternoon. although it was rumoured that they mostly sat in silence. when several 24 . he won his first literary prize – 10 pounds for a poem which dealt with the philosopher Descartes’ meditations on the subject of time and the transient nature of life. however. After his recovery. Beckett moved to Paris. Monsieur”. that he had a perforated lung. At the age of 23. both suffused with sadness. that he was dead and had no feelings that were human. The lonely young poet. he once remarked. SAMUEL BECKETT (1906-1989) Samuel Beckett Samuel Beckett was born on Good Friday. he was sent off at the age of 14 to attend the same school Oscar Wilde had attended. Beckett came to the conclusion that habit and routine were the “cancer of time”.” Beckett was consistent in his loneliness. he wrote an essay in defence of Joyce’s magnum opus against the public’s lazy demand for easy comprehensibility. and Germany. and they would spend lengthy periods together. He would learn later. France. In the course of his journeys. and these acquaintances would later translate into some of his finest characters. he no doubt came into contact with many tramps and wanderers. he went to visit his assailant in prison. After writing a study of Proust. 1906. Shortly thereafter. and the city quickly won his heart. Beckett stayed in Paris. in the hospital.
1953. and a book of criticism. the strange little play in which “nothing happens” became an instant success. If not today. and William Saroyan who remarked. 25 . then crawling on. mirrors his own search for freedom. which had hitherto been the hallmarks of drama. Endgame. Malone Dies. when a company of actors from the San Francisco Actor’s Workshop presented the play at the San Quentin penitentiary for an audience of over fourteen hundred convicts. Apparently. Although English was his native language. the production was a great success. He trades in plot.members of his group were arrested and he was forced to flee. In 1945. for a series of concrete stage images. Samuel Beckett's first play. 1957 when his second masterpiece. The Unnameable. Eleutheria. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum. In spite of some expectations to the contrary. and Mercier et Camier. when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. Language is useless. His first real triumph. overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief. characterization. to the unoccupied zone. came on January 5. then perhaps tomorrow. for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the un-expressible. he wanted the discipline and economy of expression that an acquired language would force upon on him. Beckett’s dramatic works do not rely on the traditional elements of drama. he wrote Eleutheria. Thornton Wilder. and final solution. together with his French-born wife. endlessly. two books of short stories. running for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone and enjoying the critical praise of dramatists as diverse as Tennessee Williams. Waiting for Godot. Jean Anouilh. The prisoners understood as well as Vladimir and Estragon that life means waiting. killing time and clinging to the hope that relief may be just around the corner. revolving around a young man’s efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations. Endgame. he returned to Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. translated by the author) Beckett secured his position as a master dramatist on April 3.” Perhaps the most famous production of Waiting for Godot took place in 1957. however. however. “It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre. Waiting for Godot (First English edition. premiered (in French) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. all of Beckett’s major works were originally written in French – a curious phenomenon since Beckett’s mother tongue was the accepted international language of the twentieth century. the novels Malloy. In the five years that followed. grotesquely attempting some form of communication. after it had been liberated from the Germans. Surprisingly.
” A subsequent production in New York City was more carefully advertised and garnered some success.imagi-nation.com/moonstruck/clsc7. 1953) 26 . in the Left Bank Theater of Babylon in Paris. Other productions around the world rapidly followed. the boy who consistently fails to remember either of the two protagonists casts doubt on their very existence. He continued to write until his death in 1989. Premiere of Beckett’s En attendant Godot (Théâtre de Babylone. in the end. The use of the play format allowed Beckett to dramatise his ideas more forcefully than before. Beckett often focused on the idea of “the suffering of being. The fact that none of the characters retain a clear mental history means that they are constantly struggling to prove their existence. although the play initially failed in the United States. The play’s reputation spread slowly through word of mouth and it soon became renowned. His works have been translated into over twenty languages and.” Indeed. Paris. Originally written in French in 1948. and is one of the reasons that the play is so intense. but the task grew more and more difficult with each work until.html * Waiting for Godot (1953) Waiting for Godot qualifies as one of Samuel Beckett’s most famous works. Thus. 1953.Beckett was the first of the Absurdists to win international fame.” Adapted from: http://www. This is why Vladimir demands to know that the boy will in fact remember them the next day. he said that each word seemed to him “an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness. most of the play deals with the fact that Estragon and Vladimir are waiting for something to alleviate their boredom. The world premiere was held on January 5. he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Beckett personally translated the play into English. Waiting for Godot incorporates many of the themes and ideas that Beckett had previously discussed in his other writings. Godot can be understood as one of the many things in life that people wait for. The play has been viewed as fundamentally existentialist in its take on life. perhaps as a result of being misbilled as “the laugh of four continents. in 1969.
com/waiting-for-godot/study-guide/about/ * Waiting for Godot and Existentialism Beckett's portrayal of a world of insignificance and incomprehensibility has led many critics to identify Waiting for Godot with existentialism. chess analogies.enotes. and recognisable settings. often commenting that his works have no definitive meaning and advocating the individual's right to personal interpretation. yet Beckett warned against trying to perceive his intended thought.gradesaver.Waiting for Godot is representative of the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’. each of whom cannot exist without the other. repetitions. postmodernism. which implies that it is meant to be irrational. Adapted from: http://www. the Theater of the Absurd. logical language. and ironic devices in his plays. Absurd theatre does away with the concepts of drama. There is also a split between the intellect and the body within the work: Vladimir represents the intellect and Estragon the body. Although his works contain slapstick and dark comedy.com 27 . Beckett actually proposed rebirth. From: http://www. and nihilism. atheist texts. and Eastern existentialism. Some commentators note the numerous biblical allusions. chronological plot. His works have been interpreted as religious ideologies. his characters are often grotesquely exaggerated caricatures—oblivious to predictability and their impending demise. yet some feel that by stripping down the characters to the basest levels. Many critics contend that Beckett's progression from language to silence and light to darkness reflects the author's growing pessimistic vision. themes.
In awarding the Nobel Prize. political activist and poet. Beginning with his first play. and Betrayal (1978). each of which he adapted to film. Pinter. He was given BAFTA awards. The Trial (1993). The Go-Between (1970). television. HAROLD PINTER (1930-2008) Harold Pinter Harold Pinter was an English playwright. language. many dramatic sketches. In the mid-1980s. and Sleuth (2007). Stylistically.8. television. screenwriter. and letters. director. His screenplay adaptations of others’ works include The Servant (1963). and film productions and acted extensively in radio. touring throughout Ireland. reflecting his own heightening political interests and changes in his personal life. 27 screenplays. actor. Despite frail health after being diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in December 2001. and his politics have indeed been the subject of voluminous critical commentary. he acted in repertory companies throughout England for about a dozen years. short fiction. comedic timing. these works are marked by theatrical pauses and silences. Thematically ambiguous. essays. he began writing overtly political plays. His best-known plays include The Birthday Party (1957). Pinter continued to act on stage and screen. and menace. they raise complex issues of individual identity oppressed by social forces. The Room (1957). This new direction in his work and his left-wing political activism stimulated additional critical debate about Pinter’s politics. and film productions of his own and others’ works. radio and TV plays. From 1952. The Caretaker (1959). In addition to the Nobel Prize. Pinter’s writing career spanned over 50 years and produced 29 original stage plays. his work. and vicissitudes of memory. irony. Pinter received numerous awards. one novel. the Swedish Academy noted. he received the Tony Award for Best Play in 1967 for The Homecoming. poetry. and in 2005 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Homecoming (1964). After publishing poetry and acting in school plays as a teenager in London. He directed almost 50 stage. Festivals and symposia have been devoted to him and his work. Pinter began his professional theatrical career in 1951. “That he occupies a position as a 28 . the French Légion d’honneur and 20 honorary degrees. stage. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). Pinter’s dramas often involve strong conflicts among ambivalent characters who struggle for verbal and territorial dominance and for their own versions of the past. speeches. He was among the most influential British playwrights of modern times.
lower middle-class native English parents of Eastern-European ancestry. was born in 1958. to Jewish. London. mentor. Their son. with the historian Antonia Fraser. He was evacuated from the family home in London to Cornwall and Reading in 1940 and 1941.] he formed an almost sacerdotal belief in the power of male friendship”.” At the age of 12. meanwhile holding on to his ambitions as a poet and writer. Pinter attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art for two terms. mainly on the London repertory circuit but also touring Ireland. 29 . his poetry was first published outside the school magazine in Poetry London. A major influence on Pinter was his inspirational English teacher. an actress he met on tour. and so the family was Ashkenazic. Pinter discovered his social potential as a student at the grammar school in Hackney. East London. Pinter was also an avid cricket enthusiast most of his life. The “lifeand-death intensity of daily experience” before and during the Blitz left Pinter with profound memories of “loneliness.modern classic is illustrated by his name entering the language as an adjective used to describe a particular atmosphere and environment in drama: ‘Pinteresque’”. thus. he missed most of his classes. Pinter had believed an aunt’s erroneous view that the family was Sephardic and had fled the Spanish Inquisition. and was ultimately fined by the magistrate for refusing to serve.. and dropped out in 1949. Pinter was married to Vivien Merchant. Throughout the 1950s. between 1944 and 1948.. In 1950. Pinter began writing poetry. Daniel. Pinter had various other jobs. under Brearley’s instruction. “Pinter shone at English. Another affair followed. a postman. “Partly through the school and partly through the social life of Hackney Boys’ Club [. Pinter used the pseudonym Pinta and at other times used variations such as da Pinto. Later research revealed this legend to be apocryphal and documented that three of Pinter’s grandparents came from Poland and the fourth from Odessa. some of it under the pseudonym Harold Pinta. probably best known for her performance in the 1966 film Alfie. The marriage was turbulent and began disintegrating in the mid-1960s. was brought to trial twice. Pinter also enjoyed running and broke the Hackney Downs School sprinting record. in publishing his early poems. According to Pinter’s biographer Michael Billington. wrote for the school magazine and discovered a gift for acting. Early theatrical training and stage experience Beginning in late 1948. when Pinter was engaged in a clandestine affair with BBC-TV presenter and journalist Joan Bakewell. taking his cricket bat with him when he was evacuated as a pre-teenager during the Blitz. registered as a conscientious objector. Marriage and family life From 1956 until 1980. he continued to write poetry and short prose pieces. and friend Joseph Brearley. feigned a nervous breakdown. Early life and education Pinter was born on 10 October 1930. In 1948 he was also called up for National Service. He died from liver cancer on 24 December 2008. but hating the school. including working as a waiter. bewilderment. In the early 1950s. and in 1947 his poetry was first published in the school magazine. and a bouncer. in Hackney. separation and loss: themes that are in all his works”. To supplement his income from acting. Pinter acted extensively.
at the age of 53. to the politics of the Cold War. Still unreconciled at the time of his father’s death.” Pinter expressed awareness that his plays – “full of infidelity. the lot” – seem at odds with his domestic contentment: “How can you write a happy play?” he said. Pinter married Fraser in 1980 and. cruelty. if he had been old enough at the time. Daniel. but he had actually been an early member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the United Kingdom and had also supported the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (1959-1994). and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq. He strongly opposed the 1991 Gulf War. “Drama is about conflict and degrees of perturbation. Daniel Brand did not attend Pinter’s funeral. and Merchant’s death. The Room. ‘What Is Israel Doing? A Call by Jews in Britain’. Pinter’s remarriage. he was not actually a pacifist. he signed the mission statement of Jews for Justice for Palestinians in 2005 and its full-page advertisement. Pinter increasingly focused his essays. but I’ve been able to enjoy a happy life. after their separation. who decided to present Pinter’s next play. leading to his decision to become a conscientious objector. Michael Codron. an act of blatant state terrorism. the actor Donald Pleasence and his family. and Pinter moved out. I’ve never been able to write a happy play.” Civic activities and political activism Despite his opposition. Pinter called Prime Minister Tony Blair a “deluded idiot” and compared the administration of President George W. Pinter wrote it in three days.S. Pinter “did everything possible to support her” until her death and regretted that he ultimately became estranged from their son. He stated that the U.Pinter confessed the affair with Fraser to his wife in March 1975. After Pinter mentioned that he had an idea for a play. Even after battling cancer for several years. ‘Comedies of menace’ (1957-1968) Pinter’s first play. For example. He subsequently moved in with his friend. at the Lyric Hammersmith.” Later he continued to campaign against the Iraq War and on behalf of other political causes that he supported. written and first performed in 1957. disarray. he would have fought against the Nazis in World War II. in 1958. at the age of 18. published in The Times in 2006. unable to overcome her bitterness and grief at the loss of her husband. he considered himself “a very lucky man in every respect. Bush to Nazi Germany. He told interviewers that. In his last twenty-five years. interviews and public appearances directly on political issues. was a student production at the University of Bristol. inhumanity. Among his provocative political statements. speaking at rallies held by the Stop the War Coalition and frequently criticising American aggression: “the invasion of Iraq [was a] bandit act. as Pinter found that “Vivien couldn’t cope with bringing up Daniel alone”. actor Henry Woolf. The Birthday Party. 30 . from which point life at home became “impossible”. the United States’ 2001 War in Afghanistan. “was charging towards world domination while the American public and Britain’s mass-murdering prime minister sat back and watched. The production attracted the attention of a young producer. the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War. Vivien Merchant died of alcoholism in the first week of October 1982. directed by his good friend. demonstrating absolute contempt for the conception of international law. participating in British artists’ refusal to permit professional productions of their work in South Africa in 1963 and in subsequent related campaigns.” He was very active in the antiwar movement in the United Kingdom. Pinter was content in his second marriage and enjoyed family life with his six adult stepchildren and 17 step-grandchildren. He seemed to express ambivalence about politicians in a 1966 Paris Review interview. where he was joined by his son Daniel. Woolf asked him to write it so that he could direct it to fulfil a requirement for his postgraduate work.
Critical accounts often quote Hobson’s prophetic words: I am well aware that Mr Pinter’s play received extremely bad notices last Tuesday morning. and it has been revived more frequently since 2000. By the 31 . It was not produced very often thereafter until the 1980s. The Birthday Party was revived both on television (with Pinter himself in the role of Goldberg) and on stage (directed by Pinter at the Aldwych Theatre) and was well-received. propelled him to further critical attention. Large radio and television audiences for his one-act play A Night Out. despite a rave review in the The Sunday Times by its influential drama critic Harold Hobson. established Pinter’s theatrical reputation. They became friends. though it is probable it will soon be seen elsewhere. in 1960. at the Arts Theatre Club in London. which premiered in Germany and was then produced in a double bill with The Room at the Hampstead Theatre Club. First [Class]. Other early plays Harold Pinter (right) directing a rehearsal of The Caretaker with Donald Pleasence (1960) Pinter wrote The Hothouse in 1958. and next wrote The Dumb Waiter (1959)... Make a note of their names. will be heard of again. particularly on his early work. along with the popularity of his revue sketches. four years after the success of The Caretaker. and that Pinter. one of his best-known works. in London.. In a review published in 1958. despite their experiences last week. was initially both a commercial and critical disaster. Such plays begin with an apparently innocent situation that becomes both threatening and ‘absurd’. Deliberately. possesses the most original. disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London. which he shelved for over 20 years. At the moment I write these it is uncertain even whether the play will still be in the bill by the time they appear. sending each other drafts of their works in progress for comments. on the evidence of this work. I am willing to risk whatever reputation I have as a judge of plays by saying that The Birthday Party is . Pinter acknowledges the influence of Samuel Beckett.. Mr Pinter and The Birthday Party. critic Irving Wardle called Pinter’s early plays ‘comedy of menace’ – a label that people have applied repeatedly to his work. In 1964. as Pinter’s characters behave in ways often perceived as inexplicable by his audiences and one another.. Hobson was generally credited by Pinter himself and other critics as bolstering him and perhaps even rescuing his career. in 1960. which appeared only after the production had closed and could not be reprieved. The first production of The Caretaker.The Birthday Party.
Moonlight (1993). of which only Beckett’s film was actually produced. which was produced as The Basement. that relate to the Holocaust. but they have personal and political resonances and other tonal differences from these earlier memory plays. including Party Time (1991). Silence (1969). The Hothouse is about authoritarianism and the abuses of power politics. and other abuses of human rights. Ashes to Ashes (1996). P. Pinter stated that whereas his earlier plays presented “metaphors” for power and powerlessness. torture. These include Landscape (1968). and Celebration (2000) draw upon some features of his ‘memory’ dramaturgy in their focus on the past in the present. Moonlight (1993) and Ashes to Ashes (1996) are set in domestic households and focus on dying and death. serving as critiques of oppression. Old Times (1971). Hartley and starring Alan Bates and Julie Christie. Pinter’s brief dramatic sketch Precisely (1983) is a duologue between two bureaucrats exploring the absurd power politics of mutual nuclear annihilation and deterrence. and the play garnered four Tony Awards. but it is also highly comic. and which critics sometimes classify as Pinter’s ‘memory plays’. Pinter wrote a series of plays and sketches that explore complex ambiguities. Working as both a screenwriter and as a playwright. No Man’s Land (1975). adapted from the novel by Nicholas Mosley. Pinter’s plays tended to become shorter and more overtly political. Victoria Station (1982). in 1979. Films based on Pinter’s adaptations of his own stage plays are The Caretaker (1963). The Birthday Party (1968). Eugene Ionesco. In 1985. Pinter as screenwriter Pinter was the author of 27 screenplays and film scripts for cinema and television. comic vagaries. and Betrayal 32 . leading to their close friendship: The Servant (1963). Pinter composed a script called The Compartment (1966). gagged. Then Pinter turned his unfilmed script into a television play. The Proust Screenplay (1977). based on the novel by Robin Maugham. many of which were filmed. and other quicksand-like characteristics of memory. He revised it and then directed its first production himself at Hampstead Theatre. Some of Pinter’s later plays. Like his plays of the 1980s. and A Kind of Alaska (1982). his next full-length plays. Accident (1967). Intertwining political and personal concerns.time Peter Hall’s London production of The Homecoming (1964) reached Broadway in 1967. Overtly political plays and sketches (1980-2000) After a three-year period of creative drought in the early 1980s after his marriage to Antonia Fraser and the death of Vivien Merchant. The Homecoming (1973). Pinter next wrote the longer political satire Party Time (1991). in their conversations. Family Voices (1981). Pinter wrote the poems Death (1997) and The Disappeared (1998). Devlin and Rebecca in Ashes to Ashes allude to unspecified “atrocities”. Pinter re-discovered his manuscript of The Hothouse. Mountain Language (1988) concerned the Turkish suppression of the Kurdish language. and Pinter. and The Go-Between (1970). His fame as a screenwriter began with his three screenplays written for films directed by Joseph Losey. directed by Peter Hall. or adapted as stage plays. in London. ‘Memory plays’ (1968–1982) From the late 1960s through the early 1980s. the later ones present literal “realities” of power and its abuse. and bound in a chair. both on BBC 2 and also on stage in 1968. After experiencing the deaths of first his mother (1992) and then his father (1997). for a trilogy of films to be contributed by Samuel Beckett. Pinter had become a celebrity playwright. again merging the personal and the political. elegiac mysteries. like his earlier comedies of menace. Betrayal (1978). The short dramatic sketch The New World Order (1991) depicts two men threatening to torture a third man who is blindfolded. based on the novel by L. which he had written in 1958 but had set aside. in 1980. Night (1969). Just before this hiatus. His first overtly political oneact play is One for the Road (1984).
33 . and Christopher Walken. for which. from the unfinished novel by F. with his first play. held a nearly month-long PinterFest. and Theresa Russell. Natasha Richardson. Press Conference. in 2002. Pinter also wrote many screenplays based on novels. though several scenes from or aspects of his scripts were also used in these finished films.(1983). Jack Nicholson. Pinter’s screenwriting career culminated in his last filmed screenplay adaptation of the 1970 Tony Award-winning play Sleuth. and starring Tony Curtis. for an otherwise retrospective production of his dramatic sketches at the National Theatre. by Anthony Shaffer. His commissioned screenplay adaptations from others’ works for the films The Handmaid’s Tale (1990). During the course of his treatment. in which over a 130 performances of a dozen of Pinter’s plays were performed by a dozen different theatre companies. he directed a production of his play No Man’s Land. including The Pumpkin Eater (1964). from the novel by Ian McEwan. It is the basis for the 2007 film Sleuth. directed by Paul Schrader and starring Rupert Everett. respectively. Pinter was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. In January 2003. Canada. Celebration. Donald Pleasence. Pinter participated both as an actor. Scott Fitzgerald. 1992) 2001–2008 From 16 to 31 July 2001. The Heat of the Day (1988). Helen Mirren. starring Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep. Jeanne Moreau. Pinter presented a dramatic reading of Celebration (2000) and also participated in a public interview as part of the International Festival of Authors. uncredited. Harold Pinter (Justin Mortimer. in the case of the latter two films. Robert Mitchum. The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981). in One for the Road. one of the film’s producers. held from 24 September to 30 October 2001 in Toronto. and The Trial (1993). directed by Elia Kazan. As part of a two-week ‘Harold Pinter Homage’ at the World Leaders Festival of Creative Genius. which was commissioned by Jude Law. The Last Tycoon (1976). In December 2001. the Manitoba Theatre Centre. The Comfort of Strangers (1990). The Quiller Memorandum (1966). The Remains of the Day’ (1990). The Room. Turtle Diary (1985). Pinter’s screenplays for both The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Betrayal were nominated for Academy Awards in 1981 and 1983. Robert De Niro. from the novel by Franz Kafka. and as a director of a double bill pairing his last play. and Lolita remain unpublished and. a Harold Pinter Festival celebrating his work was held as part of the annual Lincoln Center Festival in New York City. wrote and performed in a new sketch. in Manitoba. a television film. Canada. from the 1949 novel by Elizabeth Bowen. directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Law and Michael Caine. from the novel by John Fowles. he underwent an operation and chemotherapy.
at a ceremony at the French embassy in London. Pinter stated that he would stop writing plays to dedicate himself to his political activism and writing poetry: “I think I’ve written 29 plays. interest in Pinter’s life and work surged. Pinter emphasizes that he criticizes policies and practices of American administrations (and those who voted for them). however. Truth and Politics. one of the most telling metaphors of the temptation of imperialism and violence. instigating some public controversy and criticism relating both to characteristics of Pinter’s work and to his politics. and Celebration entitled Four Plays. I think it’s enough for me. It was simultaneously transmitted in the UK that evening. Mountain Language. shamed and angered by their government’s actions”.” In response. I’m using a lot of energy more specifically about political states of affairs. with some commentators accusing Pinter of “anti-Americanism”. and its taste for an understanding of man and of what is truly universal. In the lecture.” He said that Pinter received the award particularly “because in seeking to capture all the facets of the human spirit. who “in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”. not all American citizens. Though still hospitalised. the French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin presented Pinter with France’s highest civil honour. discovering an infection that would nearly kill him.” Adapted and abridged from: http://en. The 46-minute lecture was introduced on television by Pinter’s friend. very worrying as things stand. Art. On 18 January 2007. he had planned to travel to Stockholm to present his lecture in person. such as The Essential Pinter and The Dwarfs. his doctor hospitalised him and barred such travel. it is for me one of the most accurate images of war. teach us how to live.wikipedia. The lecture was projected on three large screens at the Swedish Academy on the evening of 7 December 2005.” Memorial tributes On 13 October 2005 the Swedish Academy announced that it had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Literature for that year to Pinter. The lecture provoked extensive public controversy. Stephen Page of Faber and Faber accepted his Nobel Diploma and Nobel Medal at the Awards Ceremony. de Villepin concluded: “The poet stands still and observes what doesn’t deserve other men’s attention. It has been widely distributed by print and online media and has been the source of much commentary and debate. No Man’s Land. at a Channel 4 studio. the Légion d’honneur. Harold Pinter. by Faber and Faber. which I think are very. As a result of his Nobel Prize and lecture. De Villepin praised Pinter’s poem American Football (1991) stating: “With its violence and its cruelty. many of whom he recognizes as “demonstrably sickened. [Pinter’s] works respond to the aspirations of the French public.org/wiki/Harold_Pinter 34 . His publisher. leading to new revivals of his plays and new editions of his works. and a three-volume box set including The Birthday Party.In 2005. However. by Grove Press. M. Poetry teaches us how to live and you. After the Academy notified Pinter of his award. David Hare. Pinter videotaped his Nobel Lecture. Pinter praised the French opposition to the war in Iraq. My energies are going in different directions – over the last few years I’ve made a number of political speeches at various locations and ceremonies.
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