Samuel Beckett's Dramatic Strategy

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Merle Tönnies

Samuel Beckett's Dramatic Strategy: Audience Laughter and the Postmodernist Debate

ISBN 978-3-88476-224-0, ISBN 3-88476-224-9, 240 S., kt., € 25,00 (1997)

(Horizonte - Studien zu Texten und Ideen der europäischen Moderne, Bd. 23)

Critical literature on Samuel Beckett contains innumberable conflicting attempts to cope with his dramatic works by tying them down to a definite "meaning" or assigning them a fixed place in literary modernism or postmodernism. This increasingly airy discussion can best be brought down to earth again by proceeding from a tangible "reality": the perception of the plays by the theatre audience. From this perspective, one becomes aware of the striking parallel between Beckett's refusal to provide "interpretations" of his drama and the tendency of postmodernism to concentrate on the act of presentation instead of the representation of an underlying "message". This study therefore sets out to establish whether the specific ways in which Beckett's plays manipulate the spectators' reactions confirm or refute the general affinity with postmodernism.

In this process, the focus is on the interaction between audience laughter that expresses detachment from the characters and laughter which shows the spectators' emotional involvement. The development of these techniques and their relationship with postmodernism is traced throughout Beckett's dramatic oeuvre, distinguishing between three basic groups of plays: the early drama (contrasting the first full-length play, the recently published Eleutheria, with the works from Waiting for Godot onwards). the later Happy Days and Play, where laughter is gradually stifled, and the short late plays, which concentrate on the structural side of the devices.