In anticipation of St Patrick’s Day on Tuesday 17th March, we wanted to take the opportunity to celebrate one of our favourite Irish writers, Samuel Beckett.
Widely regarded as one of the most important writers of the 20th Century, Beckett was a novelist, playwright, theatre director and poet whose work fits in to what Marin Esslin called the “Theatre of the Absurd,” and which became increasingly minimalistic in his later life. Beckett was raised in Ireland but spent the majority of his adult life living in Paris.
His most famous works are probably his first three plays, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days, all written between 1948 and 1961.
The video above is a monologue called “Not I,” which Beckett wrote in 1972 and which is performed by actress, Billie Whitelaw. Although this was not the first performance, Beckett had written the monologue with Whitelaw in mind, as they had worked together before, on Play. The monologue is frantic and delivered at great speed, telling the story, in a round about way, of a seventy year old woman who has lived a loveless existence following her abandonment by her parents at birth and who seems to have suffered an unspecified traumatic experience. Although rape is something that springs to mind when listening to the monologue, Beckett was emphatic in denying that this was the trauma she had suffered.
The play is always staged in this way, with the stage completely dark apart from a spotlight on the mouth of the actress. Beckett originally wrote in another, silent character called the Auditor, genderless but usually played by a man. This character would wear a black robe and only be dimly visible but when Beckett tried to stage the play, he found the figure too difficult to position so removed it from the production, while leaving directions for it in the published script.
Whitelaw and Beckett had an intense professional relationship and he would write some of his more experimental pieces specifically for her, referring to her as a “perfect actress.” After his death in 1989, Whitelaw chose never to perform any of his works again.
In the first half of Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett, James Knowlson, Beckett’s official biographer, compiles a selection of Beckett’s personal memories and anecdotes, while in the second half, he talks to others who knew Beckett personally and professionally. If you’re a fan of Beckett’s work or would just like to find out more about this fascinating character and his work, pop into the shop to ask about this book.