King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences

The absurdist theatre of Samuel Beckett

Samuel Beckett. That time = Damals. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, [1976].

Adam (Grindea) Collection PR6003.E282 T5

Samuel Beckett (1906-89) was an Irish playwright, theatre director, novelist and poet who has been credited with changing the course of post-war theatre. He has been referred to as one of the last modernist writers and a key figure associated with the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ – a form of theatre concerned with existential ideas of the absurdity of the human condition. Beckett’s plays offered an alternative to theatre’s naturalistic tradition by creating theatre without conventional plot or time and place references that explored the human condition in dark and humorous ways.

The critic Kenneth Tynan wrote of Waiting for Godot, Beckett’s most famous play, that it ‘frankly jettisons everything by which we recognise theatre’. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969: ‘For his writing which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation’.

The item featured here is the one-act play That time, reproduced in both English and German. In That time the only presence on stage is an old man’s head suspended in darkness, listening to his own voice from different stages of his life repeating and re-telling memories. In this play, as in Beckett’s other short late plays, the staging is stark and minimalistic and the character’s monologues are, as one critic notes, concerned with ‘sifting the past and enduring the continuum of life’.

This copy is from the Adam Collection, which was the personal library of the literary journalist Miron Grindea (1909-95). The Adam Collection holds many items of interest to anyone researching the history of literary culture in the 20th century or the history of the book. In addition to the work on display, there are copies of Beckett’s poetry collection Echo's bones: and other precipitates and his short story collection Nouvelles et textes pour rien, both of which Beckett inscribed to Miron Grindea.

In this exhibition

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