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An Intertextual Reading of Three Plays by Samuel Beckett

Author ZhouXia
Tutor LingJianE
School Hunan University of Science and Technology
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords Samuel Beckett Waiting for Godot Endgame Happy Days intertextuality
CLC I562.073
Type Master's thesis
Year 2012
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Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), the representative of “Theatre of the Absurd”, is one ofthe most influential playwrights of the20th century in world literature. His works arehighly intertextual. The thesis takes an intertextual reading of his representative playsWaiting for Godot (1953), Endgame (1956) and Happy Days (1961), and argues for itsimportance to expound Beckett’s humanistic care. It contends that these texts not only bearsome intertextual relations to other texts such as the Christian Bible and the Greek myth ofSisyphus, but are also inferential to each other in the use of characters in pairs. Arguably,such intertextual practices are too important to be missed in understanding the meaning ofBeckett’s dramatic texts.A paramount trait of intertexuality in three Beckettian texts finds expression in theirdistinctive references to the Bible. The absence of Godot in Waiting for Godot refers to theunreliable God for man. The shelter where Hamm inhabits for the time of death inEndgame is a reference to “Noah of Ark”, yet hopeless. The horrible suffering of man andwoman in Happy Days recalls the “Curse of Adam and Eve” in the Bible. These texts,taking the Bible as an intertext, vividly portray the miserable pictures of human beingabandoned by God, and truly mirror human living predicament after two world wars.Another significant trait of intertextuality in the three texts is an implicit allusion to theMyth of Sisyphus. The repetitive plots and circular structures in texts work as a reminderto the Myth, symbolizing the “eternal return” suffering of characters and enhancing therepetitiveness of human predicament. Moreover, the heroes in three texts recall Camus’s1942revival of the Myth, echoing the theme of human dignity reflected by Sisyphuseanheroes’ perseverance in predicament. The reappearance of “pseudocouples” in the threetexts is the third trait of intertextuality to be discussed in the thesis. Each couple charactersin three texts have their parallels in texts. All couples are like the peer couple Vladimir andEstragon in Waiting for Godot. For them, the valuable companionship is the only reliablecomfort to survive the predicament. The master-and-servant couple Hamm and Clov inEndgame proposes the rebellion consciousness of inferior class against upper class, butfirst arises from the same class couple Pozzo and Lucky in Waiting for Godot. Thehusband-and-wife couple Winnie and Willie in Happy Days emphasizes the importance ofcouple communication, but also refers on to the same conjugal couple Nell and Nagg in Endgame.There is a strong sense of intertextuality in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Endgame andHappy Days. An intertextual reading of three texts finds that Beckettian drama is acontinuous and coherent unity. Beckett vividly presents human living predicament anddesperate struggle in western society after the two world wars in three texts. However, themessage about man he sends is not all negation: trapped in predicament, man can still wearhis dignity through his heroic perseverance, which is the greatness of man. Moreimportantly, man is never really isolated because he has his companion to fall back upon,which is the hope of man.

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