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Catastrophe


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A: Samuel Beckett Pf: 1982, Avignon Pb: 1984 Tr: 1984 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Empty theatre, c.1980 C: 2m, 1fA Director (D) and his Assistant (A) are discussing the Protagonist (P), a figure dressed in black wearing a wide-brimmed hat, standing motionless on a plinth on stage. D insists that the black gown should be removed, and P is revealed to be wearing dingy pyjamas. The hat is also removed, and he is made to clasp his hands. P submits to everything inertly but begins to shiver with the cold. D protests that he can see P's face, and A forces his head down. When D demands more nudity, A rolls up P's trouser legs and makes a note to whiten the flesh. Orders are now given to light only P's head. D is scornful of A's suggestion that P might show his face briefly: ‘Where do you think we are? In Patagonia?’ Delighted, D proclaims: ‘There's our catastrophe.’ The image is greeted with thunderous applause, but when P raises his head, the applause falters and dies.

A: Samuel Beckett Pf: 1982, Avignon Pb: 1984 Tr: 1984 G: Drama in 1 act; French prose S: Empty theatre, c.1980 C: 2m, 1f

Beckett insisted always that he was not a political writer (a significant contrast with the other major figure of 20th-century theatre, Bertolt Brecht). However, prompted by his concern over the imprisonment of Václav Havel, he dedicated this piece to the Czech dissident. Its implications of political manipulation and torture are tangentially presented as though in a theatre rehearsal. The simple gesture of defiantly raising his head, the only movement made by P, suggests the power of political defiance in the face of tyranny.

Subjects: Literary Studies (Plays and Playwrights).


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