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Sunday, 23 November 2014

Mathew Arnold: The Study of Poetry

The Study of Poety: Mathew Arnold


Introduction:

The criticism in the Victorian Era:
1.    Art and Morality: Art for Life’s sake
a.     Carlyle and Ruskin: Moral view point should be the benchmark to judge the work of literature. Art should be for the betterment of life.
2.    Art and Aesthetic pleasure: art for Art’s sake
a.     Walter Pater and Oscar Wilde: Aesthetic and artistic delight should be the benchmark to judge the work of literature: Art should be for delight and pleasure of mankind.
3.    Golden Mean: Mathew Arnold (1822-1888),:
a.     His ‘Essays in Criticism’ (1865-1888): A series of Lectures, he delivered as professor of poetry. The first place among Arnold’s prose works must be given to it, which raised the author to the front rank of living critics. His fundamental idea of criticism appeals to us strongly. The business of criticism, he says, is neither to find fault nor to display the critic’s own learning or influence; it is to know ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ and by using this knowledge to create a current of fresh and free thought. (W.J.Long). ‘The Study of Poetry’ is among the best essays in criticism.
b.    The Study of poetry: The first essay in the 1888 volume was originally published as the general introduction to T.H. Ward’s anthology, The English Poets (1880). It contains many of the ideas for which Arnold is best remembered.
c.     His classicism: He did not like the spasmodic expression of Romanticism. He advocated discipline in writing and recommended the classical writers.
d.    As a prose writer the cold intellectual quality, which mars his poetry by restraining romantic feeling, is of first importance, since it leads him to approach literature with an open mind and with the single desire to find ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’. W.J.Long: “We cannot speak with confidence of his rank in literature; but by his crystal-clear style, his scientific spirit of inquiry and comparison, illumined here and there by the play of humour, and especially by his broad sympathy and intellectual culture, he seems destined to occupy a very high place among the masters of literary criticism.”
e.     Literary Criticism is, as Matthew Arnold points out, a "disinterested endeavor to learn and propagate" the best that is known and thought in the world. And he strove hard to fulfill this aim in his critical writings.
f.      The first great principle of criticism enunciated by Arnold is that of disinterestedness or detachment. Disinterestedness on the part of the critic implies freedom from all prejudices, personal or historical.
g.     Attaching paramount importance to poetry in his essay "The Study of Poetry", he regards the poet as seer. Without poetry, science is incomplete, and much of religion and philosophy would in future be replaced by poetry. Such, in his estimate, are the high destinies of poetry.
h.    Arnold asserts that literature, and especially poetry, is "Criticism of Life". In poetry, this criticism of life must conform to the laws of poetic truth and poetic beauty. Truth and seriousness of matter, felicity and perfection of diction and manner, as are exhibited in the best poets, are what constitutes a criticism of life.
i.       Poetry, says Arnold, interprets life in two ways: "Poetry is interpretative by having natural magic in it, and moral profundity". And to achieve this the poet must aim at high and excellent seriousness in all that he writes. This demand has two essential qualities. The first is the choice of excellent actions. The poet must choose those which most powerfully appeal to the great primary human feelings which subsist permanently in the race. The second essential is what Arnold calls the Grand Style - the perfection of form, choice of words, drawing its force directly from the matter which it conveys.
j.       This, then, is Arnold's conception of the nature and mission of true poetry. And by his general principles - the" Touchstone Method" - introduced scientific objectivity to critical evaluation by providing comparison and analysis as the two primary tools for judging individual poets. Thus, Chaucer, Dryden, Pope, and Shelley fall short of the best, because they lack "high seriousness". Arnold's ideal poets are Homer and Sophocles in the ancient world, Dante and Milton, and among moderns, Goethe and Wordsworth. Arnold puts Wordsworth in the front rank not for his poetry but for his "criticism of life".
k.    Arnold while giving his touchstone method makes reader aware about the fallacy in judgment. He is of the view that historical fallacy and personal fallacy mars the real estimate of poetry. While expressing his  views of the historic, the Personal, the Real he writes that ‘… in reading poetry, a sense for the best, the really excellent, and of the strength and joy to be drawn from it, should be present in our minds and should govern our estimate of what we read. But this real estimate, the only true one, is liable to be superseded, if we are not watchful, by two other kinds of estimate, the historic estimate and the personal estimate, both of which are fallacious’.
 ____________________________________________________________
1.   Mathew Arnold’s touchstone method
2.   Arnold’s views of Chaucer as a poet.
3.   Arnold’s views on the age of Dryden and Pope
4.   Arnold’s views on Robert Burns as a poet
5.   Arnold as a critic: (His limitations and legacies)

The Touchstone Method:

The Study of Poetry: a shift in position - the Touchstone Method
He (also) condemns the French critic Vitet, who had eloquent words of praise for the epic poem Chanson de Roland by Turoldus, (which was sung by a jester, Taillefer, in William the Conqueror's army), saying that it was superior to Homer's Iliad. Arnold's view is that this poem can never be compared to Homer's work, and that we only have to compare the description of dying Roland to Helen's words about her wounded brothers Pollux and Castor and its inferiority will be clearly revealed.
Arnold's criticism of Vitet above illustrates his 'touchstone method'; his theory that in order to judge a poet's work properly, a critic should compare it to passages taken from works of great masters of poetry, and that these passages should be applied as touchstones to other poetry. Even a single line or selected quotation will serve the purpose.
From this we see that he has shifted his position from that expressed in the preface to his Poems of 1853. In The Study of Poetry he no longer uses the acid test of action and architectonics. He became an advocate of 'touchstones'. 'Short passages even single lines,' he said, 'will serve our turn quite sufficiently'.
Some of Arnold's touchstone passages are: Helen's words about her wounded brother, Zeus addressing the horses of Peleus, suppliant Achilles' words to Priam, and from Dante; Ugolino's brave words, and Beatrice's loving words to Virgil.
From non-Classical writers he selects from Henry IV Part II (III, i), Henry's expostulation with sleep - 'Wilt thou upon the high and giddy mast . . . '. From Hamlet (V, ii) 'Absent thee from felicity awhile . . . '. From Milton's Paradise Lost Book 1, 'Care sat on his faded cheek . . .', and 'What is else not to be overcome . . '

On Chaucer:
The Study of Poetry: on Chaucer: The French Romance poetry of the 13th century langue d'oc and langue d'oil was extremely popular in Europe and Italy, but soon lost its popularity and now it is important only in terms of historical study. But Chaucer, who was nourished by the romance poetry of the French, and influenced by the Italian Royal rhyme stanza, still holds enduring fascination. There is an excellence of style and subject in his poetry, which is the quality the French poetry lacks. Dryden says of Chaucer's Prologue 'Here is God's plenty!' and that 'he is a perpetual fountain of good sense'. There is largeness, benignity, freedom and spontaneity in Chaucer's writings. 'He is the well of English undefiled'. He has divine fluidity of movement, divine liquidness of diction. He has created an epoch and founded a tradition.
Some say that the fluidity of Chaucer's verse is due to license in the use of the language, a liberty which Burns enjoyed much later. But Arnold says that the excellence of Chaucer's poetry is due to his sheer poetic talent. This liberty in the use of language was enjoyed by many poets, but we do not find the same kind of fluidity in others. Only in Shakespeare and Keats do we find the same kind of fluidity, though they wrote without the same liberty in the use of language.
Arnold praises Chaucer's excellent style and manner, but says that Chaucer cannot be called a classic since, unlike Homer, Virgil and Shakespeare, his poetry does not have the high poetic seriousness which Aristotle regards as a mark of its superiority over the other arts.
On the Age of Dryden and Pope:
The Study of Poetry: on the age of Dryden and Pope
The age of Dryden is regarded as superior to that of the others for 'sweetness of poetry'. Arnold asks whether Dryden and Pope, poets of great merit, are truly the poetical classics of the 18th century. He says Dryden's post-script to the readers in his translation of The Aeneid reveals the fact that in prose writing he is even better than Milton and Chapman.
Just as the laxity in religious matters during the Restoration period was a direct outcome of the strict discipline of the Puritans, in the same way in order to control the dangerous sway of imagination found in the poetry of the Metaphysicals, to counteract 'the dangerous prevalence of imagination', the poets of the 18th century introduced certain regulations. The restrictions that were imposed on the poets were uniformity, regularity, precision, and balance. These restrictions curbed the growth of poetry, and encouraged the growth of prose.
Hence we can regard Dryden as the glorious founder, and Pope as the splendid high priest, of the age of prose and reason, our indispensable 18th century. Their poetry was that of the builders of an age of prose and reason. Arnold says that Pope and Dryden are not poet classics, but the 'prose classics' of the 18th century.
As for poetry, he considers Gray to be the only classic of the 18th century. Gray constantly studied and enjoyed Greek poetry and thus inherited their poetic point of view and their application of poetry to life. But he is the 'scantiest, frailest classic' since his output was small.

On Burns:
The Study of Poetry: on Burns
Although Burns lived close to the 19th century his poetry breathes the spirit of 18th Century life. Burns is most at home in his native language. His poems deal with Scottish dress, Scottish manner, and Scottish religion. This Scottish world is not a beautiful one, and it is an advantage if a poet deals with a beautiful world. But Burns shines whenever he triumphs over his sordid, repulsive and dull world with his poetry.
Perhaps we find the true Burns only in his bacchanalian poetry, though occasionally his bacchanalian attitude was affected. For example in his Holy Fair, the lines 'Leeze me on drink! it gies us mair/ Than either school or college', may represent the bacchanalian attitude, but they are not truly bacchanalian in spirit. There is something insincere about it, smacking of bravado.
When Burns moralises in some of his poems it also sounds insincere, coming from a man who disregarded morality in actual life. And sometimes his pathos is intolerable, as in Auld Lang Syne.
We see the real Burns (wherein he is unsurpassable) in lines such as, 'To make a happy fire-side clime/ to weans and wife/ That's the true pathos and sublime/ Of human life' (Ae Fond Kiss). Here we see the genius of Burns.
But, like Chaucer, Burns lacks high poetic seriousness, though his poems have poetic truth in diction and movement. Sometimes his poems are profound and heart-rending, such as in the lines, 'Had we never loved sae kindly/ had we never loved sae blindly/ never met or never parted/ we had ne'er been broken-hearted'.
Also like Chaucer, Burns possesses largeness, benignity, freedom and spontaneity. But instead of Chaucer's fluidity, we find in Burns a springing bounding energy. Chaucer's benignity deepens in Burns into a sense of sympathy for both human as well as non-human things, but Chaucer's world is richer and fairer than that of Burns.
Sometimes Burns's poetic genius is unmatched by anyone. He is even better than Goethe at times and he is unrivalled by anyone except Shakespeare. He has written excellent poems such as Tam O'Shanter, Whistle and I'll come to you my Lad, and Auld Lang Syne.
When we compare Shelley's 'Pinnacled dim in the of intense inane' (Prometheus Unbound III, iv) with Burns's, 'They flatter, she says, to deceive me' (Tam Glen), the latter is salutary.

Arnold on Shakespeare
Praising Shakespeare, Arnold says 'In England there needs a miracle of genius like Shakespeare's to produce a balance of mind'. This is praise tempered by a critical sense. In a letter he writes. 'I keep saying Shakespeare, you are as obscure as life is'.
In his sonnet On Shakespeare he says;
Others abide our question. Thou art free.
We ask and ask—Thou smilest and art still,
Out-topping knowledge. For the loftiest hill,
Who to the stars uncrowns his majesty,

Planting his steadfast footsteps in the sea,
Making the heaven of heavens his dwelling-place,
Spares but the cloudy border of his base
To the foil'd searching of mortality;

And thou, who didst the stars and sunbeams know,
Self-school'd, self-scann'd, self-honour'd, self-secure,
Didst tread on earth unguess'd at.—Better so!

All pains the immortal spirit must endure,
All weakness which impairs, all griefs which bow,
Find their sole speech in that victorious brow.
________________________________________________
Arnold's limitations
For all his championing of disinterestedness, Arnold was unable to practice disinterestedness in all his essays. In his essay on Shelley particularly he displayed a lamentable lack of disinterestedness. Shelley's moral views were too much for the Victorian Arnold. In his essay on Keats too Arnold failed to be disinterested. The sentimental letters of Keats to Fanny Brawne were too much for him.
Arnold sometimes became a satirist, and as a satirical critic saw things too quickly, too summarily. In spite of their charm, the essays are characterised by egotism and, as Tilotson says, 'the attention is directed, not on his object but on himself and his objects together'.
Arnold makes clear his disapproval of the vagaries of some of the Romantic poets. Perhaps he would have agreed with Goethe, who saw Romanticism as disease and Classicism as health. But Arnold occasionally looked at things with jaundiced eyes, and he overlooked the positive features of Romanticism which posterity will not willingly let die, such as its humanitarianism, love of nature, love of childhood, a sense of mysticism, faith in man with all his imperfections, and faith in man's unconquerable mind.
Arnold's inordinate love of classicism made him blind to the beauty of lyricism. He ignored the importance of lyrical poems, which are subjective and which express the sentiments and the personality of the poet. Judged by Arnold's standards, a large number of poets both ancient and modern are dismissed because they sang with 'Profuse strains of unpremeditated art'.
It was also unfair of Arnold to compare the classical works in which figure the classical quartet, namely Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra and Dido with Heamann and Dorothea, Childe Harold, Jocelyn, and 'The Excursion'. Even the strongest advocates of Arnold would agree that it is not always profitable for poets to draw upon the past. Literature expresses the zeitgeist, the spirit of the contemporary age. Writers must choose subjects from the world of their own experience. What is ancient Greece to many of us? Historians and archaeologists are familiar with it, but the common readers delight justifiably in modern themes. To be in the company of Achilles, Prometheus, Clytemnestra and Dido is not always a pleasant experience. What a reader wants is variety, which classical mythology with all its tradition and richness cannot provide. An excessive fondness for Greek and Latin classics produces a literary diet without variety, while modern poetry and drama have branched out in innumerable directions.
As we have seen, as a classicist Arnold upheld the supreme importance of the architectonic faculty, then later shifted his ground. In the lectures On Translating Homer, On the Study of Celtic Literature, and The Study of Poetry, he himself tested the greatness of poetry by single lines. Arnold the classicist presumably realised towards the end of his life that classicism was not the last word in literature.
Arnold's lack of historic sense was another major failing. While he spoke authoritatively on his own century, he was sometimes groping in the dark in his assessment of earlier centuries. He used to speak at times as if ex cathedra(with authority), and this pontifical (pompous) solemnity vitiated his criticism.
As we have seen, later critics praise Arnold, but it is only a qualified praise. Oliver Elton calls him a 'bad great critic'. T. S. Eliot said that Arnold is a 'Propagandist and not a creator of ideas'. According to Walter Raleigh, Arnold's method is like that of a man who took a brick to the market to give the buyers an impression of the building.
____________________________________________________

Arnold's legacy
In spite of his faults, Arnold's position as an eminent critic is secure. Douglas Bush says that the breadth and depth of Arnold's influence cannot be measured or even guessed at because, from his own time onward, so much of his thought and outlook became part of the general educated consciousness. He was one of those critics who, as Eliot said, arrive from time to time to set the literary house in order. Eliot named Dryden, Johnson and Arnold as some of the greatest critics of the English language.
Arnold united active independent insight with the authority of the humanistic tradition. He carried on, in his more sophisticated way, the Renaissance humanistic faith in good letters as the teachers of wisdom, and in the virtue of great literature, and above all, great poetry. He saw poetry as a supremely illuminating, animating, and fortifying aid in the difficult endeavour to become or remain fully human.
Arnold's method of criticism is comparative. Steeped in classical poetry, and thoroughly acquainted with continental literature, he compares English literature to French and German literature, adopting the disinterested approach he had learned from Sainte-Beuve.
Arnold's objective approach to criticism and his view that historical and biographical study are unnecessary was very influential on the new criticism. His emphasis on the importance of tradition also influenced F. R. Leavis, and T. S. Eliot.
Eliot is also indebted to Arnold for his classicism, and for his objective approach which paved the way for Eliot to say that poetry is not an expression of personality but an escape from personality, because it is not an expression of emotions but an escape from emotions.
Although Arnold disapproved of the Romantics' approach to poetry, their propensity for allusiveness and symbolism, he also shows his appreciation the Romantics in his Essays in Criticism. He praises Wordsworth thus: 'Nature herself took the pen out of his hand and wrote with a bare, sheer penetrating power'. Arnold also valued poetry for its strong ideas, which he found to be the chief merit of Wordsworth's poetry. About Shelley he says that Shelley is 'A beautiful but ineffectual angel beating in a void his luminous wings in vain'.
In an age when cheap literature caters to the taste of the common man, one might fear that the classics will fade into insignificance. But Arnold is sure that the currency and the supremacy of the classics will be preserved in the modern age, not because of conscious effort on the part of the readers, but because of the human instinct of self-preservation.
In the present day with the literary tradition over-burdened with imagery, myth, symbol and abstract jargon, it is refreshing to come back to Arnold and his like to encounter central questions about literature and life as they are perceived by a mature and civilised mind. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Presentations on T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'

The Cover Page: The Waste Land

  1. 'The Waste Land' by T.S. Eliot
The literature is not only the mirror image of society. It can neither be limited to the metaphor of photographic representation, nor be limited to the lamp which brightens the corner of society or human nature. Sometimes, literature is the x-ray image of the society. The black and while skeleton of society. The ugly-but-real-at-its-core face of society is captured on transparent paper. The writer's eyes like an x-ray machine, penetrates deep and captures the nuances of social decay, moral decay and cultural decay. The rotten state of human life in the early quarter of the Twentieth century is meticulously captured by T.S. Eliot in 'The Waste Land - quite aptly known as 'The Modern Epic'. The root cause of this decay (social, moral and cultural) is spiritual degradation and sexual perversion. Is spiritual degradation the cause of sexual perversion or the effect of sexual perversion is due to spiritual degradation? It is not easy to answer this is simple cause-effect relationship. They both are interdependent. They have walked hand-in-hand, in past, they walk together in present and they will, if the lessons are not learnt from literature. People question the usefulness of 'Arts' in life. Can we find the answer art (verbal) like 'The Waste Land'.




2. Universal Human Laws in the Modern Epic 'The Waste Land'
Are myths subtle codes that contain some universal truth? Are they a window on the deep recesses of a particular culture? Or are they just entertaining stories that people like to tell over and over? The Waste Land not only makes extensive use of myths but also makes, a myth – the myth of the hollowness of Human Beings in Modern Times.The rituals of the modern men are mythified – which in turn attempts to legitimize it.Or rather it would be better to say: the rituals (sexual sins) are illegitimized in epic which is heavily drawn as modern day myth – the myth of decay, desolation and degeneration of human values, civilizations and cultures.As the poem operates in a dismantling way, rather than legitimizing, it illegitimizes the rituals of the Modern Times.



3. Autobiographical Elements in T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land'
It is well said that “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry” . . . and . . . “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality”.Consciously, the poet should make such attempts . . . But the Un/Subconscious is not under the control and commands of Conscious Mind. It finds it outlet in the expression. At the very moment when, quite  consciously, the poet has surrendered itself to the process of creation, it leaks out – it finds its moment of expression. T.S. Eliot, the high priest of the school of depersonalization is also not free from the ‘Un/Subconscious overflow of powerful self . . . Which can only be recollected in tranquility by the biographical critics’.


Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Short Learning Videos on Wordsworth's Preface to Lyrical Ballads

Here are some short videos on Wordsworth's Preface. After viewing them you will be able to:
* differentiate between Classicism and Romanticism 
* understand basic concept of Wordsworth's poetic creed
* attempt questions given below these videos 













After watching these videos, you can attempt below given questions. You can give your answers in 'Comment' below this blog-post.

  • What are the basic difference between the poetic creed of 'Classicism' and 'Romanticism'?
  • Why does Wordsworth say 'What' is poet? rather than Who is poet?
  • What is poetic diction? Which sort of poetic diction is suggested by Wordsworth in his Preface?
  • What is poetry?
  • Discuss 'Daffodils - I wandered lonely as a cloud' with reference to Wordsworth's poetic creed.


Additional study questions: 
(All these questions are not addressed in the video lectures. You can download documents from this page to prepare answers of the below given questions)

1.      What according to Wordsworth should be the theme of Poetry?
2.      Write note on Wordsworth’s view on the subject matter of poetry
3.      Write note on Wordsworth’s theory of poetic diction. Illustrate from Wordsworth’s reading of Dr. Johnson’s The Ant & Cowper’s Religion!
4.      Assess the greatness of Wordsworth as a literary critic.
5.      “A language was thus insensibly produced, differing materially from the real language of men in any situation.” Explain and illustrat with reference to your reading of Wordsworth’s views on Poetic Diction in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
6.      “A Poet is a man speaking to men: a man, it is true, endowed with more lively sensibility, more enthusiasm and tenderness.” Explain with reference to your reading of Wordsworth’s views in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
7.      “A Poet has a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul, than one supposed to be common among mankind.” Explain with reference to your reading of Wordsworth’s views in Preface to the Lyrical Ballads.
8.      “For all good poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feeling”. Explain with reference to Wordsworth’s definition of Poetry.
9.      “There neither is, nor can be, any essential difference between the language of prose and metrical composition.” Explain with reference to Wordsworth discussion on Gray’s Sonnet on the Death of Mr. Richard West.
10.   How does Wordsworth describe the language he claims to have selected for his poems? how does he describe the language used by "many modern writers"?
11.  What sorts of "incidents and situations" does Wordsworth claim to have chosen for his poems? How does he believe such incidents can be made "interesting"? Why does he choose situations from "Humble and rustic life"? What is the presumed state of the "essential passions of the heart" in that condition? What is the relationship of these passions to language? To the "forms of nature"?
12.  What, according to Wordsworth, is the relationship in his poems between feeling and action?
13.  According to Wordsworth, "one being is elevated above another in proportion as he possesses" what capability?
14.  What does Wordsworth think of the distinction between the language of prose and metrical composition? Why?
15.  What are some of the characteristics of the poet? What is his relationship to his "own passions and volitions"? What is the relationship between his feelings and the "goings-on of the Universe"?
16.  What sort of truth does poetry give? How is this truth communicated? To what tribunal does it appeal?
17.  Of what is poetry the image? Under what one restriction does a poet write? What sort of information may he expect his reader to possess?
18.  What sort of song does the poet sing? What is his metaphorical relationship to human nature? What does he do for the "vast empire of human society"?
19.  How is the poet "chiefly distinguished from other men"? What characterizes his "passions and thoughts and feelings"? With what are they connected?
20.   What, according to Wordsworth, is the "great spring of the activity of our minds"?
21.   Poetry is defined by Wordsworth as a spontaneous what? From what does poetry take its origin? Then what happens? In what mood is "successful composition" carried on?
Examine ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud . . . daffodils’ to illustrate Wordsworth’s poetic creed.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Worksheet: Screening Movie Waiting for Godot

After viewing the movie adaptation (Waiting for Godot) of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot (Beckett, Waiting for Godot), students are supposed to give their responses in the comments below this blogpost. The points to ponder are given to give direction to their thoughts. It is expected they give honest responses on the points given below.
The movie is directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg. In this 2001 movie, Barry McGovern and Johnny Murphy played Vladimir and Estragon, where as Lucky and Pozzo were performed by Alan Standford and Stephen Brennan, respectively.

Points to Ponder:
·       What is Existentialism?
o   Read Existentialism (Burnham and Papandreopoulos)  
o   Read Existentialism (C. Wikipedia, Existentialism)
o   Watch this video on the Introduction of Existentialism


·       What is the theme of The Myth of Sisyphus?

o   Read The Myth of Sisyphus. Translated from the French by Justin O'Brien, 1955 (Camus)
·       Do you agree that Existentialism is Humanism?

o   Read brief note on Existentialism is Humanism (C. Wikipedia, Existentialism and Humanism)
·       What is Übermensch?
o   Nietzsche had his character Zarathustra posit the Übermensch as a goal for humanity to set for itself in his 1883 book Thus Spoke Zarathustra
o   Read brief on Übermensch? (C. Wikipedia, Ubermensch)
·       What is Theater of Absurd?
o   Read brief on The Theater of Absurd (C. Wikipedia, Theater of Absurd)


  • Language: The surprise of the play is its language. It is incredible to see the complex philosophical thoughts of Existentialism captured with this sort of simplicity in language.


With reference to these topics of background reading, you have viewed the movie ‘Waiting for Godot’ (Beckett, Waiting for Godot). Please give your responses to these points:
·       What connection do you see in the setting (“A country road. A tree.Evening.”) of the play and these paintings?

·       The tree is the only important ‘thing’ in the setting. What is the importance of tree in both acts? Why does Beckett grow a few leaves in Act II on the barren tree - The tree has four or five leaves - ?
Leaves on Tree - Waiting for Godot

·         In both Acts, evening falls into night and moon rises. How would you like to interpret this ‘coming of night and moon’ when actually they are waiting for Godot?
Night and Moon - Waiting for Godot

·       The director feels the setting with some debris. Can you read any meaning in the contours of debris in the setting of the play?
·       The play begins with the dialogue “Nothing to be done”. How does the theme of ‘nothingness’ recurs in the play?
·       Do you agree: “The play (Waiting for Godot), we agreed, was a positive play, not negative, not pessimistic. As I saw it, with my blood and skin and eyes, the philosophy is: 'No matter what— atom bombs, hydrogen bombs, anything—life goes on. You can kill yourself, but you can't kill life." (E.G. Marshal who played Vladimir in original Broadway production 1950s)?
·       How are the props like hat and boots used in the play? What is the symbolical significance of these props?
·       Do you think that the obedience of Lucky is extremely irritating and nauseatic? Even when the master Pozzo is blind, he obediently hands the whip in his hand. Do you think that such a capacity of slavishness is unbelievable?
Pozzo - Lucky: Master-Slave

·       Who according to you is Godot? God? An object of desire? Death? Goal? Success? Or  . . .
·       “The subject of the play is not Godot but ‘Waiting’” (Esslin, A Search for the Self). Do you agree? How can you justify your answer?
·        Do you think that plays like this can better be ‘read’ than ‘viewed’ as it requires a lot of thinking on the part of readers, while viewing, the torrent of dialogues does not give ample time and space to ‘think’? Or is it that the audio-visuals help in better understanding of the play?
·       Which of the following sequence you liked the most:
o   Vladimir – Estragon killing time in questions and conversations while waiting
Vladimir and Estragon: The Had and the Boot

o   Pozzo – Lucky episode in both acts
o   Converstion of Vladimir with the boy
·       Did you feel the effect of existential crisis or meaninglessness of human existence in the irrational and indifference Universe during screening of the movie? Where and when exactly that feeling was felt, if ever it was?
·       Vladimir and Estragon talks about ‘hanging’ themselves and commit suicide, but they do not do so. How do you read this idea of suicide in Existentialism?
  • Can we do any political reading of the play if we see European nations represented by the 'names' of the characters (Vladimir - Russia; Estragon - France; Pozzo - Italy and Lucky - England)? What interpretation can be inferred from the play written just after World War II?



  • So far as Pozzo and Lucky [master and slave] are concerned, we have to remember that Beckett was a disciple of Joyce and that Joyce hated England. Beckett meant Pozzo to be England, and Lucky to be Ireland." (Bert Lahr who played Estragon in Broadway production). Does this reading make any sense? Why? How? What?

  • Click here to view some videos of the movie:











    Works Cited

    Beckett, Samuel. "Waiting for Godot." Samuel Becket.Net. 22 Sept 2014 <http://samuel-beckett.net/Waiting_for_Godot_Part1.html>.
    Burnham, Douglas and George Papandreopoulos. "Existentialism." Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 22 September 2014 <http://www.iep.utm.edu/existent/>.
    Camus, Albert. The Myth of Sisyphus. Trans. Justin O'Brien. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1975.
    Cybulska, Eva. https://philosophynow.org/issues/93/Nietzsches_Ubermensch_A_Hero_of_Our_Time. 22 Sept 2014 <https://philosophynow.org/issues/93/Nietzsches_Ubermensch_A_Hero_of_Our_Time>.
    Esslin, Martin. "A Search for the Self." Bloom, Harold. Waiting for Godot: Critical Interpretations. New Delhi: Viva Books, 2001.
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