Samuel Beckett: "It Means What It Says" (55+)

Samuel Beckett (1906–1989) was a university lecturer, Second World War resistance fighter, poet, essayist, novelist, translator, theatre director and Nobel Prize winner. However, he was best known as a playwright. His first produced play, Waiting for Godot, ran for 400 straight performances and has been called the most important play of the 20th century. With it, Beckett spearheaded a new artistic movement, the Theatre of the Absurd, and challenged subsequent generations of playwrights to look beyond realism.

But what does absurd actually mean? And how did Beckett embody it in his work? We will explore these and other questions through reading and watching videos of his plays. We’ll also look for meaning (if such a thing exists) and debate the literary worth and position in history of Beckett’s theatre.

Note: This course involves required reading.

Please note that enrollment in this course is reserved for adults 55+.

Currently not available for registration.

What will I learn?

Week 1: Life and Ideas

Before delving into Beckett’s plays, we will first take a brief look at his life to understand the scope of his work and its cultural impact. Then we will tackle the concept of absurdism and, in particular, “theatre of the absurd”, a term that has been applied to his plays.

Week 2: Waiting for Godot

Considering the cultural impact of Waiting for Godot, it is hard to believe it was just his second play. This week we will discuss the text, exploring its structure, characters and interpretations. What is Beckett trying to convey, if anything, with Didi and Gogo?

Week 3: “Nothing to Be Done”

Extending our discussion of Godot for another week, we will explore Beckett’s use of language. What is the point of his philosophical and religious allusions? Can we find meaning (there’s that word again) in Lucky’s seemingly nonsensical monologue?

Week 4: Endgame

Beckett’s next play, Endgame, is the focus this week. Is the interaction of its two main characters merely a reworking or extension of Godot, or does he say something different with this play? And what is the purpose of the two people in garbage cans?

Week 5: Absurdism to Minimalism

We will explore some of Beckett’s later work—Play, Come and Go and Breath—as he moves towards a more minimalist form of writing. Does this condensed form clarify his intentions, or do they become more obscure and open to interpretation?

Week 6: Rockaby

This week we will discuss Beckett’s play Rockaby, which he wrote for a festival and symposium commemorating his 75th birthday. We will see that he did not mellow with age, but continued to challenge his audience to grapple with ideas of life and death, and where and why we ascribe meaning.

How will I learn?

  • Lectures
  • Discussion (may vary from class to class)
  • Papers (applicable only to certificate students)

How will I be evaluated?

For certificate students only:

Your instructor will evaluate you based on an essay, which you will complete at the end of the course. You will receive a grade of “satisfactory” or “unsatisfactory.”

Textbooks and learning materials

There is required reading for this course.

  • Samuel Beckett, The Complete Dramatic Works
    Published by Faber & Faber, Incorporated
    ISBN: 9780571229154

This book will be available from the SFU Bookstore or at your local or online bookstore.


If you're 55+, you may take this course as part of

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