Beckett on Web 2.0

Damned to better

Seminar Paper, 2009

17 Pages, Grade: 1,0



1. Introduction

2. Play in Various Media
2.1 Play as Text / on Stage
2.2 Play on Film
2.3 Play on the Radio

3. Play in Web
3.1 What is Web 2.0?
3.2 Why Play fits into Web 2.0: Theory
3.3 How Play fits into Web 2.0: Text and Techniques

4. Conclusion

Primary literature:
Secondary literature:

1. Introduction

Samuel Beckett certainly was one of the most important artists of the 20th century. His literature and drama changed the way people perceive arts and the tragic of human existence, further the way media displays them. Although Beckett was rigid regarding the realisation of his plays he was very open towards new media and techniques. He was up to date and wrote plays for the theatre, the radio and even for television. But he died before he could have used the possibilities the internet offers nowadays.

Nevertheless, Beckett is omnipresent in today’s internet. You just have to type his name into Google and you will find 1.470.000 hits referring to him.[1] Especially his presence on Youtube, a video community on the internet, is astonishing. There people have found many ways to adapt one or several of Beckett’s works the way they wanted to. One could raise the question if this was what Beckett wanted, if this could have been avoided or if this was part of a logical consequence of the technological progress and the developments the internet has gone through within the last decade.

Having Paul Virilio’s media theory in mind, the Aesthetics of Disappearance, in which he argues about the speed of information and the transformation of media, there is always a next step in terms of media, which in the end has led to the internet as it is today. Beckett always took that next step himself. Therefore, Beckett being part of the internet is the logical consequence of his work, of the way he used or was intrigued by different media, of the way he brought art to the latest medium – or is it not?

Throughout this paper I will argue that Beckett’s work Play needed to be placed on the internet. I will try to prove that Play can make use of its full potential only within Web 2.0 . I will start by reconstructing the media-history Play has gone through, from text to stage, from radio to television play. By doing that, I will point out that Beckett has always included another medium’s potentials and techniques when adapting Play. Then, I will continue with Play on Web 2.0 . I will describe what Web 2.0 actually means and where it came from, in order to later analyse Play on the internet, theoretically and aesthetically to finally conclude if Play really is best adapted on the internet.

Due to the set amount of pages of a term paper and the theoretical emphasis of the thesis this work will not include extensive analyses of TV-, film- and radio-versions of Play . This will only be adumbrated when necessary.

2. Play in Various Media

2.1 Play as Text / on Stage

Play was written in 1962/63 and was first performed on stage in Ulm, Germany in 1963 (Beckett 8). Play is a piece of one act that repeats itself one time which makes it a two act play. The end of the second act is the beginning of a third repetition, slightly different from the first two versions (Becker 216), but it breaks up. I will come back to that later on. The play is structured in a tripartite way. It is divided into a chorus, in which all characters speak simultaneously, narration, in which the characters recapitulate what happened to them before they were trapped in that hell, and meditation, in which the characters reflect on their current situation (Becker 215).

The scenery of Play includes three urns and three characters within them, two of them female, one male. They are “held fast in the urn’s mouths” (Beckett 9). Only their heads are to be seen and they nearly appear to be part of the urns. A spotlight is projected on their faces which forces them to talk. If the light does not spot them they remain silent. Their faces remain impassive throughout the whole play, their heads do not move and the voices speak rapidly but tonelessly. They do not know of each others presence.

The characters, the male, “M”, his wife, “W1”, and his lover “W2”, when spotted, tell the story of their triangle relationship and their particular role in it. They do not speak with each other, but rather to themselves or to the audience.

2.2 Play on Film

In January 1966 Beckett allowed to have Play adapted for the screen for the first time. He himself took part in the realisation of Comédie, the French film version of the play. It was shot by Marin Karmiz in Paris.

In terms of staging and acting this version has merely undergone minor changes from the stage version, if it all. But what was changed and what therefore is of interest will be described in the following: First of all, the spotlight has been exchanged by the focus of the camera. Instead of a transfer of the light from one person to another the camera close-ups of the faces function as force to make the protagonists talk (Zilliacus 151). Secondly, the voices were edited with a machine called Phonogène. This machine was originally developed for and used to control melodic elements in music concrete. The Phonogène makes it possible to change either the speed or the frequency independently from one another. The technical possibilities were fascinating to Beckett since now he was able to speed up the voices without risking a lack of quality (Zilliacus 151).

A second important film version of Play is the one of Beckett on Film . Beckett on Film is an ambitious project in which all of Beckett’s dramas have been filmed. 19 film versions of Beckett’s dramatic texts have been produced. Since Beckett’s works have been transferred from one medium to another ever since, and since the theatre plays did not change severely when being adapted to television (Lommel 41) the idea of shooting Beckett’s dramatic texts for television was quite obvious. Beckett on Film, broadcast in 2001, is a joint project initiated by Gate Theatre Dublin ’s art director Michael Colgan and TV-producer Alan Moloney. It was realised by the Irish TV-channel RTÉ, the British Channel 4 and Tyrone Productions (Lommel 41). The history of Beckett on Film begins in 1991 with a Beckett-Festival at the Gate Theatre . 19 plays have been developed for this with which the Gate Theatre went touring throughout the USA, Canada and Australia. After the huge success of it they initiated another Beckett-Festival at the Barbican Theatre London. There several film-versions of Beckett-plays were produced, one of them was Play . Its director was Anthony Minghella and the cast consisted of Alan Rickman, Kristin Scott Thomas and Juliet Stevenson, who are all known from various Hollywood-productions (Lommel 42).

Surprisingly the Beckett Estate, normally very rigid with adaptations of Beckett’s texts, allowed the production and release of Beckett on Film . But there were strict rules set by the Beckett Estate to make sure that every word, every gender, every location was adapted the way Beckett originally described it: “We didn’t want adaptations or ‘inspired by’-stuff” (Original quote in Lommel 42).

Still, some things are different than they could possibly be in theatre. Within the Beckett on Film version of Play the three urns are not the only ones standing in a darkish, unicoloured grey and foggy landscape, which itself would hardly be possible in a theatre. The scenery, which appears quite dead and hostile, includes numerous urns and a tree. Further, similar to the 1966 French version, the spotlight has been exchanged by a camera-objective, which in this case is underlined by a typical objective’s zooming-sound. The camera, it seems, just starts focussing on the three protagonists when Play begins. It slowly comes near them, first shooting an extreme long shot, changing to a long shot and coming nearer until it reaches a close-up distance in which the camera will switch from character to character. The first two changes in camera-angle are intermitted by a flicker one knows from old films in cinema, indicating that the film is scratched, the film reel is loose and lets the border of the image flicker onto the screen. Except for the last sentence, when the camera focuses on M even more, the camera hardly changes its angle.


[1] <<>>, 18th May 2009, 9 pm.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


Beckett on Web 2.0
Damned to better
University of Siegen  (Sprach-, Literatur- und Medienwissenschaften)
Samuel Beckett – Playwright, Novelist and Writer for the TV-Screen
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
470 KB
Samuel Beckett, Paul Virilio, Web 2.0, Beckett's Play, Beckett on Film, Beckett and SWR, Hyperlink Theory, YouTube, Joachim Becker, Martin Esslin, Andrew Keen, Michael Lommel, Peter Seibert, Merle Tönnies, Eckart Voigts-Virchow, Tim O'Reilly, Theatre, Television, Radio, Internet, BBC, Beckett Estate, Screenplay, Novelist, Ireland, France, Germany, HTML
Quote paper
Eike Rüdebusch (Author), 2009, Beckett on Web 2.0, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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