Empty Figure on an Empty Stage

Empty Figure on an Empty Stage

The Theatre of Samuel Beckett and His Generation
Les Essif
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/22/2001
Format: Hardback 18 b&w photos, 1 index
ISBN: 978-0-253-33847-1
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Empty Figure on an Empty Stage
The Theatre of Samuel Beckett and His Generation

Les Essif

An original and exciting approach to the theatre of the absurd.

This study considers the ways playwrights draw meaning from emptiness. With reference to actual performances of dramatic works, Les Essif examines drama associated with nonrealistic movement known as theatre of the absurd, focusing on the ways dramatists create an impression of emptiness not only on the stage but also in the body and mind of the central character. Essif makes a case for the meta-dramatic fusion of stage and character.

Empty Figure on an Empty Stage begins with a discussion of philosophical, socio-cultural, and theatrical implications of emptiness. Bringing together pioneers in theatre phenomenology Bert O. States and Stanton B. Garner, Jr., with theatrical thinkers Antonin Artaud and Gordon Craig, and socio-aesthetic thinkers Mikhail Bakhtin and Theodore Adorno, Essif formulates a fresh approach to drama and performance and presents an overview of the evolution of "empty" characters and "empty" space in Western drama. After examining Samuel Beckett’s drama and performance, Essif studies works of other dramatists of this generation, primarily from France (Ionesco, Vian, Dubillard, Obaldia), but also from other Western national cultures (Bernhard, Pinter, Stoppard, Handke, Shepard). He supports his thesis with photographs of works of art as well as scenes from theatrical performances of the plays in question.

Les Essif is Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Drama and Performance Studies—Timothy Wiles, general editor

July 2001
272 pages, 18 b&w photos, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4, index, append.
cloth 0-253-33847-6 $39.95 s / £30.50

Author Bio

Les Essif is Associate Professor of Modern Languages and Literatures at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.


“A new reading of the so-called "absurdist" drama of Samuel Beckett and his generation, in which emptiness and figural imagery become primary sources of meaning production.

“Essif (Univ. of Tennessee, Knoxville) presents a sophisticated analysis of theatrical and psychic space, particularly of Beckett's empty figure on an empty stage. With special regard for the later plays, particularly Rockaby and Not I, the author identifies the techniques that focus the spectator's attention on the human body—the hypersubjective dramatic character—that connects the empty outer space of the stage and the empty inner space of the mind. Such a study necessitates an analysis not only of the ontological and metaphorical but also of the development of modern drama. Essif links Beckett with other playwrights (many French) in the nouveau théâtre (theatre) and offers a parenthetical chapter on the work of others—Pinter, Stoppard, Handke, Shepard—by way of contrast, an approach that succeeds admirably in situating Beckett. And in a final, illuminating chapter, he extends his reach to the figures of the harlequin of commedia and Pierrot, a modern mutant, distinguishing between them and connecting Beckett with the more meditative, socially isolated Pierrot. This is an intelligent, evocative study that, in its modest way, does more than most others in conceptualizing and articulating Beckett's fascination with emptiness and silence. Upper-division undergraduates and above.November 2001”
 — J. Schlueter, Lafayette College

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Table of Contents

Preliminary Table of Contents:


1. Emptiness: Ontological, Theatrical, Theatro-psychic
2. Surrealist Inner Space: Theatre of the (Empty) Mind
3. Beckett’s Pursuit of Emptiness: The Concentrated (Empty) Image Behind the Fragmented Story In the Late Plays
4. Avatars of the Hypersubjective Dramatic Character
5. The Hypersubject Avatar Manqué
6. TheHypersubjective Marionette-like Legacy of Pierrot: From the Social Space of the Commedia to the Empty Space of Nouveau Théâtre

Works Cited