Samuel Beckett: Books, Poems, Plays, and Biography

Wendy Schauben, Farran Tabrizi
  • Author
    Wendy Schauben

    Wendy Schauben has taught secondary education in English, Research, and Debate for over 8 years. They have a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Central Florida. They also have a professional teaching certificate in the state of Florida as well as certifications to teach AP Capstone Research, Cambridge International English General Paper, and Cambridge International Global Perspectives and Research.

  • Instructor
    Farran Tabrizi
Learn about Samuel Beckett. Discover Samuel Beckett's books, poems, and plays, explore Beckett's biography and career, and learn about his legacy as a writer. Updated: 06/13/2022

Table of Contents


Who Is Samuel Beckett?

Samuel Beckett is a famous writer credited with works like Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days. He earned the Nobel Prize for his contributions to literature in 1969. His childhood in Dublin, Ireland, helped to shape him as an academic and a scholar, and he had a short career as a teacher at esteemed schools in Ireland and Paris.

Famed poet, novelist, and writer, Samuel Beckett.

Samuel Beckett headshot

In 1928 he met James Joyce, who had a profound effect on his writing. He served as a secretary for Joyce while Joyce composed Finnegans Wake. He began to write extensively and publish short essays and poetry, and he moved to Paris during World War II. He served in the French Resistance and fled the Nazis with his partner, Suzanne. Beckett's arguably most famous work, Waiting for Godot, defined him as a playwright and writer and he soon saw the publication of his novels, poetry, and plays. The majority of his work was composed and premiered in the years 1950-1970, though he lived for almost twenty years after that. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 and spent the remainder of his career out of the spotlight.

Samuel Beckett and his wife Suzanne are buried in Paris.

Beckett: Early Life

Date of Birth April 13, 1906
Place of Birth Dublin, Ireland
Parents William Frank Beckett and Maria Jones Roe
Siblings Frank Edward
Education Playschool (Dublin)
Earlsfort House School
Portora Royal School (Enniskillen)
Trinity College (Dublin)
Dublin University
Hobbies Cricket
Wife Suzanne Georgette Anna Dechevaux-Dumesnil (married in 1961)
Death December 22, 1989

Samuel Beckett enjoyed his childhood in Dublin in a nice home named Cooldrinagh. He was sent to schools that helped to refine his literary abilities, and he studied English, French, and Italian. By the time of his graduation from Trinity College in 1927, he was known as an elite scholar, a reputation that helped him to attain work that would eventually lead to the publication of his writing.

Samuel Beckett: Career

In November of 1928, Beckett was offered a position as an English lecturer at a famous French school called Ecole Normale Superieure. While at the school, Beckett met the author James Joyce and he helped Joyce with research for his famous novel Finnegans Wake.

Beckett lectured at Trinity College from 1930-1931, but found he did not enjoy the profession. At the time he had published short essays and some poems. After leaving Trinity College, Beckett traveled and wrote essays and poetry. His attempts at publishing his novel Dream of Fair to Middling Women were met with resistance.

1935 saw Beckett's first collection of poems published: "Echo's Bones and Other Precipitates." In 1936, Beckett's novel Murphy was published while he toured Germany and witnessed the country on the brink of war. Beckett permanently relocated to Paris in 1939 and became a friend of Marcel Duchamp and Alberto Giacometti, and he rekindled his friendship with James Joyce. Beckett was in the news in Paris after being stabbed in the chest and nearly dying. The coverage led his future lifelong partner, Suzanne Dechevaux-Dumesnil, to reach out and begin a relationship.

In 1940, the Nazis invaded France and Beckett joined the French Resistance to protest the occupation. Beckett passed messages from spies within France, but when his identity was revealed, he and Suzanne were forced to flee to Roussillon, a small village in southeastern France, where they hid until 1945. During that time, he worked on a novel titled Watt.

On a visit to his parents home in Dublin, Beckett discovered how to differentiate his work from that of James Joyce. He was determined to focus on lack of knowledge and minimalism, while Joyce was known for discovery and creative understanding. While Joyce focused on making meanings for readers, Beckett would focus on meaninglessness. The experience on this visit to Dublin was made into Beckett's play, Krapp's Last Tape, published in 1958. Additionally, though born in Ireland and a native speaker of English, Beckett began to write primarily in French after World War II because he claimed it helped him to write without style.

Samuel Beckett decided to focus on lack of knowledge and the meaninglessness of life in his writing.

Samuel Beckett drawing

Waiting for Godot was written in French and titled En attendant Godot. Suzanne helped to circulate the manuscript and it was eventually picked up by Roger Blin. In 1955, the initial reaction to the play was unfavorable but turned positive quickly and it gained international success. Due to the acceptance of Waiting for Godot, Beckett was able to publish Endgame and Happy Days in 1957 and 1961 respectively.

In 1961, Beckett was given creative control as a theater director, and he wrote plays for radio, cinema, and television. During this time his style became minimalist by nature. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Though shy, he often met with writers and scholars to discuss art.

Suzanne and Samuel both died in 1989 within five months of each other and are buried in Paris.

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Samuel Beckett: Plays

Samuel Beckett's plays belong to the genre of Theatre of the Absurd, which highlights dark humor and often focuses on subjects that are typically seen as taboo. The themes of these type of plays are darkly funny and are preoccupied with meaninglessness.

Three of Beckett's most famous plays are:

Play Year Summary
Waiting for Godot 1948 Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for a person named Godot. They talk and interact with Pozzo and Lucky on two consecutive nights and find out that Godot will not be coming.
Happy Days 1960 This play focuses on Willie and Winnie, a married couple. Winnie is buried waist deep in the ground and Willie sleeps. The play details Winnie's inner musings, and she interacts with items in a black shopping bag. The play ends with Willie coming to Winnie as she is buried up to her neck.
Endgame 1957 This play chronicles the interactions between Hamm and Clov, two suffering old men who are waiting for death.

Waiting for Godot

Beckett's play Waiting for Godot is revered by audiences as a groundbreaking story. The title is just as interesting since Godot never actually shows up in the play.

In the introduction, two men, Vladimir and Estragon, meet on a country road and discuss repenting for their sins. They mention that they are waiting for Godot, but they are unclear on what they asked him for. Suddenly, Pozzo walks up with his abused slave, Lucky, and interacts with the two men. A boy arrives with a message from Godot, telling Vladimir and Estragon that Godot will not arrive that evening but perhaps tomorrow.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What did Samuel Beckett win the Nobel Prize for?

Samuel Beckett won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. He is celebrated for his international success in Waiting for Godot.

What is Samuel Beckett best known for?

Samuel Beckett is best known for his play, Waiting for Godot, which is about waiting for a man who never appears. The four characters Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, and Lucky meet on two nights as they wait for Godot, as does the audience.

What was Samuel Beckett's philosophy?

Samuel Beckett was a minimalist and often gave ambiguous answers to questions. Instead of using art for discovery he focused on what he did not know.

Why did Beckett leave Ireland?

Beckett left Ireland to move to Paris to collaborate with other writers. After World War II, he felt French was his language of choice and preferred to write in French over English and Italian.

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