The World’s Shortest Play (Beckett)

Samuel Beckett wrote a play titled “Breath” that from beginning to end lasts 35 seconds.  The play begins with a child’s first breath while the stage is covered with trash.  The play ends with a person’s final breath while the view of trash on the stage stays the main focus.  The point of the play is that we come into a world of trash… live briefly… then die.  Such is the world’s view of life.

Beckett was an was an Irish avant-garde writer, poet, and dramatist.  He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1969 .  As such he is widely regarded as one of the most influential writers of the 20th century.  Yet he was a recluse… intensley private… and seems to be a person without much hope in his life… as his play “Breath” portrays.

While I would agree that we live in a world that is broken on virtually every level, I would not agree that it has to stay that way or that our life means nothing as the play seems to imply.  One thing that is true of the Christian life… it is full of hope!  Watch the play below… then be sure to read the Scripture that follows.  Then decide which world view you’d rather live by.

Romans 5:2 Through Him (Jesus) we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Romans 8:23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

1 Thessalonians 4:13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.

Hebrews 10:22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23  Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He (Jesus) who promised is faithful.

1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice…

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7 comments on “The World’s Shortest Play (Beckett)

  1. Me says:

    Do you have any idea when this video comes on out on Blue Ray or DVD? I want a copy. Can you imagine listening to it on surround sound. better not run to the potty or you will miss it. Takes longer for the credits to run than for the story. Breath? Interesting, twisted concept. Only in today’s culture would someone seriously attempt to make something like this and call it art.

  2. Julian says:

    One of the greatest misconceptions about Beckett is that he was intensely pessimistic and without any kind of hope. Indeed one sees elements of this in his works “Waiting for Godot,” “Act Without Words I,” and “Endgame.” However, you neglect to mention the existence of hope (and yes, even comedy) that also fills much of his writing. Some examples include:

    The very ending eleven words of “The Unnamable” is considered by many scholars to be the reflection of the post-World War II world and it’s eventual rising from the ashes and horrors of war to a happier future (“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on”).

    In “Krapp’s Last Tape” the old man finds in his final moments that he regrets the choices he made in life, from rejecting love to perhaps even his rejection of Providence. Much to his own shock, he finds that were he to do it again, he would withstand the pain to only have the happier moments of life and love again.

    In “Happy Days” the character Winnie clings to her hope in the Savior and holds on to the hope of happier days despite being covered neck deep in dirt and her husband coming out to possibly murder her.

    “Ohio Impromptu” discusses the grieving process and eventually coming to terms with the loss of a loved one and eventually moving on from the grief and reminiscence of that dead loved one.

    Yes, he wrote many pessimistic works. Yes, he had a very bleak view of humanity and the world (imagine going through what he went through; from World War II, to being ostracized and eventually forced into a self-imposed exile from his native Ireland, and losing all his loved ones, until only he remained at the end of his life). However, one cannot deny the intense feelings of hope that existed in many of his works. I grant the fact that many of his works were pessimistic, but I do not think it shows that he actually feels that life is a complete broken waste. To the contrary, I have always read Beckett’s works as cautionary tales about the choices one makes in life.

    Also, that the man was intensely private and a recluse should not reflect on what his actual life was. Nobody can accurately make a statement on the quality of person’s life based on the fact that they weren’t as sociable as the next guy. Unlike many people these days who are not “intensely private” and reclusive he married only once and loved her deeply (it is implied that his play Ohio Impromptu was a reflection on the pain he would feel on just the thought of losing his wife). He was also generous, giving financial support to a former San Quentin inmate who would go on to be one of the greatest interpreters of Beckett’s work and the starter of the San Quentin Drama Workshop which helped to bring reform to the prison systems in the United States (Rick Cluchey).

    Are these works and actions the mark of a man so racked with pessimism and cynicism and “without much hope in his life” as you say? Or is it perhaps the mark of an individual that reflected deeply on the despair of this world and chose–albeit with a pessimistic air–to continue on with the precious little that he so desperately cared for? Is he without hope for refusing to taint himself with the false friends, delusions of grandeur, and all the vices that fame brings, and perhaps ruin the marriage that he had chosen to have with the woman he loves? I should think not.

    However, just as with much great literature, the meaning and intent of the works are always subject to interpretation. There is no doubt that many simply see Beckett as a pessimistic author and playwright based on some interpretations of his work, however I do not feel this is a fair reflection of the person he actually was. If I were you, I would try to give this amazing writer a second chance and review his works a little more deeply.

    Besides that, please bear in mind that “Breath,” was a brief sketch he had written for the very odd and pornographic show “Oh! Calcutta!” Some would say that this sketch is much more a kind of joke and reflects a sort of incredulity at the idea of including him in this revue at all (seeing as how he never really made sexuality a powerful theme in his works).

  3. Julian says:

    From my understanding of your thoughts, you seem to claim or make the implication that there are two views held; one of the broken and hopeless world as posited by Beckett in his short play “Breath” and the one put forward by the Bible and finding optimism within a world broken at all levels. I am merely saying that this play is not a reflection of his entire philosophy and works and that it seems to give a misleading air as to what Beckett’s writings represent as a whole.

    He’s morbid to be sure, but the implication (again, my own view as to what your post implied) that this is his only view is skewed to say the least. Based on your second post in reply to the poster Me, I assume that you hold the view that Samuel Beckett is one of those faux artists that is not a real artist but rather a sort of hipster craze.

    Yeah, the hipster craze has hijacked Beckett and really skewed the man’s writings. Not going to lie on that one. However, he is a legitimate writer who had a very clear message:

    What was needed to be said has already been said in the past and compared to what was needed all else is absurdity. That words now serve as a confusing blot on what the world is and what humanity is, misleading us and eventually causing our own destruction at every level of our lives. It is the profundity of silence that shows us the true quality of the lives we lead; hence “Breath.” As much as it may be a joke it is also a warning. Take away words from our lives and what we have truly is nothing but breathing and a pile of rubbish we’ve piled up which we call possessions. It tells us we need something more. What that is? It is up to the reader/viewer to decide. It could be Christianity, it could be something else altogether, who knows? This is what made Beckett the immense writer and playwright he is considered to be in many academic circles.

    Also, please understand I am not trying to discredit your post or am trying to take away the point on hope and optimism in Christianity. Far from it; it is indeed one of the last great hopes remaining on earth. At the same time, I felt I had to make a case for Samuel Beckett and try to correct what I viewed as an unintentional mistake.

    I apologize for my ramblings. I am just a very big fan of Beckett and always make attempts to help explain why he was considered such a good writer. Again, I’d highly encourage that you give his plays and his writings another chance. If you have Netflix, I’d suggest you try to rent out the Beckett on Film series’ Disc 2 and 3 and watch Krapp’s Last Tape and Happy Days on each. Though, of course, you don’t have to, just a suggestion.

    Best of luck with all you do Pastor Ron and may God bless you.

  4. Novas águas, novos caminhos | pinupiand8o says:

    […] artes performáticas e tinha um trecho de “Breath” peça mais curta de Samuel Beckett ( https://pastorron7.wordpress.com/2011/01/27/the-worlds-shortest-play-beckett/ ). Depois, quando fui para Portugal, conheci de cara a galera dos Estudos Artísticos da Ufpel […]

  5. Marc Faygen says:

    I think the shortest play ever written is Examlet by Guy Bassett. It has just ten words, but appeals to all those sitting exams, especially exams about Shakespeare: “to pass or not to pass, that is the question!”

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