“Studies in Samuel Beckett” has been an advanced sophister elective in the Drama department for almost 15 years, first created by Jackie Blackman and then redeveloped and taught by Nicholas Johnson for more than a decade. In 2022–23, after a hiatus brought about by the pandemic, the module was relaunched by Céline Thobois for the newly flexible Trinity Education pathways as a third-year, postgraduate-led “special topics” elective, in a class structure blending lecture, seminar, and practical workshop formats across eleven weeks.
The Samuel Beckett Theatre of Trinity College Dublin
Undergraduate students often express a feeling of intimidation and inaccessibility when they think about Beckett and his work. They commonly see him as a giant figure of the modernist literary pantheon, whose work has not only become canonical but has also taken a sacred value. The consequence is that the study of this material is ironically perceived as a project doomed to fail or there is a feeling that one may only be able to stand on the threshold of the Beckettian danger zone, where they may never be allowed in. The module sought to challenge those assumptions and demystify the author by enabling students to find their own way into the work.
Students experimenting with Beckett’s Play in VR under the guidance of Néill O’Dwyer, Caoimhe Wandel-Brannigan and Xi-Ning Wang
Resorting to methods and values pertaining to feminist pedagogy, the module proposed a thematic approach to Beckett rather than the more common “one-week, one-play” structure. In addition, students were always encouraged to critically engage with the epistemology of the material under investigation. For example, students explored Beckett’s biography through epistolary research, the theme of the mind via genetic criticism or the medium of television through embodied practice.
The guidance of guest lecturers – including Sarah Jane Scaife (Artistic Director of Company SJ and Assistant Professor in Drama), Jane Maxwell (Assistant Librarian and Curator of the Beckett Collection), Nicholas Johnson (Co-director of the Beckett Laboratory and Associate Professor in Drama) and Néill O’Dwyer (Artistic Director of XR-Play and Teaching Fellow in Drama) – was key to demonstrating that disciplines and their respective methodologies shape the understanding of the work and yield different results. This combination of selected themes and methodologies provided a variety of channels through which each student could access the work and in turn contribute to Beckett Studies and other areas or disciplines, depending on their own developing expertise and skill set.
The embodied practice workshop on Beckett’s TV plays facilitated by Nick Johnson
With the “Beckett Beyond” Zine Project, students could use independently the methodological tools that they discovered in the module, to carry out their own research. They identified themes that they are concerned with and built coherent corpora of plays for their investigations. Their publications reflect both how students understand Beckett’s work and how it resonates with their environment, their everyday lives, their identities and their knowledge and skills. The exhibition of those zines, we hope, will contribute to stimulating interdisciplinary conversations and to fostering a inclusive community of learners and researchers.