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Breath

Breath is a short stage work by Samuel Beckett (see Respiration for the biological function).

It was written for inclusion in Kenneth Tynan[?]'s revue[?] Oh! Calcutta!, which was first staged at the Eden Theatre in New York City on June 16, 1969. It was first performed in Britain at the Close Theatre Club in Glasgow in October 1969, and first published in the periodical Gambit in 1970.

Even for Beckett, whose later plays are often extremely short, Breath is an unusually terse work. Its length can be estimated from Beckett's detailed instructions in the script to be about 35 seconds. It consists of a recording of a brief cry, followed by an amplified recording of somebody slowly inhaling and exhaling accompanied by an increase and decrease in the intensity of the light. There is then a second cry, and the piece ends. No people are seen on stage, but Beckett states that it should be "littered with rubbish."

Beckett sent the text of the play on a postcard to Tynan. At the first production, Tynan made the work fit in with the somewhat risque nature of his revue by scattering naked bodies amongst the rubbish, suggesting that the work was about sexual intercourse. Modern critics, however, have tended to see it as being about a more typical Beckett subject: the relative shortness and futility of life itself. Some critics have seen it as a summation of Pozzo's words in Waiting for Godot: "They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant and then it is night once more." Others have been less charitable, thinking of it as a bad joke.

A filmed version of Breath was directed by the artist Damien Hirst[?] as part of the Beckett on Film[?] project.



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