Words and Music Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First produced: 1962, BBC Third Programme, London

First published: 1962, in Evergreen Review

Type of work: Play

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Unspecified

Locale: Unspecified

Characters DiscussedCroak

Croak, Words and Musica character addressed as “lord” by Words; Croak, in turn, refers to Words and Music as his “balms” and “comforts” and, more familiarly, as Joe and Bob. Wearing carpet slippers and carrying a club, Croak arrives late, asks them to forgive his delay, and then announces the performance’s first theme: love. He communicates his desires and, more often and more demonstrably, his displeasure, less by means of words than by means of sighs, groans, exclamations of anguish, and the peremptory thumping of his club. Disappointed by Words’s disquisition on love, he calls on Music. Then (either because the playing does not please him or because Words repeatedly interrupts Music), Croak changes the subject, first to age and later to “the face.” His early gentleness soon gives way to tyrannical demands and ultimately to anguish as Words’s speech conjures up for him the face of Lily (presumably the same face he saw earlier and that had caused him to be late). As the performance gains momentum, and as Words and Music finally do play together as bidden, Croak becomes more and more their helpless, perhaps enraptured audience. At the end of this radio play, Croak is heard haltingly shuffling away, back to the tower–back into the silence–from which he first came.

Words

Words, a character who is deferential toward his master, Croak, but imperious toward Music, with whom he is cooped up in the dark. Interested as he may be in pleasing the master who commands them to play together, Words appears more interested in gaining his master’s sole favor by silencing Music, as if Words assumes that the two are at odds and thus in competition with each other. Before the master’s arrival, Words rehearses his speech on “sloth.” When Croak announces that the theme is “love,” Words simply repeats the same speech, substituting the word “love” for the word “sloth” wherever necessary. Neither his speech on love nor the next on age pleases Croak; however, with Music’s help, the persistent Words, although still disdainful of his partner, does improve. His ragged speech turns into tentative song; consequently, and concurrently, his early imperiousness turns into gentleness. The earlier antagonism gives way to faltering cooperation and eventually to success. Working at last in concert with Music, Words composes the poem that silences the pair’s demanding audience, Croak. Words, however, is shocked by Croak’s sudden departure and unsuccessfully implores him to stay.

Music

Music, played by a small orchestra. As the play begins, Music is tuning up, only to be peremptorily silenced by Words. Here and through much of the play, Music appears conciliatory, even imploring. When Words’s initial performances fail to please Croak, Music tries to help, suggesting possible directions, gently leading as well as unobtrusively accompanying a partner to whom Music is willing to grant ascendancy, or perhaps the illusion of ascendancy. Where Words appears cold, Music seems warm. Just at the point where Words begins to succeed, however, Music suddenly takes over, though whether in a sudden burst of enthusiasm or in retaliation for past wrongs is not at all clear. Less ambiguous and also more characteristic is Music’s “brief rude retort” very near the end of the play; it may be the reason Croak departs. Its effect on the now “imploring” Words is more pronounced, as Music achieves this ironic triumph over his counterpart and nemesis.

Pause

Pause, the absence of sound and sense that Words and Music attempt to fill for Croak.

Lily

Lily, the woman whose face Croak saw on the stairs and that he now recalls as he listens to Words and Music.

Sources for Further StudyAbbot, H. Porter. Beckett Writing Beckett: The Author in the Autograph. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1996.Alvarez, A. Samuel Beckett. New York: Viking, 1973.Andonian, Cathleen. The Critical Response to Samuel Beckett. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1998.Astro, Alan. Understanding Samuel Beckett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1990.Ben-Zvi, Linda. Samuel Beckett. Boston: Twayne, 1986.Cohn, Ruby. Just Play: Beckett’s Theater. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980.Esslin, Martin. “Samuel Beckett and the Art of Broadcasting.” Encounter 45 (September, 1975): 38-46.Esslin, Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. 3d ed. London: Methuen, 2001.Gordon, Lois. The World of Samuel Beckett. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1996.Gussow, Mel. Conversations with and About Beckett. New York: Grove-Atlantic, 1996.Homan, Sidney, ed. Beckett’s Theaters: Interpretations for Performance. Lewisburg, Pa.: Bucknell University Press, 1984.Kenner, Hugh. A Reader’s Guide to Samuel Beckett. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1996.McCarthy, Patrick A., ed. Critical Essays on Samuel Beckett. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1986.
Categories: Characters