Breath

A play by Samuel Beckett lasting for precisely 35 seconds, considered the shortest play ever written. It was first staged in New York in 1969. Originally written for Kenneth Tynan's revue, "Oh! Calcutta!" Unfortunately, the producer added "including naked people" to the stage directions and Beckett withdrew his piece. Considered to be Beckett's final comment on our state of existence.

Curtain.

1. Faint light on stage littered with miscellaneous rubbish. Hold for about five seconds.
2. Faint brief cry and immediately inspiration and slow increase of light together reaching maximum together in about ten seconds. Silence and hold about five seconds.
3. Expiration and slow decrease of light together reaching minimum together (light as in 1) in about ten seconds and immediately cry as before. Silence and hold for about five seconds.

Rubbish. No verticals, all scattered and lying.
Cry. Instant of recorded vagitus. Important that two cries be identical, switching on and off strictly synchronized light and breath.
Breath. Amplified recording.
Maximum light. Not bright. If 0 = dark and 10 = bright, light should move from about 3 to 6 and back.

One of the longest words in the Oxford English Dictionary (with one more letter than "antidisestablishmentarianism," which is often said to be the longest word), floccinaucinihilipilification is a term believed to have been coined by Samuel Coleridge (of Ancient Mariner fame). The word literally means "to underestimate the importance of something because of its small size."

In stark contrast to this long, drawn-out word is Samuel Beckett's Breath, a play that lasts less than a minute and consists primarily of the sounds of a baby crying, inhalation, and exhalation. I mention this dichotomy because the word and the play are, ironically, linked by an academic paper published by University of Alabama at Birmingham professor (and Beckett scholar) William Hutchings. The paper, entitled "Samuel Beckett's Breath: An Antifloccinaucinihilipilificationistical View," details the subtle nuances of Beckett's play in 100+ pages. As a result, the longest word is used in the title of the longest literary work ever to address the shortest play. (Insert rim shot here.)

Breath

in rhythms floating
across skin like driftwood
beating through currents
of body.
upwards, towards
white docks
your shoulders.
rounded birch
sways then pushes
each wooden note.

Breath (?), n. [OE. breth, breeth, AS. br odor, scent, breath; cf. OHG. bradam steam, vapor, breath, G. brodem, and possibly E. Brawn, and Breed.]

1.

The air inhaled and exhaled in respiration, air which, in the process of respiration, has parted with oxygen and has received carbonic acid, aqueous vapor, warmth, etc.

Melted as breath into the wind. Shak.

2.

The act of breathing naturally or freely; the power or capacity to breathe freely; as, I am out of breath.

3.

The power of respiration, and hence, life.

Hood.

Thou takest away their breath, they die. Ps. civ. 29.

4.

Time to breathe; respite; pause.

Give me some breath, some little pause. Shak.

5.

A single respiration, or the time of making it; a single act; an instant.

He smiles and he frowns in a breath. Dryden.

6.

Fig.: That which gives or strengthens life.

The earthquake voice of victory, To thee the breath of life. Byron.

7.

A single word; the slightest effort; a triffle.

A breath can make them, as a breath has made. Goldsmith.

8.

A very slight breeze; air in gentle motion.

Calm and unruffled as a summer's sea, when not a breath of wind flies o'er its surface. Addison.

9.

Fragrance; exhalation; odor; perfume.

Tennison.

The breath of flowers. Bacon.

10.

Gentle exercise, causing a quicker respiration.

An after dinner's breath. Shak.

Out of breath, breathless, exhausted; breathing with difficulty. -- Under one's breath, in low tones.

 

© Webster 1913.

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