Academic journal article Comparative Drama

The Globalization of Beckett's Godot

Academic journal article Comparative Drama

The Globalization of Beckett's Godot

Article excerpt

When, in the second act of Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett's landmark play that premiered in Paris in 1953, Didi complains to his sidekick about not wasting any more time in "idle discourse," he delivers a stage speech rich in the implications for this work's range and accessibility:

   Let us do something, while we have the chance! It is not every day
   that we are needed. Not indeed that we are personally needed. Others
   would meet the case equally well, if not better. To all mankind they
   were addressed, those cries for help still ringing in our ears! But
   at this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us, whether we
   like it or not. Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!
   (1)

Moments later, Gogo, not to be outdone, will prove similarly universalist in his approach to the matter at hand. Pozzo, transformed and now "as blind as Fortune," and Lucky, now dumb, lie sprawled on Beckett's stage floor (and it should be noted that not every dramatist would risk placing actors in such a compromising position). Pozzo cries out for help, and he will do so more than once. On this stage space there's always time to spare and time to fart, or so it seems; Gogo's game plan is to call the fallen protagonists by all the names he can think of until he hits upon the right ones. A distraught Pozzo replies to the first two that come to mind, Cain, and then Abel. "He's all humanity," a delighted Gogo cries out in a rare instance of self-congratulation. Whether or not an agonized Pozzo is responding to the name-game, or merely repeating his frustration, is far less important than the universal reading Estragon gives to his line.

In Waiting for Godot Beckett's characters move very deftly from their local situation to the global. Trapped in a manufactured tableau that always seems to yearn for a world that is both itself and yet larger than itself, they are, in fact, the first to identify their stage experience as emblematic. How quickly Beckett's "meremost minimum" (2) accumulates resonances far beyond the unprepossessing scenography of rock and tree and a pair of boots that do not fit. Sterile branches sprout a few meager leaves and suddenly the tree of knowledge, that biblical agent of doom, becomes a brief sign of renewal. Late in the play Gogo and Didi mythologize the lone tree, classically, as a willow ("no more weeping")--to which these characters just might return to hang themselves, Judas-like, in some unspecified tomorrow.

The wide applicabilty of so many moments imagined in this play has been from the beginning the source of its appeal as Beckett's work continues to travel from one national stage to the next. Even in its original manuscript form, inscribed in a schoolboy's lined notebook and which this Irishman wrote in French, not in his native English (he complicated the matter by translating the play into English himself), (3) En attendant Godot displays a perspective that is pan-European and everywhere internationalist. The protagonists are Slavic Vladimir, French/Spanish Estragon, Italian Pozzo, and English Lucky (Beckett once said "perhaps" he was called "Lucky" because he had no expectations). (4) On the first few pages of Beckett's Godot notebook Vladimir is Jewish "Levy"; when questioned by Pozzo he gives his name without hesitation as Scottish/Irish/French "Macgregor, Andre" (5) Gogo and Didi have previously been identified as "little brother" and "big brother" in at least one dialect of Chinese, not to mention the possible but unlikely Freudian references to "ego" and "id" (6) Taken as a whole, then, this cast of unlikely characters, to echo this play's prophecies, may very well be intended to reflect Didi's "all mankind" and Gogo's "all humanity."

Certainly within the European community Beckett's play has traveled a well-documented path. Elmar Tophoven, a graduate student in Paris in 1953 when he was inspired by Roger Blin's premiere production at the Theatre de Babylone, was an early advocate and translator. …

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