Commentary by Samuel Beckett

Contributions from the playwright on the subject of any of his shows are quite limited.  Beckett’s interpretations of his plays were known to change as he and the plays aged.  When he was acting as director, he would feel free to change parts of the script, cutting parts as needed and making additions to fit the actors or space (Beckett).  If you read through his own production notebook for Waiting for Godot, you find plenty of his own notes and revisions, providing a complex read.  Although he did not mind his own productions changing small parts of the script, many other theatres were hounded by his agents to follow his scripts to the letter (McMullan).  McMullan quotes an address given by Beckett where he declares, “Any production of Endgame which ignores my stage directions is completely unacceptable to me”(196).  Beckett’s wish for a fluid medium for his shows and his conflicting demand for a static piece makes parsing his own feelings about his plays challenging.

The most information on this topic came from the first production of the show, performed as a radio play in 1952 on French radio (Knowlson 349).  Beckett provided a small introduction to the show saying:

I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo pie, I cannot see the point of it. But it must be possible … EstragonVladimirPozzoLucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little, but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other. (Cohn 126)

Beckett insisted that his pieces stand on their own.  He threw off the yoke of the writer, refusing to remain accountable for his work.  He was known to abstain from interviews, and for Cohn to even get a meeting with him, she “promised not to ask him to interpret his work” (127).  After this first meeting, Beckett and Cohn became good friends, to the point that he gave her lots of information on the topic of Waiting for Godot and his other plays.  Knowlson points out that in a meeting between Beckett and Cohn in Germany, he pointed to the work Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon by Caspar David Friedrich, and said “this was the source of Waiting for Godot, you know”(342). Source or not, the painting (below) provides an ambiance and a sense of movement that will be helpful for our production.

Although Beckett said himself that he would “be quite incapable of writing a critical introduction to [his] own works”(Worton 67), his feelings on the finality of the plays are clear in his aversion to changes. Beckett’s hounding of productions that did follow his scripts tells us that what he saw as important was in the script.

David Niccolai, 2014


Paintings of Caspar David Friedrich

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon
Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon

Viewed as source material for Waiting for Godot

Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon
The Abbey in the Oakwood
The Abbey in the Oakwood
The Abbey in the Oakwood
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog
Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog

 


Bibliography

Beckett, Samuel. “Waiting for Godot.” The Theatrical Notebooks Of Samuel Beckett. Ed. Knowlson, James. Great Britain: Faber and Faber Limited, 1993. Print.

Cohn, Ruby. “On the Godot Circle.” Beckett Remembering Remembering Beckett. Ed. James Knowlson, Elizabeth Knowlson. NY, United States: Arcade Publishing, Inc., 2006. Print.

Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame : The Life of Samuel Beckett. NY, United States: Simon & Schuster, 1996. Print.

McMullan, Anna. “Samuel Beckett as Director: The Art of Mastering Failure.” The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. Ed. Pilling, John. Great Britain: University Press Cambridge, 1994. 196-208. Print.

Worton, Michael. “Waiting for Godot and Endgame: Theatre as Text.” The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. Ed. Pilling, John. Great Britain: University Press Cambridge, 1994. 196-208. Print.