Was Anything Lost in Translation?
Samuel Beckett wrote En Attendant Godot in his adopted French. He then translated (or rewrote) it into English (Graver 75). Not only does this process lead to the usual complications of multiple meanings, subtext, and poetry lost in translation, but it also involves an author rewriting his own work. Which version is authoritative? Unless a fluently bilingual theatre was performing for a fluently bilingual audience, the question is irrelevant–we cannot choose to use the French script for our production. However, differences and French subtleties of meaning may help us understand the world beneath the English script. Overall, scholars have found the English version slightly bleaker and more ironic, but the difference is slight (Graver 83). We have explored a few interesting translation issues below.
A direct translation of En Attendant Godot would be “While Waiting for Godot,” rather than Waiting for Godot (847). Such a small difference carries a large meaning. The English title places the emphasis on the thing waited for, while the French focuses instead on the action that occurs while waiting. Using the original French meaning to shift our thinking from the mysterious Godot to what the two men do while waiting will help ground our production in action.
Since Waiting for Godot was Beckett’s first staged play, much of his translation process focused on eliminating excess technical baggage and streamlining the play theatrically. He cut three passages of conversation about who hit whom when the men fall in Act 2, and a page of Pozzo explaining “the ritual by which he asks Lucky to dance, sing, or think” (Graver 76). Apparently, “nothing of consequence” was lost (Graver 76). Beckett also added clarifying adjectives such as “violently,” “timidly” and “with extra vehemence” (Graver 76). The stage directions in the English version are extensive, but (since they were, in effect, the author’s second draft) presumably reflect Beckett’s final desires. For a taste of the completeness of the directions, listen to the recording below:
Godot’s identity is not clarified by examining the French, but some helpful facts do emerge. In French, “Godot” does not resemble the world for “God” at all (848). This seems obvious, but remembering it will help steer us away from imposing a Christian meaning on the text. In French, Pozzo explains he is leading Lucky “au marché de Saint-Sauveur” (Graver 77). The idea of selling him at the Saint Savior fair seems to invite religious implication, but Beckett rejected this implication by eliminating the religious-sounding name in the English translation.
Godot’s reality was also subject to translation. In the original French version, a passage describes the joy of waiting to sleep at “his place, warm, dry, with full bellies on the straw” (Graver 80):
| ESTRAGON: Allons-nous-en.
VLADIMIR: Où? (Un temps.) Ce soir on couchera peut-être chez lui, au chaud, au sec, le ventre plein, sur la paille. Ça vaut la peine qu’on attende. Non?
ESTRAGON: Pas toute la nuit.
VLADIMIR: Il fait encore jour.
There was also an actual note from Godot specifying the time and place of the meeting. Both these sections were eliminated, making Godot more mysterious in English and removing certainty of his reality.
Leaves, Wings, Shifting Sand
While they wait for Godot, Didi and Gogo talk. One of the subjects that emerge in their conversation are “all the dead voices” (Beckett 2.148). The two men describe the noises as wings, leaves, and sand. Whatever this section of the text means, and whatever causes them to speak of such sounds, the sounds themselves are visceral and powerful. Below are links to snippets of each type of noise, since aural information can sometimes be more powerful than visual information.
And for a less expected wing sound:
“1758 antique french manuscript (022).”Etsy. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <https: //www.etsy.com/listing/174655824/1758-antique-french-manuscript-022?ref=related-1>.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting For Godot. Naxos Rights International, 2006. CD.
Colbruce. “Sound of birds flapping wings, chirping, making a racket in the night. Fayetteville Arkansas 2012.” YouTube. YouTube, 6 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=nbK8ttqfE7Y>.
Deep Ocean of Sounds. “(3D binaural sound) Asmr sounds of sand.” YouTube. YouTube, 6 Mar. 2014. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=0-1gRMXT5P4>.
Garner, Stanton B. “Samuel Beckett.” The Norton Anthology of Drama. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2009. 843-848. Print.
Gjevideos. “Sound Of Autumn Wind (rustling tree leaves).” YouTube. YouTube, 1 Oct. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=LQFGkkIi_ZM>.
Graver, Lawrence. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Print.
“M. Benjamin Katz, Fine Books/Rare Manuscripts.” M. Benjamin Katz, Fine Books/Rare Manuscripts. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Mar. 2014 <http: //www.mbenjaminkatzfinebooksraremanuscripts.com/?page=shop/flypage&product_id=414>.
Timvid. “Hummingbird Wing Sounds.”YouTube. YouTube, 24 Apr. 2006. Web. 18 Mar. 2014. <http: //www.youtube.com/watch?v=2n71TgeWXd0>.
Megan Behnke, 2014