. . . For Roger Blin, the ideal cast would have been Chaplin as Didi, Keaton as Gogo and Laughton as Pozzo.

Ruby Cohn Waiting



. . . Pozzo is dressed like the wicked landlord of Victorian melodrama: a sporty, lightly-coloured bowler; riding breeches and leggings; a handsome check overcoat, more cloak than coat. Some of the details are French rather than English or Irish, but Pozzo would be immediately recognised as a landlord in a play about Victorian Ireland. As for Lucky, he combines elements of the downtrodden Irish peasant and the French laquais. (Beckett originally wanted him dressed as a railway porter but accepted Roger Blin’s suggestions.) His tail-coat is ornamented with braid and his horizontally-striped jersey resembles that of a French sailor, but his knee breeches unfastened at the knee, his bare legs, and what look like buckled shoes recall the nineteenth-century Irish peasant of Punch cartoons.

—from a review of a December 1999 Belfast production, London Daily Telegraph



One must not forget the biggest and most serious laugh of them all—Lucky’s speech. At the Royal Court, Jack MacGowran made this excruciatingly anguished, and I thought this was the correct tone until I saw Frank Middlemass’s interpretation at the Nottingham Playhouse. He managed to make it touching and hilarious, with absolute clarity of meaning. Some spectators told me they were embarrassed by the laughter here; but is was not cruel laughter. It was good Bergsonian laughter provoked by the fact that Lucky becomes a thinking machine that has gone wrong.

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness



. . . even Beckett did not expect Waiting for Godot to turn up at the state penitentiary in San Quentin, California, as it did recently. . . .

. . . the performance was a great success with the 1400 spectators. A favourite character with the audience was Lucky, the slave. Said one member: "I just don’t know . . . but I’d go back to see it tomorrow night. Anyway, maybe they’ll bring something else over here. Maybe next month, or next year—or whenever. Like the man said, ‘ Nothing happens .’"

. . . one of the reporters permitted to watch the performance, noted that the identification of Godot himself seemed somewhat easier for the San Quentin audience than for the average group. One prisoner told him, "Godot is society." Said another: "He’s the Outside."

A teacher at the prison said he knew beforehand that the play would be a success in the unusual surroundings. "They know what is meant by waiting," he pointed out, referring to the audience. "And they knew if Godot finally came, he would only be a disappointment. "

John Pilling Samuel Beckett



Description by Toby Zinman Silverman of set design assignment to an art class:

The most straightforward of the set designs was a minimalist treatment of a studio used for photography shoots. The upstage wall was created by "seamless", enormous rolls of ten-foot-wide paper that eliminate the line of demarcation between wall and floor and here created a sense of appalling limitlessness. In the centre was a nearly dead rhododendron bush, with just a few leaves and the ball of roots and earth exposed. The only other elements were intense orange lights that, the student said, would repeat the already uncomfortably warm temperature of the theatre. This discomfort would be intensified by the repetitive sound of a dripping faucet that would continue as background noise throughout the performance. Overall, the student intended to create a tolerable level of annoyance in the audience: "I want them to think, ‘God, will Godot please show up so I can go home’. I want them to have to exercise willpower to stay, to respect Estragon and Vladimir’s patience in their waiting." This student understood not only the play but Beckett’s refusal to cater to passive spectators.

Another student gave us minimalism on a smaller scale in a set that used a little square of cardboard as a base to which he attached, at right angles, a mirror of equal size and shape; this formed the backdrop. On the cardboard base, a semicircular road was delineated by an edge of clay, and a clay tree was stuck onto the center of the mirror. The circularity of the road was, of course, completed by the reflection in the mirror, and when one bent down to look more closely at it, one saw oneself in the mirror. The doubleness, the circularity, and the self-reflexive medium all spoke to the meaning of the play, while the simplicity, the starkness and the mirrored repetition all spoke to the structure of the play. This student’s interpretation was completed by the extraordinarily obvious fact that the viewer’s face appears as the only character.

Another student created a huge installation of junk that took up most of an industrial hallway; found objects were arranged in an ornate maze, with crushed plastic bottles that groaned under our weights, as we gingerly, wonderingly, picked our way through it. We realised as we went that we were on a road that went nowhere. The use of tiny things to compose a large whole worked perfectly to reflect the play’s meaning, as did the languageless voices of the four characters represented by trash. This conceptual set gave us the world of Godot as detritus, tragicomic garbage.

The class trekked to a studio to view a rough-hewn wooden box, which the student sculptor wordlessly gave a kick. It started to rock. The "death cradle", as this six-foot-long coffin on rockers was named by the class, was clearly a translation of Pozzo’s last speech: "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more". Someone in the class, discovering that the coffin had no bottom, murmured, "It’s the whole play." The sculptor growled back, "It lacks the humour."

The sculpture majors have a yard where they throw all the stuff they have already used but might need again: jagged sheets of metal, bricks, an old mattress, chunks of wood with nails sticking out, part of a chain-link fence. In the midst of this rubbish, in front of a ruined brick wall, stood a metal tree. About six feet tall, with one boot at the base of its trunk and a bowler hat on its top branch, it looked heartbreakingly, hilariously forlorn. With considerable delight, the student who had made it inserted two big metal leaves into the ends of its branches. The figure-tree was complete now, with the leaves as open hands in a gesture unmistakably human. The conflation of all the elements of the play—actors and costumes and set, all in a junkyard, giving us both comedy and tragedy, the world and ourselves, all in a work of art—nearly silenced us.

Toby Silverman Zinman  Teaching Godot Through Set and Poster Design
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater  Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot



Stratford Alain Robbe-Grillet, in his brilliant piece "Samuel Beckett: Or, ‘Presence’ in the Theatre", speaks of Godot as being a present-tense collaboration between actor and audience; while there may be tantalising allegorical overtones to the play, the one thing of which we can be certain is the present moment, what is before us visually and verbally onstage. Or, as a friend who once directed me as Vladimir observed, "If Godot doesn’t come for the characters onstage, he doesn’t come for their fellow characters in the audience—the joke, the no-show, works both ways." The play is rife with moments that invite the audience "onstage" . . .

. . . [some suggest that] Pozzo parodies the academic mind when he raises several possible reasons that Lucky might hold on to the bags: " He wants to impress me , so that I’ll keep him.  . . . He wants to mollify me.  . . . He wants to cod me. . . . "

What is the meaning of our life if we have only the waiting, only "process", and not the comforting, even elevating, promise of a god, the truth or an absolute? This issue is—revealingly—the very one that the inmates discussed first, after the formal performance. It is also interesting, I think, that . . . the otherwise noisy inmates were respectfully silent during Vladimir’s reply to the boy ("Tell him . . . [he hesitates] . . . tell him you saw me ."

By playing to their audience, the actors are also audience to themselves. At one point, Vladimir and Estragon imitate the absent Pozzo and Lucky, and since Act II in many ways duplicates Act I—prompting one spectator at the Coconut Grove premiere to observe as she stalked out of the house: "I paid for two acts and this Beckett fellow only gives me one!"—the actors also play to or against themselves in the previous act.

Sidney Homan  Waiting for Godot:  Inmates as Students and—Then—Teachers
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater  Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot



The performer who "knows how" the play is performable employs the medium of action, and the director who "knows that" the play is "like" a certain world is trapped in a form of narration. The director discounts the mere playing in which understandings remain unstated in favour of a theatricalisation of events: images that show (reify) particular concepts of "objects" the director knows that the play can be deemed to represent. Beckett, however, addresses the actor directly and inhibits the gratuitous theatricalisation of the play-text. His compositions are conceived for performance on a stage of his divising, not to be staged in a scene of the director’s imagining. Beckett communicates "knowledge how" rather than "knowledge that", and he does so through his absolute and genial insistence on the experience of dramatic play acutely defined within its theatrical parameters.

Gerry McCarthy  Emptying the theatre:  On Directing the Plays of Samuel Beckett
from Robert Scanlan  Performing Voices:  Notes from Stagings of Beckett's Work



The difficulties of characterisation in Beckett point both actor and director toward a performance played in real time, rather than the indication of a story arising in imaginative impressions. . . . Beckett’s texts create quite unusual demands in terms of the delivery of the text and the management of the emotional flow in the actor. . . . Lucky’s speech in Waiting for Godot is a prime example of the problem of delivery in rapid tempo, of a complex flow of interrupted and obscure propositions. This is triggered by the instruction " Think, pig !" (not feel), and yet the forms of coherent thought are not easily discernible. It is the first and clearest example of the creative impossibilities with which Beckett torments his actors. Since there is no completion possible to the task, there is only the effort of thought, and only the dismembered forms of thought are available to the actor as he or she strains toward the impossible objective of completing a necessary task. It is, after all, built into the rôle that thinking goes on against the increasing resistance of the other actors onstage, and in an increasingly manic and disordered fashion.

Without intonation speech loses affective power, but it does not lose its basic structure. The restriction of vocal colour reveals how prevalent it is in the usual preparation of a rôle, to the neglect of linguistic structure and the associated physical forms of action. The intuitive pursuit of character and emotion is commonly based on rather hasty constructions of what the action of the play is at any particular point, but that basis is undeclared. The consequence is that the crucial aspect of drama, the scheme of actions, is arrived at instinctively, as part of a right feeling of the dramatic moment, rather than a right doing. Beckett’s insistence on the articular of drama through the primacy of action throws one back to a peculiarly intense search for the structure of speech. This begins with detailed linguistic analysis. In Lucky’s speech the fragments must be isolated and the arrangement of the "argument" roundly perceived, for it is never specifically articulated. . . .

Fundamentally, Beckett allows the actor to organise an energy flow, rather than a flow of emotions. Since the first is active and the second reactive, this places him much more securely within the performative act. Whatever the "meaning" or the "feeling", he can do it. If the actor and director can preserve their creative alliance in the pursuit of the textual rhythm, then the Beckett play suddenly becomes extraordinarily negotiable. The two can determine with some degree of exactitude what the form of the text must be. Since neither is haunted by the ghosts of "characters" speaking in "their" voices, the director encounters the text in the actor’s physicalisation, initially body to body, then as the sense of integration that is the "knowledge" of drama. The actor may be threatened by the physical forms and sheer athleticism of the task; . . . As the actor tries to work out textual structure, he becomes aware of the resonance of his action in the director and so builds the organic link that allows an external agent the access to an internally generated performance.

Beckett’s plays ask the actor to perform first and seek significance second, as a dancer or musician would approach a choreography or a score. Once this happens the actor experiences levels of performance structure that are simply lost in the elliptical methods more commonly used. Playing determined actions, he encounters a detailed environment that is the performance context of his "doings". This constitutes the familiar array of restrictions that surrounds the Beckett character: dismembered, aphasic, physically retrained, plunged into darkness, and so on. These are not visual representations of characters but, rather, actual restrictions placed on the actor. Beckett uses the forms of life and thought as they can be composed with the actor’s body and mental experience. Beckett gives the actors problems of performance, not of interpretation.

Gerry McCarthy  Emptying the theatre:  On Directing the Plays of Samuel Beckett
from Robert Scanlan  Performing Voices:  Notes from Stagings of Beckett's Work



Jack MacGowran once warned against tipping scales that Beckett took pains to balance:

I think sometimes the rôles are reversed. I think Estragon is the one who has read and known everything and thrown it away and become completely cynical. Vladimir, who appears to be the brighter of the two, is in fact the half-schooled one, madly trying to find out answers and pestering Estragon the whole time. Otherwise, Estragon couldn’t quote Shelly as he does and misquote him deliberately: " Pale for weariness of climbing the heavens and gazing at the likes of us." This gives you the impression that Estragon has read everything and dismissed it.

Walter Asmus, Beckett’s Assistant Director for Godot and many other productions, describes a typical piece of direction in his rehearsal diary:

Beckett walks on the stage, his eyes fixed on the ground, and shows the movement as he speaks Estragon’s lines; " You had something to say to me ? . . . You’re angry? . . . Forgive me . . . Come, Didi. Give me your hand . . . " With each sentence Beckett makes a step towards the imaginary partner. Always a step then the line. Beckett calls this step-by-step approach a physical theme; it comes up five, six or seven times, and has got to be done very exactly. This is the element of ballet.

Hamburg GodotAlmost any section of the production could be used as an example of these graceful, highly polished gestures, which usually become part of some visual symmetry, and which are usually executed in silence because of Beckett’s rule about separation of speech and movement. Didi and Gogo make their stage crossings in long-arched paths and frequently stop to pose for tableaux . . . At one point they walk arm in arm across the vast stage, which takes at least fifteen seconds, keeping in perfect step the whole time, only to turn around when they reach the other side and return. And at another point Gogo travels toward Didi by means of a standing broad jump, after which they clasp hands and broad jump together in another direction. . . . Since those geometric expressions are in no way arbitrary—Beckett’s notebooks for all his productions contain hundreds of detailed notes for systematic activities intended as "subliminal stage imagery"—Didi and Gogo’s movement is like a shared code that serves to entertain, primarily them but also others. And that code creates an atmosphere onstage in which different degrees of realism make no sense. In most Godot productions, as in Brecht, some lines are directed outward, or addressed to the audience, in the context of all others being directed inward in a quasi-normal fashion, but no such distinction exists here. Any action, any line, any gesture, can be interpreted two different ways: as a performance, or as a "real" even in the characters’ fictional lives.

. . . the rôle of Lucky offers a good illustration. . . . He appears crazed, but one senses him constantly thinking; it’s as if his nervous tension were a physical impairment that diverts perfectly rational thoughts away from their proper outlet. When he begins the speech, his voice is slow and clear as in a lecture, but he soon becomes emotionally involved and gestures wildly; at this point, however, unlike in most other Godots, Didi and Gogo edge closer to him, and he grows more humanly animated, not more machine-like. The speech is not done as a single forward charge, but with long (up to five-second) pauses inserted at various points, which imply that he thinks he is doing well until the final section.

What Beckett’s production shows clearly, then, is that the two realms of meaning, presentational and representational, can be blended into a consistent atmosphere of ambiguity without the actors having to make constant shifts back and forth between them. Because it commits to an internal logic of clowning, his Godot is light-spirited, physical and sensible. And because it is choreographed with such a firm hand, it transcends that simple clown-sense without forcing its clowns to act as authorial mouthpieces. From a stance of simplicity and humility it succeeds where countless slick and intellectually ambitious productions have failed, eventually leading the spectator’s mind toward questions of presentational action without destroying the integrity of its representational action. One’s thoughts quickly finish with local questions—Who is Godot and why doesn’t he arrive? Why do Didi and Gogo stay together and keep returning?—moving presently, almost automatically, on to more comprehensive ones: for whom is any performance given and with what expectations? Why am I in the theatre, and what am I waiting for?

Because Beckett is so reluctant to discuss the psychological motivations of his characters, generally communicating his wishes through line-readings and the highly specific blocking already described, his actors must work from external considerations inwards. Though he sometimes gives conceptual images as general explanations (e.g. "Gogo belongs to the stone, Didi to the tree"), Beckett will not spend any rehearsal time on intimate conversations about personal feelings and experiences; in Asmus’ words, "he tries to go the direct way" whenever possible. And what is most unusual about that approach is that in using it he rarely encounters the same problems other directors would. Asmus explains:

As a director I know you are always tempted to give line readings, because it is the direct way. But when I give a line-reading, I cannot be sure . . . I haven’t experienced one play with [Beckett] where at some point in the work, somebody (an actor, or whoever) wouldn’t say, "Why don’t you play this part?"—because his line-readings are so fabulous, so inspiring, so true. It’s a matter of truthfulness that you sense is there; he is at that moment what any actor should be, simple and true at the same time.

Although Beckett always remains open to suggestions, his rehearsals are largely times for actors to learn certain dictated behaviours, it being understood that any "Stanislavskian" explorations must be done on their own. As in Biomechanics, however, those behaviours eventually help bring about inner motivation. (The rehearsals are like proofs of the James-Lange theory . . . which holds that particular muscle movements actually cause corresponding emotional states. The roots of this idea reach back to Descartes.) Indeed many actors come to depend on Beckett’s instructions . . . as if they were sources of character information as rich and indispensable as the written texts.

[Beckett’s actors’] words allow neither them nor us to recognise paraphrasable subjects in the plays. Any activities separating the actors from their characters, such as asides or non-realistic physical predicaments, are part of the internal fictions and require no conscious shifts of context on the performs’ parts. A Beckett play’s only identifiable subject, if you will, is the impossibility of naming a subject—which is a dilemna moreover with which spectators empathise. Even in poorly acted production, they empathise with the actor’s obviously painful circumstances.

. . . One could say that all Beckett’s plays are concerned with the impossibility of recognising clean subject-object distinctions . . . He uses performance circumstances to dramatise the impossibility of escaping the proscenium frame, and hence of transcending life’s theatrical circumstances, and recognition of that impossibility is necessarily grave. In Beckett, it is meaningless to say that empathy hinders objective thought, for the ideal path to such thought (to understanding the metaphorical relationships between spectators and characters/actors) consists of the sensory and emotional experience of recognising that one is, to use Robbe-Grillet’s phrase, as "irremediably present" as the actors. "As for Gogo and Didi . . . their situation is summed up in this simple observation, beyond which it does not seem possible to advance: they are there, they are on the stage."

Jonathan Kalb Beckett in Performance



[Godot] is less formally dependent on the question of place. Yet the play was still diminished by being set, in Tony Walton’s design [in Mike Nichols’ production at Lincoln Center], on an old state highway in Nevada, midway between the Nevada nuclear test flats and Death Valley. The association of ideas was apparent but conceived on a disappointing level of literal free association: the royal road to full-blown postmodernism. It could be argued that Nichols’ entire production of Waiting for Godot was a game of substitutions: Native American equivalencies were dreamed up for every aspect of the original, including Famous American Clown substitutes for Didi and Gogo in the form of Robin Williams and Steve Martin.

Postmodernism, as a style, does have a case to be made for it. It is not in itself the responsible culprit for damage done to Beckett’s work in recent stagings. There is a profoundly legitimate impulse behind a wildly eclectic style that borrows freely from popular culture, from high and low references . . . There is a grim desperation being expressed by the artists of excess, who reach as readily for advertising jingles or neon advertising signs as they do for the resources of so-called high culture. The flotsam and the jetsam of a culture out of control, fragments shored against a sense of ruin—these are the medium of postmodernism. Its pop incongruity and quirky transpositions to the unexpectedly familiar are its idiom.

The plays of Shakespeare have been given provocative new stagings by innovative directors intent on deconstructing old conventions and a received "language" in the theatre that has traditionally signaled that one is doing Shakespeare. The results have often been spectacular and illuminating. . . . How does Beckett’s work differ? Why should these new styles and free reinterpretations not be used for new explorations of Beckett’s work?

The answer is that Shakespeare’s plays cannot survive manipulations that disrupt their formal principle of coherence any better than can Beckett’s—but Shakespeare’s plays have a different form, which is not automatically jeopardised by certain transpositions of style and setting. The plays are made of traditional scenic interplays of character and story, and their internal actions can remain intact in a wide range of languages and setting. Beckett’s plays . . . cannot survive analogous formal manipulations, because these disrupt the central action of the play, which is often a quest for the origin of voices.

Robert Scanlan Performing Voices: Notes from Stagings of Beckett's Work



Herbert Blau

How did we work on the play? First of all, it was really as matter of explication de texte. Beyond that we talked about it in diverse ways, from the psychopathology of its dubious "characters" to its elegiac tone, a sort of drama of lamentations on civilisation and its discontents. I tried to situate it historically. "On this soil of Europe, yes or no," Beckett had asked, "is man dead?" . . . Then there were the formalistic aspects of the play—its repertoire of subverted conventions. This was before the ubiquitous postmodern consciousness of self-reflexive forms, but it was soon apparent that the play within the play was a kind of discourse on the theatre itself. You could take almost any theatrical convention and point to ways in which the play, in some sense, reflected on the convention. We were conscious of these reflections, deviations, inversions, during the course of rehearsal. Eventually, you have to do it, sure, but the talking here was a precondition for insuring that the actors would want to do it as it could be done. . . .

As regards the acting—and I have always felt this about Beckett’s drama—the substance of it is realism in extremis. Which is to say that the realistic vision, its methodology, is taken about as far inside as it can go, interiorised to intensely that it seems to occur at the nerve ends. In the late 1950s actors were reflexively, still inclined to think of themselves as interior actors. If they had any training, it was in that tradition. But there was something about the surface tension of Beckett’s dramaturgy that seemed, paradoxically, to double up on interiority. At the same time there was a movement of thought through the phenomenology of the play—its things to be done, beginning with the opening "nothing"—around the dubiousness of the distinction between inside and outside.

[at San Quentin] When we proposed . . . Godot, there was trouble: an argument at the prison, with the prison psychiatrist. He was put off by the "depressing" material of Godot, felt it would be too obscure, even traumatic, for the inmates. . . .

We had a sensational response. It had such an impact on the prison that the language of the play, the names of the characters—a Gogo, a Didi, a Pozzo—became part of the therapeutic vocabulary at San Quentin. . . .

There was, by the way, a development at San Quentin that reflects on . . . any claim of infallibility for the Beckettian text. . . . [There was] a radical change in the course of the things onstage: when Pozzo and Lucky came on, they stayed for about a minute then went off for a while and then came on again. . . . What happened was that when Godot was first published in the United States . . . it was with ten or more pages out of place! The inmates had used that text, and it seemed perfectly suitable. . . . At any rate, Beckett taught us before theory that paratextuality is built into the language, and, as with the gospels derided by Didi and Gogo, no text is sacred. That people are inclined to do odd things with Beckett’s own texts is, one might say, a matter of poetic justice.

Lois Oppenheim Directing Beckett



Walter Asmus

. . . I don’t just recreate. The set and costumes are different. The actors are different. That means the overall atmosphere and mood of a production will be different. It’s always a new creation, a new and exciting experience. You never really know where you are going. You put a different emphasis on different aspects of the play, or you discover entirely new aspects. Your own experience of life has increased, and that flows into the new production. When Beckett directed the San Quentin Drama Workshop production of Godot in 1984, which I had prepared, it was very different in its entire mood. The second act alone, for example, was some fourteen minutes longer than in the Berlin production. Beckett himself has become ten years older. He was seventy-eight then, and his own rhythm of life had changed.

I did Godot in Copenhagen and had the idea of Pozzo being someone coming into the wrong party, coming into a party where the terms of the party are different. He is not suited for it. He wants very much to join the party—which is played, in a way, by Vladimir and Estragon—but he does it in the wrong way, and he fails the whole time.

This image is very much a theatre thing since theatre people are a very close society. If theatre people are together, for example, and someone comes in from the outside, he had better watch what he says because theatre people have their own code, their own language, and so on—like many other groups. If someone says something about a particular performance at the theatre, it can be very, very out of place, very ridiculous. Theatre people throw words and lines at one another, and the outsider remains outside. He doesn’t know what is going on. He’s mystified, and yet he tries to play the same game, but the rules are closed.

This really struck me very much in Copenhagen a couple of years ago. Through this image we came to a very realistic, downbeat approach to Pozzo: he was not the bombastic, loud landowner, but a very, very normal person—just a lonely man who wanted to join some other people at a party or in a conversation, and he didn’t speak the same code. He failed, and he realised he failed, and he tried hard to get into it again, and he failed, an so on. That has a lot to do with Pozzo’s situation, I think.

For most actors who worked with [Beckett] he was the absolute authority. They took the pains to find out themselves what the line reading meant for the character they played. Or they understood intuitively. . . . When I talked with Beckett about realistic connotations he would always say, "It’s all poetic". Beckett started off with the poetic side. I have to make my detours to arrive, hopefully, at the same point.

What did you learn most from working with him?

To strive for precision. To strive for simplicity. In both you find a lot of truth. To encourage actors to be simple with their means, to trust simplicity, to dare not to act. To act concrete and functional. Art is reduction. Most of all, I think I learned to fail better . . .

You said that, as an author Beckett tries to be extremely precise in his use of language, that he is striving for an identity between form and meaning that would prevent, ultimately, their being differentiated one from the other. "The way it is written or said," you claimed, "is the meaning. There is no meaning beyond that."

You went on to explain that, as a director, Beckett tried to match the form/meaning problem with regard to the dialogue and movements on the Brooklyn stage. You said that "the choreography, the movements serve the identity of the meaning of the text on stage and [that] that’s why, . . . as far as the physical movements are concerned, he tries to be as exact as he is in his writing, and as reduced at the same time." . . . is [choreography] a word that you associate more readily with Beckett’s theatre than with that of any other playwright because of the precision, the exactitude, on the one hand, and, on the other, the evolution toward "lessness" of which you spoke?

The reason I came to use the word choreography is because Beckett himself, when directing Godot in Berlin, used the word balletic in the context of the actors’ movements. But I think the words balletic and choreography shouldn’t be overvalued. It was not that Beckett wanted them to move like ballet dancers. It was simply to express the exactitude and that there was a design in the blocking that had a meaning. Movements step by step on a line or a word, or a crossing in silence, had to do with the reunification or separation of Estragon and Vladimir, for example, who belong inseparably together. The design of the movement structure tells the story of the relation ship of the characters to one another, to a certain extent.

The Dublin Godot is the ultimate result, as far as the shape is concerned. . . . in Dublin they have a very good command of language. Irish people talk a lot, and Beckett’s plays are very talkative. The early plays, and all the plays, are about language. . . . To have an actor who can talk very fast and is very quick in his mind helps you to find a different timing for the play. Many actors say that, if you talk very fast, you stop thinking, that it’s just gibbering. It’s not. Now for me in Dublin, where I expected the audience, to a certain extent, to know the play, the problem was to find a pace, a very fast pace. Audiences today know something about the plays when they come into the theatre. They know enough about the play to follow it in a very fast way, and today they are used to a fast pace. Everything is faster. We speeded up tremendously in Dublin, and that worked because the two main characters . . . worked together very well. The chemistry was just right.

Can you envision doing Beckett in some nontraditional space?

I could. I haven’t.

Would it affect the staging?

Not really. If I did Godot in a factory, I think it would be the same choreography somehow, but it would be different. It’s like putting a grand piano in a factory and playing Beethoven or Mozart. It feels different. You don’t change the piano, and you don’t change the music either, but the atmosphere is different.

. . . many productions of Beckett’s work are not grotesque enough. . . .

[In which case] it kills the play. It superimposes on the play. I had this experience in Dublin. Louis Lebrocquy had made a beautiful set with flats on the side and scribbles on it and colours and a road going into the distance, painted on the horizon. Last year in Dublin, when we did it again, he agreed to do away with all of that. It became very simple, just black flats and a very simple screen, grayish, a bit hazy, and a tree. It worked much better. The stage had just been too busy the first time. It really had been beautiful but too busy. One must be very careful and very diligent with one’s means . . . I saw in Berlin recently Godot in a parking lot. I hated it. I thought it was horrible. Of course, critics will say you can hear the cars, the noise of the city, there was atmosphere, and so on. But there was nothing of the play. The audience didn’t know what the play was about. It did damage to Beckett. People who didn’t know the play didn’t get into it. They were not involved at all. The Beckett plays are all very delicate. They can become very banal. Beckett knew that. . . . his plays require concentration from the audience, not trains passing by. They are written as images, and there is a lifetime’s work in exploring these images by putting them onstage. There is no desire on my part to superimpose anything on them.

Beckett obviously never talks about politics when he directs. And in another interview you once commented that there was no discussion of psychology in his Godot rehearsals either. How then did the actors resolve their need for motivation?

He gave them images for understanding their relationships. For example, Gogo and Didi belong one to the stone, the other to the tree. That means they are connected, and at the same time there is always the tendency to go apart. He used this image of the rubber band: they pull together by means of a rubber band and tear apart again, and so one—which makes sense if you have to make crossings onstage. Beckett says, "every word, one step", and that tells the actor that there is no only an outer approach of moving this way, but also an inner approach of becoming more and more, say, tender or subtle in talking to one another. Things like that which tell something about the characters’ relationship.

How did these actors develop what they needed in terms of a human relationship? Did they perhaps make use of a friendship that existed beforehand?

Yes, in the Schiller Theater Godot at least, Gogo and Didi had their own friendship. And they played these games in private, took, to a certain extent. You know, all the ping-pong, ball-throwing and teasing between them—they did that. Being colleagues for decades, they had this personal relationship, and also a feeling for irony and sarcasm. They knew exactly when they were hurting one another while pinching, torturing and teasing in private, too. It was more difficult with the actor who played Pozzo, which I think is the most difficult part. Is it a psychological explanation, for example, if you tell the actor he overcompensates? Pozzo is a character who has to overcompensate. That’s why he overdoes things, has a tendency to describe the sky and so on as very big, why he tries to impress people, and this overcompensation has to do with a deep insecurity within him. Those were things Beckett said, psychological terms that he used: that Pozzo was a weak character who has to overcompensate.

Can you speak about what he wanted to achieve with these particular costumes: Didi wore striped trousers and a black jacket too small for him, and Gogo wore black trousers and striped jacket too large for him, then they switched during intermission. These outfits were clown-like but also gave an impression of informality unlike, say, the French premiere where they wore ties.

That has to do with the close connection between the two characters: being the same and not the same. It doesn’t fit and at the same time it does. And there it’s really dialectical. It is the same, and at the same time it’s not the same. But there was no discussion about ties and so on; they were supposed to be tramps. Nothing very specific. I think sometimes Didi has a tie because he’s considered more academic or whatever, and Gogo is thought to be more careless about his outer appearance. But it was a stylised thing.

Lois Oppenheim Directing Beckett



Roger Blin

Beckett knew nothing about the theatre. His play is a wonderful piece of theatre, but all his instructions, silences, pauses, and so on—he said these were more for the reader. You can’t just determine the length of a pause. One silence has to be relative to others. The pauses, the silences, relate to each other. You can’t say in advance how long they should be—that one is half a second, that one eight seconds, seven and a half seconds. The director has to determine the pace of the play from the rhythm and, from this pace, incorporate the silences to make them as meaningful as possible or sometimes ignore them or sometimes move them a bit. But I always trust the writer implicitly, as far as I can, . . .

. . . As for the symbolism in the plays, you mustn’t show it. When I got hold of Godot I said to myself: "Oh, I see, I see, great! It’s a circus. We’ll have a bench in red velvet and a mattress and a kind of metal cross beam. And then we’ll unroll a canvas with the word sky written on it; and then the actors Estragon and Vladimir will come on carrying the tree in a box; and then they’ll come on in robes, rubbing powder on their feet in a corner so as not to slip on the waxed floor; then they’ll take off their robes and throw them into the wings, and the action will start."

Well, I thought about that for three days. And then I said, "No, it’s impossible." If you start in a clown mode, a circus mode, in the second part there are things that clowns couldn’t say. But the circus element is there. That’s why Estragon and Vladimir have red and white blotches in their makeup. Lucky and Pozzo, too. But 90 percent of the directors of Godot have fallen into that trap. I retracted it later. I said: "No, nothing. A tree, a little tree." And I have friends who used a tree when they staged it in Geneva. They cut down a real little tree, and they stuck it onstage. That’s the least realistic presentation I’ve seen. It’s not really important in the end. But yes, it is at the start. In Poland they did a whole thing using folk imagery—loads of meaningless things—and they all said to me, "But it’s a circus." No, no, at least not for me.

In the first place, with Beckett everything is more or less gray, and then, had he wanted it to take place in a circus, he would have written: "The action takes place in a circus. Vladimir and Estragon . . . go round in a ring. There is a stand with a tree in it, and so on." He would have written it.

I have noticed the significance of dreams in Beckett—in Godot, for example.

That’s not explicit. Estragon stops at once when Vladimir says, " Don’t tell me , don’t tell me."

But why? Because it’s disturbing, but why?

There is always an extraordinary reticence in Beckett. "Don’t tell me your dreams." I think it’s something like that, inasmuch as dreams can reveal so many things.

About the person recounting them?

You also have the Beckett characters: there’s not a single adult. They are all immature. You have to remember that when you’re acting. And I started from there. I didn’t start from the symbols, which I could understand. I didn’t explain it all to the actors. They discovered it for themselves in the final rehearsals. I tried to lead them to an understanding of it once they had a basis for understanding on a primary level, on a material level, on the level of the life force of the play, the words, the ideas. But I didn’t want to know them out by saying, "Watch out, this is a masterpiece."

There is another thing about Godot that is relevant to my work. I started by making the characters move, by making them live the thing. I started from their sickness, their physical peculiarities. Estragon’s feet hurt and keep him from sleeping. He’s always tired; he drops off; he’s not there; he’s not listening; and suddenly, he has inspired, intuitive thoughts: " Are you sure it wasn’t him ? . . . Godot." Suddenly he wakes up.

And Vladimir, who has trouble with his prostate, who wants to pee all the time, moves around a lot. He can’t stand still. Pozzo is fat, with a swollen heart. His heart is too big, he’s breathless, and he’s dragged around by his stomach.

Lucky represents a kind of wicked senility. He is the most evil. He’s a kind of scapegoat, who’s taking revenge, who listens and who also goes to sleep from time to time. From the first rehearsal Jean Martin—whom I used because he’s an extraordinary actor and a friend and who is at least 1.92 metres high—started to play the rôle shaking. He managed it, though he trembled for forty minutes. He managed to clench his legs and his feet and to tremble naturally. It affected him when he played other parts later. I didn’t ask him to do that. And I hadn’t seen it like that. But when I saw him do it, and he did it so well, for me he gave the play its truly cruel dimension, which it might not have had without that. Yes, it is cruel, but Lucky’s trembling counterbalances the possible sentimentality of the other actors.

Toward Lucky?

No, not toward Lucky, but in relation to the audience, to the balance of the play. In Holland I had very good actors, but, when I happened by chance to go back to Holland to see the play when it was in another town, the actor who was playing Vladimir played him as if he were being crucified. He cried and did a number of things I wouldn’t have asked him to do. It was histrionic acting. And that’s why I asked the actors in France, because they were clowns too, to be careful not to be overly sentimental. That’s exactly what Beckett wanted, for them not to burst into tears. Because there are two acts, but there could just as easily be three; there could juste as easily be four. So, you must not play the second act as though it’s the end of the play. It’s not the end of the play.

You said that for you Lucky is the most evil.

I mean he’s the character who is lucid at times and who is in a state of total servitude. But he unburdens himself in the end. He finally manages to unburden himself through words, in a speech that is in no way without meaning, a speech that has a very, very real but broken meaning. You can follow the whole speech in relation to hygiene, in relation to a number of things. Lucky’s speech is actually very clear. But it’s broken up, like a puzzle.

Since you said he was the most evil . . .

No, not the most evil. That’s a ridiculous word because it doesn’t mean anything. But there is a buildup of hatred, which you have to anticipate throughout the play.

I don’t understand the shaking.

It’s just a physical shaking. There is a guy carrying suitcases, and Martin did a number of things with his tongue, with his gasping. It was very impressive. Every day there were some people who couldn’t take it, who left. So, I was very pleased. It was a victory.

Gerry McCarthy  Emptying the theatre:  On Directing the Plays of Samuel Beckett
from Robert Scanlan  Performing Voices:  Notes from Stagings of Beckett's Work



Beckett’s letter to Roger Blin, January 1953:

There is one thing that disturbs me, that’s Estragon’s frock. I naturally asked Suzanne if it falls well. She tells me that he stops it halfway. He absolutely must not, nothing could be more wrong. He’s really too preoccupied at that moment, he doesn’t even realise it has fallen. As for the laughs that it is falling all the way might provide, to the great detriment of this touching final tableau, there is absolutely nothing to object to there, they would be on the same order as the preceding ones. The spirit of the play, to the extent that it has one, is that nothing is more grotesque than the tragic, and it must be expressed up to the end, and above all at the end. I have many other reasons for not wanting to skip this stage business, but I’ll spare you them. Just be kind enough to restore it as indicated in the text, and as we had agreed upon in rehearsal, and have the trousers fall completely around his ankles . This must seem stupid to you, but for me it is essential.

Gerry McCarthy  Emptying the theatre:  On Directing the Plays of Samuel Beckett
from Robert Scanlan  Performing Voices:  Notes from Stagings of Beckett's Work



Beckett’s way of directing consists of the following elements:

Friedrich—Cross on Baltic Approaching a play (both the text and stage activities) as if it were a musical score. Perceiving everything in formal categories. Establishing how many times a given theme, word or gesture reoccurs. Insuring that all types of repetitions are like echoes, refrains—that is, seeing to it that they are performed in exactly the same or a very similar manner.


Attempts at bringing out the melody and rhythm of the text. Treating each text as if it were poetry. Proper placing of logical accents.


A very precise designing of the stage movements, as if in a ballet. Measuring the number of steps taken, establishing such details as over which shoulder the actor turns around, with which foot he begins to walk, how long (in seconds) the pause is between one movement and the next.


The pace of the acting and speaking. The majoring of the plays were intended to be acted or played quickly (allegro, presto). Playing Beckett’s plays too slowly kills them. Pauses marking a falling silence should b distinctively different from pauses that mark a change of tone (or topic).


Bringing out comic elements, which are a mixture of Irish humour and classics of the silent movies (Chaplin, Keaton).


Bringing out sadness and lyricism, with all their delicate shades. No black gloom.


The spirit of German romanticism: paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, the music of Franz Schubert, German romantic poetry (as a source of inspiration, not simply to use).

Antoni Libera
from Lois Oppenheim   Directing Beckett 



Sometimes the action can be almost gratuitous, as in the very fast exchange of three hats between Estragon and Vladimir in Act II, which is pure Laurel and Hardy. Nevertheless, even this juggling has a point: Vladimir ends up wearing, not his own hat, but Lucky’s inheriting with it Lucky’s gift of the gab. Significantly, when Lucky returns, he is dumb.

. . . the tension created in a good performance that respects Beckett’s stage-directions, especially those relating to pauses and silences. In the recent London Royal Court Theatre production, supervised by the author, the actors maintained during pauses the stance and attitude, which they had adopted as the last words were being uttered: they did not fidget of budge, but stared before them, until the time allowed for the pause had elapsed. Not only was the tension palpable, but the play’s characteristic rhythm was preserved: a burst of activity followed a still silence, in regular alternation. When this is correctly done, Waiting for Godot exerts an almost uncanny force on the spectator, revealing to him its uncommon beauty.

During a London rehearsal of Godot, Beckett is alleged to have told one of the actors that he was not boring the spectators enough.

John Fletcher  Action and Play in Beckett's Theatre
from Frederick J Marker and Christopher Innes  Modernism in European Drama:  Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett



A story has come down that Beckett saw the first English production of Godot and turn to Alan and said, "It’s all wrong." . . . I don’t believe that there is the drama and then there is a separate thing, Beckett. . . . I don’t think that the meaning of the play is of much use to the actors, . . . It may or may not be interesting to them, but they can’t act the meaning.  . . . What it comes down to is telling a story. . . . Pinter once said about one of his plays that it was about "a guy who wants to get somebody, and he gets him". That’s what you direct, not "Pinter Pauses". You direct a story about two guys who are waiting for a guy who doesn’t show up.

What makes Beckett so powerful is precisely this ability to condense the experience of an apocalyptic century into a simple story, rendered with the absolute simplest of dialogue. He is not a miniaturist. He compresses the universe into an atom, which then explodes in our imagination.

Gregory Mosher
from Lois Oppenheim   Directing Beckett 



Alvin Epstein (Lucky in NY premiere)

How did you come up with the personality that was Lucky. There would seem to be nothing of value, for instance, in a Method approach to the work, research into the background of the characters.

But there is. I mean, you sit down and try to figure out: who is this character? Why is he behaving this way? Why is he saying what he’s saying? I did do that. Now, I might not describe that as the Method approach, but is has to do with it. I had to figure out what his relationship was to Pozzo, why was he on the end of a rope, what did Pozzo mean in his description of Lucky when he said, " So I took a knook "? What is a "knook"? Pozzo doesn’t explain it; he doesn’t explain it to Gogo and Didi. And why does Lucky carry the baggage, and the stool, and why does he obey orders. Those questions are easy to answer. What was really hard to figure out was the significance of his abject slavery, and what I discovered gave colour to the simplistic and obvious explanation that he’s a servant. He obeys everything, every order, and is rather cruelly treated but doesn’t protest. That’s clear, but what kind of slave, and how long has this been going on? Then you begin to extrapolate.

What were your answers to those questions?

I got them from the speech, when Lucky does begin to speak. He’s ordered to think, not to speak, but clearly from Lucky’s utter compliance to Pozzo’s every order, he understands that his "thoughts" are to be spoken; he’s identified as a "thinker" who must communicate his thoughts (not someone else’s) through speech. And then some place in the play Pozzo speaks about the way he used to think. His thinking now consists of these broken and apparently unrelated phrases, phrases that come back over and over again repeated ad infinitum. Well, how did he thing previously when he thought well? It seemed to me that then the phrases were sensible, coherent, not repeated ad infinitum, that there was a thesis he developed, and that he really was saying something. And what was he saying? He was presenting a thoroughly coherent philosophy which presumably dealt with the problems of life on a philosophical and elevated plane, and which Pozzo looked up to. He was like a guide and a teacher. He might have been a tutor to Pozzo—I mean in the old aristocratic European sense; he was a servant. Aside from that he was also an artist, because Pozzo makes him dance, and it’s clear from other things Pozzo says that he was once a dancer. I think that in a way Lucky is a representative of that whole class of servants who were artists, musicians, philosophers, teachers. They were the Mozarts and the Haydns and the Moses Mendelssohns of this world, who hired themselves out to wealthy protectors whom they entertained and educated and created works of art for. There’s an element of the King’s Fool as well, the court jester; they were entertainers in that sense. That’s what he was to Pozzo, and in that sense he was very valuable. He was a mark of distinction.

What did Lucky, I mean your Lucky, understand about being taken to market?

He’s lost his value completely by having sold out—by being bought and sold to begin with—and little by little through the years he’s been destroyed. He can’t think anymore, he can’t dance anymore, he can’t do anything anymore, so it’s perfectly natural that he should be sold like an old horse that’s been used up. He’s used up; all he can do now is carry the luggage and obey the orders and think badly and dance badly.

To me, your performance as Lucky, especially your delivery of the speech, is particularly memorable for its clarity of purpose. Can you talk about how you came up with that delivery?

Well, I tried to do exactly what I’ve just told you. To Lucky, these thoughts were not meaningless at all. They were the remnants of creative thinking. It wasn’t received knowledge; he was a philosopher, he wrote this, created it, and his mind is full of the remnants. His head is a trash heap of broken shards of everything that he invented, and everything that he understood. So every single phrase, every little bit of it, is meaningful to him. His desperate effort is to try to create order out of it, but he can’t. The work I did on my own, outside of rehearsals with Herbert Beghof, was really to try, first of all, to punctuate the speech, so that I could break it down into memorisable, understandable phrases. Because the speech is written without any punctuation at all, which means something obviously—it means it’s a steady flow—but within it is obviously meaning. So I broke it down and tried do understand each bit, what part each bit might have played in the whole when it was whole. It’s like a smashed stained glass window, a broken statue, and you have to find out where the pieces belong.

What does Lucky want to get across to Vladimir and Estragon? How does he see them, and why does he care about them as listeners?

I’m not sure that he does. I think the command, " Think, pig !" is an opportunity he doesn’t get very often anymore from Pozzo to try to put his life back together again.

Jonathan Kalb Beckett in Performance



Klaus Herm (Lucky in Beckett’s Berlin production)

In his rehearsal diary for Godot, Walter Asmus wrote that Beckett started out by reading Lucky’s whole monologue aloud, very precisely. Was that, for example, okay with you? That doesn’t always happen with directors.

Yes, it does sometimes. But here it so happened that the other actors were still busy with another production, so I was alone with him right away at the first rehearsal. Beckett said, "Under the circumstances, we’ll start right in with this sentence, if that’s all right with you." Well, I was flabbergasted. I thought I’d at least have some time to acclimatise myself. And he went on to divide the sentence this way: "From here to there it’s the indifference of Heaven, and from here to there it’s the shrinking of Man, seen spiritually I mean, and from here to there it’s the petrifaction." In my preparatory work, I’d already chosen signposts for myself, and it happened that they coincided exactly with what Beckett said. Naturally, that gave me a pretty good feeling, and I thought, "Aha, I already know what he means."

Can you say a bit more about your approach to Lucky? What work did you do on your own?

Since I knew in good time that I’d be playing the rôle, I learned the sentence early and "carried it around" with me. And I wondered, why is he called Lucky, the happy one? He walks on the rope, must carry constantly, is tormented, why happy? Well, it’s because he’s the only one of the four who has a concrete task, or who presents himself with a task. He exists because he does something. Pozzo says, " In reality he carries like a pig . It’s not his job." But he does it. That is a declaration of existence. And one naturally extrapolates from that and asks, why do we live? Why are we here, anyway? You’d die if you have no raison d’être, so Lucky clings to his task. That’s why he kicks Estragon when he wants to take the bag away; he’s defending his task.


. . . At one point, the walk was different. He wanted to have it slouching at first; then we agree that it be utterly light, like something gliding over the floor, so the movement wouldn’t become massive. Moreover, Lucky stands in one spot for the most part, bent over for about a half-hour, never setting down his bags, and that get to your back. So I thought, "wavering gently, like a leaf in the wind." I imagined a Calder mobile moved by a current of air, and I moved lightly sometimes—even when others spoke to me. Beckett approved.

So could one say that, in a sense, you reversed the usual process, since you receive specific physical instructions first and then moved on to psychological considerations?

Well, I always try to duplicate what the director says. Beckett never just said, "Do it that way." It simply happened that way. In other situations I’m very easily irritated, or prone to getting "set", and I’m unfortunately also often prone to believing the director strongly. Here there were no restrictions, though, or rather something gave me the feeling that I should carry out something that Beckett, and not I, imagined.

You speak Lucky’s monologue much slower and more sensibly than most other actors. Why is that?

Because Lucky wants to express himself clearly. That’s his desperate attempt, now that he is obliged to talk: to clear something up. And when one wants to put a thing especially clearly, one invariably ends up rambling without end. So he’s always trying to reorganise, concentrate on the next point. His aphorisms overwhelm him; he’s overrun by them. A lot of people said at the time, "Great, you needn’t be afraid if you ‘go up’. Just say anything, then." But I thought, there’s no period or comma in the sentence—it’s written without punctuation—so if you say one syllable differently, one small word, leave out an "and", it’s like a nuclear explosion. That’s the problem with this sentence: you can’t peel off the tiniest piece or the whole awesome structure collapses.

How did you think of your relationship with Pozzo? Asmus has said that the actor who played that rôle had a great deal of difficulty with the play. Did this situation affect you?

No. I know the actor, Carl Raddatz, somewhat. He has a certain type of naiveté that is good for this rôle, and I believe it fascinated or impressed Beckett, too. Raddatz is a difficult "rehearser"; I know that from other plays. He always has to know everything, even the psychological. That the psychological never came into question here was perhaps the difficulty. Really, I didn’t find there to be such great difficulties back then, though; the ones with Minetti [who played Pozzo in 1965] were another story entirely.

The reason I ask is that I’d like to know what the actor playing Lucky needs from the one playing Pozzo in order to do his rôle.

It’s an interrelationship, a tandem, like that of Estragon and Vladimir, who also can’t get free of one another. " We’re not tied ?" Of course we’re tied. Therefore we belong together, like a mirror with two sides.

Did you have such a relationship?

Yes, I had it. And if I didn’t, I would’ve had to imagine it. You can’t just pick and choose as an actor: "I like him", or "I’m not playing with him". Eventually it’ll happen that you have a love scene with a woman you altogether can’t stand. You have to play the scene, anyway. Raddatz is a very precise actor, and that is important. With Beckett one can’t improvise, and certainly one can’t improvise as a comic.

Jonathan Kalb Beckett in Performance



In the case of Waiting for Godot, it would be rather surprising if, after all this time, Beckett’s notebooks were to throw much new light on this most studied of plays. Yet they do provide striking evidence of how the author regards some of the play’s most fundamental themes a quarter of a century after its composition. They show, for instance, how important crucifixion images are to Beckett’s Berlin production. There are cruciform patterns formed by moved across stage and on the upstage horizontal line and back down the vertical centre line on a raked stage; the bodies of Pozzo and Lucky after their fall from the vertical lie in the shape of yet another cross; there are several tableaux of Pozzo or Lucky supported between the two friends, recalling, in Ruby Cohn’s words, "the many paintings of a crucified Christ between two thieves"; Estragon and Vladimir often stand on either side of the tree; and Estragon in particular stretches out his arms, in John Donne’s word, "mine owne Crosse to be". In the recent San Quentin production supervised by Beckett, where the same cruciform images prevail, the production sets them in the context of a long drawn-out martyrdom where the painful waiting is relieved by fewer and less animated "little canters" than in Beckett’s production of nine years earlier. Balletic vaudeville numbers have become a few tired "wriggles" as the nails go in.

The second important feature of both the Schiller Theatre and the San Quentin productions was that the central themes of desire for fulfillment and unity, yet experience of incompletion and separateness meet in the organised patterning of movements into semi-circles, arcs and chords (and, in the San Quentin production, triangles). So Estragon and Vladimir move in opposed patterns of curved path and straight lines; in McMillan and Fehsenfeld’s words, "like a geometric arc and chord [they] connect cardinal points and define the boundaries of a closed circular world."

The image of circularity has understandably tended to dominate critical discussion of both the shape of the play and the view of human existence that is portrayed within it. The Schiller notebooks suggest another image which is, I believe, just as important. In discussing Estragon and Vladimir’s movements, Beckett writes there that the "gen[eral] effect of moves esp[ecially] V’s though apparently motivated that of those in a cage" and at one moment he even contemplated having the "[f]aint shadow of bars on stage floor", in the end deciding against this degree of "explicitation". In the red notebook, he writes "Thus establish at outset 2 caged dynamics, E sluggish, V restless + perpetual separation and reunion of V/E". For Beckett’s man is, as Lucky’s dance suggests, imprisoned in a net, able only to move around the strands of the mesh in the particular compartment which the two friends find themselves to be occupying. On occasion, they sketch out circles, but these circles are traced within the spatial delineation of a larger net or mesh. When, in Beckett’s production, Vladimir and Estragon go off stage, they are merely beating their wings like birds trapped by the strands of the net, bouncing back as if on elastic into the stage space to which they are inextricably tied. The theme of incarceration is one which pervades all of Beckett’s theatre . . .

For Beckett, as for Dante in Canto XX of the Inferno, the moon is invariably identified with the exiled Cain, branded for life and doomed to suffer.

James Knowlson  Beckett as Director:   The Manuscript Production Notebooks and Critical Interpretation
from Frederick J Marker and Christopher Innes  Modernism in European Drama:   Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett
NYC production
A New York City production


Intro   Program Notes   Didi/Gogo   Pozzo/Lucky   Godot   Beckett   Influences/Resonances

Production History   "Four" Symbolism

Act I text   Act II text