Wednesday, August 30, 2006

“Waiting for Godot”: An Introduction

Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has proved the most commercially successful “experimental” play since Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921). First produced in Paris in 1952, Waiting for Godot has since been translated into more than eighteen languages and performed all over the world.

In the play practically nothing happens. There is nothing done in it; no development is to be found; and there is no beginning and no end. The entire action boils down to this: on a country road, near a tree, two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, idle away their time waiting for Godot, who never comes. Two strangers, a cruel master and his half-crazy slave, cross their path, and soon depart. At the end of the first Act, a messenger from Godot arrives and says that he will come tomorrow. In the second Act the waiting goes on; the other pair pass by once more, but the master is now blind and the slave is dumb. The master and the slave stumble and fall and are helped on their way by the tramps. The messenger appears again with the same promise, namely that Godot will come on the following day. Every thing remains as it was in the beginning. There is no female character in the play. The spectator or the reader is fascinated by the strangeness of what he witnesses, hoping for a turn in the situation or a solution, which never comes. Beckett denies satisfaction to his audience. He wants the audience to suffer extreme despair.

The immediate appeal of Waiting for Godot is due to the fact that, even though nothing much happens, it is intensely theatrical. The endless cross-talk act of the two tramps is always funny and at the same time sad—funny because good cross-talk acts are very funny and sad because their main reason for talking at all is just to pass the time, to fill in the void. Under the farcical ripple of the dialogue lies a serious concern.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

The Major “Absurd” Dramatists

This kind of play, according to Esslin, arises from the disillusionment and loss of certitude characteristic of our times and reflected in works like The Myth of Sisyphus (1942) by Albert Camus—where the word “Absurd” appears. The major dramatists of the School of the Absurd, in Esslin’s view, are Beckett, Adamov, Ionesco, and Genet. The senselessness of life and loss of ideals had, of course, been reflected in dramatists like Giraudoux, Anouilh, Sartre, and Camus, but whereas they had presented irrationality in terms of the old conventions, dramatists in the Theatre of the Absurd sought a more appropriate form. They do not argue about absurdity; they “present it in being”. Like the Poetic Theatre, the Absurd Theatre relies heavily on dream and fantasy, but unlike that theatre it rejects consciously “poetic” dialogue in favor of the banal. Although centered on Paris, the Theatre of the Absurd is distinctly international in flavor, as is emphasized by the four leading exponents chosen by Esslin—The Irish Beckett, the Russian Adamov, the Rumanian Ionesco, and the Frenchman Genet. These dramatists are followed, in Esslin’s book, by eighteen contemporary playwrights of whom Pinter and Simpson are the British representatives. All these dramatists partake, in one form or another, of the tradition of the Absurd which is described by Esslin as very far-flung indeed, incorporating devises from the circus, mime, clowning, verbal nonsense, and the literature of dram and fantasy which often has a strong allegorical component. Esslin seems to have overstated his case by including many dramatists whose intentions in the category of the Theatre of the Absurd surprises us. However, the tradition is more obviously pertinent when Esslin approaches such persons as Jarry, Apollinaire, and Dada. In his attempt to show in what way the Absurd Theatre produces something really new, Esslin suggest that is be “the unusual way in which various familiar attitudes of mind and literary idioms are interwoven” and the fact that this approach has met with “a wise response from a broadly based public.”