Catastrophe Samuel Beckett Cam M. Roberts November 10th, 2011 ENG 301: Samuel Beckett Prof. J. Holdridge
Catastrophe pp. 455–463Dedicated to Václav Havel Václav Havel: Czech playwright, essayist, poet, dissident and politician.Written in French in 1982.It was first performed at the Avignon Festival in 1982.First published in English by Faber and Faber, London, in 1984.
Catastrophe (kãtæ-strõfi) 1. The change which produces the finalevent of a dramatic piece; the dénouement.2. ‘A final event; a conclusion generallyunhappy’ (J.); overthrow, ruin.3. An event producing a subversion of theorder or system of things, esp. in Geol.A sudden and violent physical change, suchas an upheaval, depression, etc.(See CATACYLSM, CATASTROPHISM.).4. A sudden disaster. (Used very loosely.).
Characters:Director (D).His female assistant (A).Protagonist (P).Luke, in charge of the lighting, offstage (L).
Beckett on Film Catastrophe (2000) D: Harold Pinter A: Rebecca Pidgeon P: John Gielgud directed by David Mamet
John Gielgud & Rebecca Pidgeonin a 2000 TV production of Becketts Catastrophe Photograph: Channel 4 Television/PR This was John Gielgud’s final performance. Gielgud died of natural causes on May 21st, 2000. He was 96 years old.
“… a related image resurfaced when Beckett came to writeCatastrophe in support of the Czech dissident writer Vaclav Havel. InCatastrophe the Protagonist, humiliated, reduced, ‘baited’ throughout the play,‘raises his head, fixes the audience,’ and reduces their applause to a stunned silence.” (Knowlson, 298) “… Catastrophe focuses on the presentation of a silence body as visualspectacle by a figure of institutional power.” (McMullan, 17) “… Catastrophe… while powerful in performance and penetrating in itsequation of theatrical and totalitarian impulses, is a political play whose relativelyconventional agonistic structure lies outside the mainstream of Beckett’s lifelongconcerns.” (Gontarski, ed., 379) “‘Visual Abstinence’ is rather a good term for Beckett’s late theatre, sincehe often employed only a single or a double image, illuminated in the surroundingdark, empty spaces…” (Knowlson & Haynes, 44)
Catastrophe is arguably, almost self-evidently, Beckett’s most overtly politicalplay in his entire oeuvre.The subordinate protagonist ‘P’ is denied certain requisites of ‘Character’ status,however ‘P’ does not fulfill an identity of ‘Actor’, which otherwise would ideallyconstruct a hypothetical analogy between the Director–Actor Dynamic and theAuthoritarian Narrator–Character: Protagonist Dynamic. Traditionally in bothplot-driven and narrative-driven dramas, symbolic carriers (ex. metaphor, simile,metonymy, synecdoche, tableaus, mimetic images) are the expressive agentswhich denote meaning. This is not the case in Beckett’s theatre since his dramasfor the theatre (especially his most cinematic plays) are never symbolic carryingmimetic/diagetic vehicles.Protagonist – in drama, the character(s) who drive forward the progression ofthe plot (or the play’s sequence of events through physical action in order toachieve a ‘super’ objective and/or to overcome a major obstacle. The term isgiven life by Aristotle in his Poetics and Constantin Stanislavski.
“As often with Beckett, there is a kind of black humour even in the grimmest ofsubjects: since the protagonist is continually being given orders by a theatricalproducer, the play can be seen both as a kind of parody of agit prop plays aswell as a statement of the similarity between a dictatorship (whether of theproletariat or not) and the way in which a director treats his actors.” Richard Roud, Manchester Guardian Weekly, August 21st, 1983. p. 20.“At the end, after some order shouted by an unseen light man, Protagonist stands on adark stage with only a spotlight on his frightened face. Director predicts an enthusiasticresponse from the audience; a sound effect of applause follows, in which I thought I alsoheard hoofbeats and the turning wheels of a tumbrel – but maybe not, maybe that wasonly an aural hallucination from my own spellbound imagination… Even without thededication, the political implications are clear.” Edith Oliver, The New Yorker, June 27th, 1983. p. 75.
Beckett in Performance Interview with Alvin Epstein. March 4th, 1986. Epstein acted in numerous American Productions of Beckett’s work: Waiting for Godot (1956), Endgame (1958), Alan Schneider’s TV film of Godot (1961), the triple-bill Ohio Impromptu, Catastrophe, What Where (1984), and the radio productions All That Fall (1986) and Words and Music (1987)EPSTEIN: “There’s an ambiguity there, in acting […]. Beckett’s always doing that. I mean even in Catastrophe where the Protagonist is standing on a pedestal, on display, and the director is directing, and the assistant is like the assistant director, and they’re arranging him for a performance, and the performance is going on while you’re doing it. At the end the director is out in the hall, out among the audience, talking about a future performance, but there’s a performance going on now. So he plays games, the same as in Godot and Endgame. End-Game.” (Kalb, 195)
Beckett in Performance Interview with David Warrilow. May 18th, 1986. Beckett wrote A Piece of Monologue (1980) for Warrilow. His other Beckett work includes Ohio Impromptu (1981), a stage version of Eh Joe (1981), Catastrophe (1983), What Where (1983), Cette Fois (That Time) (1985), and radio productions of All That Fall (1986) and Words and Music (1987). WARRILOW: “In Catastrophe, for example, I would give myself over to a more traditional form of theatre and play it out that way. I far preferred to play the Protagonist in Catastrophe; that’s a much more interesting role to do, much more interesting. For one thing because it’s sculptural, and there’s an infinite amount of delicate muscular work to be done. It’s also very interesting to deal with the problem of not feeling like a victim. He can look whatever way he looks to the audience, but not to be involved in self-pity while standing on that block is a very interesting task.” (Kalb, 224–5) “Those who saw David Warrilow perform in Catastrophe will recognize the… phenomenon of themask: his Protagonist was a faceless victim until the final moment when his spirit seemed to escape his mask(indeed, his skull) to confront the audience with his transcendent accusatory stare. ” (Cima, 197)
“And it could be, like the ‘fibrous degeneration’ in his play Catastrophe, felt atconsiderable cost. One of the… conditions from which Beckett himself suffered – a thickening ofdeep tissue that passes from palm to fingers, causing the hands to claw – it was inflicted on thecharacter P, the barefoot protagonist up on a plinth who seems nothing more than a prop – fistsclenched, face down, black wide-brimmed hat, black gown, not hooded or veiled, but like thenow-notorious figure at Abu Ghraib, up on a pedestal too, with electric wires attached to hishands. With D, the director as chief sadist, the torture is a performance, or the performancetorturous, prepared by precise instruction to A, the more than willing female assistant…” (Ben-Zvi & Moorjani, eds., 41)
BibliographyBeckett, Samuel. Samuel Beckett: The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber & Faber, 2006. Print.Barry, Elizabeth. Beckett and Authority: The Uses of Cliché. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. Print.Ben-Zvi, Linda and Angela Moorjani, eds. Beckett at 100: Revolving It All. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.Cima, Gay G. Performing Women: Female Characters, Male Playwrights, and the Modern Stage. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993. Print.Cooke, Virginia. Beckett on File. London: Methuen, 1985. Print.Gontarski, S.E., ed. A Companion to Samuel Beckett. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.Innes, Christopher, ed. Modern British Drama: The Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.Kalb, Jonathan. Beckett in Performance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989. Print.Knowlson, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 1996. Print.Knowlson, James, and John Hayes. Images of Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.McMullan, Anna. Theatre on Trial: Samuel Beckett’s Later Drama. New York: Routledge, 1993. Print.McMullan, Anna. Performing Embodiment in Samuel Beckett’s Drama. London: Routledge, 2010. Print.
Further ReadingEsslin, Martin. The Theatre of The Absurd, 3rd ed. New York: Vintage Books, 2004. Print.Eyre, Richard and Nicholas Wright. Changing Stages: A View of British and American Theatre in the Twentieth Century. New York: Alfred A Knopf, 2001. Print.Garner, Jr., Stanton B. Bodied Spaces: Phenomenology and Performance in Contemporary Drama. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994. Print.Kane, Leslie. The Language of Silence: On the Unspoken and the Unspeakable in Modern Drama. Rutherford: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1984. Print.Luckhurst, Mary, ed. A Companion to Modern British and Irish Drama: 1880-2005. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. Print.Malkin, Jeanette R. Memory-Theatre and Postmodern Drama. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999. Print.McDonald, Ronan. The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. Print.Pilling, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Print.Rusinko, Susan. British Drama 1950 to the Present: A Critical History. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989. Print.Shepard, Simon. The Cambridge Introduction to Modern British Theatre. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009. Print.Watt, Stephen. Postmodern/Drama: Reading the Contemporary Stage. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Print.Worthen, W.B. Modern Drama and the Rhetoric of Theatre. Berkley: University of California Press, 1992. Print.