20th Century Drama II Eng4214
DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of the included essays.
I have accumulated them for the purp...
Pirandello 1
The Context of Six Characters in Search of an Author 2
Character Analysis  3
Play-within- a- play; theatre ab...
“All my work has always been
a challenge to the opinions of the public.”
Born: 28 June 1867
Died: 10 De...
scandalous opening in Rome and, soon after, another successful--but less scandalous--opening in Milan.
Almost overnight, t...
from realist drama. Pirandello was completely disillusioned with Italy's unified government and his work
arose from this d...
against that of the company. Unlike the "nobody" Actors, the Characters are "real somebodies" because their
reality—the re...
mute children, accessories of sorts, underline her function as an image of grief. Particularly agonizing to her is
the alo...
ambivalent response at the end of the play. And a crucial moment in this process comes early in Act I, after the
derisive ...
locked for ever in a role which, since it has to be defined not in terms of self-justification, but in terms of the
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.
In 1903 Bertrand Ru...
on lived human existence. Sartrean existentialism, which is derived from Juan-Paul Sartre, is the most
influential in the ...
framing action. Thus Six Characters in Search of an Author concerns a play in the making which is never
finished. Each in ...
In his depiction of the Father, Pirandello is also expressing the failure of the individual’s chosen
masks, which is conce...
In his essay, Barthes criticizes the reader’s tendency to consider aspects of the author’s identity-his
political views, h...
reality, constitutes “a multi-dimensional space,” which cannot be “deciphered,” only “disentangled.”
“Refusing to assign a...
“For art to be ‘unpolitical’ means only
to alley itself with the ‘ruling group’.”
Born: 10 February 1898
terror and pity. However, his experiments were not a failure. His dramatic theories have spread across the
globe, and he l...
Swiss Cheese-The younger son is rather stupid but completely honest. When he becomes paymaster for a
Finnish division, he ...
Peasant Man and Woman - They are victims of an attack on their farm. He has lost an arm and she warns that
her baby is sti...
dusts off his vestments and is prepared to go back to work, but soon changes his mind when war breaks out
again. At the en...
Scenes follow chronologically, standard
progression of exposition...
Brecht had a strong reaction to the generally apolitical nature of the theatre around which he grew up,
particularly the r...
detachment as he or she begins to use the lines as written in the script. Brecht wanted the actor to observe the
dancing happily as the violinist joins him on stage, or visibly dabbing water on his eyes when he is supposed
to cry . . ....
Montage is a technique Brecht used in which a series of short shots is edited into a sequence to condense
space, t...
Recent Wars include the Civil War in Lebanon, the Israeli wars with the surrounding Arab states, the
Shia-Sunni dispute, t...
“Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know,

in the silence you don't know, you must go

on, I can't go on, I'll go on.”

prisoner replied "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur", a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of some of the lost and confused
souls that w...
no longer considered to be true, there was reconsideration, particularly of philosophical, and religious ideals.
The found...
In any comic or burlesque act, there are two characters, traditionally known as the "straigh...
Estragon, then, is the more basic of the two. He is not concerned with either religious or philosophical
matters. First of...
continues until the characters — and the audience — are bored with it. Other burlesque-like scenes involve
Vladimir's stru...
As noted above, Lucky is the obvious antithesis of Pozzo. At one point, Pozzo maintains that Lucky's
entire existe...
We are explicitly told that when Godot arrives, so Vladimir and Estragon believe, they will be
"saved". An audience poss...
When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon
the throne of his gl...
The question of Godot’s identity does more than tantalise spectators of Beckett’s play: it is a paradigm
of textual tant...
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Pirandello 1
The Context of Six Characters in Search of an Author 2
Character Analysis  3
Play-within- a- play; theatre about theatre  5
Theatricality 6
raison d’etre 8
Improvisation 9
Death of the author 11
Commedia dell’arte 13

Brecht 14
The Context of Mother Courage and her Children 15
Character Analysis 15
Themes 17
Epic Theatre 19
Alienation Effect 21
Brecht as a revolutionist in stage technique: Gestus 22
Brecht’s Political Theatre 23

Beckett 25
The Context of Waiting for Godot 26
Character analysis 28
Theatre of the Absurd 37
Theory of Semiotics 45
Time 47
Existentialism 53
Nihilism 55
Habituation 55
Structure of the play (Repetitiveness, Circular development) 57
Vaudeville 60
Visual effect 60

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Drama File

  1. 1. ! ! 20th Century Drama II Eng4214 DISCLAIMER: I don’t own any of the included essays. I have accumulated them for the purpose of studying. 
  2. 2. Pirandello 1 The Context of Six Characters in Search of an Author 2 Character Analysis  3 Play-within- a- play; theatre about theatre  5 Theatricality 6 raison d’etre 8 Improvisation 9 Death of the author 11 Commedia dell’arte 13 Brecht 14 The Context of Mother Courage and her Children 15 Character Analysis 15 Themes 17 Epic Theatre 19 Alienation Effect 21 Brecht as a revolutionist in stage technique: Gestus 22 Brecht’s Political Theatre 23 Beckett 25 The Context of Waiting for Godot 26 Character analysis 28 Theatre of the Absurd 37 Theory of Semiotics 45 Time 47 Existentialism 53 Nihilism 55 Habituation 55 Structure of the play (Repetitiveness, Circular development) 57 Vaudeville 60 Visual effect 60 TOPICS
  3. 3. ! “All my work has always been a challenge to the opinions of the public.” LUIGI PIRANDELLO Born: 28 June 1867 Died: 10 December 1936 (aged 69) ! ! ! ! Luigi Pirandello was born in Girgenti (now Agrigento) on the island of Sicily. Luigi's father was a fairly prosperous sulphur dealer and intended that his son should follow in his footsteps, but the boy demonstrated a studious bent early on, and as a result, he was provided with a literary schooling. He entered the University of Rome in 1887, but later transferred to Bonn University where he completed his doctoral thesis, a study of his native Sicilian dialect. ! Pirandello's first creative efforts were in the realm of verse--he translated Goethe's Roman elegies-- but after falling under the influence of Sicilian novelist Capuana who became his friend and advisor, Pirandello turned his attention to naturalistic fiction. His first novel, The Outcast (1893), contains the seeds that would blossom in his later writing. ! Pirandello's sense of disillusionment was burned into his psyche early on by a very personal tragedy. In 1894, at the age of 27, he married a young woman whom he had never met. The marriage had been arranged by his parents according to custom. His young bride, Antonietta Portulano, was the daughter of his father's business partner. For a time, the young couple found happiness, but after the birth of their third child and the loss of the family fortune in a flood, Antonietta suffered a mental breakdown. She became so violent that she should have been institutionalized, but Pirandello chose instead to keep her at home for seventeen years while she spat her venom at the young writer and his three children. Their daughter was so disturbed by her mother's illness that she tried to take her own life. Fortunately, her instrument of choice, a revolver, was so old as to be of no use. The illness had a profound effect on Pirandello's writing as well, leading him to explorations of madness, illusion, and isolation. It was not until his plays finally began to prove profitable around 1919 that he was able to send Antonietta to a private sanitarium. ! Pirandello first published two other novels and numerous short stories. It was not until 1916, however, that he turned his attention to the theatre. He quickly became enthralled by this new medium, and became quite prolific, turning out as many as nine plays in one year. His first three plays, Better Think Twice About It!, Liolà, and It is So!, If You Think So, were each written in less than a week. His first notable critical success came in 1920 with As Before, Better than Before. Then, within a five week period in 1921, he wrote two masterpieces: Six Characters in Search of an Author, and Henry IV. Six Characters had a successful but !1 SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR
  4. 4. scandalous opening in Rome and, soon after, another successful--but less scandalous--opening in Milan. Almost overnight, the play was being directed by Komisarjevsky in London, Brock Pemberton in New York, and Max Reinhardt in Germany. 1922 saw the successful opening of two more plays, Henry IV and Naked. ! Between 1922 and 1924, Pirandello became a major public figure. In Paris, he received the Legion of Honor, and in 1925, with the help of Mussolini who had publicly announced his admiration for the playwright, Pirandello opened his own Art Theatre in Rome. Pirandello's relationship with Mussolini has been the subject of much debate. Some scholars have suggested that the playwright's enthusiastic adoption of fascism was simply a matter of practicality, a strategic ploy to advance his career. Had he opposed the fascist regime, it would have meant serious difficulties for him and for his art. Acceptance, on the other hand, meant subsidies and publicity. His statement that "I am a Fascist because I am an Italian." has often been called on to support this theory, and one of his later plays, The Giants of the Mountain, has often been interpreted as showing the author's growing realization that the fascist giants were hostile to culture. And yet, during his last appearance in New York, Pirandello voluntarily distributed a statement announcing his support of Italy's annexation of Abyssinia. He even gave his Nobel medal over to the Italian government to be melted down for the Abyssinian campaign. However, Pirandello was a complex creature, and all that can be certain is that nothing is certain. At any rate, Mussolini's support quickly brought the Italian playwright international fame, and a worldwide tour ensued, introducing London, Paris, Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and several cities in Germany, Argentina, and Brazil to the intriguing intellectual contortions of "Pirandellian" theatre. ! The most popular of Pirandello's comedies, his masterpiece, is Six Characters in Search of an Author. The premise of the play is that these six characters have taken on a life of their own because their author has failed to complete the story. They invade a rehearsal of another Pirandellian play and insist on playing out the life that is rightfully theirs. Suggesting that life defies all simple interpretations, Pirandello's characters rebel against their creator. They attack the foundation of the play, refusing to follow stage directions and interfering with the structure of the play until it breaks down into a series of alternately comic and tragic fragments. ! Pirandello was clearly the greatest Italian playwright of his time, and he has left a lasting mark on all the playwrights that have followed him. In his agony over the illusory nature of existence and the isolation of man, he anticipates such writers as Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Eugene Ionesco. Perhaps Pirandello best summed up his art himself when he said, "I have tried to tell something to other men, without any ambition, except perhaps that of avenging myself for having been born.” (Imagi-nation website) ! THE CONTEXT OF THE PLAY ! Six Characters in Search of an Author was first performed in 1921 and was absolutely revolutionary for it's time. Pirandello (a Nobel Prize winning author) focused on the symbolic and dream-like, shying away !2
  5. 5. from realist drama. Pirandello was completely disillusioned with Italy's unified government and his work arose from this disappointment. His plays were all concerned with the search of identity. It is my belief that he was deeply affected by Italy's lack of identity, and therefore was very preoccupied with the concept. ! The play centers around six characters who are simultaneously real and not real. They exist in a sort of limbo, as they are characters in a play, who have yet to fulfill their roles and whose script remains unfinished. One part of the play that was so pioneering was the fact that it was a play within a play. At the time of it's maiden performance, this was unheard of. Audience's were dumbfounded as the play began while people were still wandering about. The play began with (what appeared to be) stage hands and actors running around, seemingly preparing for the performance. What shocked the audience was that this was the performance. And it was Pirandello who spearheaded this entirely new concept. (Penn State University blog) “Exactly, perfectly…living beings more alive than those who breathe and wear clothes: beings less real perhaps, but truer! I agree with you entirely.” ! The Father ! The Father is a "fattish" man in his fifties with thin, reddish hair, a thick moustache, and piercing, blue oval eyes. He is "alternatively mellifluous and violent." Along with the Step-Daughter, he is the Character who most fervently insists on the staging of the Characters' drama. In some sense, he figures as the drama's progenitor, having produced the situation of the step- household, a situation that culminates in an inadvertent sexual encounter with his Step-Daughter. Though the Father ostensibly seeks remorse, Pirandello intimates a number of times that a "deal" has perhaps been struck between the Father and Manager, the play's two authorial figures. Thus the Son and Step- Daughter warn against reading the play according to his word alone. As the Manager laments, the Father is the play's philosopher, continually stepping out of his role to sermonize about ideas of the inner workings of the Characters' drama and the relations between the Characters and Actors. His excessive tendency for preaching would mark him as a roughly drawn character and as a double for the author. In particular, the Father insists on the "reality" of the Characters, a reality he poses over and !3 CHARACTER ANALYSIS
  6. 6. against that of the company. Unlike the "nobody" Actors, the Characters are "real somebodies" because their reality—the reality of both their drama and role—remains fixed and independent of the vagaries of time. This reality has little to do with the plausibility nor the codes of the "actable." Thus, both he and the Step-Daughter relate the sense of estrangement in seeing their reality rendered by the Actors. The Step-Daughter ! Dashing, impudent, and beautiful, the Step-Daughter also seeks the realization of the Characters' drama. Her "reality" as a Character is a fixed, grimacing mask of vengeance. She seeks stage-life to revenge herself on the Father and she appears in two principle forms that define a certain fantasy of woman. As noted above, she and the Father are the major players in their drama's traumatic scene: the inadvertent sexual encounter that precipitates the encounter between the original and surrogate families in the back of Madame Pace's shop. Exploited despite her mourning for her father, the Step-Daughter appears here as victim. At the same time, on-stage she appears seductive, exhibitionistic, and dangerously cruel. As she tells the Manager, the Father's perversity is responsible for hers. Her perversity emerges in particular with her obsession with the spectacle of the Characters' drama. Whereas the Father offers their play as a more "cerebral drama," tracing its players' motivations, its overarching structures, and its narrative trajectories, she will conjure its scenes in speech, calling for its trappings forth on the stage. Many of these props concern the visual: the mirror, the window, and the screen. The Step-Daughter also functions as object of this spectacle. Though dressed, like the other members of her immediate family, in mourning for their own father, she wears her clothes with "great elegance." For example, she brashly erupts into a cabaret-style performance of "Prenez garde à Tchou-Tchin-Tchou": her display would lure the company into their drama's realization. More explicitly does the Step-Daughter reveal her obsession with her self-image in her memory of the author. As she tells the company, she strove most to seduce him from the shadows about his writing table. In her vision of this seduction, she progressively exiles the other Characters from the room, ultimately leaving her alone to illuminate the darkness. With the Characters' drama, the Step-Daughter would become a star. For her, the drama's stage-life would realize her self-image above all. The Mother ! Dressed in modest black and a thick widow's veil, the Mother appears crushed by an "intolerable weight of shame and abasement." Her face is "wax-like," and her eyes always downcast. She bears the anguish of the Characters' drama, serving as its horrified spectator. She is the consummate figure of grief, mourning the Characters' inexorable fate. As Pirandello notes in his preface to the play, the Mother would incarnate nature without mind in her suffering—she suffers the torture of what has befallen the family without cognizing it as the Father does. In this respect, she is not even a woman, she first and foremost a mother in anguish. Caught, like the other Characters, in the unchanging and inexorable reality of both her drama and role. She laments that she suffers her torture at every moment; her lot as mourner is fixed for eternity. The two !4
  7. 7. mute children, accessories of sorts, underline her function as an image of grief. Particularly agonizing to her is the aloofness of her estranged Son, whom she will approach to no avail throughout the play. The Son ! A tall, severe man of twenty-two, the Son appears contemptuous, supercilious, and humiliated by his fellow Characters. Having been grown up in the country, he is estranged from his family and, in his aloofness, will cause the elimination of the stepchildren within the Characters' drama. Ironically then will he ultimately appear as witness to the two younger children's demise. His role as a character lies in his ashamed refusal to participate in the household and the Characters' spectacle, a spectacle to which he nevertheless remains bound. More specifically, he appears to be structurally tied within the Character's drama to the Step-Daughter, whose look of scorn and exhibitionism fixes him in his guilt, shame, and reserve. In his aversion to spectacle, he in particular attacks the Actors who would imitate them. For him, the Actor-as-mirror, in its necessary inability to reflect the Character as he sees himself, freezes the Character's self-image and renders it grotesque. The Son also protests to the Manager that he remains an unrealized character, perhaps one that even stands for the will of the author in objecting to their drama's staging. As the Father counters, however, his unrealized nature is his own situation in both the Characters' drama and its attempted rehearsal on-stage; his aloofness within the drama makes him the drama's very hinge. The Son's position as an unrealized character appears most clearly in the scene he would refuse to play with his Mother in Act III, a scene that is actually a non-scene. The Mother enters his bedroom, and the Son, in his aversion to scenes, flees to the garden to witness his step- siblings' deaths. (Sparknotes website) ! ! PLAY-WITHIN-PLAY; THEATRE ABOUT THEATRE ! The most obvious device that Pirandello uses to convey his themes is to portray the action as a play within a play. The initial play within a play is relatively easy for the audience to handle - Pirandello’s own Rules of the Game is being performed in rehearsal by a troupe of actors. Then the “characters” enter and they seem to embody a completely different play within the play. Furthermore, they insist on acting out the story that have brought to the rehearsal, which is done twice, once by themselves and again by the actors. And once the audience has more or less assimilated all of this, a seventh character, Madame Pace, is created on the spot, as if out of thin air. The effect is similar to that presented with nesting boxes, one inside another and another inside that until the audience gets so far away from their easy faith in their ability to distinguish between reality and illusion that they might throw up their hands like the Producer and simply say, “Make believe?! Reality?! Oh, go to hell the lot of you! Lights! Lights! Lights!” Throughout the production of Six Characters in Search of an Author the audience in fact experiences the difficulty of distinguishing between reality and illusion that constitutes Pirandello’s main theme. And the Producer’s company of actors in many ways speaks for the audience throughout - from the initial, derisive incredulity at the entrance of the “characters” to the !5
  8. 8. ambivalent response at the end of the play. And a crucial moment in this process comes early in Act I, after the derisive laughter of the actors has died down somewhat, and the Father explains that “we want to live, sir . . . only for a few moments - in you.” In response, a young actor says, pointing to the Stepdaughter, “I don’t mind. . . so long as I get her.” This comically libidinous response is ignored by everyone on stage, but it represents an important turning point in the minds of the actors in the company and in the minds of the audience as well. It embodies a playful, tentative acceptance of the illusion, a making do with what’s available, an abandonment to the situation as it presents itself. In short, it represents the response to the mystery of life to which human beings obsessed with absolute certainty are ultimately reduced. One must simply get on with life and make the best of it, accepting the hopelessness of trying to draw fine distinctions between what is real and what is not. (Pirandello web website) ! THEATRICALITY ! Pirandello was part of a movement in the early 20th century called theatricalism or anti-illusionism. The theatricalists rejected realist drama and substituted the dreamlike, the expressive, and the symbolic. The theatricalists disapproved of realism because it had abandoned the defining tools of drama, such as poetry, interaction between actors and audience, soliloquies, asides and bare stages. They thought realism could not depict the inner life of human beings. (Bench Theatre website) ! Pirandello had in fact invented and then abandoned these characters, unable to see how to reconcile their conflicting demands. Each character has in some way gone beyond the capacity of art to resolve his or her predicament. The theatre cannot handle private and inarticulate grief (the mother), the painful shyness and dumb suffering of the boy, the aloof silence of the older son, the excessively vocal, verbalized self-lacerations and self-justifications of the father, or the shrill maliciousness of the daughter without injustice to one or other of them, and without degrading their suffering by translating it into the melodramatic clichés the audience would be familiar with. The impossibility of making their story into a coherent and meaningful play is an image of the impossibility of communication and understanding between people in life. The living man has no fixed identity in his own eyes. What he does today he can forget or repudiate tomorrow. He has a degree of existential freedom to choose and change. But the ordinary man is likely to experience this freedom as nausea. The Father says to the director: ! Don't you feel the ground sink beneath your feet as you reflect that this 'you' which you feel today, all this present reality of yours, is destined to seem mere Illusion to you tomorrow? ! To be saved from that flux, he wishes to be a character in a play, with a fixed role and identity and significance. But once the author has accepted responsibility to set down this fixed role in a text, the character loses all freedom to change or protest. The living man has no role or purpose, but a character in a play is !6
  9. 9. locked for ever in a role which, since it has to be defined not in terms of self-justification, but in terms of the requirements of the play as a whole and of the other characters, all of whom have different, but equally selective and unjust, definitions of him. The father says: ! My drama lies entirely in this one thing. . . . In my being conscious that each one of us believes himself to be a single person. But it’s not true. . . . Each one of us is many persons. . . . according to all the possibilities of being that there are within us. . . . And we see this very clearly when by some tragic chance we are, as it were, caught up whilst in the middle of doing something and find ourselves suspended in mid-air. And then we perceive that all of us was not in what we were doing, and that it would, therefore, be an atrocious injustice to us to judge us by that action alone. ! Drama here for Pirandello performs the same function as death in Sartre’s In Camera, it suspends existential freedom. The dead man and the character in play are both fixed in the opinion of others with no possibility of redemption. The director tells the characters: ! All the characters must be contained within one harmonious picture, and presenting only what is proper to present. … Ah, it would be all very pleasant if each character could have a nice little monologue … Or without making any bones about it, give a lecture, in which he could tell his audience what’s bubbling and boiling away inside him. You might get something like justice if you happen to be Hamlet, but what if you happen to be Rozencrantz or Guildenstern, who get the worst of both worlds, neither the freedom of real life, nor the justification of art. ! In his preface to the 1925 edition of the play, Pirandello acknowledges the close parallel between being a dramatist and being God. He gives his characters being without a reason for being. He rejects them. And if his role were to be explained to them, they would not believe him: ! It is not possible to believe that the sole reason for our living should lie in a torment that seems to us unjust and inexplicable. ! Anything which is ‘unjust and inexplicable’, without meaning, is absurd. Absurdism is not simply a label for certain plays written in the fifties and sixties. It was a major component in Greek thought and Greek tragedy. Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is pure absurdism, where neither Troilus nor Cressida get to tell their stories, and the Trojan War itself is drained of meaning. Chehov’s plays were all, as we have seen, absurdist; and The Seagull even has an ultra-absurdist play-within-a-play. The definitive expression of absurdism is within a play, but also uses theatre as its primary image: ! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage !7
  10. 10. And then is heard no more. It is a tale Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing. ! In 1903 Bertrand Russell also used dramatic imagery to express his sense of an absurd universe: ! And Man saw that all is passing in this mad, monstrous world, that all is struggling to snatch, at any cost, a few brief moments of life before Death’s inexorable decree. And Man said: ‘There is a hidden purpose, could we but fathom it, and the purpose is good; for we must reverence something, and in the visible world there is nothing worthy of reverence’. And man stood aside from the struggle, resolving that God intended harmony to come out of chaos by human efforts. And when he followed the instincts which God had transmitted to him from his ancestry of beasts of prey, he called it Sin, and asked God to forgive him. But he doubted whether he could be justly forgiven, until he inverted a divine Plan by which God’s wrath was to have been appeased. And seeing the present was bad, he made it still worse, that thereby the future might be better. And he gave God thanks for the strength that enabled him to forgo even the joys that were possible. And God smiled; and when he saw that Man had become perfect in renunciation and worship, he sent another sun through the sky, which crashed into Man’s sun; and all returned again to nebula. ‘Yes’, he murmured, ‘it was a good play; I will have it performed again’. [A Free Man’s Worship] ! Pirandello also indicts God for creating sentient beings and denying them a purpose in his image, in the final paragraph of his preface, of the playwright as deus absconditus: Though the audience eventually understands that one does not create life by artifice and that the drama of the six characters cannot be presented without an author to give them value with his spirit, the Manager remains vulgarly anxious to know how the thing turned out, and the ‘ending’ is remembered by the son in its sequence of actual moments, but without any sense and therefore not needing a human voice for its expression. It happens stupidly, uselessly, with the going-off of a mechanical weapon on stage. It breaks up and disperses the sterile experiment of the characters and the actors, which has apparently been made without the assistance of the poet. The poet, unknown to them, as if looking on at a distance during the whole period of the experiment, was at the same time busy creating – with it and of it – his own play. (Keith Sagar) ! RAISON D’ÊTRE ! Raison d’être is a french phrase meaning reason or justification of existence. And according to Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms, existentialism is a current in European philosophy distinguished by its emphasis !8
  11. 11. on lived human existence. Sartrean existentialism, which is derived from Juan-Paul Sartre, is the most influential in the literary field. Existence Precedes Essence ! It is an atheist philosophy of human freedom conceived in terms of individual responsibility and authenticity. Its fundamental premiss is that ‘existence precedes essence,’ implies that we as human beings have no given essence or nature but must forge our own values and meanings in an inherently meaningless or absurd world of existence. Obliged to make our own choices, we can either confront the anguish of this responsibility, or evade it by claiming obedience to some determining convention or duty, thus acting in ‘bad faith.’ Paradoxically, we are ‘condemned to be free.’ ! IMPROVISATION ! “A fact is like a sack - it won't stand up if it's empty. To make it stand up, first you have to put in it all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place.” ! In the trilogy improvisation also functions as a conceit for Pirandello's approach to theater. Demolishing conventional attitudes toward the stage, the playwright proposes a universe of the unforeseen, the sudden, the inconclusive, and the unknowable where imagination and illusion rule. But the theater plays themselves are far from spontaneous “happenings,” where action is left to chance. Pirandello offers a highly structured set of works in which details are carefully pondered and stage directions abound. Indeed, Tonight We Improvise becomes a statement against haphazard impro-visational art in favor of a rigorously constructed text by an author who is not a director but a playwright. ! The theater plays also demonstrate the intricate interpretive layers that develop between the original creative work and its performance. Authorial intention is easily lost, for the dramatic text is open ended, subject to a multiplicity of readings, none of which necessarily coincides with the writer’s initial vision. This fact gives poignancy to the consternation of the Six Characters when they see themselves falsified by the actors: a metaphor for the experience of the writer once his creation has entered the world beyond his imagination. ! In the trilogy the dramatic form is repeatedly dissolved in the exchange of reality and illusion, inner and outer plays, dramatic action and critical reflection. Levels of meaning shift and move about, accompanied by continuous analysis and discussion. In this atmosphere the inner plays are not meant to stand alone as naturalist artifacts with a beginning, middle, and end. Rather they operate as dramatizations of ideas or expanded conceits for the creation and construction of the theatrical experience, which is the focus of the !9
  12. 12. framing action. Thus Six Characters in Search of an Author concerns a play in the making which is never finished. Each in His Own Way provides a partial but incomplete text, a work purposely left unendcd. In Tonight We Improvise the play reaches resolution but not according to the original intent of the director- playwright: the text literally becomes the actors. All the theater plays, however, dramatize a dialectic of conflict. In Six Characters this dialectic is played out between the characters and the actors, between art and life. In Each in His Own Way spectators and actors collide as “real” and “fictional" characters encounter each other, representing fluidity and fixity, reality and illusion. In Tonight We Improvise the struggle for control of the dramatic material is played out between the director, his actors, and the “truth" contained in the story and its characters. In all three plays theatrical form is subjected to Pirandellian concepts of relativity and multiplicity, for the plays tear down conventions, spatial barriers, and the walls separating action and audience, characters and people. ! A representative figure, the Father of Six Characters is quintessential Pirandellian in his struggle to control passion through reason. The Father is equally a cerebral and an emotive creation who expresses a gamut of feelings including self-confidence, torment, wit, anger, and condescension. He also personifies the mask of remorse imposed upon him by the playwright as his defining passion. Criticized, like many of the dramatist’s raisonneurs, for excessive philosophizing, the Father reacts by declaring the “reasons of [his] suffering." His emphasis on the rational places him squarely in a Pirandellian universe but outside the traditions of melodrama, where emotions are not given an intellectual structure. As commonly occurs in Pirandellian drama, thought and emotion are fused, not divided, in the character. The act of passionate reflection is a fundamental quality of the dramatist’s protagonists. Propelling the action of Six Characters, the Father is the story’s prime mover, mouthpiece, advocate, and challenger. In recent years, however, literary criticism of this play has focused more and more on the subterranean, unconscious motivations underlying the dramatic action. Proceeding in such a psychoanalytical line, Eric Bentley remarks that the Father is the source of the Characters’ catastrophes and the “base of that Oedipal triangle on which the family story rests.”18 The family story, the critic notes, begins and ends with the Oedipal image of father, mother, and son, the second family having literally or figuratively been killed off. Bentley sees the inner melodrama as a “great play of dead or agonized fatherhood,” including the absence of the greatest father of all, God. In this vein the search for a welcoming author can be interpreted as a metaphor for humanity’s need for the Author of our being, for the safety and protection of absolute fatherhood. Moreover some critics employ psychoanalytic instruments not only to explore issues of character development and plot, but also to understand the creative genesis of Pirandello’s works in his own psychological makeup. For example, in his article “The Play as Replay,” Rudolph Binion attributes the tragic situations of Six Characters and Henry IV to the mechanism of “traumatic reliving” of life-shattering dramas, in an existence termed “a chronicle of psychic gashes” (149). Binion states that a personal Pirandellian trauma is at the core of Six Characters: Antonietta Portulano’s accusations of incest against her husband and daughter. These, Binion offers, are transformed into dramatic action in the scenes depicting the maternally interrupted sexual encounter of the Father and Stepdaughter. ! !10
  13. 13. In his depiction of the Father, Pirandello is also expressing the failure of the individual’s chosen masks, which is concealed beneath his self-justifying rational discourse. For all his aspirations toward “a certain moral sanity,” the Father is stripped of his masks and exposed as a bad husband, a bad parent, an egotist, and a sensualist. Having been incapable of sustaining a satisfactory marriage, the Father becomes his wife’s procurer when he sends her off with the Secretary. By this action he foreshadows the seventh Character, Madama Pace, who procures the Stepdaughter for him, with intimations of an incestuous bond. It is not coincidental that the play being rehearsed at the opening of Six Characters is Pirandello’s own The Rules of the Game. Besides forming a comic self-referential aside, the mention and brief discussion of this earlier piece presage themes of the new text. Like The Rules of the Game, Six Characters is also about roles. On stage, these roles often clash: father versus child; actor versus character; husband versus wife. The Father is urgent about his personal tragedy; he has been caught in the compromising role of the middle-aged client of the disreputable Madama Pace and fixed in it. Madama Pace’s own “nature” is visualized in her grotesque appearance. The corruption of her character is rendered by the monstrousness of her physique: a hideous old harridan wearing an orange wig, red silk gown, and a rose behind her car, she is enormously fat. ! Theoretically, dramatically, and emotionally Pirandello’s theater plays reflect the playwright’s vital imagination and creativity. Their innovative use of the total theater, their exploration of the creative process in action, and their invention of novel ways to express human experience make them unique in Pirandello’s dramatic output and revolutionary within the framework of the European theater of his day. By exposing the illusion of theater and opening it to public view, Pirandello, fulfilling his goal of capturing the instability of life and fixing it in dramatic form, redefined the nature of the dramatic work and broke the conventions of naturalism. In so doing, he made the audience an active, as well as reactive, participant in the construction of drama. As the playwright declares in the introduction to Six Characters in Search of an Author, “I have set before them [the audience], not the stage now, but my own imagination in the guise of that stage, caught in the act of creation” (xxiii). (Understanding Luigi Pirandello By Fiora A. Bassanese) ! DEATH OF THE AUTHOR ! “Nature uses human imagination to lift her work of creation to even higher levels.” ! “Death of the Author” (1967) is an essay by the French literary critic Roland Barthes that was first published in the American journal Aspen. The essay later appeared in an anthology of his essays, Image-Music-Text (1977), a book that also included “From Work To Text”. It argues against incorporating the intentions and biographical context of an author in an interpretation of text; writing and creator are unrelated. ! !11
  14. 14. In his essay, Barthes criticizes the reader’s tendency to consider aspects of the author’s identity-his political views, historical context, religion, ethnicity, psychology, or other biographical or personal attributes- to distill meaning from his work. In this critical schematic, the experiences and biases of the author serve as its definitive “explanation.” For Barthes, this is a tidy, convenient method of reading and is sloppy and flawed: "To give a text an Author” and assign a single, corresponding interpretation to it “is to impose a limit on that text.” Readers must separate a literary work from its creator in order to liberate it from interpretive tyranny (a notion similar to Erich Auerbach’s discussion of narrative tyranny in Biblical parables), for each piece of writing contains multiple layers and meanings. In a famous quotation, Barthes draws an analogy between text and textiles, declaring that a “text is a tissue [or fabric] of quotations,” drawn from “innumerable centers of culture,” rather than from one, individual experience. The essential meaning of a work depends on the impressions of the reader, rather than the “passions” or “tastes” of the writer; “a text's unity lies not in its origins,” or its creator, “but in its destination,” or its audience. ! No longer the locus of creative influence, the author is merely a “scriptor” (a word Barthes uses expressly to disrupt the traditional continuity of power between the terms “author” and “authority”). The scriptor exists to produce but not to explain the work and “is bom simultaneously with the text, is in no way equipped with a being preceding or exceeding the writing, [and] is not the subject with the book as predicate.” Every work is "eternally written here and now,” with each re-reading, because the “origin” of meaning lies exclusively in “language itself” and its impressions on the reader. ! Barthes notes that the traditional critical approach to literature raises a thorny problem: how can we detect precisely what the writer intended? His answer is that we cannot. He introduces this notion in the epigraph to the essay, taken from Honore de Balzac’s story Sarrasine (a text that receives a more rigorous close-reading treatment in his influential post-structuralist book S/Z), in which a male protagonist mistakes a castrato for a woman and falls in love with her. When, in the passage, the character dotes over her perceived womanliness, Barthes challenges his own readers to determine who is speaking-and about what. "Is it Balzac the author professing ‘literary’ ideas on femininity? Is it universal wisdom? Romantic psychology?... We can never know.” Writing, “the destruction of every voice,” defies adherence to a single interpretation or perspective. ! Acknowledging the presence of this idea (or variations of it) in the works of previous writers, Barthes cites in his essay the poet Stephane Mallarme, who said that “it is language which speaks.” He also recognizes Marcel Proust as being “concerned with the task of inexorably blurring...the relation between the writer and his characters”; the Surrealist movement for their employment the practice of “automatic writing” to express “what the head itself is unaware of”; and the field of linguistics as a discipline for “showing that the whole of enunciation is an empty process.” Barthes’s articulation of the death of the author is, however, the most radical and most drastic recognition of this severing of authority and authorship. Instead of discovering a “single ‘theological’ meaning (the ‘message’ of the Author-God)," readers of text discover that writing, in !12
  15. 15. reality, constitutes “a multi-dimensional space,” which cannot be “deciphered,” only “disentangled.” “Refusing to assign a ‘secret,’ ultimate meaning” to text “liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases-reason, science, law.” The implications of Barthes’s radical vision of critical reading are indicative of the inherently political nature of this vision, which reverses the balance of authority and power between author and reader. Like the dethroning of a monarchy, the “death of the author” clears political space for the multivoiced populace at large, ushering in the long-awaited “birth of the reader.” (Literarism, the Republic of Letters website) ! COMMEDIA DELL’ARTE ! Commedia dell’arte translates as “comedy of skills”: an improvisational style of theater which began in sixteenth-century Italy and flourished in Europe for 200 years. Traveling companies of professional actors performed outdoors in public squares, using simple backdrops and props. Each member of the company played a particular stock character – the tricky servant, the greedy old man, the young heroine – wearing masks and costumes that defined the character’s personality. The actors worked from a basic outline, improvising the dialogue and incorporating jokes and physical comedy “bits” as they went. The performers always played the same characters, changing only their situ- ations (for example, in one scenario the greedy old man might be the young heroine’s father, keeping her away from her sweetheart; in another, he might be her elderly husband.) The translation “comedy of skills” refers to the skills that the profes- sional comic actors developed: they each had a repertoire of jokes, funny speeches, comic insults, and physical stunts to draw from in their per- formances. The great silent movie comedians Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd drew on the acrobatic physical comedy of commedia in their films. The energetic, improvisatory humor of the commedia troupes is similar to the work done by contemporay improv comedy groups such as Second City, the Groundlings, and the Upright Citizens Brigade. The stock characters of commedia dell’arte live on in modern sitcom characters (such as the lovable but dumb husband, the know-it-all next door neighbor, the wisecracking best friend) who deal with changing situations each week. (Commedia dell’arte: A Study Guide for Students for the Improvisational Theatre Style “Comedy of Skills”) ! !13
  16. 16. “For art to be ‘unpolitical’ means only to alley itself with the ‘ruling group’.” BERTOLT BRECHT Born: 10 February 1898 Died: 14 August 1956 (aged 58) ! ! ! A poet first and foremost, Bertolt Brecht's genius was for language. However, because this language is built upon a certain bold and direct simplicity, his plays often lose something in the translation from his native German. Nevertheless, they contain a rare poetic vision, a voice that has rarely been paralleled in the 20th century. ! Brecht was influenced by a wide variety of sources including Chinese, Japanese, and Indian theatre, the Elizabethans (especially Shakespeare), Greek tragedy, Büchner, Wedekind, fair-ground entertainments, the Bavarian folk play, and many more. Such a wide variety of sources might have proven overwhelming for a lesser artist, but Brecht had the uncanny ability to take elements from seemingly incompatible sources, combine them, and make them his own. ! In his early plays, Brecht experimented with dada and expressionism, but in his later work, he developed a style more suited his own unique vision. He detested the "Aristotelian" drama and its attempts to lure the spectator into a kind of trance-like state, a total identification with the hero to the point of complete self-oblivion, resulting in feelings of terror and pity and, ultimately, an emotional catharsis. He didn't want his audience to feel emotions--he wanted them to think--and towards this end, he determined to destroy the theatrical illusion, and, thus, that dull trance-like state he so despised. ! The result of Brecht's research was a technique known as "verfremdungseffekt" or the "alienation effect". It was designed to encourage the audience to retain their critical detachment. His theories resulted in a number of "epic" dramas, among them Mother Courage and Her Children which tells the story of a travelling merchant who earns her living by following the Swedish and Imperial armies with her covered wagon and selling them supplies: clothing, food, brandy, etc... As the war grows heated, Mother Courage finds that this profession has put her and her children in danger, but the old woman doggedly refuses to give up her wagon. Mother Courage and Her Children was both a triumph and a failure for Brecht. Although the play was a great success, he never managed to achieve in his audience the unemotional, analytical response he desired. Audiences never fail to be moved by the plight of the stubborn old woman. ! Brecht would go on to write a number of modern masterpieces including The Good Person of Szechwan and The Caucasian Chalk Circle. In the end, Brecht's audience stubbornly went on being moved to !14 MOTHER COURAGE AND HER CHILDREN
  17. 17. terror and pity. However, his experiments were not a failure. His dramatic theories have spread across the globe, and he left behind a group of dedicated disciples known today as "Brechtians" who continue to propagate his teachings. At the time of his death, Brecht was planning a play in response to Samuel Becket's Waiting for Godot. (Imagi-nation website) ! THE CONTEXT OF THE PLAY ! Playwright Bertolt Brecht wrote Mother Courage and Her Children in direct response to Hitler's invasion of Poland in 1939. Because of his leftist leanings, Brecht had fled Nazi Germany and gone into self- imposed exile in Scandinavia in 1933. Mother Courage was first produced in 1941 in Switzerland and then with Brecht himself directing it in Berlin in 1949 with his second wife, Helene Weigel, playing the title role. Since then it has been seen around the world in numerous productions and film versions. It is considered by some as the greatest play of the 20th century and perhaps the greatest anti-war play of all time. The action of the play takes place over the course of 12 years (1624 to 1636), represented in 12 scenes. The scenes give a sense of Courage's career but without developing sentimental feelings and empathizing with any of the characters. Mother Courage is not ! depicted as a noble character. Brecht's style of "epic theatre" contrasts with the ancient Greek tragedies in which the heroes are far above the normal person. With the alienating effect of Brecht's style, the ending of his play does not inspire us to imitate the main character, Mother Courage, but rather reflect on her folly. Actors who have portrayed Mother Courage include Judi Dench and Meryl Streep. ! CHARACTER ANALYSIS ! Mother Courage -The protagonist is an entrepreneur who follows armies with her canteen wagon of food and goods and whose real name is Anna Fierling. She earned her nickname of Mother Courage when she ran through a bombardment in order to sell her loaves of bread before they went moldy. She has three children - by different lovers - named Eilif, Swiss Cheese and Kattrin. Although her passion seems to be to protect and take care of them, she loses them throughout the play, each time while pursuing her own self-interested goals. Drawn as a deeply unsympathetic character, we see at the end of the play that war has ruined her but failed to teach her anything. ! Eilif- Mother Courage's eldest and favourite son is something of a thug. His thirst for violence in slaughtering peasants and stealing livestock is praised in wartime but gets him executed during a temporary peace. ! !15
  18. 18. Swiss Cheese-The younger son is rather stupid but completely honest. When he becomes paymaster for a Finnish division, he tries to save the cashbox from the invading army but is executed for his trouble. ! Kattrin - She is Mother Courage's teenage mute daughter who hopes to be married and have her own children, but dies trying to warn villagers of an impending attack. ! Recruiting Officer and Sergeant - The Officer recruits Eilif into the army with promises of beer and women while the Sergeant distracts Mother Courage with the possibility of a sale. ! Cook - He prepares the food for the Swedish general but quickly leaves when the food runs out. He is very cynical and out for what he can get from the war. He later offers Mother Courage a chance to settle down and operate an inn. Commander - He is the General of the Swedish Regiment in which Eilif is fighting. He praises Eilif for killing the peasants because they had attempted to hide their cattle from the army. ! Chaplain - He is the religious leader for the army but personifies Brecht's view that religion is of no use when it comes to war. He is a total coward and hypocrite who switches allegiances freely yet complains that no one appreciates him. ! Armourer - He sells Mother Courage the Protestant army's bullets so he can buy brandy. ! Yvette Pottier - She is a prostitute who follows the army. She ends up marrying a rich colonel's brother and is rewarded with wealth but loses her looks. She is the only character that gains from the war in some way. ! The Man with the Eye Patch, a Captain and a Sergeant - These three roles comprise a spy and two members of the Catholic army who arrest Swiss Cheese for hiding the Protestant army's cashbox and later execute him. ! Old Colonel - This is a ridiculous, elderly commander whom Yvette "picks up" and who acts as her "financial advisor" for favours. ! Scrivener - The clerk in charge of recording the complaints made to his Captain advises Mother Courage not to complain about how her wagon has been damaged. ! Young Soldier - He complains to the scrivener about the injustice of an officer who kept reward money owed to him. An Old Soldier attempts to restrain him because complaining is pointless. ! !16
  19. 19. Peasant Man and Woman - They are victims of an attack on their farm. He has lost an arm and she warns that her baby is still in the collapsing house. Kattrin rushes in to save the baby against Mother Courage's warnings. ! Old Woman and her Son - They are trying to sell bedding to Mother Courage when news comes that peace has finally been declared. ! Various voices - They tell us of passing time, invite Mother Courage to come inside the parsonage for soup, and sing of the joys of a comfortable home. ! An Old Peasant, his Wife and Son - They are forced by Catholic soldiers to help in their attack on the protestant village of Halle. Kattrin is killed when she climbs onto a roof to warn the villagers of the attack. ! THEMES ! Capitalism in war. - War, as the play portrays it, is a capitalist system designed to make profit for just a few, and is perpetuated for that purpose. Therefore, despite the fact that she is constantly trying to make a profit, Mother Courage is destined to lose by trading during the war; only the fat cats at the top have a real chance of benefitting from the system. People in this play are always looking to get their cut, large or small. In the original German text the verb kriegen is often repeated; it means both "to wage war" and "to get". ! Lower classes lose in war-The play focuses on the "little people", from the nameless Sergeant and Recruiting Officer freezing in a field at the start the play, to the peasants burying Mother Courage's daughter at the end. Important figures such as General Tilly or the Kaiser are only mentioned. The war brings pain, poverty, hunger and destruction to everyone. Mother Courage profits temporarily when the war is at its fiercest but has lost everything by the end. Yvette, the army whore, is the only one whose life has improved financially by marrying into the upper class, but she has lost her humanity. ! Virtue in wartime - War makes human virtues fatal to their possessors. Early in the play. Mother Courage tells her children their fortunes and in so doing, realizes they will all die because of their respective virtues: Eilif for his bravery, Swiss Cheese for his honesty, and Kattrin for her kindness. Later, the Cook sings the "Song of Solomon" in which four Great Souls of the Earth die because of their virtues: Solomon for his wisdom, Julius Caesar for his bravery, Socrates for his honesty, and St. Martin for his kindness. These four souls could be compared to Mother Courage and her three children respectively. The qualities that save you in time of war are cowardice, stupidity, dishonesty and cruelty, Brecht seems to say. ! Religion - Religion is of little help during a war. Religion is portrayed in the play by the sniveling, hypocritical, lecherous Chaplain who changes his allegiances at the drop of a hat. When peace is declared he !17
  20. 20. dusts off his vestments and is prepared to go back to work, but soon changes his mind when war breaks out again. At the end of the play when the Catholic army is preparing to attack a sleeping town, the peasants begin to pray fervently for God to intervene. However, it is through the efforts of Kattrin when she climbs onto the rooftop to sound the alarm by beating her drum that the townspeople are saved. ! Silence and dumbness.: Real virtue and goodness are silenced during war. Kattrin's dumbness is highly symbolic in the play. She is psychologically mute because soldiers abused her when she was small. There are several other significant silences in the play: Mother Courage's refusal to complain after the "Song of the Great Capitulation", the Chaplain's denial of his own faith when the Catholic army arrives, and Mother Courage's denial of her own son when his body is brought to her for identification. On the other hand, Kattrin becomes the most eloquent character in the end by creating the noise to wake the townspeople, her goodness overcoming the impending massacre of the children. Her reward is to be shot, and then buried anonymously while her mother trudges on. ! Motherhood.-There is a clear conflict between Mother Courage's role of "mother" and her professional role of "canteen woman". Although she claims she is working to support her children, her neglect causes their deaths. In each case, she is involved in business transactions when her children are lost to her. She has had multiple sexual partners, the children being byproducts of those encounters, but never seems to have loved anyone. By contrast, we watch Kattrin's sexual awakening and desire for a husband and children. These desires are thwarted by her handicap and disfigurement, and her mother's actions. Her maternal instincts are strong however, as she risks her life to save a baby from a collapsing house, and gives her life to save the endangered children of the town. ! War's hunger is insatiable. - Hunger is a recurring theme in the play. The Cook tries to "feed the war" but there is never enough food, and he must escape when food runs out altogether. Soldiers pillage peasant farms, killing the owners in the process, to feed the marauding armies. The play opens with a conversation about how difficult it is to recruit enough soldiers to fill the quota - the war's appetite for men exceeds the supply. The Cook and the whole army feed society's appetite for war. By the end, starvation has left a bleak landscape over the county side and Mother Courage's wagon is empty. ! !18
  21. 21. EPIC THEATRE ! !!! REALISTIC THEATRE EPIC THEATRE Script Scenes follow chronologically, standard progression of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action; audience meant to get involved or immersed in the story Sound effects and music created onstage, jarring effect Scenes episodic and could be independent of each other, order of scenes may be changed, use of songs, dances or external commentary to interrupt action; scenes create a fragmented montage of contrast and contradictions; audience not allowed to get into the story but to analyze and comment upon the action. Acting Characters believable, actor works from inside out, internal motivation and feelings; audience made to empathize with characters. Actor remains outside of character and comments on it objectively, may be hidden by mask or elaborate makeup, artificial gestures, frequent breaking of "fourth wall" to speak directly to the audience; use of puppets; actors may play more than one character, change in front of the audience; audience encouraged to analyze and criticize characters. Set Realistic box set, specific details, much atmosphere in the way of set decoration and realistic props to draw audience into belief in time and place. Sparse setting, use of indicative set pieces, ability to change scene location rapidly and simply; unusual materials, unrealistic or symbolic elements, scaffolding or platforms with obvious construction elements shown; projection screens, TV monitors, use of placards and signs to give summary of scenes; parts of actual stage and its equipment revealed. Lighting Coloured light to give mood and atmosphere, realistic and subtle touches in intensity to augment feelings; source of light hidden. White light usually quite intense, no mood lighting, stage lighting equipment in full view. Sound Realistic sound effects and logical musical effects (i.e. band playing in distance), soothing/suspense effects. Sound effects and music created onstage, jarring effects. Costumes Realistic to period and character to aid in belief in character.Realistic to period and character to aid in belief in character. Suggested costume pieces, changes made in view of the audience. !19
  22. 22. Brecht had a strong reaction to the generally apolitical nature of the theatre around which he grew up, particularly the realistic drama of Konstantin Stanislavski. Both Brecht and Stanislavski were reacting to the shallow spectacle, manipulative plots and exaggerated emotions of the 19th century's melodramas. The two theatre practitioners, however, went in opposite directions. When Brecht began working as a writer and a director, the Second World War was a large threat, and he believed that theatre should engage more directly with the political climate of its day. Whereas Stanislavski hoped to so immerse the audience in the world of his plays that they too experienced what the characters experienced, Brecht took a didactic approach hoping to jar his audience into learning his message. ! "Epic Theatre" was Brecht's term for the form of theatre he hoped would achieve this goal. Its basic aim was to educate its audience by forcing them to view the action of the play critically, from a detached, "alienated", point of view, rather than allowing them to become emotionally involved. The famous "willing suspension of disbelief", where the audience switched off its critical faculties in order to believe in the world of the play, was the polar opposite to Brecht's epic theatre. Whereas realistic theatre or a "good movie" make us forget we are in a theatre, Brecht reminds his audience constantly that what is before them is artificial and presentational. Brecht in his book Brecht on Theatre says: "It is most important that one of the main features of the ordinary theatre should be excluded from [epic theatre]: the engendering of illusion." ! Brecht saw Stanislavski's method of absorbing the audience completely into the fiction of the play as escapism. Brecht's social and political focus departed also from other theatre movements of the early 20th century such as surrealism and the Theatre of Cruelty as developed in the writings and dramaturgy of Antonin Artaud, who sought to affect audiences psychologically, physically, and irrationally. Epic theatre also differed from Theatre of the Absurd, whose principal exponents were Beckett, Ionesco and Genet. These authors did not set out to present a thesis or tell a story but to present images of a disintegrating world that has lost its meaning or purpose. They place audiences in a dramatic situation in which man's fears, shames, obsessions, and hopes are acted out in an atmosphere like a dream, carnival or altered mental state. ! Brecht rejected the standard Aristotelian dramatic construction for a play and its adherence to the plot pyramid - exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution - for one in which each element or scene of the play could be considered independent of the rest, much like a music hall act which can stand on its own. His plays would not be considered comedies or tragedies but dialectical comments on society. ! Brecht devised an acting technique for his epic theatre which he called gestus involving physical gestures or attitudes. The physicality shown to the audience reveals the intent or the personality of the character. Another activity suggested by Brecht to his actors was that at an early rehearsal the actor should: first, change the dialogue from first to third person; second, change the dialogue from present to past tense; and third, read all stage directions aloud. In later rehearsals, the actor should keep these feelings of !20
  23. 23. detachment as he or she begins to use the lines as written in the script. Brecht wanted the actor to observe the character, demonstrate the character's actions, but not identify with the role. ! ALIENATION EFFECT ! Bertolt Brecht, German leftist playwright and director, had nothing but disdain for the conventional, commercial “bourgeois” theater of his time. He considered it a “branch of the narcotics business.” Why? The theater of his time, like most Hollywood movies now, relied on emotional manipulation to bring about a suspension of disbelief for the audience, along with an emotional identification with the main character. Audience members were taken on an uncritical emotional roller coaster ride, crying when the main character cried, laughing when s/he laughed — identifying with him/her even when the character had nothing in common with them or their interests (working-class audiences swooningly identifying with a Prince of Denmark, for example). ! Brecht saw that these audiences were manipulated by theater technology — beautiful, realistic sets, cleverly naturalistic lighting, the imaginary fourth wall, and most importantly, emotionally effusive acting techniques. He soon watched with horror as the Nazi movement gained popular support in his country with its racist, xenophobic demagoguery, relying on similar emotional manipulation. Emotional manipulation was, to him, Enemy Number One of human decency. ! It was in this context that Brecht developed his theory of Verfremdungseffekt, also known as V-effekt, alienation effect, or distantiation effect. (Important disclaimer: there is compelling evidence that many of Brecht’s greatest ideas were developed in uncredited cooperation with his artistic partners). ! The alienation effect attempts to combat emotional manipulation in the theater, replacing it with an entertaining or surprising jolt. For instance, rather than investing in or “becoming” their characters, they might emotionally step away and demonstrate them with cool, witty, and skillful self-critique. The director could “break the fourth wall” and expose the technology of the theater to the audience in amusing ways. Or a technique known as the social gest could be used to expose unjust social power relationships so the audience sees these relationships in a new way. The social gest is an exaggerated gesture or action that is not to be taken literally but which critically demonstrates a social relationship or power imbalance. For example, workers in a corporate office may suddenly and quickly drop to the floor and kowtow to the CEO, or the women in a household may suddenly start to move in fast-motion, cleaning the house, while the men slowly yawn and loaf around. ! By showing the instruments of theater and how they can be manipulative — for example, the actor calling out “Cue the angry red spotlight!” before he shrieks with rage, or “Time for the gleeful violin” before !21
  24. 24. dancing happily as the violinist joins him on stage, or visibly dabbing water on his eyes when he is supposed to cry . . . the audience can be entertained without being manipulated. Many of Brecht’s techniques have been co-opted and incorporated into contemporary bourgeois theater and film, though his challenge remains relevant: how to confront the problem of emotional manipulation while creating a stimulating, surprising, entertaining, radically critical, popularly appealing and accessible social art practice. (L.M. Bogad, Beautiful Trouble Website) ! ! BRECHT AS A REVOLUTIONIST IN STAGE TECHNIQUE ! Gestus An acting technique developed by the German theatre practitioner Bertolt Brecht. It carries the sense of a combination of physical gesture and "gist" or attitude. It is a means by which "an attitude or single aspect of an attitude" is revealed, insofar as it is "expressible in words or actions.” This is Brecht’s term for that which expresses basic human attitudes – not merely “gesture” but all signs of social relations: department, intonation, facial expression. The Stanislavskian actor is to work at identifying with the character he or she portrays. The Brechtian actor is to work at expressing social attitudes in clear and stylized ways. So, when Shen-Te becomes Shui-Ta, she moves in a different manner. Brecht wished to embody the “Gestus” in the dialogue – as if to compel the right stance, movement and intonation. By subtle use of rhythm pause, parallelism and counterpointing, Brecht creates a “gestic” language. The songs are yet more clearly “gestic”. As street singers make clear their attitudes with overt, grand but simple gestures, so, in delivering songs, the Brechtian actor aims to produce clarity in expressing a basic attitude, such as despair, defiance or submission. ! Instead of the seamless continuity of the naturalistic theatre, the illusion of natural disorder, Brecht wishes to break up the story into distinct episodes, each of which presents, in a clear and ordered manner, a central basic action. All that appears in the scene is designed to show the significance of the basic “Gestus”. We see how this works in Mother Courage. Each scene is prefaced by a caption telling the audience what is to be the important event, in such a way as to suggest the proper attitude for the audience to adopt to it. ! Spass “Fun” / Satire…Grotesque Stereotypes. The audience is being invited to laugh at these characters and ultimately condemn what they stand for. Two Acting Styles co-existing: grotesque contrasted with Sympathetic down-to-earth characters (both are making political statements to the audience and one shows up the other) ! !22
  25. 25. Montage Montage is a technique Brecht used in which a series of short shots is edited into a sequence to condense space, time, and information ! BRECHT’S POLITICAL THEATRE ! Brecht's choice of setting his anti-war play in the midst of the Thirty Years' War was made for several reasons. Firstly, the monumental destruction and loss of life was inflicted mostly on the poor civilian populations of Europe. His point was that the little man is the one to lose in wartime; rulers and big business will always win. He hoped that the lesson of the folly of war would be learned by the masses which had everything to lose. Secondly, by placing the drama in a distant time (300 years earlier) people would have fewer tendencies to relate emotionally to it and be more likely to listen objectively to the message. Germany, however, was the setting in which he wrote, and Germany in 1938 was heading inexorably toward war under the leadership of the Nazi party - a war which was to surpass the misery of the Thirty Years War. ! World War II was a global conflict which involved a majority of the world's nations, including all great powers, organized into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. The war involved the mobilization of over 100 million military personnel, making it the most widespread war in history. In a state of "total war," the major participants placed their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities at the service of the war effort, erasing the distinction between civilian and military resources. Over 70 million people, the majority civilians, were killed, making it the deadliest conflict in human history. ! The war began on September 1,1939, with the German invasion of Poland and the subsequent declarations of war on Germany by Britain, Canada, most of the countries in the British Commonwealth and France. This was followed by the invasion of Poland from the east side by the Soviet Union to halt the advance of the Germans. Hitler had already allied himself with the Fascist regime in Italy and with Japan. A number of other countries were already at war with each other, such as Ethiopia and Italy and Japan and China. Other countries were drawn into the war by the Japanese invasion of British colonies and attack on the US naval base in Pearl Harbour. ! The war ended in 1945 with a victory for the Allies. The Soviet Union and the United States emerged as superpowers, setting the stage for the Cold War which lasted for the next 46 years. The United Nations was formed in the hope of preventing another global conflict. Decolonization movements began in Asia and Africa as a result of the more popular concept of national self-determination. Western Europe began moving toward integration, a movement accelerated by the disintegration of the USSR in 1991. ! !23
  26. 26. Recent Wars include the Civil War in Lebanon, the Israeli wars with the surrounding Arab states, the Shia-Sunni dispute, the Iraq-Turkey-Kurd dispute, the Iran-lraq War, the US and USSR's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some have compared the Thirty Years' War with the situation in the Middle East today which likewise has its religious roots and old animosities, and in which the control of great natural resources and the balance of power are at stake. ! !24
  27. 27. “Where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.” SAMUEL BECKETT Born: 13 April 1906 Died: 22 December 1989 (aged 83) ! ! ! Samuel Beckett was born on Good Friday, April 13, 1906, near Dublin, Ireland. Raised in a middle class, Protestant home, the son of a quantity surveyor and a nurse, he was sent off at the age of 14 to attend the same school which Oscar Wilde had attended. Looking back on his childhood, he once remarked, "I had little talent for happiness." ! Beckett was consistent in his loneliness. The unhappy boy soon grew into an unhappy young man, often so depressed that he stayed in bed until mid afternoon. He was difficult to engage in any lengthy conversation--it took hours and lots of drinks to warm him up--but the women could not resist him. The lonely young poet, however, would not allow anyone to penetrate his solitude. He once remarked, after rejecting advances from James Joyce's daughter, that he was dead and had no feelings that were human. ! In 1928, Samuel Beckett moved to Paris, and the city quickly won his heart. Shortly after he arrived, a mutual friend introduced him to James Joyce, and Beckett quickly became an apostle of the older writer. At the age of 23, he wrote an essay in defense of Joyce's magnum opus against the public's lazy demand for easy comprehensibility. A year later, he won his first literary prize--10 pounds for a poem entitled "Whoroscope" which dealt with the philosopher Descartes meditating on the subject of time and the transiency of life. After writing a study of Proust, however, Beckett came to the conclusion that habit and routine were the "cancer of time", so he gave up his post at Trinity College and set out on a nomadic journey across Europe. ! Beckett made his way through Ireland, France, England, and Germany, all the while writing poems and stories and doing odd jobs to get by. In the course of his journies, he no doubt came into contact with many tramps and wanderers, and these aquaintances would later translate into some of his finest characters. Whenever he happened to pass through Paris, he would call on Joyce, and they would have long visits, although it was rumored that they mostly sit in silence, both suffused with sadness. ! Beckett finally settled down in Paris in 1937. Shortly thereafter, he was stabbed in the street by a man who had approached him asking for money. He would learn later, in the hospital, that he had a perforated lung. After his recovery, he went to visit his assailant in prison. When asked why he had attacked Beckett, the !25 WAITING FOR GODOT
  28. 28. prisoner replied "Je ne sais pas, Monsieur", a phrase hauntingly reminiscent of some of the lost and confused souls that would populate the writer's later works. ! During World War II, Beckett stayed in Paris even after it had become occupied by the Germans. He joined the underground movement and fought for the resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested and he was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. In 1945, after it had been liberated from the Germans, he returned to Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. In the five years that followed, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism. ! Beckett secured his position as a master dramatist on April 3, 1957 when his second masterpiece, Endgame, premiered (in French) at the Royal Court Theatre in London. Although English was his native language, all of Beckett's major works were originally written in French--a curious phenomenon since Beckett's mother tongue was the accepted international language of the twentieth century. Apparently, however, he wanted the discipline and economy of expression that an acquired language would force upon on him. ! Beckett's dramatic works do not rely on the traditional elements of drama. He trades in plot, characterization, and final solution, which had hitherto been the hallmarks of drama, for a series of concrete stage images. Language is useless, for he creates a mythical universe peopled by lonely creatures who struggle vainly to express the unexpressable. His characters exist in a terrible dreamlike vacuum, overcome by an overwhelming sense of bewilderment and grief, grotesquely attempting some form of communication, then crawling on, endlessly. ! Beckett was the first of the absurdists to win international fame. His works have been translated into over twenty languages. In 1969 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. He continued to write until his death in 1989, but the task grew more and more difficult with each work until, in the end, he said that each word seemed to him "an unnecessary stain on silence and nothingness.” (Imagi-nation website) ! THE CONTEXT OF THE PLAY ! “Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.” ! Beckett’s play captures the uncertainty of the post World War II/ Cold War era; this uncertainty is explained through the philosophical questioning and ambiguous dialogue between Beckett’s characters. Through their conversation, they capture societal anxiety of Beckett’s context. Paradigms of the period were !26
  29. 29. no longer considered to be true, there was reconsideration, particularly of philosophical, and religious ideals. The foundations of society had shifted and artists and playwrights explored profound ideological conflict in their responses. Post World War II society was new, the world had changed, and could never be the same again after the millions of deaths and the dropping of the bomb. ! Waiting for Godot, questions and confronts its contextual paradigms, incorporating both existentialism and nihilism. There was an upheaval of the foundations of religion due to the aftermath of World War II. The existentialist idea of waiting for God, and yet God never comes, was very controversial and confronting for the audience of the time. When the play was first performed in 1955, audience members were recorded walking out of the theatre because of the absurdity and confronting nature of the play. Philosophical questions about existence are raised, discussed, and then juxtaposed with a sight gag, vaudeville humor, or the mundane, such as the fussing over the boots and bowler hats. The satiric humor undertaken by the characters subverts what should be tragically nihilistic, into a blackly comedic romp, enjoyable for the audience, and creating relief from the perpetual philosophical questions. Beckett himself stated 'If I could have expressed the subject of my work in philosophical terms, I wouldn’t have had any reason to write it.' This outlines how philosophically important the play was at the time of its release. During to the context of the play, the 1940-50s, existentialist thinking was persuasive, a work about the individual’s quest for purpose included current controversies about the questioning of existence and religion. Past atrocities such as the holocaust, and the atomic attacks on Japan caused a change in people’s thinking, religion was indeed questioned and existentialism was starting to be popularly embraced, for what kind of God could allow the horrors of war which are still affecting the current generation? This uncertainty, cultural ruin and the physical devastation of post World War Europe and its accompanying disappointment and angst is captured by Beckett through both the post apocalyptic setting of the play and the issues explored through his construction of character. ! “[Waiting for Godot] will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre.” William Saroyan By challenging religious and philosophical paradigms through the dialogue of his characters, Beckett questions the humanity and beliefs typical of his context. As 'nothing happens, twice', the audience is being presented with the idea of 'nothing to be done'. Mistakes and major events are repeated by the characters representing all of humanity. Life and time, World War grief, Cold war uncertainty and the pointlessness of religion, is being mirrored by Waiting for Godot through Beckett's use of the repetitive structure of absurd theatre. The philosophical, questioning dialogue of Beckett's characters captures the challenging of prevailing paradigms and the personal ramifications of the political and philosophical shifts in thinking of the era. (Monotony Strange, Waiting For Godot, how it mirrors cold war anxiety) ! !27
  30. 30. CHARACTER ANALYSIS ! Vladimir In any comic or burlesque act, there are two characters, traditionally known as the "straight man" and the "fall guy." Vladimir would be the equivalent of the straight man. He is also the intellectual who is concerned with a variety of ideas. Of the two, Vladimir makes the decisions and remembers significant aspects of their past. He is the one who constantly reminds Estragon that they must wait for Godot. Even though it is left indefinite, all implications suggest that Vladimir knows more about Godot than does Estragon, who tells us that he has never even seen Godot and thus has no idea what Godot looks like. ! Vladimir is the one who often sees religious or philosophical implications in their discussions of events, and he interprets their actions in religious terms; for example, he is concerned about the religious implications in such stories as the two thieves (two tramps) who were crucified on either side of Jesus. He is troubled about the fate of the thief who wasn't saved and is concerned that "only one of the four evangelists" speaks of a thief being saved. ! Vladimir correlates some of their actions to the general concerns of mankind. In Act II, when Pozzo and Lucky fall down and cry for help, Vladimir interprets their cries for help as his and Estragon's chance to be in a unique position of' helping humanity. After all, Vladimir maintains, "It is not everyday that we are needed . . . but at this place, at this moment in time," they are needed and should respond to the cries for help. Similarly, it is Vladimir who questions Pozzo and Lucky and the Boy Messenger(s), while Estragon remains, for the most part, the silent listener. Essentially, Vladimir must constantly remind Estragon of their destiny — that is, they must wait for Godot. ! In addition to the larger needs, Vladimir also looks after their physical needs. He helps Estragon with his boots, and, moreover, had he been with Estragon at night, he would not have allowed his friend to be beaten; also, he looks after and rations their meager meals of turnips, carrots, and radishes, and, in general, he tends to be the manager of the two. ! Estragon In contrast, Estragon is concerned mainly with more mundane matters: He prefers a carrot to a radish or turnip, his feet hurt, and he blames his boots; he constantly wants to leave, and it must be drilled into him that he must wait for Godot. He remembers that he was beaten, but he sees no philosophical significance in the beating. He is willing to beg for money from a stranger (Pozzo), and he eats Pozzo's discarded chicken bones with no shame. ! !28
  31. 31. Estragon, then, is the more basic of the two. He is not concerned with either religious or philosophical matters. First of all, he has never even heard of the two thieves who were crucified with Christ, and if the Gospels do disagree, then "that's all there is to it," and any further discussion is futile and absurd. ! Estragon's basic nature is illustrated in Act II when he shows so little interest in Pozzo and Lucky that he falls asleep; also, he sleeps through the entire scene between Vladimir and the Boy Messenger. He is simply not concerned with such issues. ! Estragon, however, is dependent upon Vladimir, and essentially he performs what Vladimir tells him to do. For example, Vladimir looks after Estragon's boots, he rations out the carrots, turnips, and radishes, he comforts Estragon's pain, and he reminds Estragon of their need to wait for Godot. Estragon does sometimes suggest that it would be better if they parted, but he never leaves Vladimir for long. Essentially, Estragon is the less intelligent one; he has to have everything explained to him, and he is essentially so bewildered by life that he has to have someone to look after him. ! Vladimir and Estragon In spite of the existential concept that man cannot take the essence of his existence from someone else, in viewing this play, we have to view Vladimir and Estragon in their relationship to each other. In fact, the novice viewing this play for the first time often fails to note any significant difference between the two characters. In hearing the play read, even the most experienced theater person will often confuse one of the characters for the other. Therefore, the similarities are as important as the differences between them. ! Both are tramps dressed in costumes which could be interchanged. They both wear big boots which don't necessarily fit, and both have big bowler hats. Their suits are baggy and ill-fitting. (In Act II, when Estragon removes the cord he uses for a belt, his trousers are so baggy that they fall about his feet.) Their costumes recall the type found in burlesque or vaudeville houses, the type often associated with the character of the "Little Tramp," portrayed by Charlie Chaplin. ! The Chaplinesque-type costume prepares us for many of the comic routines that Vladimir and Estragon perform. The opening scene with Estragon struggling with his boots and Vladimir doffing and donning his hat to inspect it for lice could be a part of a burlesque routine. The resemblance of their costumes to Chaplin's supports the view that these tramps are outcasts from society, but have the same plucky defiance to continue to exist as Chaplin's "Little Tramp" did. ! Another action which could come directly from the burlesque theater occurs when Vladimir finds a hat on the ground which he tries on, giving his own to Estragon, who tries it on while giving his hat to Vladimir, who tries it on while giving the new-found hat to Estragon, who tries it on, etc. This comic episode !29
  32. 32. continues until the characters — and the audience — are bored with it. Other burlesque-like scenes involve Vladimir's struggles to help Estragon with his boots while Estragon is hopping awkwardly about the stage on one foot to keep from falling; another scene involves the loss of Estragon's pants, while other scenes involve the two tramps' grotesque efforts to help Pozzo and Lucky get up off the ground and their inept attempts to hang themselves. Thus, the two characters are tied together partly by being two parts of a burlesque act. ! Pozzo Pozzo appears on stage after the appearance of Lucky. They are tied together by a long rope; thus, their destinies are fixed together in the same way that Pozzo might be a mother figure, with the rope being the umbilical cord which ties the two together. ! Everything about Pozzo resembles our image of the circus ringmaster. If the ringmaster is the chief person of the circus, then it is no wonder that Vladimir and Estragon first mistook him for Godot or God. Like a ringmaster, he arrives brandishing a whip, which is the trademark of the professional. In fact, we hear the cracking of Pozzo's whip before we actually see him. Also, a stool is often associated with an animal trainer, and Pozzo constantly calls Lucky by animal terms or names. Basically, Pozzo commands and Lucky obeys. ! In the first act, Pozzo is immediately seen in terms of this authoritarian figure. He lords over the others, and he is decisive, powerful, and confident. He gives the illusion that he knows exactly where he is going and exactly how to get there. He seems "on top" of every situation. ! When he arrives on the scene and sees Vladimir and Estragon, he recognizes them as human, but as inferior beings; then he condescendingly acknowledges that there is a human likeness, even though the "likeness is an imperfect one." This image reinforces his authoritarian god-like stance: we are made in God's image but imperfectly so. Pozzo's superiority is also seen in the manner in which he eats the chicken, then casts the bones to Lucky with an air of complete omnipotence. ! In contrast to the towering presence exhibited by Pozzo in Act I, a significant change occurs between the two acts. The rope is shortened, drawing Pozzo much closer to his antithesis, Lucky. Pozzo is now blind; he cannot find his way alone. He stumbles and falls. He cannot get along without help; he is pathetic. He can no longer command. Rather than driving Lucky as he did earlier, he is now pathetically dragged along by Lucky. From a position of omnipotence and strength and confidence, he has fallen and has become the complete fallen man who maintains that time is irrelevant and that man's existence is meaningless. Unlike the great blind prophets of' yore who could see everything, for Pozzo "the things of time are hidden from the blind." Ultimately, for Pozzo, man's existence is discomforting and futile, depressing, and gloomy and, most of all, brief and to no purpose. The gravedigger is the midwife of mankind: "They give birth astride the grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more.” !30
  33. 33. ! Lucky As noted above, Lucky is the obvious antithesis of Pozzo. At one point, Pozzo maintains that Lucky's entire existence is based upon pleasing him; that is, Lucky's enslavement is his meaning, and if he is ever freed, his life would cease to have any significance. Given Lucky's state of existence, his very name "Lucky" is ironic, especially since Vladimir observes that even "old dogs have more dignity." ! All of Lucky's actions seem unpredictable. In Act I, when Estragon attempts to help him, Lucky becomes violent and kicks him on the leg. When he is later expected to dance, his movements are as ungraceful and alien to the concept of dance as one can possibly conceive. We have seldom encountered such ignorance; consequently, when he is expected to give a coherent speech, we are still surprised by his almost total incoherence. Lucky seems to be more animal than human, and his very existence in the drama is a parody of human existence. In Act II, when he arrives completely dumb, it is only a fitting extension of his condition in Act I, where his speech was virtually incomprehensible. Now he makes no attempt to utter any sound at all. Whatever part of man that Lucky represents, we can make the general observation that he, as man, is reduced to leading the blind, not by intellect, but by blind instinct. ! Pozzo and Lucky Together they represent the antithesis of each other. Yet they are strongly and irrevocably tied together — both physically and metaphysically. Any number of polarities could be used to apply to them. If Pozzo is the master (and father figure), then Lucky is the slave (or child). If Pozzo is the circus ringmaster, then Lucky is the trained or performing animal. If Pozzo is the sadist, Lucky is the masochist. Or Pozzo can be seen as the Ego and Lucky as the Id. An inexhaustible number of polarities can be suggested. (Cliffsnotes website) ! Godot ! [Another] story has Beckett rejecting the advances of a prostitute on the rue Godot de Mauroy only to have the prostitute ask if he was saving himself for Godot. Beckett’s longtime friend and English publisher John Calder summarises Beckett’s position on the play thus: "He wanted any number of stories circulated, the more there are, the better he likes it.” (S E Gontarski "Dealing with a Given Space”) ! Without either accepting or rejecting the widespread view that Waiting for Godot is a religious allegory, let us consider what problems confront a dramatist who wishes to write a play about waiting—a play which virtually nothing is to happen and yet the audience are to be cajoled into themselves waiting to the bittersweet end. Obviously those who wait on stage must wait for something that they and the audience consider extremely important. !31
  34. 34. ! We are explicitly told that when Godot arrives, so Vladimir and Estragon believe, they will be "saved". An audience possessing even a tenuous acquaintance with Christianity need no further hint: an analogy , they deduce, is being drawn with Christ’s Second Coming . They do not have to identify Godot with God; they do, however, need to see the analogy if the play is not to seem hopelessly trivial. In secular terms, salvation can mean the coming of the classless society, that of the Thousand-Year Reich, or any other millennial solution. Ultimately, though, the concept of the Millennium is itself religious in origin, being present in the Old Testament as well as the New; a Jewish audience would remember that they are still awaiting the Messiah. ! In other words, a play like Waiting for Godot could hardly "work" artistically if it did not invoke the Judaeo-Christian Messianic tradition and its political derivatives (Having grown up in Ireland at the time of the struggle for independence, Beckett was doubtless aware of the millennial salvationist hope implicit in all nationalist as well as socialist movements.) It is a measure of Beckett’s art that he invokes this tradition (this stereotype, almost) stealthily rather than blatantly. ! Any critic who accepts the religious analogy sees the boy messenger as equivalent to an angel ("angel" is in any case derived from the Greek word for "Messenger"), but Pozzo seems to be a stumbling- block for most of them. He need not be: although Pozzo denies that he is Godot, he tells Vladimir and Estragon that they are "on my land". Other hints suggest that he may be the very person they are waiting for, but, like the Jews confronted with Jesus, they are expecting someone so different that they fail to recognise him. On the other hand, one must admit that Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky in Act I resembles the behaviour of the God of the Old Testament ; it is in Act II that Pozzo himself begins to seem a victim, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." There are moments in the Old Testament when the Jews—or some of them—failed to recognise their God, so we could perhaps argue that Act I represents the Old Testament and Act II the New. But if Vladimir and Estragon represent Christianity rather than Judaism, there are several texts in the New Testament which warn that the Second Coming of Christ will resemble in its stealth that of "a thief in the night” (Beckett/Beckett By: Vivian Mercier 1919-1989) The two thieves are Didi and Gogo; the two thieves are Pozzo and Lucky; the two thieves are you and me. And the play is shaped to reflect that fearful symmetry. (Back to Beckett by: Ruby Cohn) ! Carnevale Annunciation At the end of Act I, when the boy arrives to say that Mr Godot " won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow " and Vladimir proceeds to question him about his "credentials", the boy reveals that he minds the goats and his brother minds the sheep. Placing these two words together is enough to suggest one of Jesus’s best-known parables, frequently used in art and sermon, the parable of the sheep and the goats: ! !32
  35. 35. When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46) This parable is, of course, a narrative about salvation and damnation; the sheep are the saved, the goats the damned. It is significant that the messenger who attends Vladimir and Estragon is the goatherd. Previous ironies about the nature of the God parodied in this play are intensified by his perverse beating of the boy who tends the sheep, not the one who tends the goats (the damned are damned and the saved get beaten). Act II ends after the appearance of a similar messenger (apparently not the same one, but not necessarily his shepherd brother either). This boy, in response to questions, provides the information that Godot has a white beard, frightening Vladimir into pleas for mercy and expectations of punishment. (Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot by Kristin Morrison) ! From all this we may gather the Godot has several traits in common with the image of God as we know it from the Old and New Testament. . . . The discrimination between goatherd [Satanic] and shepherd [priestly—agnus dei] is reminiscent of the Son of God as the ultimate judge [judicare vivos et mortuos] . . . while his doing nothing might be an equally cynical reflection concerning man’s forlorn state. This feature, together with Beckett’s statement about something being believed to be " in store for us, not in store in us ," seems to show clearly that Beckett points to the sterility of a consciousness that expects and waits for the old activity of God or gods. ! Whereas Matthew (25,33) says: "And he shall seat the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left" in the play it is the shepherd who is beaten and the goatherd who is favoured. What Vladimir and Estragon expect from Godot is food and shelter, and goats are motherly, milk-providing animals. In antiquity, even the male goats among the deities , like Pan and Dionysos, have their origin in the cult of the great mother and the matriarchal mysteries , later to become devils. ! Today religion altogether is based on indistinct desires in which spiritual and material needs remain mixed. Godot is explicitly vague, merely an empty promise, corresponding to the lukewarm piety and absence of suffering in the tramps. Waiting for him has become a habit which Beckett calls a "guarantee of dull inviolability", an adaptation to the meaningless of life. " The periods of transition ," he continued, "that separate consecutive adaptations . . . represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being. (Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays by Eva Metman) !33
  36. 36. ! The question of Godot’s identity does more than tantalise spectators of Beckett’s play: it is a paradigm of textual tantalisation itself. Its answer appears to lie outside the play, encouraging criticism to return to that realm it once called home: the author’s intentions. However, this ancient ground of textual meaning now seems abandoned, most explicitly in Beckett’s work, where its vacancy is announced, paradoxically, in the form of a text strongly marked with intentionality: the direct nonfictional statement of authorial intent. I am referring, of course, to Beckett’s notorious riposte to the question of Godot’s identity. "If I knew," Beckett said, "I would have said so in the play." ! If indeed Beckett is not deliberately withholding the identity of Godot but really does not know it (a supposition implying that there is something to be known), then he is displacing the traditional notion of textual meaningfulness . . . For if we take Beckett’s remark at face value, we are confronted with the incredible spectacle of a work of art based on expressive deficiency, a work of art that lacks the one necessary condition of art: mastery. It is surely significant that critics have generally been unable to accept this feature in Beckett’s work and have preferred to characterise Godot’s nonarrival as an effect of Beckett’s authorial power rather than of the impotence and ignorance he himself insists on. ! Origin is gone, nonexistent. For, on closer inspection, the original audience we have posited is not the integrated, stable starting point of a process that will continue beyond its encounter with the play: rather, it is an audience already in process, divided against itself. The play’s repetitious structure is such that it reverses the usual rôle-playing of audiences: instead of requiring later audiences to play the rôle of a first audience, Godot requires its first audience to play the rôle of a subsequent audience. ! The tree in Godot functions, first, as a link between the Friedrich—Oak Tree in Snow audience and an organic "other world", a world that includes, among (very few) other things, material nature. . . . the tree is a relational sign, mediating the relation between the stage and the road in such a way as to render that relation asymmetrical (the stage may be the road, but not, thanks to the tree, vice versa) ! As one of the very few signs of the play’s setting system, . . . the tree raises the question of material realisation, which could be formulated simply as "Should the tree be realistic?" However, the normative cast of this question is disturbing, implying, as it does, that there is a "right" way to "do the tree". The play itself indicates otherwise. The episode in which Didi and Gogo attempt to enact the tree is an instructive example of the dialectic of representation and reference. The episode sets up a relay of signification (actors playing characters play a stage tree that is playing a real tree) in which what is dramatised is one of the thorniest and most crucial aspects of dramatic significant: the transformability of signs. . . . Their failure is especially remarkable in the context of their otherwise ample theatrical skill and resourcefulness, which has led critics to read them as carriers of the entire tradition of popular entertainment. . . . Not only are the tramps unsure that this is the "right" tree, they are even uncertain about what kind of tree it is, even whether it is a tree at all. !34