Drama in England

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Author: Bonamy Dobree
Editors: Roger Matuz and Sean Pollock
Date: 1990
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 1,708 words

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In Waiting for Godot, Mr. Samuel Beckett has put a large rampagious cat among the pigeons, the journalistic-critic ones, and perhaps the philosophic theoretic breed. "Mere music-hallery," some of the former judged, entertaining or dreary according to the jadedness of the palate; there was even "blind abuse," and Mr. Terence Rattigan ... complained of a total lack of humanity in it. Such were reproved by others.... (pp. 478-79)

Perhaps the first thing to be said about the play in this context is that it relies on no cultural pattern whatever, not even values, as ... other plays do. It springs up as the lusus naturae defying Mr. Fergusson's generalization; altogether a very queer play, outraging all commonly supported dramatic precepts, falling into no category unless it be that of a Morality Play expressed in contemporary terms. The psychology, naturally, is not so simple as in mediaeval times; we are not so sure of the divisions of virtue and sin, of soul and body. It might be hazarded that the "characters" (if you can call them so) in this play together make up what might be called "humanity" or Everyman, much in the way that the characters in A Pilgrim's Progress amount to a total being. Yet the persons are few: two filthy old tramps, a bewildered "successful" man who might be thought to represent Power, accompanied by a slave, and finally a boy. Had it been produced some years ago, critics would have it said, as they did when confronted by Ibsen and Tchekov, "This isn't a play at all." If drama is action this is certainly no play, since nothing whatever happens: it might go on for ever, and does, indeed, go on a few minutes too long. At the end, as at the beginning, the tramps are still waiting for Godot. What is it then? You might at a stretch call it a religious charade; it could certainly be described as a metaphysical one, Existentialist possibly. Farcical, absurd, yes: nevertheless a deadly serious work, the most original and unforeseen the theater can boast of at the moment.

But what is the theme? The human predicament? ... But in what terms does Beckett conceive this predicament? Perhaps we can get a clue from a little monograph he wrote in 1931 in Paris—where he was secretary to James Joyce—and which is still illuminating, probing, and formative. The passage that follows seems to be, not a summation of part of Proust's thought, but what Beckett himself thinks: at all events it might be taken as a gloss upon...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1100000113