Beckett's Play, in extensor

Citation metadata

Author: S. E. Gontarski
Editor: Linda Pavlovski
Date: 2004
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,965 words

Document controls

Main content

Article Preview :

[(essay date fall 1999) In the following essay, Gontarski finds Play to be a crucial element in the formation of Beckett's theatrical sensibility.]

To date none of the commonly available English texts for Samuel Beckett's Play, in fact, none of the printed texts in any edition in any language, is entirely accurate. None reflects the final text Beckett took such pains to establish; none, that is to say, includes the revisions he made after first consulting on the world premiere in German (1963), then overseeing more directly near-simultaneous productions in French and English (both 1964), and finally directing the play himself at the Schiller-Theater Werkstatt in October 1978. British and American publishers tried to accommodate Beckett's production changes in various editions of the published work, but Beckett's revisions were made in as well as on stages, over an extended period. As publishers revised texts to accommodate productions, Beckett re-revised his work to accommodate insights drawn from new productions; that is, production generally outpaced publication. The production and textual history of Play testifies, as well, to the growing professional pressures on Samuel Beckett as an international artist (if not an international commodity) by the mid-1960s. That pressure would culminate in the so-called "catastrophe" of the Nobel Prize in 1969.1 The early productions of Play, moreover, suggest a singular shift in Beckett's development as a theatre artist. At this period, Beckett began to embrace theatre not as the medium through which an authored script was given its preconceived expression but as a (or even the) means through which his theatre art was created. In many respects this aesthetic shift, much of it the result of theatrical necessity, represented a break from the hegemony of modernist textuality, from Modernism itself, in fact, and a move closer to the indeterminacy we more often associate with post-modernist textuality. Beckett was never quite willing to abandon the authority of authorship completely, however, since even as a director he simultaneously (if not primarily) functioned as an author. But his uncertainties about the text of Play began from this period to affect all of his dramatic work, and he began to re-author earlier work as he came to direct it. The problems surrounding Play in particular, then, mark a seminal period in Beckett's developing theatrical sensibility and as such are emblematic of his altered conception of theatre itself.

The composition, publication, and performance history of Play is, admittedly, complicated.2 Play triggered an increase in Beckett's direct involvement in the theatre, since it demanded a level of technical sophistication and precision unknown in his earlier work, and it was the staging of Play that may finally have forced a reluctant Beckett to assume full directorial responsibility for his own works. Beckett had introduced technology to his theatre with Krapp's Last Tape in 1958, shortly after working on and then hearing a tape recording of his first radio play, All That Fall (1957), sent from the BBC. And the exploding umbrella of Happy Days (1961) still gives producers and...

Source Citation

Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420056344