Characteristics of Modern English Drama

Categories: Waiting For Godot

Godot's 60th: The University of Reading archive reveals the very first night Picture: Roger Photo So why are we still waiting for Godot? How has Samuel Beckett's play grown from a small avant garde efficiency in Paris to become part of the West End theatre coach celebration circuit? It's 60 years because Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot received its best in the Theatre de Babylone in Paris. The very first public efficiency, in its original French form of En attendant Godot, drew an audience of high-brow Parisians, taking in the most current speculative theatre.

"All the thousands who declared they were there might never have actually been at the best. There weren't enough seats," says James Knowlson, Beckett's friend and official biographer. They likewise couldn't have actually understood that this play, starting its shoestring-budget operate on 5 January 1953, was going to be seen as one of the essential minutes in modern drama. International appeal

So why has Waiting for Godot proved so resilient? How has Beckett's work lasted longer than the other critics and mad young authors of the 1950s and 1960s? "I would recommend the response depends on its ambiguities.

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So much is recommended instead of explicitly stated," states Prof Knowlson. A program from Godot's first setting at the Theatre de Babylone in Montparnasse, Paris "Individuals can read into it what they wish to check out into it."

This openness to interpretation has actually helped the play to avoid ending up being dated, he says. For a play that's about the passing of time, it's oddly classic.

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It asks all the huge philosophical questions - about life and death and the unsure function of what goes on in between - but in a manner that isn't limited to a specific place or era. And the play has acquired a remarkable record for being carried out in very different global settings. No disaster or civil strife is total without its own Godot. It was carried out in Sarajevo under siege in the 1990s, in South Africa it was viewed as a review of apartheid and in the wake of Cyclone Katrina an efficiency in New Orleans was viewed as an emblem of the city's wait for healing. Inmates in San Quentin prison in California saw it as their own story in a well-known production in the late 1950s.

Prof Knowlson's friendship with Beckett has also created a rich and unexpected legacy for his university, the University of Reading, which now holds the biggest archive of Beckett-related material in the world. From the early 1970s, the playwright began giving manuscripts and notes to Prof Knowlson, stuffed into bags, boxes and suitcases. And this Beckett International Foundation has grown to become the definitive European collection for researchers. "He adopted us," says Prof Knowlson - although the attention-shunning writer was never persuaded to visit the archive in person. As Waiting for Godot reaches its 60th anniversary, the university has artefacts and pictures from the original performances. 'Something extraordinary'

It's also a reminder of how easily the play might not have happened at all. Samuel Beckett at the BBC recording a series of his plays in 1977There were no famous faces or big funders to back the play. Instead it depended on the actor and director Roger Blin to hustle for cash and a venue - and once it had begun it relied on word of mouth for survival. None of the original cast are still alive - and the theatre itself shut down a few years after staging Beckett's play. In an interview with French television in the 1960s, Roger Blin suggested the initial power of the play.

When Beckett showed him the script: "I said to myself: This is something extraordinary and it must be put on." Another playwright who was enlisted in the search for funding fervently promised Blin: "I will defend this play to the death." It was still proving controversial when the first English version of the play was performed two years later in London, directed by a 24-year-old Peter Hall. Harold Pinter, also then in his twenties, saw Beckett as the the "most courageous, remorseless writer going", while reviewer Bernard Levin described Waiting for Godot as "a remarkable piece of twaddle".

Not a 'miserabilist'

Prof Knowlson is himself now one of the most important living links with Beckett. Continue reading the main story

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He could be very convivial, very witty, very good company, with a great sense of humour” Professor James Knowlson
Beckett's friend and biographer. And he recognises that the continuing interest in Beckett's writing is wrapped up in the fascination with the enigmatic character of the author. His photogenic alienation has become a kind of literary brand. But Prof Knowlson argues against the view of Beckett as a "miserabilist". "He could be very convivial, very witty, very good company, with a great sense of humour. "But there was an element of depression and despair that was part of his life, particularly after the war when he was deeply involved in writing the novels." He says that Beckett's idea of a happy Christmas would have been a solitary occasion.

"He would have been preferably on his own and writing. He hated that kind of thing." The underlying humour is also part of the continuing appeal of Waiting for Godot, he argues. It's often a peculiarly bleak comedy of resistance, but the thread of humour is always there to leaven the gloom. It's now a commonplace to see Waiting for Godot described as one of the most important plays of the 20th Century - with its reputation gathering momentum rather than fading away. The kind of movie actors who would have reached the career point of wanting to be in King Lear now want to shuffle across the stage in Godot.

Design conscious

A key reason for this growing resonance with audiences, Prof Knowlson says, is the visual appeal. Beckett's strong images appeal to a design-conscious, visually-literate culture. "They have this strong visual element. I've become much more conscious of the filmic quality."

A handbill advertising the first run of Waiting for Godot

Prof Knowlson says that he increasingly believes there is a direct link between the plays and Beckett's interest in painting. "He was passionately involved in painting, not just that he loved to be with painters, but he was a real expert on 17th Century Dutch painting." "He knew these pictures so well, he was so engrossed in these scenes. It seems to me that these pictures are really echoed in Waiting for Godot." Beckett's life was changed by the success of Godot - the international impact of the play helped him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. His publisher John Calder also recalled how the enigmatic Godot could haunt his creator.

He recounted how he had once met an anxious Beckett getting off a flight at Heathrow airport. When the plane doors had closed on the runway in Paris, Beckett had heard the loudspeaker announcing: "Captain Godot welcomes you on board." "I wondered if my destiny had caught up with me at last," Beckett had told his publisher. The Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading will hold a series of seminars on Samuel Beckett and Waiting for Godot in April 2013.

Updated: Nov 01, 2022
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Characteristics of Modern English Drama. (2017, Feb 15). Retrieved from

Characteristics of Modern English Drama essay
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