Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tynan on Godot's Fundamental Advantage

By all the known criteria, Mr Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot is a dramatic vacuum. It has no plot, no climax, no denouement; no beginning, no middle and no end. Unavoidably, it has a situation, and it might be accused of having suspense, since it deals with the impatience of two tramps waiting beneath a tree for a cryptic Mr Godot to keep his appointment with them; but the situation is never developed, and a glance at the programme shows that Mr Godot is not going to arrive. Waiting for Godot frankly jettisons everything by which we recognise theatre. It arrives at the custom house, as it were, with no luggage, no passport and nothing to declare: yet it gets through as might a pilgrim from Mars. It does this, I believe, by appealing to a definition of drama much more fundamental than any in the books. A play, it asserts and proves, is basically a means of spending two hours in the dark without being bored.

-Kenneth Tynan


Thomas Garvey said...

You know, Tynan's wrong about Godot, and I wish people would stop saying that "nothing happens in it, twice." True, the action does not follow the traditional conventions of "plot," but there is action which deepens our sense of Didi and Gogo's plight. Pozzo loses various possessions mysteriously, then finally loses his sight. Lucky reveals that philosophy has gone haywire before cataclysmic events. And during his last encounter with Godot's messenger, Didi betrays Gogo - and essentially, Adam falls from Eden all over again (and Cain slays Abel), whether or not God exists. It's true that these events all operate as thematic points, and not as "plot points" - but then part of Beckett's achievement is that by disposing of conventional plot, he has opened up so much stage time to thematic contemplation - or perhaps his achievement is that he has combined theme and plot, all while producing a small, but incremental sense of progression.

Art said...

Tynan was very positive, and pretty much on the same wavelength as you.

I guess I would go even further than you though, and suggest that there certainly IS a climax and denoument. Just as Eric Bentley pointed out that as much as people say Brecht eschews climax, you can find them in all of his plays right there where the climax should traditionally be.

But I think the essence of what Tynan is saying is the same as you and I would point out. Can't we cut him a little slack though, as he was reviewing the play without our benefit of fifty years of academic and critical analysis? (Or, indeed, seeing its massive influence.)