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Just Play

Just Play: Beckett's Theater

Ruby Cohn
Copyright Date: 1980
Pages: 328
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  • Book Info
    Just Play
    Book Description:

    The author ranges through Beckett's drama to analyze his approach to place, time, soliloquy, fiction, and repetition.

    Originally published in 1980.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5360-1
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Photographs
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-14)

    Beckett’s plays are just play for precise performance. They are play as opposed to unmediated reality, but play is its own mode of reality.

    Just play is a phrase in Beckett’sPlay, spoken twice within a moment of stage time, by a man in an eternal triangle:

    I know now, all that was just … play.¹

    All this, when will all this have been … just play?

    Sentence and question, rhythmically monosyllabic, point to past and future, the world and limbo. The sentence acknowledges the acquisition of wisdom through experience; it is a stripped version of Aeschyleanpathos-mathos, and yet...


    • 2 At This Place
      (pp. 17-33)

      Samuel Beckett’s sense of direction is unusually fine. Through Paris diagonals, London mews, Berlin parks, and North African beaches he picks his unerring way. He lives and works in sparely furnished rooms where every object has its place. So it is quite natural for him to see his plays in space, and to increase his meticulous scenic directions for the decreasing materiality of that space. It is a cliché of Beckett commentary that all his places are alike and all his times at once repetitive and timeless. Like most clichés, this scans a surface truth. Beckett’s fictional characters wander through...

    • 3 At This Moment in Time
      (pp. 34-57)

      Samuel Beckett lives with clock and calendar. Good Friday fell on April 13 in 1906, the year of his birth, and on that day he annually “celebrates” the crucifixion.¹ Other birthdays, holidays, anniversaries do not slip by unnoticed. He punctiliously dates his letters, acknowledges letters by date written, and sends traditional good wishes to theater friends on opening nights. Though he walks to most of his appointments, he is never late. Even when his commitments are closely scheduled in different countries, they never overlap. In 1930 his poemWhoroscopewon the Hours Press prize for the best poem on time....

    • 4 All Mankind Is Us: Soliloquizers
      (pp. 58-75)

      In Beckett’s production ofGodotVladimir poses self-mockingly as he pontificates: “At this place, at this moment of time, all mankind is us….” But self-mockery does not erase the truth of his statement, and Beckett dramatizes that truth in two main ways: 1) His dramas gradually embrace soliloquy, the traditional device to “explore the speaker’s ‘inner life,’ [whose] deepest feelings emerge even as they take shape in his own consciousness. The effect on the audience is that of greater knowledge of the speaker and, at the same time, of a more intense emotional relationship with him.”¹2) Several of Beckett’s plays...

    • 5 All Mankind Is Us: Fictionalizers
      (pp. 76-95)

      Hamm, Winnie, Mouth, the pacing woman ofFootfallssublimate soliloquy in fiction; both devices, soliloquy and fiction, are theater costumes for an indefinite, undefinable self. Through the years Beckett’s soliloquists pare away accidental attributes of the self to bare a common human base. Through the years his composers of fiction pare away accidental attributes of narrative to bare a common human pain. It is through pain that his dramatic authors try to endow their characters with incisive contour. And it is through their pain that we empathize with these authors. Not fictionalized autobiographers, Beckett’s dramatized authors are metaphors for Everyman...

    • 6 The Churn of Stale Words: Repetitions
      (pp. 96-140)

      In the preceding four “Through Views” of Beckett’s plays, I have traced dramatic tensions in time and place, and characters’ expression in soliloquy and fiction. As a final “Through View” I propose to examine avatars of Beckett’s most pervasive verbal device, repetition. In his verse and fiction of the 1930s he anchors an order in repetition, but from 1949 to 1976 he seems to erode order through the relentlessness of his repetition, which is one of his ways “to find a form that accommodates the mess.”¹ Moreover, verbal repetition can enhance or counterpoint gestural repetition in drama, but my comments...


    • 7 The Play That Wasn’t Written: Human Wishes
      (pp. 143-162)

      Beckett’s work—fiction and drama—astonishes by its internal coherence, and I have tried to chart five aspects of his consistency in drama. Digressions and discarded efforts are rare, but they do exist, some in private collections or libraries, others still in Beckett’s possession. Because his published work is so coherent, it is instructive to examine his singular fragments and failures, and I choose one of each in the dramatic medium—the abortiveHuman Wishes(1937) and the jettisonedEleuthéria(1947).

      Despite errors, Deirdre Bair’s recent Beckett biography provides us with an ambience for the creation of early works. In...

    • 8 The Play That Wasn’t Staged: Eleuthéria
      (pp. 163-172)

      When Beckett turned again to drama—in his adopted language, French—he completed three full acts that would last over three hours in performance.IfBeckett permitted performance. But he withdrew the play from director Roger Blin and publisher Jérôme Lindon. To the pretentious Greek titleEleuthéria(freedom) he appended a subtitle “drame bourgeois,” and the subject is bourgeois rather than Greek—a sensitive young man misunderstood in the bourgeois world. It is not surprising that Beckett refuses to make public this play written in 1947, but rather that he ever considered publishing or staging it. Yet it was announced...

    • 9 The Play That Was Rewritten: Fin de partie
      (pp. 173-186)

      A play aborted and a play jettisoned contrast with Beckett’s favorite play,Endgame, which was worked, reworked, and translated from the French. As an approximation, Deirdre Bair is probably right to surmise that Beckett turned to drama when he reached a creative impasse, but drama too can be an impasse, and Beckett labored two years overFin de partie. Of all his plays, it underwent most extensive revision.¹

      Beckett wrote his friend, anglicist Jean-Jacques Mayoux:

      La rédaction définitive de Fin de partie est de 56. Mais j’avais abordé ce travail bien avant, peut-être en 54. Une première, puis une deuxième...


    • 10 Some Beckett Theatricians
      (pp. 189-206)

      A latecomer to the professional theater—Beckett was forty-seven whenGodotwas first performed—he has earned abiding loyalties among theater workers, whom I group under the neologism “theatricians.” Fehsenfeld and McMillan have collected revealing testimony from many theatricians,¹ but I limit my discussion to those I most appreciate. And I begin at the beginning, with Roger Blin’s production ofEn attendant Godot, which I attended in 1953 at the now defunct Théâtre de Babylone.

      Blin has described his attraction to both Beckett manuscripts,EleuthériaandGodot, and his economics-based decision forGodot.² Despite the play’s minimal financial demands, however,...

    • 11 Jumping Beckett’s Genres
      (pp. 207-229)

      Some Beckett theatricians have been more faithful to his texts and genres than he himself, but his intention is fidelity. In 1957 he wrote his American publisher, Barney Rosset: “If we can’t keep our genres more or less distinct, or extricate them from the confusion that has them where they are, we might as well go home and lie down.”² In his feeling for generic distinctness Beckett is one of today’ rare classicists, and although he has kept his “genres more or less distinct,” he has occasionally—almost quixotically—allowed others to be less strict.

      As early as 1952, before...

    • 12 Beckett Directs
      (pp. 230-280)

      Exhaustion notwithstanding, Beckett has been directing for well over a decade—his own plays with the single exception ofL’Hypothèseby his friend Robert Pinget. Critical silence about his directing, in respect for his wishes, ended early with the publication of Michael Haerdter’s illuminatingMaterialien zu Becketts Endspiel(1967), and more recent reports offer us a more public view.² My own account is that of a reader and spectator of the plays, most of which I read before experiencing them in Beckett’s productions. Often privileged to attend late rehearsals, I reveal no confidences but try to convey a sense of...

    • [Illustrations]
      (pp. None)
  9. Notes
    (pp. 281-288)
  10. Bibliography of Works Cited
    (pp. 289-292)
  11. Appendices
    (pp. 293-306)
  12. Index
    (pp. 307-313)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 314-314)