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Art in Microcosm: The Manuscript Stages of Beckett's Come and Go BREON MITCHELL • SAMUEL BECKETT'S Come and Go remains an enigma of the modern theatre in more than one respect. Although it was first published in 1966, it has yet to he produced professionally in America. Of the 127 words of the English version, 103 are to be spoken in colorless voices "as low as compatible with audibility." The cast consists of three women, who, apart from the muted color differentiation of their identical costumes, are to look "as much alike as possible." Given these ingredients, and the fact that the entire play may be produced in less than five minutes, it would seem worthwhile to analyze the origins of its surprising dramatic power.l Resonance in Come and Go is achieved by a rich interplay of veiled literary and mythological allusions which breathe significance and life into the whole. Shakespeare, Chekhov, and even Gilbert and Sullivan contribute to the total aesthetic effect of Beckett's microdrama. From the opening line of the play, "When did we three last meet?", with its distorted echo of the first witch's query in Macbeth, we are invited to view Come and Go in the context of major dramatic art. The general mood of longing, regret, and disappointment which informs the play relates it even more directly to the works of Anton Chekhov. Three Sisters, in particular, reads like a striking commentary on the themes of Beckett's play, and there can be little doubt that Olga, Masha, and Irina, longing for life, yet immobilized by a fear of living, served as partial models for 245 246 BREON MITCHELL Flo, Vi, and Ru. The literary allusions in Come and Go enrich the play on the verbal level; yet there is a non-verbal level of signification as well, which links the sparse beauty of the drama to one of the oldest themes in the repertory of Western art - the classical motif of the Three Graces. We know that the Three Graces originally personified the fecundity of nature; they were associated with springtime and the flowering of plants, and came to embody all that is beautiful and pleasurable in human life. In the plastic arts they have traditionally been depicted as young, smiling, and nude or transparently clothed, interlocking their arms or hands in symbol of the common bonds of friendship and reciprocity which unite mankind. The final tableau of Come and Go offers the spectator an inversion of the traditional iconography. Seated instead of standing, fully clothed instead of nude, of indeterminate age (but surely no longer young), Flo, Vi, and Ru are but faded floral memories of the fecundity and grace of Botticelli's Primavera. Beckett offers a vision devoid of the thrusting power of Spring, where only the shared memory of a common hope provides a final moment of regeneration. The ironic distance could hardly be greater. The complex web of condensed literary, artistic, and mythological allusions in Come and Go allows the deceptively simple text to expand almost infinitely in the mind of the spectator. The thematic resonance thus provided is, however, only one source of the power of the play, and leaves many questions unanswered. Some indeed, do not require an answer . Thus it makes no more sense to ask what the women whisper to one another in Come and Go than to inquire after the identity of Godot. It would be equally pointless to demand why each leaves the stage in turn, and what they are doing in the darkness. Such questions miss the mark entirely; we learn all we need to know in watching the play itself.2 If Waiting for Godot is really about waiting, then Come and Go is about coming and going. The dramatic action is congruent with. the physical motion of the characters. While we are not waiting (for love, for life) we are coming and going, and the purpose of that action withers in its budding. Thus the title itself is first of all a stage direction. Ironically, coming and going is also something we do to pass the time - as Vladimir does in waiting for Estragon at the opening...


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pp. 245-254
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