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Three Times Godot: Beckett, Brecht, Bulatovic Clas Zilliacus The very title of Jean Giraudoux’s Amphitryon 38 is a genuflexion before antique myth and its power still to claw. Giraudoux wrote his play in 1929, and the motif has been reworked many times since. On the whole, the romantic cult of individuality has prevented more recent drama from being used in similar ways. Restrictions of this kind have never obtained in music, where great masters have sanctioned the right to vary good themes well, but literary vessels have commonly been thought nonrefundable. Just how relentlessly this taboo has been looked after came to the fore in the Brecht-Alfred Kerr controversy over the Villon translations sewn into Die Dreigroschenoper (an adap­ tation which was, ironically, debated in the year of the 38th Amphi­ tryon) . Brecht pleaded not guilty, referring to his “grundsätzliche Laxheit in Fragen geistigen Eigentums.”! He was to show similar irreverence many times, right up to Die Tage der Commune, a counter­ play to Nordahl Grieg’s Nederlaget, and Brecht’s last play to be published under his supervision, in Versuche 15. Here Brecht improved an excellent play. Only a few months before his death he was busy with plans of a “Gegenentwurf”—his own term—to Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The term used aptly describes Brecht’s method of work: he made a rough draft on the text to be countered, making changes, adding, and deleting. Brecht, whether because of failing health or failing enthusiasm is unknown, never got his “Gegenentwurf” beyond the embryonal stage. But the textual changes that we have, and other information about the project, shed some light on that unlikely meeting of the two great figures of post-war drama. I shall also consider what happened a decade after their encounter, when the Yugoslav author Miodrag Bulatovic decided that it was time to introduce the Beckettian waiters to their Godot, in his Godo je dosao, published in Germany as Godot ist gekommen.2 The absurdist Beckett and the epic Brecht have often been hailed and analysed as antipodes; Bulatovic contrasts just as sharply with Beckett. With Schiller’s dichotomy Beckett is a sentimental author, Bulatovic decidedly a naive one.3 Regarded together the three plays make a nuanced contribution to mid-century European thought. In order to have the original Beckettian dramatis personae to work with I shall not discuss more freely constructed polemic disputes with Beckett, such as Leszek Kolakowski’s 1957 play, Entrance and ExitA 3 4 Comparative Drama More specifically my task is one of juxtaposition rather than compari­ son, and it is made easier by the fact that the point of departure is a modern classic. It should, however, be remembered that this classic has changed during the years, and notably most of Beckett’s changes have been designed to suppress clues which energetic exegetes found and voraciously swallowed in the MS. and earliest version of the play.5 This tendency is directly opposed in the counterplays. Brecht obviously intended to historicise both setting and characters, and Bulatovic, apart from putting Godot firmly on the stage, goes as far as to give him the worldly profession of a baker. There is no lack of studies on analogies and differences between epic and absurd.6 Both reacted against Aristotle and bourgeois realism. Brecht called it Thaeter, Ionesco, anti-théâtre. Both paid homage to Asian tradition, to the circus, and to anti-illusionist theatrical means like mime and mask. Both have been seminally influenced by the Bible. For both man is “unmontierbar”: Krapp by Proustian means, Galy Gay for capitalist ends. Both treat the ills of alienation but, and here they diverge, only Brecht tries to cure them. Beckett’s malum is of the first order; there is no primum mobile beyond it that could be accused, tried, and removed.7 “I am neither pessimistic nor existen­ tialist,” Beckett has said and,8 surely, Winnie in Happy Days holds out—passively. Brecht’s categories are not optimism and pessimism but optimism active and passive. History to him is man-made: alien­ ation has historical causes and cures. Brecht, too, was a master of the absurd, as shown...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1936-1637
Print ISSN
0010-4078
Pages
pp. 3-17
Launched on MUSE
2018-07-11
Open Access
No
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