Saturday, 12 October 2013

Waiting for G'deau

Watch Beckett's American publisher, Barney Rosset of the Grove Press, introducing a 1961 television production of Waiting for Godot with a cast including Zero Mostel and Burgess Meredith. Click here but be warned - you may want to stay for the whole show, which runs for a brisk ninety minutes.

Mostel (as Estragon) has clearly modelled his vocal delivery on Oliver Hardy, which seems right to me as Stan and Ollie were certainly prototypes for Vladimir and Estragon, not least in their shabby bourgeoise headgear. There are some surprising direct addresses to the audience (or at least the camera) and there's no shortage of mugging - but it was produced for a large popular audience. Fat chance of that happening now.

As ever I marvel at the U.S. pronunciation of a play's title. Everywhere else, including in the original French, it's pronounced with a stress on the first syllable of the last word of the title i.e. Godot. Quite why Rosset of all people should say "G'deau" is beyond me, unless there's a wish to avoid a whiff of blasphemy by saying God, even as a blameless syllable. That wouldn't astonish me, in a nation that (attractively, I think) has produced such euphemisms as "Jumping Jehoshaphat!" and "Jiminy Cricket!".  

But the absent Godot, let's remember, was not God. As Beckett himself said, wearily one suspects: "If by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot."


By way of conclusive proof that Godot should be pronounced Godot consider the scene between the two tramps and the newly-arrived Pozzo:


ESTRAGON: (undertone). Is that him?
VLADIMIR: Who?
ESTRAGON: (trying to remember the name). Er . . .
VLADIMIR: Godot?
ESTRAGON: Yes.
POZZO: I present myself: Pozzo.
VLADIMIR: (to Estragon). Not at all!
ESTRAGON: He said Godot.
VLADIMIR: Not at all!
ESTRAGON: (timidly, to Pozzo). You're not Mr. Godot, Sir?
POZZO: (terrifying voice). I am Pozzo! (Silence.) Pozzo! (Silence.) Does that name mean nothing to you? (Silence.) I say does that name mean nothing to you?


To confuse Godot with Pozzo (which is always pronounced POT-zo) would hardly happen if Godot were G'deau. Plus - am I alone in finding "G'deau" incredibly camp?


Extract from Waiting for Godot © The Estate of Samuel Beckett

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