Taking a 100-200 word excerpt from either Waiting for Godot or Lady Windermere’s Fan, discuss the differences between reading on the page and how it would (or might) work in a production. (ca. 500 words) “Nothing happens, twice” (Vivian Mercer) Whilst this critical viewpoint is shared by many on the seeming lack of action in Waiting for Godot, stage directions represent nearly half of the text, with Beckett making all actions, emotions, expressions and props as important as the dialogue.
The question is how differently people reading the text as a book as opposed to being part of an audience interpret the play. Since they form such an integral part of the text, stage directions must be addressed; Enter Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo is blind. Lucky burdened as before. Rope as before, but much shorter, so that Pozzo may follow more easily. Lucky wearing a different hat. At the sight of Vladimir and Estragon he stops short. Pozzo, continuing on his way, bumps into him.
As a reader reading these stage directions, unquestionably more attention is paid to them than would be if part of an audience. For instance, an audience member may not have noticed a shorter rope or Lucky’s new hat; however a reader cannot miss this fact. A reader has time to reflect on the relevance of the stage directions and other parts of the play, why is Estragon always struggling with his boot? Why do Vladimir and Estragon exchange hats eight times? What is the significance of the tree and its leaves?
However, a live audience see it as it is, with no time to reflect on the bizarre, confusing aspects. This is no doubt as Beckett would have preferred, having always strayed away from symbolic explanation in his plays, according to him the tree sprouting leaves is not to show hope or inspiration but simply to show the passage of time. Similarly his opinion on the character Godot, “If I knew who Godot was, I would have said so in the play. ” Despite this, Beckett does give the audience some time to figure out the play’s meaning, when adding the numerous crucial pauses in Waiting for Godot.
As well as serving this purpose for the audience, they also highlight Vladimir and Estragon’s inadequacy at finding their words, times when they shocked or displeased by what the other has just said, or when awaiting the response of the other. Yet again however, a reader of the text misses out on all this, for the simple fact that they are ‘reading’ the silence, reading Beckett’s description of inactivity. There is also more a sense of integration in the play when watching it.
Aside from obviously being only metres way from the characters, certain parts of the play deliberately bring in the audience, an experience that cannot be shared by a reader; VLADIMIR: We’re surrounded! (Estragon makes a rush towards back. ) Imbecile! There’s no way out there. (He takes Estragon by the arm and drags him towards front. Gesture towards front. ) There! Not a soul in sight! Off you go! Quick! (He pushes Estragon towards auditorium. Estragon recoils in horror. ) You won’t? (He contemplates auditorium. ) Well I can understand that. Wait till I see.
(He reflects. ) Your only hope left is to disappear. Clearly, being addressed to by the main characters in live form is a more effective way of experiencing the play. The audience feel more a part of the play instead of outsiders reading it as a critical text. Waiting for Godot’s comedy is largely slapstick, VLADIMIR: (impatiently). Yes yes, we’re magicians. But let us persevere in what we have resolved, before we forget. (He picks up a boot. ) Come on, give me your foot. (Estragon raises his foot. ) The other, hog! (Estragon raises the other foot. ) Higher!
Obviously slapstick is a predominantly visual form of comedy, much more appreciated by a live audience. Likewise, a live audience are more aware of the bareness of the stage, the lack of action, the repetition, unlike a reader who can unwittingly add things with their imagination, unable to grasp the monotony and starkness of the play. A reader can choose to read five pages, stop for a cup of tea, read thirty pages eight hours later, go back over what they’ve already read, even skip some pages, a live audience cannot escape, cannot fast forward the play, they, like the characters are there until the end.
This allows them to feel the same as Estragon and Vladimir, to experience the repetition more, the dullness, the boredom, and as a result possibly appreciate the comedy better as it provides a welcome relief from the tedium. This audience participation is essentially the key difference between reading the play and watching it live. When Beckett wrote this play, he wrote it with actors in mind, with audience reaction in mind, and these are required for this play reach its full potential.