Editing Beckett

AUTHOR: Gontarski, S. E.
TITLE: Editing Beckett.
SOURCE: Twentieth Century Literature, v. 41 (Summer '95) p. 190-207
ISSN: 0041-462X

An analysis of the inept editing and numerous publication blunders to which Samuel Beckett's work has been subjected. The writer argues that textual problems are more easily recognized and ridiculed than remedied. After surveying the textual history of some of Beckett's work, he makes the point that, in the climate of poststructuralism, the goal of retrieving a "definitive" text has been essentially discredited. He suggests that one solution to postmodern textual multiplicity is evident in the procedure adopted by Faber and Faber and Grove Press in The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett. Instead of offering a definitive text, he explains, the series presents a processive text: a plurality of texts whose end point is only Beckett's latest rereading of Beckett.


The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this article and it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.

Editing Beckett

It is no small irony that for a writer so punctilious about his texts--especially their performance--Samuel Beckett's work has been subject to so much inept editing and so many publication blunders that he could lament to his "official" biographer, James Knowlson, "My texts are in a terrible mess." The innumerable printing errors introduced into early editions of his work--the edition of Watt published jointly in France by Collection Merlin and Olympia Press (1953) and reprinted then both by John Calder in Great Britain (1963) and by Grove Press in the United States (1959) being perhaps the most egregious--have still never been fully corrected. As recently as August 13, 1992, John Banville, Literary Editor of the Irish Times, could note in the New York Review of Books, "It is time now for all of Beckett's works ... to be properly edited and published in definitive and accurate editions in order that future readers be allowed to see them for the unique testaments that they are" (20, emphasis added). One could hardly agree more--but textual purity may simply be a longing for "paradise lost," since textual problems are more easily recognized and ridiculed than remedied. A recent spate of letters to the Times Literary Supplement is a case in point. What should have been a cause for celebration, the publication of Beckett's long-suppressed first novel of 1932, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, has instead fueled the textual controversy and led to a clash of egos. Although Beckett wrote only one Dream of Fair to Middling Women, currently two separate and competing editions of it, with more than a few typographical differences between them, are in print. In a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (16 July 1993), Eoin O'Brien, co-editor of Dream, dissociated himself from the second edition, although he remains listed as its editor: "Both the US (Arcade) and UK (Calder) 1993 editions of this work have been printed without taking into account the necessary corrections I, and my co-editor, Edith Fournier, made to the proofs of the re-set text. It is of deep concern that Samuel Beckett's work be treated in this manner. We can be held accountable," he continues, "only for the first edition published in 1992 by Black Cat Press in Dublin and can accept no responsibility for the errors in the US and UK flawed editions" (17). But even that 1992 Dublin edition of Dream is not without flaw and leaves itself open to question about editorial policy. What justification there was for choosing one of Beckett's two endings to the exclusion of the other and why some silent editorial changes (which were not corrections of error) were made to the Dublin text remain unexplained. Let me cite a single example of the latter. In Beckett's typescript the narrator discusses the protagonist's (i.e., Belacqua's) translation of Rimbaud's Le bateau ivre into English as follows: "You know, of course, don't you, that he did him into the eye into English." For some reason editors O'Brien and Fournier decided that Beckett's original image wanted improving, and they published the following sentence as Beckett's: "You know, of course, don't you, that he did him pat into English." In the not too distant future I expect that Dream may have to be re-edited.(FN1).

More recently, Beckett's French and American publishers, Jerome Lindon of Editions de Minuit and Barney Rosset, formerly of Grove Press and now of Blue Moon Books, have been at loggerheads over the publication of Beckett's last major unpublished work, the 1947 three-act play Eleutheria (the Greek word for freedom). After a series of threatened lawsuits by Lindon, functioning as literary executor,(FN2) the work has been published in France by Minuit and in the United States, in a translation by Michael Brodsky, by Foxrock, Inc., an imprint devised by Rosset and his co-publishers, John Oakes and Dan Simon of Four Walls Eight Windows. That text is bound to be embroiled in additional controversy as well, if for no other reason than its being translated by someone other than Beckett.(FN3).

Much of the frustration surrounding the accuracy of Beckett's texts is summarized by Gerry Dukes in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (7 Jan. 1994) in which he attacks both publisher John Calder, who along with Richard Seaver apparently edited the second edition of Dream, and the Beckett estate: "Instead of clean texts, John Calder keeps providing misreadings, misprisions, misprints and distortions of the canon. The principal victim of these editorial and publishing eccentricities is the work of Samuel Beckett. Perhaps the Beckett estate and/or Beckett's literary executor should take a closer interest in an accurate publication of the work" (13).

The nature of the textual problems with the Calder editions, of Beckett's short prose especially, is evident in the publishing history of the very short prose work, "neither," which was originally published in the Journal of Beckett Studies No. 4 (Spring 1979, vii) with line breaks suggestive of a poem. During the editing process a word was dropped from the eighty-seven-word work. The omission was evidently not immediately noticed, for the correction did not appear until issue No. 6, in the Autumn of 1980, where, in his "Editorial," John Pilling noted, "It is very much regretted that the word 'neared was accidentally omitted from the end of the fourth line of the text neither printed in issue 4 at post page-proof stage beyond the control of the editors" (6). When John Calder was about to reprint the work in the Collected Poems 1930-1978, Beckett resisted because he considered it a piece of prose, a story. As Calder said in a letter to the Times Literary Supplement (24 Aug. 1990): I had "originally intended to put it ("neither") in the Collected Poems. We did not do so, because Beckett at the last moment said that it was not a poem and should not be there" (895). Subsequently, it was omitted inadvertently from The Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980, but printed in yet a more corrupt version in the posthumous As the Story Was Told: Uncollected and Later Prose. This version not only included erroneous information (the story, identified in the Journal of Beckett Studies as "written by Samuel Beckett in September 1976 to be set to music by Morton Feldman," is described in As the Story Was Told as having been "written for composer Morton Feldman, 1962") but, instead of including the word missing from the Journal of Beckett Studies, reproduced a copy-editor's query marking the place of the missing word; line six, then, reads, "doors once? gently close, once turned" instead of "doors once neared gently close, once turned.".

Beckett's plays fare only slightly better, often corrupted by the process of commercial publication, and so even the venerable house of Faber and Faber does not escape blame. In an essay entitled "Texts and Pre-texts of Samuel Beckett's Footfalls," I argue that, "Eager to make the play available for opening night, Faber and Faber secured a typescript from Beckett before he was finally satisfied with it and set their copy from what in the sequence of typescripts Beckett called Ts. 3" (of four typescripts). (191).

To their credit Faber and Faber went on to correct their text, incorporating the revisions Beckett made for his 1976 world premiere production at the Royal Court Theatre into the text published in a collected edition entitled Ends and Odds, but as I point out, "This revised text ... remains corrupt and is even inconsistent internally. Faber indeed changed the number of May's footsteps from seven to nine in the stage directions, for instance, but left her counting her steps one through seven in the dialogue" (192). Evidently, neither Faber's in-house editors nor Beckett himself checked the revised and anthologized text of Footfalls very closely.

Even Beckett's most famous work, Waiting for Godot, is not immune from corruption. Godot exists in multiple versions in English because Faber originally published a bowdlerized version of it in 1956 to appease the Lord Chamberlain, with the result that the original English and American editions were not identical. Faber's note to its 1956 edition announced: "When Waiting for Godot was transferred from the Arts Theatre to the Criterion Theatre, a small number of textual deletions were made to satisfy the requirements of the Lord Chamberlain. The text printed here is that used in the Criterion production." In fact there are hundreds of variants between the Grove Press Godot of 1954 and Faber's 1956 edition. Faber went on to "correct" its Godot in 1965, in an edition they called the "complete and unexpurgated text ... authorized by Mr. Beckett as definitive," but it still differed substantially from the American text.(FN4) To celebrate Beckett's eightieth birthday Faber collected all of Beckett's plays into a single volume, Samuel Beckett: The Complete Dramatic Works, in which, however, they inexplicably reprinted the 1956 bowdlerized text of Waiting for Godot.

Nor does Beckett's American publisher, Grove Press, escape blame. When in the midst of producing the American Beckett Festival of Radio Plays Everett Frost went to Beckett to discuss the project, he asked the author which text of Cascando he should produce. Beckett responded, "The printed version." He seemed shocked when Frost asked, "Which printed version?" After Beckett made a quick check of his texts, Frost asked "how far he might rely on Grove. 'Not very, was the playwright's prompt but rueful reply."(FN5).

Such publishing blunders aside, Banville's apparently simple plea for Beckett's work "to be properly edited and published in definitive and accurate editions," commendable as it is, is considerably less simple than it appears, complicated not only by the gremlins which inhabit the publishing industry but by Beckett's own practice as a theatrical director and by the critical and theoretical climate of our time, both of which make references to anything like a "definitive" text as suspect as references to any single performance as "definitive." Beckett himself tampered with the "definitive" Godot at least twice after Faber made its pronouncement. As Beckett's direct work in the theater increased, he demonstrated a disregard for the sanctity of his plays as published--at least for his own productions. Beckett in the theater has himself destabilized Beckett on the page.

Between 1953, when Waiting for Godot was first staged in Paris, and 1967, Samuel Beckett served a fourteen-year theatrical apprenticeship, moving from being a consultant in the staging of his dramatic works to taking full responsibility for their direction. During his twenty-year directing career, 1967-1986, Beckett staged some seventeen productions of his work in three languages, English, French, and German. Each time he returned to his plays--most often to texts already in print--to prepare them for staging, he was dissatisfied. He found his plays wordy and incompletely conceived for the stage, and so he set about revising them as he staged them. Of Godot, for instance, he has said on more than one occasion, "I knew nothing about theater when I wrote it,"(FN6) and during rehearsals in Berlin in 1967 for Endspiel (Endgame) he conceded that the play was "not visualized" (Theatrical II xv).

By 1986 Beckett's own productions of his work suggested a repudiation of his published texts, even those dubbed by his publisher as "definitive." Beckett's oeuvre generally exists in multiple versions because he revised as he translated, so that each self-translation became a textual transformation. The translation became not a literary equivalent but essentially a new and parallel text, one which did not necessarily supersede the original. After his work as a theatrical director, multiple versions or texts existed even within a single language. Without access to Beckett's notes and revisions, critics and directors were forced into a position of building interpretations and mounting productions not so much on corrupt or incomplete texts, such as almost all British versions of Waiting for Godot, but on those the author himself found unsatisfactory, unfinished. As Beckett grew increasingly dissatisfied with his plays as published, he decided in 1986, after years of suggesting that theatrical directors not stage the published scripts but follow instead his directorial revisions, to authorize publication of his theatrical notebooks and what he called "corrected texts" for his plays, that is, texts which incorporated the revisions he made as a director, along with the notebooks in which the rationale of those revisions was worked out. This was an extraordinary decision on Beckett's part, essentially repudiating his dramatic cannon as published and available to the public, and offering instead a much more fluid and multiple series of performing texts.

The execution of that project, recently completed as the four-volume series called The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett, was, however, fraught with complications, since each volume finally contained a single, "corrected" text for each of the plays Beckett staged. Such a solution which bows to the conventions of commerce is somewhat misleading since it runs counter to Beckett's own practice as a theatrical director and to the critical climate of our time, much of which Beckett himself embraced. In another, more tranquil, less skeptical era, one less ideologically charged than our own, the job of editing or correcting Beckett's works might have been achievable without a great deal of theoretical soul-searching, a simple matter of replacing those texts with which Beckett was dissatisfied--those which he himself revised for production--with the rewritten texts, and then correcting obvious typographical errors, oversights, and inconsistencies in the remainder of his work. Within the theoretical discourse of our age, however, an enterprise of "correcting" literary texts, or, as Stanley Fish calls them, literary documents, to emphasize that they are the physical objects of interpretation (or phenomenological intention or performance, which I treat as a "reading"), is bound to generate theoretical and ideological debate. Traditional theories of editing threaten to resurrect the specter of a single "correct" text, for one, and so the authority of the text and the author over the reader, a position which Beckett himself has both embraced and repudiated.

The problem of textual authority or validity is further compounded in the theater by the collaborative nature of the theatrical enterprise itself and the inconsistent quality of the collaborators, problems about which Beckett was quite aware and which he took into account in his own directing. In the theater we may, on the whole, be more willing to accept the playscript as an incomplete artwork, something less than the final stage of a work's creation, a document which needs to be real-ized on stage through a set of intermediaries;(FN7) that admission suggests that theatrical texts are themselves extra-literary, if by literature we mean at very least a completed and consistent work of art. In Beckett's case the value of the performance is enhanced, given authority, by the fact that the author himself has directed his play. But the relation between performance--even author-ized performance--and published text remains as problematic with Beckett directing as with any other director. Quite clearly, as a director approaching his work afresh after at times a ten-year hiatus, Beckett continued reshaping his work, but many of his changes were not necessarily evolutionary, that is, necessarily improvements, but reflected particular circumstances. Beckett's revisions from production to production were not always consistent, a clear progressus. Two productions of the same work directed by Beckett--even in the same language--were not necessarily identical. If they were, there would have been little point doing the second. Beckett has often designed a text and production for a particular set of actors playing on a particular playing space under a particular set of circumstances. In a letter to Polish critic Marek Kedzierski (15 Nov. 1981),(FN8) for example, Beckett has admitted, "Herewith corrected copy of Fin de partie. The cuts and simplifications are the result of my work on the play as director and function of the players at my disposal. To another director they may not seem desirable." Even Beckett's own revised or "corrected" texts, then, seem something less than stable, absolute, or definitive, but instead subject to the subsequent intervention of future directors, that is, future readers. In Beckett's post-publication revision of Play, the note called "Repeat" ends with the phrase, "and so on if and as desired" (emphasis added). Presumably the indecision allows for future directorial flexibility, but whose desire then are we finally staging? The challenge for the textual editor working in the postmodern textual climate that Beckett himself has encouraged is to reconcile the traditional demands for a single final version of a text, one version bound between boards, and the theory of the incomplete or mutable text; that is, how does one reconcile the demand for a single text closest to the author's final textual intention and the postmodern notion of the multiplicity of texts? Such questions of textual plurality at least foreground much of the current theoretical debate about the nature of texts, textuality, and finally meaning, particularly in the theater.

Even the phase "corrected" if not "definitive" texts threatens to revivify the epistemological paradigm that meaning is somehow contained immutably within and restricted to a text, impervious to the inconsistencies of language and the vicissitudes of culture, a notion particularly dubious in the theater. Further, the idea of "correct" texts suggests a linear, evolutionary model of literary history where later versions are by definition improvements of or progress beyond the former and so supersede them. In the case of Beckett's theatrical texts (and even his translations)--that is, those cases where multiple and parallel texts exist--such assumptions are dubious.

The problems of textual validity and stability are further complicated in Beckett's case by his own fundamental authorial and so textual ambivalence. On the one hand, Beckett has abandoned the author's traditional role as textual authority, the final arbiter of meaning, by steadfastly refusing interpretation of his own works. In a letter to his American publisher, Barney Rosset, Beckett, for instance, expressed his own diminished authority soon after the writing of Godot: "had a highly unsatisfactory interview with SIR Ralph Richardson who wanted the low-down on Pozzo, his home address and curriculum vitae, and seemed to make the forthcoming of this and similar information the condition of his condescending to illustrate the part of Pozzo. Too tired to give satisfaction. I told him that all I knew about Pozzo was in the text, that if I had known more I would have put it in the text, and that this was true also of the other characters which I trust puts an end to that star." To critic Colin Duckworth Beckett announced, "I produce an object. What people make of it is not my concern.... I'd be quite incapable of writing a critical introduction to my work" (En Attendant xxiv). Asked by his assistant at the rehearsals of Endspiel (Endgame), "Are you of the opinion that the author should have a solution for the riddle at hand?" Beckett replied curtly, "Not the author of this play" (Haerdter). In a letter of 26 October 1957 to his long-time American director Alan Schneider he admitted, "Sorry I was not of more help about the play (Endgame) but the less I speak about my work the better" (185). And in rehearsals for Endgame in London in 1980, Rick Clutchey, who was playing Hamm under Beckett's direction, asked Beckett directly if the little boy in Hamm's narrative was actually the young Clov. "Don't know if the little boy is the young Clov, Rick," Beckett responded, "simply don't know" (in presence of S.E.G.).

On the other hand, Beckett has exercised so much authorial control over the production of his plays, even taking legal action against some forms of textual deviation, most recently posthumously through his estate against the Fiona Shaw / Deborah Warner production of Footfalls in London's West End, that he has maintained more authorial control over his work and performances than any other writer in history--with the possible exception of James Joyce, who seems to have manipulated the early criticism of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake fairly directly. Yet despite correcting a variety of proofs for various editions, Beckett allowed obvious textual inconsistencies to stand, namely in the text of Come and Go, whose English version has four lines missing at the opening and two at the closing. With Come and Go the textual variants were the result of simultaneous translation. Beckett added some six lines to the 121 words of the English version while translating the work into French and after sending John Calder a typescript for publication. All British editions were subsequently based on the incomplete Calder text while the French and German editions contain the six lines added in translation.(FN9) The American edition used first the later typescript which included the six lines, but then for convenience photo-offset the British edition for subsequent publications and so lost the six lines. Those six lines, incidentally, have been added by the editor to the text published in Volume IV of the Theatrical Notebooks. Beckett was still undecided about the final text of Endgame in 1987, forty years after writing it. Going over the "final" text, for the final time before its final publication in the Endgame volume of the Theatrical Notebooks, Beckett was still undecided whether or not, when Clov hits Hamm with the toy dog, Hamm should retain the dog or let it fall.

In the climate of post-structuralism the goal of retrieving something like an "original," "definitive," or "uncorrupted" text has been essentially discredited, since it assumes that an ideal text exists somewhere outside the process of reading it, or in the case of theater outside its "real-ization" on the stage. Such a critical climate has undermined the editor's traditional function of recovering and presenting something like an "original" "uncorrupted," or "corrected" text in its originary, prelapsarian purity.(FN10) This age of dislocation and plurality of meaning invites a concomitant plurality of texts, and textual editors may finally have to adjust their aims to embrace that plurality or multiplicity and settle for the more modest goal of the "best recoverable text" or set of texts.

On the other hand, the problem of whose words exactly we are reading, hearing, performing, and finally interpreting, the historical author's, his scribe's, some typesetter's, an editor's, or an over-zealous theatrical director's, is a question all too often slighted by post-structural theorists. On the one hand, if the literary text is created by the reader, and so differs from reader to reader, why bother with a quest for the uniquely authorial or "uncorrupted" document? One might simply suggest fatalistically that textual deviations, alterations, or corruptions are inevitable, another cultural force at work on any text, and in many cases it is that same cultural imperative which generated that text through a particular historical author in the first place. The simple answer to the question "Why bother?" is, however, that although there are innumerable kinds of hats, and noses come in an incalculable variety of sizes and shapes, a hat is not a shoe, and a nose is not a knee. How an author or editor fills the space on a page is at least as important as how the reader will fill the "literary space" left by the author; that is, what exactly the reader will turn into a text in her reading remains of utmost importance. Catherine Belsey, for one, poses the dichotomy of meaning and textuality as follows:.

While on the one hand meaning is never single, eternally inscribed in the words on the page, on the other hand readings do not spring unilaterally out of the subjectivities (or the ideologies) of readers. The text is not an empty space, filled with meaning from outside itself, any more than it is the transcription of an authorial intention, filled with meaning from outside language. As a signifying practice, writing always offers raw material for the production of meaning, the signified in its plurality, on the understanding, of course, that the signified is distinct from the intention of the author (pure concept) or the referent (a world already constituted and re-presented). (406-07).

Despite such ideological sensitivity and authorial ambiguity, the question of accurate or even complete texts, those that represent as much of the author's creative process as possible, remains a pressing theoretical and practical issue, one given renewed energy (if not method) by the publication of Hans Walter Gabler's 1984 "synoptic" edition of Ulysses, the 1986 Vintage "Corrected Text" that followed from it, John Kidd's assault (more on the methodology than on the ideology) of the project, and now the proliferation of Ulysses. Gabler's Ulysses (and calling it that proclaims its difference from, say, Joyce's Ulysses, that is, from any single edition Joyce ever wrote or read), for all its many faults in design and execution, has at least refocused attention on these issues, and his "synoptic text" offers one possible solution to the problems of a postmodern theory of textuality and textual transmission by acknowledging the plurality of texts. As Jerome McGann notes:.

By giving priority of importance to the "synoptic" text over the "reading" text Gabler forces us to think of Ulysses as something other than a given object of interpretation on the one hand (which is the traditional New Critical view), or as an invention of interpretation on the other (which is the common post-structural view). (291).

In Beckett's case, the problems of establishing a single, final theatrical oeuvre are further compounded because of Beckett's own associations, however loose they were and however suspicious he was of them, with creative and critical movements which held the traditional concepts of textual stability and literary meaning in contempt, the surrealists in particular, but also their offspring in la nouvelle critique. One version of a theory of an unstable (because incomplete) text is offered in a brilliant (if still neglected) work of literary theory, The Space of Literature by Maurice Blanchot. In it he argues that the work of art can never be absolutely finished. It is itself an infinity which depends on an Other, and it gains a semblance of completion only when it is read or performed. That reading (or performance), however, is only one of a multiplicity of possible readings, and hence texts.(FN11).

Blanchot's view of texts and textuality is one which Beckett in many respects shared. The infinite or impossible or perpetual or incomplete or open text has been characteristic of Beckett's work at least since Dream of Fair to Middling Women, published only recently, and, among those works published in Beckett's lifetime, Watt, which celebrates its own lack of completion. The impossible and interminable, the always incomplete text is at least a metaphor which Beckett has embraced and folded into what passes for plot in his ground-breaking trilogy of novels begun in French just after World War II, Molloy, Malone Dies, and The Unnamable, and the fourth volume in that series, the thirteen texts which followed the novels, called Texts for Nothing. That metaphor of the infinite, incomplete, perpetually unfolding, self-reflexive text is as useful a paradigm for reading Samuel Beckett's creative process as any other. We know from studying the manuscripts of his work, for instance, that Beckett was a tireless reviser. That observation might, of course, be made for any number of authors--James Joyce and William Butler Yeats among them. In Beckett's case the process of revision, and hence creation, continued--consciously and deliberately--well beyond publication, which was, therefore, not always the statement of a work's "completion," a concept which seems alien to Beckett's oeuvre as a whole. Once Beckett intervened in the process of performance, had become his own Other in a series of theatrical self-collaborations, and began directing his own work in 1986, he took those directorial opportunities to reread and so rewrite apparently completed texts yet again.(FN12) Conceptually for Beckett, the process of creation, of literary composition, did not end with publication. Initial publication might then be only an intermediary step in the work's evolution.

But should such self-collaboration, Beckett's reading Beckett, particularly in the theater, be treated differently from that of any other reader's or director's readings? Should it be given author-ity and hence priority? As a director then is Beckett only another reader of his work, coming to his text as an Other and so acting as a reader whose insights might have no more validity than any other reader's? They may or may not, but they are at least worth reading and knowing, even if they are allotted no more weight, no more author-ity than any other reasonably intelligent critic's readings. Even the most ardent post-structuralist must concede that not all readings are equally insightful. This is why we read Derrida and other critics and theorists at all. What is clear from Beckett's post-publication revisions of his texts, his Theatrical Notebooks, and finally his stagings of his own plays, is that Beckett is an extraordinarily adept reader of Beckett. His Theatrical Notebooks, for instance, contain a remarkable wealth of information, speculation, and structural outlines of his work, all of which open the text rather than close it.

Despite Beckett's disclaimers to be incapable of writing a critical introduction to his own work, as a director he has come close to doing precisely that. Beckett's Theatrical Notebooks disclosed details of his work heretofore unseen by other critics. His direction is marked by a surprising amount of realistic subtext, for instance. As usual Beckett insisted in his direction of Endspiel on not intellectualizing his text in rehearsals. He noted early on, "I don't want to talk about my play, it has to be taken purely dramatically, to take shape on the stage.... Here the only interest of the play is as dramatic material." Beckett's admonition is not surprising. It is one that many a director has delivered to his actors early in rehearsals. In the theater, one plays action not ideas. What is surprising, however, is that Beckett also suggested a realistic presentation: "The play is to be acted as though there were a fourth wall where the footlights are." While on occasion Beckett would say, "Here it oughtn't to be played logically," more often he would provide "realistic" motivation. For "Have you bled," he told Clov, "you see something in his face, that's why you're asking." Examining the parasite in his trousers provides Clov with the occasion for "What about that pee?" Hamm's "Since it's calling you" should be choked out to trigger Clov's "Is your throat sore?" And Clov's opening speech is motivated by some barely perceptible change that he perceives while inspecting his environment. In the Riverside notebook Beckett writes: "C perplexed. All seemingly in order, yet a change."(FN13).

Pattern is crucial to Beckett's art, and patterning dominates his theatrical notes and productions: motion is repeated to echo other motion, posture to echo other posture, gestures to echo other gestures, sounds to echo other sounds. The principal of analogy is fundamental, and much of that analogy is detailed in the theatrical notebooks. In the Riverside notebook for Endgame Beckett says, for instance, "analogy N's knocks on lid, H's on wall"; "Analogy Clov-dog when trying to make it stand"; "Analogy voice and attitude (of Hamm during his narration) with N's tailor story" (Theatrical II 216). The action is filled with circles, arcs, and crosses, from Hamm's rounds to Clov's thinking walk. The linguistic analogue to such patterning is the revision of phrases to echo each other. Even when the phrasing is not parallel, Beckett established an echo, as in the Schiller Theater notebook, where he suggests that "Why this farce" should have the "same quality as 'Let's stop playing " (II 105). Beckett's own direction of Endgame seems a fulfillment of the structure he originally outlined for Roger Blin's Fin de partie in 1957. "He had ideas about the play," Blin noted, "that made it a little difficult to act. At first, he looked on his play as a kind of musical score. When a word occurred or was repeated, when Hamm called Clov, Clov should always come in the same way every time, like a musical phrase coming from the same instrument with the same volume." (Gontarski, On Beckett 233). Ten years later Beckett realized this musical conception of the play. "The play is full of echoes," he told his German cast, "they all answer each other.".

Even though they are written in German, the two notebooks that Beckett prepared for his 1978 Schiller Theater production of Spiel (Play) are equally revealing. They demonstrate Beckett's near obsession with language (German in this case), structure, and formal detail--all three of which are, of course, inextricably entwined. Beckett's notebooks not only comprise a motif index to his plays, they constitute as well a remarkably detailed external record of the artist's internal processes and struggles. They document Beckett's continued aesthetic and stylistic development. At the head of a series of notes he prepared for Donald McWhinnie's 1976 Royal Court production of That Time Beckett wrote what amounts to a one-sentence theatrical manifesto, the most succinct and explicit statement of his late aesthetics that we have: "To the objection that visual component too small, out of all proportion with aural, answer: make it smaller, on the principle that less is more." As Beckett adapted the aesthetics of architects that "less is more" (Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe) and that "ornament is a crime" (Adolf Loos), as he developed what he often called his own "mania for minimalism," or what he punningly named a "Process of elimination" in the What Where notebook (Theatrical II 437), he also seized directorial opportunities to recreate his work according to principles more in keeping with sculpture, painting, or even architecture than with traditional drama, and to test the results directly on the stage.

The Eh, Joe notebook which Beckett prepared for the second of his German productions outlines succinctly the central thematic and theatrical conflicts of this his first teleplay. While Joe may be "Out of sight, (and so consequently out of) reach," for example, he would not feel safe even without the assailing voice because of his "Fear of Dark." Beckett outlined the ten scenes of the play as follows:.

  1. Out of sight, reach. Fear of dark.
  2. Rupture formula--"Best to come" (1).
  3. Voices in head--behind the eyes. Mental thugee.
  4. Present voice last, then his own to still, then silence till God's, unstillable.
  5. Clues for voice and hearer. Worse when nearly home. What if final whisper unstillable?
  6. God to him 1.
  7. Deficient in kindness, strength, intelligence, looks, cleanliness, normality.
  8. Green one. 'Best to come 2. Duly laid.
  9. Same as 4.
  10. Voice falling to whisper. (Theatrical IV 263).

In the notebook for Tritte (Footfalls) Beckett makes explicit the relationships among the embedded characters of that play in his discussion of voices. In the dialogue within the monologues (parts II and III), for example, the Mother's "What do you mean, May, not enough" of part II should be echoed by the voice of Mrs. W's in part III, "What do you mean, Amy, to put it mildly," according to Beckett. "Same style for both relationships," he notes (IV 337). The Kommen und Gehen (Come and Go) notebook details Beckett's preoccupation with pattern in theater space. Kommen und Gehen (finally directed by Walter Asmus, not Beckett) was on the program with Spiel (Play) at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt in October of 1978. While Beckett rethought the da capo ending of Spiel, he considered adding a similar repetition to Kommen und Gehen. Although he outlined the pattern of what would amount to a second act to the play in his directorial notebook, he finally dismissed the possibility as "Mathematically desirable (but) logically impossible" (IV 233).

Not all aesthetic and theatrical and finally textual issues, however, were resolved during productions. Having worked closely with Anthony Page on the 1973 Royal Court Theatre production of Not I and having directed it himself in 1975 at the Theatre d'Orsay, Beckett still remained ambivalent about the final visual image of the play. The best advice that he could finally offer directors of Not I was to omit the Auditor. As he wrote to a pair of directors on 16 November 1986, "I should have written ... to advise you simply to omit the Auditor. He is very difficult to stage (light--position) and may well be of more harm than good. For me the play needs him but I can do without him. I have never seen him function effectively."(FN14) Beckett's final comment presumably includes the English production he supervised closely, the 1973 Royal Court production with Billie Whitelaw, directed by Anthony Page. For the 1978 French productions with Madeleine Renaud, which he directed himself, Beckett omitted the Auditor altogether, as did the B.B.C. film production of the Billie Whitelaw performance. To date no script for the play suggests that the elimination of the Auditor is a directorial option.

One solution then to the problems of postmodern textual multiplicity is that offered by Beckett's English-language publishers Faber and Faber and Grove Press in the current series entitled The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett. That series contains the theatrical notebooks Beckett kept for a particular work, published in facsimile, transcription, translation (where necessary), and annotations along with the revised texts. The revised texts which accompany the theatrical notebooks and are often justified by them are also fully annotated so that each of Beckett's changes will be at least noted and often discussed. The result is something like a postmodern performance text, with an emphasis on process and transformation, which traces and documents Beckett's post-publication creative process. The Theatrical Notebooks series offers, then, not a definitive or uncorrupted or static text, the telos of the creative process, but rather a processive text, a multiplicity or plurality of texts whose endpoint is only Beckett's latest rereading of Beckett. The revised text may place the original published text under erasure by superimposing a later stage of creative development over it but without necessarily obliterating it.

By presenting the textual and production possibilities of Beckett's texts, then, a postmodern dramatic text emerges, one which features Beckett's post-publication creative process and one which opens up reading and performance possibilities. It is admittedly an unstable text, but the instability exists within set textual limits. As a generic text the revised texts of Beckett's plays bear similarities not to Hans Gabler's "reading text," the one finally published as the Vintage "corrected" Ulysses, but to his "synoptic" text with all its variants, although in Beckett's case the generic text features post-publication changes exclusively. For his "ideal" text, Gabler abandoned the traditional textual goal of retrieving the author's final intentions and focused on the process of composition, the authorial function. As Jerome McGann notes, "In fact, all texts are unstable to the extent that they are all processive and (in Gabler's terms) 'continuous. At the same time, all are fixed within certain real, determinable limits as they assume certain specific form" (291). Traditional critics tend to overlook the former, post-structuralists the latter. Faber and Faber will indeed publish Beckett's revised and corrected texts separately and without the theatrical apparatus I have been describing, but that's a business decision, not a theoretical one. The critically (and theoretically) significant texts are the "synoptic" versions published in the Theatrical Notebooks series.


  1. "The recent controversies over the publication in 1992 of Beckett's first novel, Dream of Fair to Middling Women, by Eoin O'Brien's Black Cat Press and subsequent 'rival editions from John Calder (U.K.) and Arcade (U.S.A.) have led to speculation that it is time to go back to the original manuscripts for a definitive complete works of Beckett" (Murphy 10, emphasis added).
  2. See, for example, Mel Gussow "Plan" and the follow-up story "Early." See also my Introduction to the play.
  3. Minuit has also recently published Bande et sarabande (1994), Edith Fournier's translation of Beckett's More Pricks Than Kicks.
  4. For a full accounting of these variants see Hersh Zeifman.
  5. For a fuller account of this story see Enoch Brater 37.
  6. Conversations with the author.
  7. Alec Reid makes something of the same point in the posthumously published "Impact and Parable in Beckett." Beckett "will speak of the first run-through with actors as the 'realization of the play and when it has been performed publicly, he will say that it has been 'created " (12).
  8. Copy of letter in possession of S.E.G.
  9. See the text established by Breon Mitchell and discussion of his textual corrections.
  10. The relationship between contemporary critical theory and traditional textual studies has been receiving increasing scholarly attention of late. See particularly D. C. Greetham, "Editorial and Critical Theory: From Modernism to Postmodernism" in George Bornstein and Ralph G. Williams, eds., Palimpsest. In fact all the essays in that volume are apposite, as is Bornstein's Representing.
  11. This view of the "open" or "incomplete" text has been gaining attention in the criticism of Beckett's late work in particular. See, for example, Carla Locatelli and Enoch Brater.
  12. For some tentative explorations of these problems see Philip Gaskell and Jerome McGann. Although Gaskell deals with the idea of a "performance text" and the "reading text" which follows it, revised on the basis of the performance in which the author was an active collaborator with his director (in this case Tom Stoppard and Peter Wood), the situation is not analogous to Beckett's self-collaborations. In Beckett's case the problem of accurate texts is complicated by the author's continued revision of even his reading text.
  13. For a full account of Beckett's Endgame comments and revisions see Beckett Theatrical Vol. II passim.
  14. S. B. letter to David Hunsberger and Linda Kendall dated 16 Nov. 1986. Copy in possession of S.E.G.


  • Banville, John. "The Last Word." New York Review of Books 13 Aug. 1992.
  • Beckett, Samuel. As the Story Was Told: Uncollected and Later Prose. London: Calder, 1990. New York: Riverrun, 1990.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Collected Poems 1930-1978. London: Calder, 1984.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Collected Shorter Prose 1945-1980. London: Calder, 1984.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Come and Go. In Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces. New York: Grove, 1970.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber, 1986.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Dream of Fair to Middling Women. Dublin: Black Cat, 1992. London: Calder, 1933. New York: Arcade, 1933.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Eleutheria. Paris: Minuit, 1995. New York: Foxrock, 1995.
  • Beckett, Samuel. En Attendant Godot. Ed. Colin Duckworth. London: Harrap, 1966.
  • Beckett, Samuel. "Letter to Alan Schneider." Village Voice Reader. New York: Doubleday, 1962.
  • Beckett, Samuel. Theatrical Notebooks. Vol. II, Endgame. Ed. S. E. Gontarski. London: Faber, 1993. New York: Grove, 1993. Vol. IV, The Shorter Plays. Ed. S. E. Gontarski. London: Faber, 1995. New York: Grove, 1995.
  • Belsey, Catherine. "Literature, History, Politics." In David Lodge, ed., Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. London: Longman, 1988.
  • Blanchot, Maurice. The Space of Literature. (L'espace Litteraire.) Trans. with Introduction by Ann Smock. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1982. 21-34.
  • Bornstein, George, ed. Representing Modernist Texts: Editing as Interpretation. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1991.
  • Bornstein, George and Ralph G. Williams, eds. Palimpsest: Editorial Theory in the Humanities. Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 1993.
  • Brater, Enoch. The Drama in the Text: Beckett's Late Fiction. New York: Oxford UP, 1994.
  • Cohn, Ruby, ed. Beckett: "Waiting for Godot." London: Macmillan, 1987.
  • Gaskell, Philip. "Night and Day: Development of a Play Text." In Jerome McGann, ed., Textual Criticism and Literary Interpretation. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985: 162-79.
  • Gaskell, Philip. "Stoppard, Travesties, 1974" in his From Writer to Reader: Studies in Editorial Method. Oxford: Oxford UP 1978: 245-62.
  • Gontarski, S. E., ed. On Beckett: Essays and Criticism. New York: Grove, 1986.
  • Gontarski, S. E., ed. "Texts and Pre-texts of Samuel Beckett's Footfalls." Publication of the Bibliographical Society of America 77.2 (1983): 191-95.
  • Gussow, Mel. "Early Beckett Play in Belated Debut." New York Times, "The Arts" 27 Sept. 1994: 15, 16.
  • Gussow, Mel. "Plan for Reading of Unproduced Play Is Denounced by Beckett's Estate." New York Times, "The Arts" 24 Sept. 1994: 13.
  • Haerdter, Michael. Materialien zu Beckett's Endspeil. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1976. Cited in McMillan and Fehsenfeld 14.
  • Joyce, James. Ulysses. The Corrected Text. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Random, 1986.
  • Knowlson, James. "Becket and Beyond." Paper delivered at the Princess Grace Irish Library, Monaco, 20 May 1991.
  • Locatelli, Carla. Unwording the World: Samuel Beckett's Prose Works After the Nobel Prize. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1990.
  • McGann, Jerome. "Ulysses as a Postmodern Text." Criticism 27.3 (Summer 1985).
  • McMillan, Dougald, and Martha Fehsenfeld, Beckett in the Theatre. London: Calder, 1988.
  • Mitchell, Breon. "Art in Microcosm: The Manuscript Stages of Beckett's Come and Go." Modern Drama XIX.3 (Sept. 1976): 245-60.
  • Murphy, P. J. "Beckett Criticism in English." Critique of Beckett Criticism. Columbia, S.C.: Camden, 1994.
  • Reid, Alec. "Impact and Parable in Beckett: A First Encounter with Not I." In Terence Brown and Nicholas Grene, eds., Hermathena CXLI (1986).
  • Zeifman, Hersh. "The Alterable Whey of Words: The Texts of Waiting for Godot." Educational Theatre Journal (1977): 77-84. Rep. in Ruby Cohn: 86-95.