Monday, December 9, 2013

Hello, Godot!

The New York Times recently considered, inconclusively, the vital question of how to pronounce Godot, the absent title character in Samuel Beckett’s tragicomedy Waiting for Godot.  Originally written in French and translated into English by the author, the play conveys the bleak, existential angst of two tramps repeatedly awaiting the arrival of a mysterious figure known as Godot, who never appears.

The usual American pronunciation of Godot  is “guh-DOE,” with an accent on the second syllable.  British actors typically say “GOD-oh,” transferring the accent to the first syllable.  The French pronunciation would be “GOD-OH,” with equal accents on each syllable.  (Anyone who pronounces the “t” at the end of the word need not apply.)

The Beckett estate suggested that the playwright himself pronounced the name in the French manner, but no standardized pronunciation is now prescribed.

Who Godot is and what he may represent are the subject of much speculation.  An obvious reading is that Godot is a stand-in for God, and the two tramps are twentieth-century humanity, searching in vain for religious faith.  Some commentators say this interpretation is too obvious and simplistic, and they object to the pronunciation that emphasizes the syllable “God” as being an easy way out.  But wait! This verbal symbolism would apply only to the English version anyway, and would be meaningless in the original French, in which the word for “God” is Dieu.

The current Broadway revival features two knights of the realm, Sir Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart, who, being loyal Brits, say “GOD-oh.”  They also clown around a lot, winning easy laughs, emphasizing only the comedy and skipping lightly over the tragedy in the tragicomedy.

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou has his own pronunciation problems, often being unable to remember how to say “Chardonnay.” 

         All that waiting for Godot
         Is too existential,
         My spare time is devoted
         To things more essential,

         Such as surfing on Facebook
         And making new friends,
         While burning my candles
         At both of their ends.

         And someday if Godot
         Does decide to appear,
         Just bring him to my place
         And we’ll have a cold beer.       


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