We should be so Lucky.
Listener: 25 December, 2010.
Keywords: Literature and Culture; Political Economy & History;
A country road. A tree. Evening.
JOHN: Charming spot. Inspiring prospects. Let’s go.
BILL: We can’t.
JOHN: Why not?
BILL: We’re waiting for economic growth.
JOHN: (despairingly). Ah! (Pause.) You’re sure it was these policies?
JOHN: That we were to implement.
BILL: Those we have been doing?
BILL: And there is no sign of the economic growth?
BILL: But it might come tomorrow.
JOHN: Roger said if it did not come today, it would come tomorrow.
BILL: Then we should wait?
JOHN: And economic growth will come?
BILL: If not today, then tomorrow.
JOHN: Roger said it would …
JOHN: We’ll hang ourselves tomorrow. (Pause) Unless economic growth comes.
BILL: And if it comes?
JOHN: We’ll be saved.
BILL: Well? Shall we go?
JOHN: Well? Shall we go?
BILL: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
It’s easy to use Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot to parody our angst-ridden economic debate, always promising the arrival of a faster economic growth that, like Godot, never comes. Perhaps Pozzo is even more relevant. When he first appears in the play, the tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, think he might be Godot but they are soon disabused. Pozzo proves arrogant, self-absorbed, bullying, conceited and cruel – one of the most detestable characters in the entire dramatic corpus. His treatment of his slave, Lucky, attached to a long rope that cuts into his neck, is abominable.
So, what exactly Beckett was thinking of when he created Pozzo? When the play was written in the 1940s, there were some brutal dictators (there still are), in which case Lucky may represent their tyrannised subjects. One of the most painful sequences in the play is when Lucky is ordered to “think”, and chants as a rambling monologue a meaningless sequence of incoherent ideas, unable to articulate his own tragedy.
In the second act, a blind Pozzo reappears with Lucky. There is no self-reflection, only the addition of self-pity. One wants to call out to Lucky, “He can’t see you, take off your rope, kick him in the shins and run.” But the attitudes that underpin the incoherent monologue tie him eternally to Pozzo.
It is a measure of the play’s universality – rather than my anachronism – that Pozzo reminds me of members of the international financial community. In act one of the Global Financial Boom they were – oh so – confident about their contribution to the public welfare. In act two, after the crash, they still fail to express doubts about their contribution, continuing to pay themselves obscenely high bonuses. There is no self-reflection, for they cannot see that the substantial public bailouts that have saved their jobs might suggest they have made less of a contribution than they like to claim. Like the Bourbons, they have forgotten nothing and learnt nothing.
Are we then Lucky, tied to this financial community by a half-baked philosophy? I cannot tell. But I can say many were lucky earlier in the year to see London’s Theatre Royal Haymarket Company production of the play, starring Sir Ian McKellen (Estragon), Roger Rees (Vladimir), Matthew Kelly (Pozzo) and Brendan O’Hea (Lucky). The tramps were portrayed as credible human beings with a depth and dignity that in 400 years may see the roles compared to those of Shakespeare’s greatest comic characters.
Despite the summary of Waiting for Godot as a play in which “nothing happens – twice”, there is a kind of progress. The dead tree of the opening act has leaves in the second act – a glimmering of optimism. The play concludes with the two tramps’ recognition that they have each other. If there is a conclusion, it is surely that in this angst-ridden world we still have one another – the message of this time of the year; Merry Christmas.