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David Philips (University of North Carolina)
From Page to Stage: Translating Samuel Beckett’s (Post-)Modern Wasteland for the Twenty-First Century Stage– Fin de partie / Endgame

What is a “play”? Is it the script? the performance? And who is its “author”? – the playwright? the director? the actors? Such questions, stemming to a large extent from the peculiar nature of (literary) drama itself, align the staging of drama with literary translation – for in both cases there is a transferal of an art-object from one medium (or language) to another, and the involvement of a mediating third party, in addition to author and audience. The relations between page and stage are not always clear-cut (an ambiguity that has been exploited by directors with sometimes startlingly original results). The traditional difficulties of literary translation – primary among them, the issue of interpretation and the question of “explicitation” – are compounded in the translation of a two-dimensional literary text consisting solely in language to a three-dimensional staged production consisting in set, props, costumes, and physical movement as well as language in the form of spoken dialogue, and become more profoundly problematic in the staging of any author’s plays. But "even more than with other authors,” writes Jonathan Kalb in 1989’s Beckett in performance, “the subject of directing Beckett is inextricably bound up with questions of faithfulness to text, mostly because this ordinarily reticent author has been extraordinarily vocal in his objections to faithlessness" (71).

If this subject is, as Kalb claims, “inextricably bound up with questions of faithfulness to text,” it is not only because of what we may see as mere authorial meddling: Beckett's plays are a particularly interesting location for the debate concerning interpretation because, more importantly, the very idea of interpretation itself – involving issues of temporal and spatial location, and the discovery and/or creation of “meaning,” where “meaning” may be absent – is questionable where these plays are concerned.

This paper attempts to examine the various claims to “authorship” made on Beckett by examining one of his better-known plays, Fin de partie, or Endgame, with reference to how it has appeared on the stage, with varying results, in various productions. What does it “mean” – for the audience, for the author, and for the text – to “set” Endgame inside a human skull? a mental ward? an “old folks’ home”? the post-apocalyptic ruins of a subway? And whose Endgame is it? By examining how certain productions have interpreted the play and translated it from page to stage – with varying results – we may discover not only how Beckett can be staged, but how Beckett should be staged….

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