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Amanda Tucker (University of Miami)
Beckett’s Art of Adaptation:
From Strindberg’s
The Dance of Death to Waiting for Godot

Strindberg has often been identified as a source of inspiration for Beckett: in fact, the story of how Beckett decided to show Roger Blinn the manuscripts for Waiting for Godot and Eleutheria only after viewing Blinn’s production of A Ghost Sonata has become a celebrated piece of Beckett lore, despite attacks on its accuracy. Yet attempts to establish the connections between Beckett and Strindberg have been few and of limited scope. Working from the clear structural similarities between Strindberg’s The Dance of Death and Beckett’s early stichomythic plays, I wish to illuminate a significant, if neglected, correlation between the two writers. In particular, I will suggest that, in Godot, Beckett adapts Strindberg and that, by examining the Strindbergian principles Beckett accepts and those he does not, we will gain a new perspective on Beckett’s drama. For instance, although Beckett retains the verbal games of Dance of Death, his players contrast markedly with his predecessor’s. Strindberg features Alice and Edgar, a feuding husband and wife locked into a deadly struggle for supremacy: they literally play until “death do us part.” Beckett reconfigures this martial relationship into a homosocial bond between two middle-aged tramps and in the process, moves them from the sitting room to an alien landscape. More significantly, he drastically modifies Strindberg by alluding to purposes of speech that the latter does not. For in Beckett’s world, Estragon and Vladimir compete with each other in verbal games, but in some respects, they are also playing for the same team, united in the common goal of passing time. As a result, there is affection and compassion in their relationship that simply isn’t present in Alice and Edgar’s war. Ultimately, Beckett adopts part of Strindberg’s worldview by suggesting that verbal games are a part of the human condition, but he also revises it by insisting on the pleasure, not just the pain, inherent in this type of communication.
14Cited in Leslie Hill, Beckett’s Fiction: In Different Words (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990) 37.
14As Beckett told Niklaus Gessner: ‘c’est plus facile d’écrire sans style’. Cited in Ruby Cohn, Back to Beckett (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973) 58.
14Vladimir Nabokov, Strong Opinions (New York: Vintage International, 1990) 172.

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