- Happy Days (play)
"Happy Days" is a play in two acts, written in English, by
Samuel Beckett. He began the play on 8th October 1960[Knowlson, J., "Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett" (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 475] and it was completed on 14th May 1961. [Lyons, C. R., "Samuel Beckett", MacMillan Modern Dramatists (London: MacMillan Education, 1983), p 116] Beckett finished the translation into French by November 1962but amended the title. “In a moment of inspiration, he borrowed the title "Oh les beaux jours", from Verlaine’s poem, ‘"Colloque sentimental"’”. [Knowlson, J., "Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett" (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 508] Cyril Cusackclaimed that "Happy Days" was, by Beckett’s own admission, ‘influenced’ by his wife, Maureen Cusack’s request that he ‘write a happy play’ after "Krapp".
The first production was at the
Cherry Lane Theatre, New Yorkon 17 September 1961, directed by Alan Schneiderwith Ruth White as Winnie (for which she won an Obie) and John C. Becher as Willie. The first Londonproduction was at the Royal Court Theatreon 1st November 1962directed by George Devineand Tony Richardsonwith Brenda Bruceas Winnie and Peter Duguid as Willie.
When "Happy Days" was first performed in London there were disagreements about every aspect of the text and production. Even
Kenneth Tynan, one of the saviours of "Godot", felt that "Happy Days" was "a metaphorextended beyond its capacity", [" The Observer", 4th November, 1962, p 29. Quoted in Graver, L. and Federman, R. (Eds) "Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage" (London: Routledge, 1997), p 25] ; nevertheless, he admitted Beckett's strange, insinuating power and urged his readers to buy tickets for the play. " The Times" critic couldn’t understand why Brenda Bruce played the part with a Scottish accent.
It was first published by
Grove Pressin 1961 followed by Faber in 1962. By this stage in his writing career Beckett was becoming more aware of the importance of revising his work in actual performance and so wrote to Grove Press about "Happy Days" on 18 May 1961 to advise them that, "I should prefer the text not to appear in any form before production and not in book form until I have seen some rehearsals in London. I can't be definitive without actual work done in the theatre." [Gontarski, S. E., ‘Revising Himself: Performance as Text in Samuel Beckett's Theatre’ in "Journal of Modern Literature", Vol. 22, No. 1]
Beckett was heavily involved with a number of productions. His letters to Alan Schneider make particularly interesting reading – he included a number of diagrams detailing how the mound could be constructed – but it was to Brenda Bruce he confided what was actually going through his mind as he sat down to write the play:
: He said: “Well I thought that the most dreadful thing that could happen to anybody, would be not to be allowed to sleep so that just as you’re dropping off there’s be a ‘Dong’ and you’d have to keep awake; you’re sinking into the ground alive and it’s full of
ants; and the sun is shining endlessly day and night and there is not a tree … there’s no shade, nothing, and that bell wakes you up all the time and all you’ve got is a little parcel of things to see you through life.” He was talking about a woman’s life, let’s face it. Then he said: “And I thought who would cope with that and go down singing, only a woman.” [Interview with Brenda Bruce, 7th April 1994. Quoted in Knowlson, J., "Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett" (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 501]
In the play only a single egg-carrying ant – Winnie uses the archaic term [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/emmet emmet] – finds its way into the text but it is a source of amusement for both Winnie and Willie when its appearance causes Willie to utter the word “
Formication” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 287] though perhaps not for the same reason. Beckett suggests that Willie “is laughing at the image of ants devouring [Winnie] and she at the image of the ants devouring herself.” [Letter to Alan Schneider, 3rd September 1961 in Harmon, M. (Ed.) "No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p 103] Likely its similarity to the word “ fornication” is also a factor.
A number of suggestions have been put forth to explain where the idea for the original imagery originated from. [Beckett, S., "Trilogy" (London: Calder Publications, 1994), p 295] James Knowlson has suggested images from
Luis Buñuel’s 1928film, " Un chien andalou" or a photograph by Angus McBeanof Frances Daybut there is no clear evidence to support either.
It was not the first time Beckett had described a character this way. In his description of Malone in "The Unnamable", he writes: “There are no days here, but I use the expression. I see him from the waist up, he stops at the waist.” References to Dante run throughout all Beckett’s writings and Winnie’s situation evokes a particularly forceful image from "Inferno", [http://www.italianstudies.org/comedy/Inferno10.htm ‘Canto X’] . When
Virgiland Dante arrive in the sixth circle of Hell they find the condemned forced to lie in open tombs with fire raining down upon them calling to mind the blazing sun that beats down on poor Winnie.
In this particular circle they encounter two Epicureans who are being punished for their belief that the
souldies with the body. The first shade is Farinata. Virgil says, “Look here at Farinata straightening up! / From waist high you will see the whole of him.” (Canto X 31-33) The two discuss Florentine politics until Cavalcante appears in the adjoining grave. Dante writes, “At that there rose before my sight a shade / Beside him — visible down to his chin” (Canto X 52-54) The comparison to Winnie’s state in each of the acts is obvious, however, Cavalcante also recalls Willie, who lies on his back most of the time and is rarely seen. Winnie, like the shades in Hell, also has an unusual perception of time. In his book, "Happy Days: Samuel Beckett’s Production Notebook", James Knowlson notes Beckett’s comments during one production of "Happy Days", “Winnie could not understand time, for she felt that she existed in a present without end and that the past could have no possible meaning for her.” [Knowlson, J., "Happy Days : The Production Notebook of Samuel Beckett" (New York: Grove Press, 1986), p 150] For both Dante’s condemned and Winnie, there are no longer days to mark the passage of time, only an eternal present in the hellish heat.
Beckett was particularly keen that there be both a
symmetryand an artificiality to the set. A very " pompier trompe-l'oeil" backcloth (“picture window wall”) was to be used to represent unbroken plain and sky receding to meet in far distance. “What should characterise [the] whole scene, sky and earth,” he wrote, “is a pathetic unsuccessful realism, the kind of tawdriness you get in a 3rd rate musical or pantomime, that quality of "pompier", laughably earnest bad imitation.” [Letter to Alan Schneider, 17th August 1961 in Harmon, M. (Ed.) "No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p 94]
The scene is reminiscent of a seaside postcard [”Madeline Renaud really did go for sand: it was the seaside for her, with sand castles.” - Dame Peggy Ashcroft interviewed by Katharine Worth in Ben-Zvi, L., (Ed.) "Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives" (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), p 14] with Winnie buried in the sand and Willie with his knotted handkerchief and his boater. The fake backdrop calls to mind also the kind used by photographers that feature a painted body on a sheet of wood with a hole cut out where the head belongs popular at holiday venues. Even the title of the play, "Happy Days", is the kind of expression typically used when reminiscing about these kinds of holidays. Of note is the fact that he worked on the play while in the English seaside resort of
Folkstoneduring the two weeks he was obliged to be resident in the area before his marriage to Suzanne could officially take place.
In his book, "The Beckett Country", Eoin O’Brien reveals a connection between Beckett’s first novel, "
Dream of Fair to Middling Women" and "Happy Days". There is a description of a woman rummaging through her fathomless bag. The location, O’Brien identifies as a quiet cove known as Jack’s Hole in County Wicklow. That the play might take place in Irelandis also suggested by the fact that Willie is said to have been reading from an Irish Sunday paper.
Beckett experimented with different newspaper
headlines before he settled on what appears in print. In the second holographhe included three which are of interest (at this time Willie is still ‘B’): [He later became ‘Tom’ and then ‘Edward’ before Beckett settled on ‘Willie’.]
Rocketstrikes Pomona. Seven hundred thousand missing. ("Pause". B turns page.) Rocket strikes – . One female lavatory attendant spared. ("Pause". B turns page.) Rocket strikes – . 3 priests survive.
Although excised from the final text it has been suggested that what Beckett was thinking about here was a post-apocalyptic setting and many reviewers describe the setting so. [See [http://arts.guardian.co.uk/theatre/drama/reviews/story/0,,2093600,00.html Mark Fisher’s review in "
The Guardian", Saturday 2nd June 2007] , [http://www.britishtheatreguide.info/reviews/happydays-rev.htm Philip Fisher’s review in "The British Theatre Guide", 2003] and [http://www.curtainup.com/happyda.html Allan Wallach’s review in "Curtain Up", 13th March 1998] ] Similar claims have been made with regards to "Endgame" and " Rough for Theatre I".
cquote|Winnie is one of those parts, I believe, that actresses will want to play in the way that actors aim at
Hamlet– a 'summit' part.– Dame Peggy Ashcroft[Dame Peggy Ashcroft interviewed by Katharine Worth in Ben-Zvi, L., (Ed.) "Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives" (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992)] |
Winnie, a woman no longer young, is embedded up to her “"big bosom"” [ Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 275] in a mound of earth, “the Mother Earth symbol to end all other mother earth symbols”. [Brater, E., ‘Intertextuality’ in Oppenheim, L., (Ed.) "Palgrave Advances in Samuel Beckett Studies" (London: Palgrave, 2004), p 34] She lives in a deluge of never-ending light from which there is no escape: even the parasol she unfolds at one point ignites, leaving her without protection. We learn that she has not always been buried in this way but we never discover "how" she came to be trapped so. Beckett’s
dramaturgy– indeed his entire œuvre – takes little interest in causality, e.g. Molloy finds himself ‘buried’ in his mother’s bed, in his mother’s room, realizes he has not always been there but demonstrates no particular curiosity as regards the specifics of how he arrived there.
It is a strange image. “Strangeness,” Beckett informs us, “was the necessary condition of the play – of Winnie’s plight in the play.” [Martha Fehsenfeld, Rehearsal Diary of the 1979 Royal Court Theatre, London production. Quoted in Fehsenfeld, M., ‘From the Perspective of an Actress/Critic: Ritual Patterns in Beckett’s Happy Days’ in Burkman, K. H., (Ed.) "Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett" (London and Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987), p 54] During
Berlinrehearsals he said, “In this play you have the combination of the strange and the practical, the mysterious and the factual. This is the of both the comedy and the tragedy of it.” [Hübner, A., "Samuel Beckett inszeniert Glückliche Tage, Probenprotokoll Von Alfred Hübner" (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1976). Quoted in Fehsenfeld, M., ‘From the Perspective of an Actress/Critic: Ritual Patterns in Beckett’s Happy Days’ in Burkman, K. H., (Ed.) "Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett" (London and Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987), p 54]
Winnie passes her time between “the bell for waking and the bell for sleep” [ Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006) p 282] by following a very exact daily routine. In this respect she is reminiscent of the two characters in
Act Without Words II. In early drafts Winnie set an alarm clockbut Beckett later gave control of the bell to an unexplained external force like that in charge of the goadand the whistle in the two Act Without Wordsplays. By contrast Winnie, it has to be said, is not short of words, she is, in fact, a compulsive talker.
Winnie begins her day. After the sounding of the transcendental bell, she offers up a half-forgotten
prayerand then sets about her daily routine. As she removes the items from her bag – a comb, a toothbrushthe writing on which she spends most of the first act trying to decipher, toothpaste, a bottle of patent medicine, lipstick, a nail file, a revolverwhich she feels the need to quickly kiss and a music box – she prattles away to her husband, Willie who lives in a cave behind the mound. The routine is raised to the level of ceremony. Beckett’s instructions to Billie Whitelawin 1979emphasis this:
: The bag is all she has – look at it with affection … From the first you should know how she feels about it … When the bag is at the right height you peer in, see what things are there and then get them out. Peer, take, place. Peer, take, place. You peer more when you pick things up than when you put them down. Everything has its place. [Fehsenfeld, M., ‘From the Perspective of an Actress/Critic: Ritual Patterns in Beckett’s Happy Days’ in Burkman, K. H., (Ed.) "Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett" (London and Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987), p 53] Everything is wearing out or running out. At the start of Act I she takes the last swig of her tonic before throwing away the bottle, her toothbrush has hardly any hairs left and the lipstick, to use Beckett’s expression, is “visibly "zu ende,"” the parasol is faded with a “mangy fringe” and even her pearl necklace is “more thread than pearls”. [Reading University Library MS 1396/4/10, pp 80-83. Quoted in Pountney, R., "Theatre of Shadows: Samuel Beckett’s Drama" 1956-1976 (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988), p 185]
Winnie functions on the ecclesiastical principle that there is a time for everything and the proper time for certain things to take place is in the daytime, ‘day’ being an abstract notion since there is only constant daylight in this place; she would not think of singing her song after the bell for sleep had gone which is why, then she uses the term, she refers to it as “the old style”.
She is the eternal
optimist– Robert Brusteincalled her a “hopeful futilitarian” [Robert Brustein in "New Republic", 2nd October 1961, p 45. Reprinted in Graver, L. and Federman, R. (Eds) "Samuel Beckett: The Critical Heritage" (London: Routledge, 1997), p 258] – but the available sources of her optimism are being used up and she has to work harder and harder to keep up her positive front which is already wafer-thin when we first meet her. Beckett has described her a being “like a bird” [Cohn, R., "Back to Beckett" (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1973), p 189] and she makes every effort to rise above her predicament but she keeps getting pulled down. She never questions or explains why she finds herself in the predicament she is in – most of us never understand how we wind up in a rut, or stuck in the mud to use similar earthy metaphors – but her dream is that she will “simply float up into the blue … And that perhaps some day the earth will yield and let me go, the pull is so great, yes, crack all round me and let me out.” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 289]
Beckett even pokes fun at his audience through Winnie and her story about Shower/Cooker. Beckett explained this in a letter to Alan Schneider:
: Shower (rain). Shower & Cooker are derived from German “"schauen"” & “"kucken"” (to look). They represent the onlooker (audience) wanting to know the meaning of things. [Letter to Alan Schneider, 17th August 1961 in Harmon, M. (Ed.) "No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p 95]
Willie, for his part, ignores her and what responses he does make are terse and often [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/monosyllabic monosyllabic] . At the start of the play she even strikes him a couple of times simply to get his attention. His responses are of less importance to Winnie than the fact that he is there to listen. Always in Beckett’s drama there is someone or something to fulfil this critical function whether it is the Auditor in "
Not I" or the interrogatory light in "Play". When words fail her she reverts to the contents of her bag to tide her over, at least in Act I she does.
They never have anything that could remotely be described as a conversation. He answers a question concerning the correct term to describe the hair on one’s head, confirms he can still hear her again when she reduces the volume at which she speaks over stages, becoming audibly angrier in the process, finally he defines “hog” for her lavishing a whole two – albeit short – sentences on her in the process. The most we ever see of him is the back of his head whilst he reads his yellowing paper or scrutinises his postcards. Other than that his activities are described by Winnie and involve finding his way in and out of his hole, working Vaseline into his privates and sleeping.
Winnie offers up reminisces from an idealised past, quotes from the
classics[In Beckett’s selection of quotation and oblique references, virtually every historical epoch is represented: pre-Christian Greek philosophies, the blind religiosity and Christian idealism of the Middle Ages, Renaissance Humanism, eighteenth-century Rationalismand nineteenth-century romanticism. The philosophers, literature and religions of Western man comprise the fragmented mythology against which Winnie fails and suffers and like a jeweller’s foil, mythology highlights the suffering. – Gontarski, S., "Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days: A Manuscript Study" (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1977), p 73. Quoted in ‘The Ritual of Human Teché in "Happy Days"’ in Burkman, K. H., (Ed.) "Myth and Ritual in the Plays of Samuel Beckett" (London and Toronto: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1987), p 148] in contrast to Willie’s quotes from the popular press, comments on everything flitting from topic to topic, laughs at herself, at Willie and at their predicament. She assures herself: “This will have been another happy day!” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 296] – a recurrent catch phrasethroughout the play – when in fact she often seems on the verge of tears. At the end of the day she carefully collects her possessions – bar the gun – and places them back in the bag. The gun, which has somehow always managed to defy the laws of physics ending up on the top of the bag she decides to leave out. Winnie never plumbs (never dares plumb) the bottom ("The depths in particular, who knows what treasures" [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 288] ), so it is also her hope chest. The items in her bag also have secondary functions, they serve as " [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/aide-memoire aides-mémoire] ". But more, like Krapp’s tapes or Lucky’s bones they provide her with what Mary Doll describes as “touchstones of existential meaning”. [Doll, M. A., ‘Walking and Rocking: Ritual Acts in "Footfalls" and "Rockaby"’ in Davis, R. J. and Butler, L. St J., (Eds.) "‘Make Sense Who May’: Essays on Samuel Beckett’s Later Works" (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988), p 53] Winnie’s perception of these objects connects her to the memories of specific days and important incidents within them. While she is able to discuss these incidents in some detail, Winnie cannot hold on to them or place them within a context.
“As Act II of "Godot" is bleaker than Act I, as Maddy’s homeward journey is bleaker than her setting out, Act II of "Happy Days" is bleaker than Act I, and Winnie knows it: “To have been what I always am – and so changed from what I was.” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 300] By Act II she can no longer imagine any relief, and she can no longer pray, as she did at the play’s start. Although she still intones the phrase ‘happy day’, it no longer triggers her smile.” [Cohn, R., ‘The Femme Fatale on Beckett’s Stage’ in Ben-Zvi, L., (Ed.) "Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives" (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), p 166] Whereas in "Godot" Beckett explicitly states that Act II takes place on the next day, in "Happy Days" no such assertion is made. Time has simply passed.
In the first act she uses the items from her bag to trigger memories. In this act, unable to reach into it, she uses the bag itself, along with the parasol which has, as she predicted, reappeared intact, to the same end. We learn that Willie gave her the bag “to go to market” [Beckett described the bag as a “big capacious French ‘"cabas"’” – Letter to Alan Schneider, 17th August 1961 in Harmon, M. (Ed.) "No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p 94] and the parasol is linked to a memory not too dissimilar to the one that entrances Krapp so, the day out on the punt.
Winnie is however sinking inexorably in the slow sands of time and disappointment. In the second act she has almost been engulfed by the mound; only her head is visible, now she cannot move it and she admits to being in pain. Despite the desperation of her predicament, she is confident that this will be another of her happy days. She continues to chatter, but as can no longer reach her bag or turn around, it takes more of an effort to keep up the front. It has been some time since she has seen or heard from Willie but, since she is unable to see over the back of the mound, she doesn’t even know for sure if he is still there though she needs to believe he is:
: I used to think that I would learn to talk alone. ("Pause.") By that I mean to myself, the wilderness. ("Smile.") But no. ("Smile broader.") No no. ("Smile off.") Ergo you are there. ("Pause.") Oh no doubt you are dead, like the others, no doubt you have died, or gone away and left me, like the others, it doesn’t matter, you are there. [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol. III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), pp 299,300]
“In "Happy Days" the existential condition of the characters is visualized in the mound tightening around Winnie who is sinking deeper and deeper. The nearer she gets to the end, the slower does Winnie sink, and never does the end come to release her from the pain of being smothered in the mound. What Beckett wants to represent is the endless repetition of dying moments rather than death itself. His characters wish to finish life but the end never comes because the clock becomes slower and slower. There is still time, always.” [Frank, R., [http://www.blesok.com.mk/tekst.asp?lang=eng&tekst=402&str=1 ‘The Concept of Time and Space in Beckett's Dramas "Happy Days" and "Waiting for Godot"’] in "Blesok" issue 25, March-April, 2002] Not unreasonably Winnie’s mound has been compared to Zeno’s impossible heap.
At the conclusion of the play Willie crawls up to her, “dressed to kill” (a
punreserved for readers) and sporting a “ Battle of Britainmoustache”. Her response is ironic, not [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/ebullient ebullient] . When Kay Boyle asked Beckett why Willie reaches up towards Winnie, he replied:
: The question as to which Willie is ‘after’ – Winnie or the revolver – is like the question in "
All That Fall" as to whether Mr Rooney threw the little girl out of the railway-carriage or not. And the answer is the same in both cases – we don’t know, at least I don’t. All that is necessary as far as I’m concerned – technically and otherwise – less too little, more too much – is the ambiguity of motive, established clearly I hope by Winnie, ‘Is it me you’re after, Willie, or is it something else? Is it a kiss you’re after, Willie, or is it something else?’ and by the conspicuousness of revolver requested in the stage-directions at beginning of Act II. To test the doubt was dramatically a chance not to be missed, not be bungled either by resolving it.” [Samuel Beckett to Kay Boyle, 7th October 1961. Quoted in Knowlson, J., "Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett" (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p 485]
Her words to Willie are bitter and unpleasant, and she maintains that tone up to the point he utters his one line in Act II: “Win” at which point she cannot hold back:
: Win! ("Pause.") Oh this "is" a happy day, this will have been another happy day! ("Pause.") After all. ("Pause.") So far. [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 307]
The familiar “So far” gives the subtle suggestion of cynicism but it doesn’t stop her bursting into the
waltz duet, ‘I love you so’ from " The Merry Widow" and the play proceeds to its close.
Winnie is not only terrified of being alone, but is particularly afraid of speaking unheard, without the possibility of any response. Winnie's "" is to speak; words flow from her in an endless stream as she busies herself with objects from her black bag. She uses “
clichés to insulate [herself] from the harshness of existence" [Rabinovitz, R. ‘Samuel Beckett's Revised Aphorisms’ in "Contemporary Literature" 36.2 (1995), p 211] Winnie is comforted only by her mindless rambling, basic objects, and by the idea that someone, Willie, is listening. If she’s talking, which she does relentlessly, she’s not thinking, a common approach to the burden of existence taken by Beckett’s characters. Her logic is flawed. She believes that because she needs someone to be listening to her that someone is there. James Knowlson has described it as a twisted version of Descartes’ famous aphorism: “I think therefore I am” only in Winnie’s case it’s: “I talk therefore you are.” [See Knowlson, J. and Pilling, J., "Frescoes of the Skull" (London: John Calder, 1979), p 107] She is not far away from Henry in " Embers" who, sitting on his beach, conjures up a wife to talk to. In Beckett’s texts, language conceals the world and insulates the individual from it. This protective barrier is a comfort to Beckett’s characters. As S.E. Gontarskinotes, “Language generally in Beckett’s world is not a means of conveying meaning, but a balm for the sores of existence.” [Gontarski S., "Beckett’s Happy Days: A Manuscript Study" (Columbus, Ohio: The Ohio State University Libraries, 1977)]
“In the "Happy Days" of 1979, Beckett very particularly played upon the physical attractiveness of [Billie] Whitelaw … Where most Winnies, such as Peggy Ashcroft and
Irene Worth, look rather matronly, Beckett made Whitelaw’s Winnie into a siren, with black, low cut gown, haunting eyes, exaggerated lipstick … a woman, who while not any longer young, still manifests a powerful erotic dimension.” [Simone, R. T., ‘Beckett’s Other Trilogy: "Not I", " Footfalls" and " Rockaby"’ in in Davis, R. J. and Butler, L. St J., (Eds.) "‘Make Sense Who May’: Essays on Samuel Beckett’s Later Works" (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe, 1988), pp 59,60] Her memories often have a sexual edge: sitting on Charlie Hunter’s knees; her first kiss; the two balls; an encounter in a toolshed; when handed the erotic postcard from Willie, she takes time to examine it before returning it in feigned offense and the story she tells of the small girl Mildred’s (Beckett’s original name for Winnie) sexual curiosity is genuinely disturbing. A mouse, in Freudian terms, is a phallic symbol and Beckett’s protagonists often speak autobiographically in the third person. Also the doll wears a pearl necklet, as does she. It should not be taken from this that the terrified child (assuming the story is figurative) has become the frigid wife; she talks knowledgably about sex and early drafts of the play even show how their sex life has dwindled over the years. It does appear that sexual relations between her and – a common British euphemismfor penis – have been lacking, at least from her perspective:
: There was a time when I could have given you a … And then a time before that again when I did give you a hand … You were always in dire need of a hand, Willie. [ Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 307]
Perhaps this is why she teases him with her recollection of other men, to bring him out both sexually and imaginatively. The play is full of sexual innuendo. “And it is sex which is responsible for the contuation of the life that plunges man inevitably into suffering. The sexual innuendos contrast, then, with images of sterility or ‘discreation.’” [Knowlson, J. and Pilling, J., "Frescoes of the Skull" (London: John Calder, 1979), p 104. The term ‘discreation’ is used by D. Alpaugh of "All That Fall" in ‘The Symbolic Structure of Samuel Beckett’s "All That Fall"’ in "Modern Drama", IX, December 1966, p 328]
In marked contrast to Winnie's [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/loquacity loquacity] , the henpecked Willie is [http://www.thefreedictionary.com/laconic laconic] to a fault. He is without a doubt one of Beckett’s less rewarding parts for an actor. Indeed, in the whole of the second act Willie utters only one, barely audible monosyllabic word. Much of his dialogue consists of him reading notices from his paper; his responses to Winnie – when he can be bothered to respond at all – are terse and barely communicative, Winnie often adding the meaning she feels is lacking herself.
He keeps himself conveniently out of Winnie's gaze, only occasionally surfacing from his tunnel. His only interest now is to bury himself, figuratively, in an old newspaper or erotic picture postcards, or literally, underground in his cave asleep and seemingly unaffected by the bell that jars Winnie. By contrast with Winnie who attempts to keep up appearances, [It is hard to watch Winnie and not call to mind
Patricia Routledge’s performance as ‘Hyacinth Bucket’ in the BBC situation comedy" Keeping Up Appearances".] Willie is common. There is a child-like, if not exactly an innocent, quality to him and there are many times in the play you might think Winnie was talking to a young boy rather than a grown man, a boy who picks his nose and then feels the need to eat the pickings. Winnie also serves as his protector, the custodian of “Brownie” the revolver [Beckett is quite specific when he says revolver. He does not mean a Browning pistol. He is linking its name to a line by the poet Browning, “not because there is a weapon of that name. If the line was by another poet,” he wrote, “the revolver wd. be called by the name of that other poet.” – Letter to Alan Schneider, 3rd September 1961 in Harmon, M. (Ed.) "No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett & Alan Schneider" (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), p 103] she keeps safe from him in case he uses it on himself.
He functions mainly as something for her to talk at – being used as a by the old
music hallpro that Winnie is – “just to know that in theory you can hear me though in fact you don't is all I need.” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 285] One is reminded of Hylda Baker, a music hall star from the forties through to the sixties, famous for her catch phrases, who held long one-sided malapropism-driven ‘conversations’ with the ever silent ‘Cynthia’. Willie is the henpecked husband – another music hall stable – not entirely silent perhaps. The nagging wife and the henpecked husband are, of course, archetypes: Burns wrote about them, as did Chaucer, they were a stable of the music hall and the tradition continues to this day in television programmes like " Last of the Summer Wine" where every episode is built around the premise, and, if Willie is indeed reaching for the gun at the end of the play, this would tie in with the popular plot where such a put-upon husband decides to do away with his wife.
Whereas Beckett aligns Winnie with a bird, albeit one with oil on its feathers, he likens Willie to a “
turtle” [Martha Fehsenfeld in Ben-Zvi, L., (Ed.) "Women in Beckett: Performance and Critical Perspectives" (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1992), p 55] which is strange because many of the metaphors in the play associate him with pigs. " [I] n Act I Winnie speaks of envying "the brute beast" [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 281] only a moment before Willie's "hairy forearm" [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 281] appears above the mound; throughout the play Willie never rises to his feet, but crawls on all fours; and when Winnie notes that the bristles on her toothbrush are "pure ... hog's ... setae," [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 280] Willie gives this comment a sexual dimension by revealing that a hog is a "Castrated male swine." [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 296] In context, this phrase seems to relate to Willie, since various hints are made that he has been metaphorically emasculated by his domineering wife." [Acheson, J., 'Beckett's "Happy Days" and Schopenhaurr' in Halio, J. L. and Siegel, B. (Eds) "Comparative Literary Dimensions: Essays in Honor of Melvin J. Friedman" (University of Delaware Press, 2000), p 95 n 12]
The boater Willie sports at a “"rakish angle"” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 279] places his character clearly in the music hall tradition as does his
formal wearin the second half of the play. Historically boaters were fashionable headgear up till about the 1920sat which time sunbathing started to become fashionable; prior to this ladies would commonly be seen making use of parasols to protect their white skin from the sun's harmful rays.
At the end of the play Willie struggles to bring things to an end, to “Win,” while Winnie sings: “It’s true, it’s true, / You love me so!” [Beckett, S., "The Grove Centenary Edition" Vol III Dramatic Works (New York: Grove Press, 2006), p 307] When Willie first appears Winnie expresses, however tentatively, some doubts but as soon as he utters the word, “Win,” she allows it to be all the excuse she needs to let, what Beckett calls in "Proust", “pernicious and incurable optimism” [Beckett, S., "Proust: And Three Dialogues with Georges Duthuit" (London: Calderbooks, 1967), p 28] overtake her.
* [http://www.sparknotes.com/drama/happydays/ Spark Notes]
* [http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4182395 Page contains a link to an excerpt from the BBC radio production with
Geraldine McEwanas Winnie]
* [http://www.channel4.com/learning/main/netnotes/programid1687.htm Channel 4 notes on the play]
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