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This article is taken from PN Review 120, Volume 24 Number 4, March - April 1998.

Lear, Godot, Waste & Other Plays T.J.G. Harris

'Shakespeare released history, Beckett tried to stop it.' These words of Edward Bond's, from his Commentary on the War Plays, came to me after seeing in London last summer two different productions of King Lear and a production of Waiting for Godot, the more especially since the programme for one of the Lears, Peter Hall's at The Old Vic, was littered with quotations from Beckett's play, and the production itself alluded in various ways to the Waiting for Godot that was being performed in repertory at the same theatre.

It was Jan Kott's essay, 'King Lear, or Endgame', in his grandly provocative Shakespeare Our Contemporary that started the linking of Lear with the Theatre of the Absurd, and in particular with the plays of Samuel Beckett. This essay, as well as discussions with Kott, lay behind Peter Brook's famous production of Lear, with Paul Scofield as the King, in 1962. After seeing these productions of 1997, I was forced to feel that Bond's dour strictures on the Theatre of the Absurd had more of the truth - at least in respect of the differences between Shakespeare and the playwrights of the Absurd - than Kott's erudite and brilliant persuasiveness.

'The sun shone, having no alternative,' runs the first sentence of Beckett's early novel Murphy, 'on the nothing new.' On two tramps and a tree. On two tramps and a tree. On two tramps and a tree... The production of Waiting for Godot at the Old ...

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