Beckett, Cretins and Christians

I was thinking about Max Wall (as you do) earlier today, and I came across a magnificent clip on Youtube showing the great man playing Vladamir in Waiting for Godot..

Estragon: That’s the idea, let’s abuse each other.
They turn, move apart, turn again and face each other.
Vladimir: Moron!
Estragon: Vermin!
Vladimir: Abortion!
Estragon: Morpion!
Vladimir: Sewer-rat!
Estragon: Curate!
Vladimir: Cretin!
Estragon: (with finality). Crritic!
Vladimir: Oh!
He wilts, vanquished, and turns away.


The thing about Waiting For Godot is that nobody comes, nobody goes, and the whole play has to survive on the beauty of the writing, the music of the exchanges. Here, for example, all the insults are related by sound. It’s almost like one of those puzzles where you get from one word to another by changing a letter at a time: fool pool poll pole pope. This is quite obvious in the curate cretin critic group but also lingers subtly in the on-in ortion-orpion or-ewer rat-rate.

So the poor curate is only thrown in as a bridge from sewer-rat to cretin. At least I imagine that that’s the reason. Cretin derives from the word Christian. This was not because Christians were considered stupid, but because the dribbling and insane, the window-lickers and the chronically bewildered were nonetheless fellow Christians, in the same way we would insist that they are human beings too. So often was our common Christianity stressed that the term became abusive. All words for mental illness, however clinical or kind, grow up to be insults.

The harmony of words must also be the reason morpions get a mention. A morpion is a pubic louse. If you didn’t know that, don’t worry. It’s the French for pubic louse. This could make sense. You see Beckett originally wrote the play in French and called it En Attendant Godot. He then rewrote it a couple of years later in English. The exchange above was not in the original. It was added to the English version; hence, presumably, the reference to critic.

End of ramble.

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