1. Dramatic Irony: Is there a dramatic distance between the audience and the characters or between the characters and themselves, as an outcome of the advantage of knowledge and understanding? (Can it be said that the characters have an advantage of understanding the irony through the knowledge about the fictional wall and their situation through different levels of irony)
Interwoven into Samuel Beckett’s Happy Daysare dramatic elements that blur the theatrical boundaries between illusion and reality. The audience is presented with two characters, Winnie and Willie. Winnie dominates the performance and induces a distance between herself and Willie. Before the audience even sees Willie, they know about him because of the way Winnie uses him to generate forms of speech. He becomes a character who represents audience for Winnie. He is almost an objectified character, featuring as an anchor point for the exposition of Winnie’s attempts to exist. Winnie can use Willie in this way because she can see him and has a prior knowledge about him.
There is a possibility that Winnie has knowledge of her audience also. Winnie when talking to Willie says “So that I may say at all times, even when you do not answer and perhaps hear nothing, something of this is being heard.” (Beckett 1. 4). The “something” being heard suggests that Winnie is alluding to the audience members, who are the only other beings that hear her speaking. She has a sense that she is being heard and that helps her to go on with her existence. She finds meaning in being heard and responded to thus objectifying her audience. They are part of her theatrical bag of objects helping her to defer meaning in a meaningless existence. More importantly the objects manage to reappear in Act Two despite the parasol catching fire in the Act One. It is as if the stage crew replaced the items needed for the second scene.
Ironically, she goes on to say that the wilderness is something she could not do “for any length of time” (Beckett 1. 4), yet her very situation has placed her in a lonely wilderness where night never seems to arrive. She reinforces her lonely state, despite being with Willie, saying that if “only I could bear to be alone, I mean prattle away with not a soul to hear” (Beckett 1. 4). Winnie, therefore, wants to be heard, to be happy, and she seems to accept her situation by hinting at a wider audience to the largely silent Willie. Her broken yet constant ramblings, however, have the effect of distancing her audience from any close empathy with her.
The extension of irony emerges here in the response of the audience. Although Winnie is left lonely in the play itself, she is actually very much in company with regard to the theatrical accompaniment of the audience. The audience are participating in her loneliness, a participation that leaves them trapped in the metaphorical mound of theatrical convention. They also will remain at a distance to people during the play because they cannot dialogue with them. Dialogue for the audience, therefore, will take place in the mind, asking questions about the play.
The sound of the bell illustrates the trapping of this theatrical convention. In Act Two, Winnie attempts to fall asleep only to have the bell force her to wake. The sound is written into the stage directions, suggesting it has an ambivalent meaning and origin. The bell is like the watchful eye of the audience forcing the character on stage to wake and perform. It is both part of the play whilst simultaneously being part of reality in the theatre production. On one level, the stage direction for the bell provides a prompt for Winnie’s behaviour whilst on another level, the bell could be seen as a signal to merge reality with the fictional position of the play. What the audience is experiencing, in unison with Winnie, is a blurring of reality with regard to the fictional wall of Happy Days. They too, at the sound of the bell, are forced to give their full attention to Winnie, to engage the performance.
2. Dramatic Motif: take into account the worded motif and the non-worded motif in the play and explain the meaning that they portray. e.g. – Winnie’s actions and props.
Beckett very cleverly introduces the repetitive motif of time into Happy Days establishing the motif through Winnie, her actions and her speech. This sense of time is fragmentary and constantly in a state of flux. Winnie is not a character in time but rather a character stuck out of time. Key to this element of the play is the way Beckett enhances the motif of inertia in time, by placing Winnie inside a mound of earth. The function of this unspoken motif reinforces and informs the spoken words of Winnie. The very frustration of not being able to move is enhanced by Winnie’s repetitive speech and actions. She utters her wish “that perhaps someday the earth will yield and let me go.” (Beckett 1. 15). This establishes the sense of Winnie’s desire to be free from the restrictions that have been imposed upon her.
To defer the empty thoughts of the barren desert, the heat, and her own sense of nothingness, she uses a series of objects pulled from her bag – a tube of toothpaste, a toothbrush, lipstick, a parasol and a slightly worrying revolver. These objects establish routine through unspoken actions thus triggering spoken thought. The revolver is laid aside suggesting that speech will suffice to help ease the frustration of the timeless state. The unspoken motif of timelessness is enhancing the spoken motif that is dealing with the timelessness.
In one sequence of events Winnie picks up the toothbrush, examines it, speaks some words about it before examining the handle of the toothbrush and says “slight headache sometimes.” (Beckett 1. 1). The comments between her examination and use of objects seem totally unrelated. For Winnie, however, the very act of constant speech is almost like a survival mechanism that forges meaning into a meaningless existence. The objects in the bag become anchor points for her existence, anchor points that are normally composed of memories. Her memories have failed her so the objects become unspoken motifs of time, triggers that establish her existence.
3. Dramatic allegory: can you consider the play as an allegory? What causes you to identify the play as an allegory? How can this allegory be described through the character build up and their actions, time, space and props.
Several theatrical forms are used by Beckett that move the audiences identification of the play as an allegory. The strangeness of speech, the bizarre landscaped setting, and the fragmentary sense of time,forces an audience to seek meaning and see the play as an allegory of the human condition.
It is the actual structure of the play that triggers the audience to seek an allegorical explanation. Firstly, the stage directions are detailed and precise, outlining a blazing light, staging the conditions of the plays intense heat. This is not unusual in itself until the audience are presented with Winnie, the multi-charactered protagonist, buried waist high in a mound of dirt. Winnie appears to alternate between different characteristics. The play is forging an unusual opening scene that does not shift or alter throughout the performance. The only considerable change comes in Act Two, when the mound of dirt surrounding Winnie, has covered her to her neck.
The use of light, forces Winnie to stay awake, stuck centre-stage in the mound. Her only option is to hope for the “night of the moon” (Beckett 1. 4) that she knows will not come any time soon:
wait for the day to come – (opens eyes) – the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours. (Beckett 1. 4)
On the one-hand she is a precise woman applying her makeup and sorting out the items of her bag. As the play progresses, however, we see the fragmented statements of Winnie highlighting her fears, her need for attention. Winnie epitomises the basic human impulse to seek meaning, in light of the inevitable approach of death. The universal fear of loneliness emerges.
Winnie’s use of language enhances the sense of wastefulness by Beckett’s mixof language and action. Her fragmentary utterances only find exposition amidst her interaction with her objects. This frantic need to turn objects into speech stems from the fear that words will fail. Essentially the allegory of the human condition present in the play comes from Winnie’s fear of loneliness and isolation. It is a fear that accompanies every person in light of passing time and approaching death.
4. Can the play be regarded as a comedy? Can you identify the comic trace? (In regard to comic typologia)
Happy Days cannot be solely treated as a tragic play about the meaninglessness of the human condition. There are elements that draw the play into the conventions of comedy.
This is suggestive of Beckett’s attempt at a social criticism through tragi-comedy. This is a frame to highlight the monotony of life, with Winnie, the housewife, trapped by the mounting dedication to keep the living-space a functioning space. Willie, the husband is engaged with the news, silencing himself to the endless chatter of his wife.
By hiding Willie, Beckett is able to build upon the outbursts of optimism from Winnie because she is not responded to. She sees her hopeless situation with a comical optimism culminating to her remark “Oh it’s going to be a happy day!” (Beckett 1. 17). Comedy in the play, therefore, is established out of Winnie’s attempt to generate normality in absurdity.
Furthermore, the elements of comedy are more apparent for an audience who can turn their view to look upon themselves. They are watching, and sometimes laughing at a woman who is trying to survive an absurd life by a day-to-day routine. The audience are also victims of routine, by their very humanity. This play is Beckett’s attempt to create a satire about the theatrical audience positioning them as bleak beings who, like Winnie, exist in a world of daily routine, fleeting memories, and meaningless attempts to find fulfillment in speech.