The Right Way to Say 'Godot'

Is it 'GOD-oh' or 'god-OH'?
Alan Mandell (Estragon) and Barry McGovern (Vladimir) in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot
From Dave Itzkoff (New York Times):
More than 60 years after the debut of “Waiting for Godot,” Beckett’s absurdist drama about two vagabonds anticipating a mysterious savior, there is much disagreement among directors, actors, critics and scholars on how the name of that elusive title figure should be spoken.

“GOD-oh,” with the accent on the first syllable, is how “it should be pronounced,” said Sean Mathias, the British director of the latest a Broadway revival of “Waiting for Godot,” opening later this month at the Cort Theater.

“It has to be, really,” he said. “There’s no other way to do it.”

But the theater critic John Lahr said that rendering “is too obvious” for the playwright Samuel Beckett, with its suggestion of the Almighty.

“Beckett is more elusive and poetic, and he wouldn’t hit it on the head like that,” said Mr. Lahr, a longtime contributor to The New Yorker, who instead advocates for “god-OH,” with the accent on the second syllable.

Georges Borchardt, a literary agent who represented Beckett and continues to represent his literary estate, suggested even a third pronunciation was possible.

“I myself have always pronounced it the French way, with equal emphasis on both syllables,” Mr. Borchardt said in an email.

Mr. Borchardt said he had consulted with Edward Beckett, a nephew of the author, who told him that his uncle pronounced it the same way, and that Edward Beckett could not see “why there should be a correct or incorrect way of pronouncing Godot.”


“I don’t think there is a mathematical solution to this problem,” said Mark Nixon, the director of the Beckett International Foundation at the University of Reading in England.

Dr. Nixon said he believed the name was correctly pronounced with a stressed first syllable. But, he said, “I don’t feel strongly in the sense that I would correct somebody who said it differently.”

Still, he did not dismiss the Godot question as a trivial issue. “Nothing’s trivial when it comes to Beckett,” he said.

The debate would surely please Beckett, an Irish author who originally wrote “Waiting for Godot” in French before translating it into English, and whose work embraced ambiguity and resisted easy interpretation. As this Nobel laureate wrote, “no symbols where none intended,” but he kept his intentions mysterious and seemed to leave symbols everywhere. The pronunciation of Godot, like the name itself, seems pregnant with meaning, yet ambiguous.

One might think that Beckett’s own writing would plainly reveal his wishes, but, gosh, no.

According to “The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett” (Grove Press), when “Waiting for Godot” was performed in the 1980s by the San Quentin Drama Workshop, Beckett sought “to counter the natural American tendency to stress the second syllable” and asked his actors “consciously to pronounce it with the stress on the first syllable instead.”

Dr. Nixon said that recordings of the author’s voice are extremely rare — “only about four, or four and a half, are in existence.”

“I’ve heard all of them,” Dr. Nixon said, “and on none of those recordings does he use the word Godot. So, unfortunately, that’s not a route we can take.” [Read More]

In Conversations with and about Beckett, Mel Gussow recalls a moment when the playwright himself stumbled over the pronunciation: 'Accidentally he pronounced Godot with the accent on the second syllable, and then immediately corrected himself.' But the question remains: which pronunciation did he pick?

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