From the mid 1960s Samuel Beckett began to direct his own plays for theatre and for television. This is one of two notebooks that Beckett kept for his production of Glückliche Tage (Happy Days) at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt in Berlin, September 1971 – a venue he would return to for many other productions of his own work. Beckett prepared the notebook before rehearsals started.
As well as noting cuts and additions to the script, the notebook contains lists of actions, props, movements (accompanied by diagrams of Willie’s ‘crawl’) and notes on Winnie’s parasol and glasses. The level of detail here – not only in terms of the content of the notes, but also in Beckett’s indexing and cross-referencing system – reveals the incredibly precise, meticulous working method he applied to directing his own work. Beckett kept notebooks like this one for all of his productions. Together, they are invaluable for showing us Beckett’s dynamic, evolving vision for the staging of his work, as he directed from within the theatre space.
At the start of the notebook Beckett divides the two-act play into 12 main sections. The rest of the notebook is divided into 22 groupings around a particular aspect of the text or action. These 22 sections – with titles such as ‘Bag’, ‘Smile’, ‘Repetition Text’, ‘Quotation’ – show us ‘the points Beckett thought to be the foci of the production’.
On the page shown here, titled ‘BAG’, Beckett lists the 14 items in Winnie’s handbag, including a toothbrush, mirror and revolver, in order of their appearance in the play. He records their exact position on the mound (‘R’ [right] or ‘L’ [left] of Winnie), and the order in which Winnie returns them to the bag.
Although Happy Days is ‘not perhaps noted for the animation of [its] players’ – Winnie can only move her upper body, for half of the play – the notebook reveals Beckett’s ‘vigorous and highly specific guide to the physical actions of [the] play’. No element is accidental. As James Knowlson observes, notebooks like this ‘prove that [Beckett] was an excellent choreographer, with a talent for what he described as “form in movement”’.
Originally composed in English in 1960–61, Happy Days is a two-act play that centres on the character of Winnie, who is buried in a mound up to her waist in Act 1, and then up to her neck in Act 2. Winnie passes her time endlessly chattering away and retrieving objects from her handbag. A bell wakes her from sleep, although there is no night and day, only constant burning sunlight. Her husband, Willie, crawls around the mound, remaining largely silent.
 Mary Bryden, Julian Garforth and Peter Mills, Beckett at Reading: Catalogue of the Beckett Manuscript Collection at the University of Reading (Reading: Whiteknights Press and the Beckett International Foundation, 1998), p. 48.
 Bryden, Garforth and Mills, Beckett at Reading, p. 50.
- Full title:
- Manuscript notebook prepared by Samuel Beckett for his own production of Glückliche Tage at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt, Berlin, 17 September 1971.
- Manuscript / Notebook / Draft
- Samuel Beckett
- Usage terms
Samuel Beckett: © The Estate of Samuel Beckett. The above selected images reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Samuel Beckett c/o Rosica Colin Limited, London.
© Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading
- Held by
- Beckett International Foundation, University of Reading
- MS 1396/4/10
- Article by:
- William McEvoy
- Capturing and creating the modern, European influence, 20th-century theatre
The main character in Happy Days is a middle-aged woman inexplicably buried in a mound, first to her waist and then to her neck. William McEvoy discusses how Beckett uses this character and her predicament to explore a recurring interest in his work: the failings of bodies and language.
- Article by:
- Andrew Dickson
- Theatre practitioners and genres, 20th-century theatre, Capturing and creating the modern, European influence
Absurdist theatre responded to the destruction and anxieties of the 20th century by questioning the nature of reality and illusion. Andrew Dickson introduces some of the most important figures in the Theatre of the Absurd, including Eugène Ionesco, Martin Esslin and Samuel Beckett.
- Article by:
- Chris Power
- Capturing and creating the modern, 20th-century theatre, European influence
Chris Power explores how Waiting for Godot resists straightforward interpretation, producing audiences as uncertain as its characters.