Waiting for Godot 'Architecte' insult
Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot received its first public presentation at the Théâtre de Babylone, Paris in January 1953.
Act 2 of the play contains a celebrated passage in which protagonists Vladimir and Estagon engage in an escalating series of back-and-forth insults—followed by silence and their immediate reconciliation. The original published manuscript for En attendant Godot indicated this exchange with the stage direction "Echange d'injures" ('they trade insults'). Unusually for Beckett, who was to become notorious for spelling out every direction, down to the last pause, this left the actors and director free to work out the exact wording of the insults in rehearsals.
"We needed strong swear words, and so I wrote them down," director Roger Blin recalled of the process. "We came up with ordure (fertilizer), fumier (shit), curé (priest)—they were all good, but the one which worked best to make Vladimir shut up was architecte. It seemed to us the worst insult that one could ever say."
Jean Martin, who was performing the role of Lucky, had suggested the word, having heard it used as an insult by a Belgian taxi driver. It was apparently a well-known curse in Brussels, where tenements had been torn down more than sixty years previously to make way for the construction of the Palais de Justice, "causing the slum-dwellers to riot and, in their frustration, to blame the architects for the loss of their homes."
Beckett, who was present at rehearsals making changes and additions to the text as they went, confided quietly to Blin that they would try "architecte," and the lines were left in for the duration of the play's first run. His hand-corrected manuscript from the production, in the collection of Trinity College Dublin, notes down the agreed wording.
However, the amended published version of the play, in its original French, continued to include the loose stage direction "Echange d'injures", leaving the exact wording of the exchange open in successive productions. Beckett's own 1954 English translation of the play, on the other hand, specified the insults to be used, culminating in the word 'critic', apparently seen by Beckett as an even more heinous insult than Architecte.
Jeanette den Toonder has argued "Both lists are compiled as much for sonority and shape as for meaning". Elmer Tophoven's German translation, which was made before Beckett's English version, "arrived at the term "Oberforstinspektor" as the final insult— a composite noun of six syllables. Tophoven explained:
"In my first translation I replaced the word "architecte" in the French with the word "Oberkellner" ("head waiter"). "Ober" is typically German. Then it became “Ober...forstinspektor" ("Head forest inspector"). The purpose was to give a sense of authority of the state."
- Deirdre Bair notes in her biography of Beckett that Roger Blin, director of the original production, and actors Pierre Latour (Estragon) and Lucien Raimbourg (Vladimir) were already surprised at Beckett's use of such a generalized direction, "since all his other stage directions had been methodical and meticulous." See: Deirdre Bair, Samuel Beckett: A Biography, (New York and London: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978), 426
- Ibid., 427
- See: Sam Slote, "Samuel Beckett", on Trinity Writers, first published January 2016, retrieved May 31, 2018.
- Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, A Tragicomedy in Two Acts, translated from the original French text by the author (New York: Grove Press, 1954), 85.
- Jeanette den Toonder, "A Trilingual Godot", in Beckett & la psychanalyse, Volume 5, ed. Sjef Houppermans, (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1996), 162
- Elmer Tophoven quoted in den Toonder, "A Trilingual Godot", 162