Study Guide

Happy Days Act I

By Samuel Beckett

Act I

  • Imagine you are in the Sahara desert: flat, lifeless, burned by the sun. This is our set, ladies and gentlemen.
  • There is a curtain at the back of the stage showing (guess what…?) MORE desert, MORE blue skies, MORE nothing. Let's just say Beckett liked to keep his stage set simple.
  • In the middle of the stage we find our leading lady, Winnie, buried up to the waist in the ground. FYI: Happy Days starts crazy and only gets crazier, so buckle in.
  • According to Beckett's description, Winnie's about fifty years old, (preferably) blonde, plump, and most importantly, takes pride in keeping herself well-presented. (Imagine Desperate Housewives but in the 50's…)
  • She begins the play resting her head on her arms (it's most likely she's tired from the heat of the sun or maybe she's just sleeping).
  • Don't worry, she came prepared for the insufferable heat. Beside her is her purse and a big collapsible umbrella—what more does anyone need, right?
  • The answer is: Willie, her husband, who is asleep behind the mound of earth she's buried in (the audience can't actually see him yet).
  • Suddenly there's a long pause from Winnie. Beckett was very specific when it came to the length of his pauses. In fact, in Beckett's work, pauses are an integral part of the text, kind of like the pauses in a musical score.
  • Suddenly, the next thing we hear is a piercing, shrill alarm bell that rings for ten seconds and then stops. (Beckett was also very specific about the length of time the bell should ring and what it should sound like.)
  • Winnie does not respond.
  • The bell rings again, this time for five seconds. (Winnie's waking up now….)
  • The bell finally shuts up. (Anyone else have a ringing in their ear?)
  • Winnie rises and looks straight out toward the audience.
  • After another long pause, Winnie straightens up, flings her hair back, looks straight up to the sky and… finally, we have some words, Winnie remarks, "Another heavenly day" (1.1) as she gazes upward.
  • She brings her head level, and looks back out toward the audience.
  • A short pause (we're changing up the pauses now, keep up) occurs, and afterwards she brings her hands to her chest, closes her eyes and whispers a prayer (exactly ten seconds long) that we can't hear. Short and sweet, right?
  • She opens her eyes, returns her hands to the surrounding earth, and pauses.
  • And here we go again! Same gripping of the chest, same closing of the eyes, and another inaudible prayer (just five seconds shorter). She opens her eyes, returns her hands to the surrounding earth and pauses.
  • "Begin your day" (1.1), Winnie says. She then brings the purse in front of her, takes out her toothbrush and toothpaste, (well prepared, Winnie) and turns forward.
  • She unscrews the toothpaste, puts the cap on the ground, squeezes paste unto the brush, holds the tube with one hand and—you guessed it—brushes her teeth with the other hand.
  • She turns away from us and, politely, spits (hey, she's buried in the ground and there's no sink, what are you supposed to do?).
  • Winnie Spots Willie, snoozing behind her mound, so she leans further back to get a better look at sleeping beauty…
  • She lets out a, "Hoo-oo!" (1.1). Imagine: half-laugh, half-pigeon cooing.
  • She smiles warmly at Willie and turns back toward the audience, and sets down the toothbrush.
  • Winnie examines the toothpaste tube and her smile literally turns off (1.1) like a light switch as she realizes that she's "running out" (1.1) of toothpaste.
  • Winnie looks for the cap, finds it, screws it back on, and places the tube on the ground.
  • And back to the purse we go. This time, a mirror appears and Winnie inspects her teeth and gums in a methodical manner: up, down, and side to side, and since they are "no better, no worse" (1.1) she puts down the mirror.
  • After wiping her fingers on the grass, she grabs the toothbrush, inspects the handle, and reads the word "pure" on the handle of the toothbrush (1.1).
  • You're probably thinking, "pure what"? Well, guess what? So is Winnie (in fact it's exactly what she says next as she puts down the brush after taking a pause).
  • We return to the purse, and after much rummaging she brings out a case for glasses. She takes out her glasses, puts down the case, turns back toward us, and puts them on (Winnie likes order) as she gives Willie a backhanded compliment, "no zest for anything in life poor dear Willie sleep forever marvelous gift" (1.1).
  • And then back to the toothbrush… she gets a better look at the handle, and reads "genuine…pure…what?" (1.1).
  • The toothbrush goes down, as well as the glasses and Winnie removes a folded handkerchief from the top of her dress. Shaking it out, she wipes one eye and then the other.
  • With the same hanky, she starts breathing on and polishing her glasses as she attempts to remember, "those wonderful lines." (The lines she's quoting are from Act 3.1.164–165 in Shakespeare's Hamlet, "Oh, woe is me, / T' have seen what I have seen, see what I see!")
  • Winnie continues polishing and then looks toward the sky. After a pause, she looks back toward us, continues polishing, stops, and then turns around to look at dear ol' Willie.
  • After a tender smile for her husband and another "Hoo-oo!" (1.1), Winnie resumes polishing her glasses.
  • Suddenly, her smile switches off (1.1). (Remember that according to Beckett, off meant off, that is, her smile does not gradually fade away, instead, it goes from a smile to a neutral expression from one second to the next.)
  • She stops polishing (finally) and puts her glasses down on the ground.
  • Her nicely folded handkerchief goes back into her dress as she puts on her sparkly, shiny, good-as-new glasses and says, "so much to be thankful for" (1.1).
  • Then back up comes the toothbrush, as Winnie once again attempts to decipher the words inscribed on the toothbrush. This time we get one new word (hey, a small victory is still a victory) "guaranteed… genuine… pure… what?" (1.1).
  • Apparently reading the toothbrush causes Winnie some severe eye strain because she begins complaining about an "occasional mild migraine" (1.1).
  • To avoid the onset of a migraine Winnie decides to stop reading and instead begins wiping the toothbrush, again and again.
  • As she wipes the toothbrush, she remarks that "prayers perhaps [are] not for naught" (1.1) (naught is fancy way of saying "nothing"). Maybe Winnie believes that the prayer helps her deal with the migraine?
  • She pauses and then continues wiping her brush.
  • A second pause is followed by more wiping of the brush. Way to keep a routine going, Winnie.
  • Okay Shmoopers, a flurry of activity is coming, so get ready. In chronological order: Winnie's head droops, she wipes the toothbrush handle, she stops, then her head comes up—it seems she's calmed (1.1) now—then she dabs her eyes with the handkerchief, which she then folds, and puts back in her dress.
  • And once again back to reading the toothbrush. Unfortunately Winnie doesn't get very far: "fully guaranteed… genuine pure…." Toothbrush: 1. Winnie: 0.
  • As Winnie gives up, she places her glasses down on the floor, calls them "old things" (1.1) and mocks her poor "old eyes" (1.1).
  • After a loooong pause (haven't seen one of you in a while), Winnie takes up her parasol (fancy term for umbrella) and extends it to reveal a surprisingly long handle.
  • Winnie then cranes to the right and calls Willie once again, "Hoo-oo!" (1.1). After a pause she remarks once again that Willie has a "wonderful gift" (1.1).
  • Suddenly Winnie strikes Willie with the parasol (oh Willie, you should've listened) not once, but TWICE. It falls out of her hand only for Willie to hand it back to her.
  • Winnie takes the parasol in her left hand as she examines her right palm. She then swaps the parasol over and examines her left palm. "Ah well, no worse," she says, lifting her head cheerfully.
  • Holding the parasol by the handle, Winnie takes a pause and looks back around at her husband. She tells Willie not to "go off on me again" (1.1).
  • Winnie then turns back toward the audience, puts down the umbrella, checks her hands (again) and wipes them on the grass.
  • Winnie turns to her bag and begins rummaging through it. Suddenly, Winnie pulls out a gun, raises it high, gives it a few quick fire kisses and puts it back in her bag. (Now things are getting interesting.)
  • Next to appear from her bag of tricks is an almost empty bottle of red medicine. Winnie looks for her glasses, puts them on, and reads the label, "Loss of spirits… lack of keenness… want of appetite… infants… children… adults… six level… tablespoonsful daily…" (1.1).
  • After reading the label Winnie brings her head up, smiles, and declares "Ah! The Old Style!" (1.1)
  • After she reads the rest of the label, Winnie checks how much of the potion is left, swigs it back (down in one gulp), and then flings the empty bottle in the direction of Willie where it smashes, probably on poor Willie.
  • Next up on the list: make-up check. Winnie takes her lipstick from the bag, and as she turns toward us, puts on her glasses, raises the mirror, and reapplies her lipstick—but not before noticing that her lipstick is "running out" (1.1).
  • In between smacking her lips together Winnie alludes to Book X, ll. 741-742 from Milton's Paradise Lost, "Oh fleeting joys – oh something lasting woes" (1.1).
  • Suddenly, a disturbance behind her causes her to stop. Willie is sitting up. Whad'ya know? There's life in the old dog yet. Winnie's lipstick and mirror go down as she leans back to inspect dear ol' Willie.
  • After a pause, he (finally) comes into view. The crown of Willie's bald head is bleeding… Hmm, we wonder why. Winnie puts on her glasses to get a better look.
  • Willie lifts a handkerchief to the wound, places it over the injury, and pauses.
  • Then he places a boater (a round rimmed straw hat) on his head at a devilishly cool angle.
  • Winnie leans a little further back to inspect what else he's wearing, which is…nothing below the waist. Winnie quickly reminds Willie of the dangers of not wearing anything below the waist on a hot day, "Slip on your drawers, dear, before you get singed" (1.1).
  • There's a pause while Willie's deciding on whether it's a no trousers day today.
  • Another pause later, Willie is applying some kind of lotion to his injuries.
  • Winnie pauses and then says, "Work it in well, dear" (1.1).
  • Several pauses later Winnie turns back to us, grinning from ear to ear as she exclaims, "Oh this is going to be another happy day" (1.1). It seems like Winnie really likes lotion.
  • A pause later and then suddenly her smile is off. She removes her spectacles and resumes putting on her lipstick. Over the crest of the mound, we can see Willie has opened a newspaper without showing the audience his hands.
  • The lipstick application now complete, Winnie examines her work in the mirror and quotes, "Ensign crimson. Pale flag" (1.1) from another Shakespearean favorite, Romeo and Juliet (5.3.94-96).
  • Meanwhile in the space behind the mound (a.k.a. Willie's home), Willie turns the page as Winnie puts her lipstick and mirror down on the floor and turns toward the bag.
  • Out of her bottomless bag comes a little hat with a feather—it's a bit crumpled, but no matter. Winnie turns back to us and rearranges it, shapes it, and just as she's about to put it on…
  • Willie declares, "His Grace and Most Reverend Father in God Dr. Carolus Hunter dead in tub" (1.2). Woohoo, it's Willie's first line.
  • Understandably, there's a pause.
  • Suddenly, Winnie turns to us, hat in hand, and reminisces on happy memories she shared with the priest, Dr. Hunter.
  • After a pause she removes her glasses and holds them in her hand while she has the hat in the other. Willie turns the page and there's a pause.
  • Winnie opens her eyes and just as she is about to put on her glasses and hat…Willie reads, "Opening for smart youth" (1.4).
  • Another pause later, Winnie, once again, attempts to put on her hat… but she's interrupted again as she thinks about her "first ball" (1.5) and oddly enough her "first kiss" (1.5).
  • For some reason, Willie's statement reminds Winnie of her first kiss with a mustached man named "Mr Johnson, or Johnston, or perhaps I should say Johnstone" (FYI: half of the name is italicized in the play text for emphasis) (1.5).
  • After trying to remember where the kiss took place, "within a toolshed, though whose I cannot conceive. We had no toolshed and he most certainly had no toolshed" (1.5), she pauses and closes her eyes once again.
  • After three pauses in a row, and just as the hat is finally about to touch Winnie's head…Willie reads, "Wanted bright boy" (1.6). There is a short pause and then Winnie (finally) puts on her hat. Hooray for Winnie.
  • Winnie hurriedly looks for the mirror as Willie turns the page. She gets a good look at her hat in her mirror and then puts down the mirror.
  • Meanwhile, Willie's newspaper disappears and Winnie begins looking through her bag when out comes a magnifying glass (why wouldn't there be one inside that purse?).
  • Winnie turns toward us, looks for the toothbrush and once she finds it brings it up for further inspection.
  • Willie, in the meantime, has cleverly folded the newspaper to make a fan, which he uses to he cools himself. Smart thinking, Willie.
  • Through the magnifying glass, Winnie reads the brush handle: "Fully guaranteed.…"
  • Willie stops fanning himself and after a pause he resumes.
  • Winnie reads the brush handle again and Willie stops fanning. After a pause, he starts again. It seems like he might be eavesdropping, right?
  • Then down goes the magnifying glass, up comes the toothbrush, out comes the handkerchief, and, you guessed it, she's polishing her glasses (again) but she doesn't stop there, now she's polishing the magnifying glass as well. There's no stopping Winnie's cleaning spree now: she brings up the toothbrush, wipes its handle, puts down the toothbrush, and places the hanky back into her dress. Finally, the newly polished magnifying glass comes up as she examines the writing again on the newly wiped toothbrush. Phew, that was a long list of stage directions.
  • Willie stops fanning himself and takes a pause. Perhaps he's worried for his wife's sanity? Well, it doesn't seem like he's too worried as he resumes fanning a few seconds later.
  • Wait, no, he's stopped fanning again. And after a pause he's put the paper away. Throughout the flurry of activity, Winnie's been attempting to decipher the reading on the toothbrush. So far she has, "fully guaranteed… genuine pure… hog's… setae" (1.7) (For those of you scratching your heads, setae are the hog's bristles.)
  • Winnie puts down her brush and magnifying glass as she takes off her glasses and lays them on the ground, all while looking toward the audience.
  • After a pause, Winnie says, "That is what I find so wonderful, that not a day goes by to speak in the old style hardly a day, without some addition to one's knowledge however trifling, the addition..." (1.7).
  • Willie's hand appears with a postcard, which he looks at closely. Winnie closes and then opens her eyes.
  • After a pause, she turns toward her husband and spots the postcard. She asks Willie to see the postcard and Willie obediently hands it to her. All we see of her husband is his arm, which presents the postcard to Winnie. Oddly enough his hand remains visible on stage as he waits patiently, ready to take back the postcard.
  • Winnie alarmed by what's on it, reaches for her glasses, puts them on, and reexamines the postcard. She says, "No, but this is genuine pure filth!" (1.7). (Wonder what Willie's been looking at?)
  • Willie's impatience is obvious as his fingers begin to twitch. It seems he really wants his postcard back. Winnie now decides to examine the card with her magnifying glass and a long pause ensues as she comments on the filthiness of the card.
  • She goes in for one last look (Willie's fingers are still twitching) and, after laying down the magnifying glass she holds the card between her thumb and finger. She then pinches her nose as she pretends the postcard smells like garbage, "Pah!" she says. "Take it away!" (1.7). Geez, Willie, what were you looking at?
  • The card falls to the ground behind her. Willie's arm vanishes only to reappear with the card in his hand. Winnie, oblivious to her husband, puts down her glasses and stares out toward us. Willie, oblivious to his wife, starts relishing (1.7) the postcard, looking at it from all kinds of angles. (Really Willie, a bit of discretion would be nice.)
  • Winnie gives us a puzzled expression and there is a pause. She's wondering what a hog is. (Isn't it odd that she knows what the word setae means, but not hog?)
  • After her puzzled expression turns off she pauses twice.
  • Winnie then smiles as she wonders whether the recollection of what a hog is "will come back" (1.7). Soon after she decides that not everything "will come back," and, as a result, her smile turns off (1.7).
  • Three pauses later Winnie turns to her purse. In the meantime it seems like Willie's hand and the card have vanished behind the mound. Winnie rummages through her bag once again but suddenly stops. She turns back to us, smiles, and says, "No no" and then the smile turns off as tell herself, "Gently Winnie" (1.7).
  • Willie has reappeared and takes off his "oh-so-cool" boater hat, only to disappear again. Then to tease us, he reappears, takes the handkerchief off his wounded head… and then vanishes again.
  • Winnie screams, "What is the alternative?" (1.7). She goes to repeat her question, only to be interrupted by Willie blowing his nose, long and loud. Winnie turns to look at him and after a pause her husband's head reappears.
  • Willie's hand reappears with the snotty handkerchief. He then spreads it… on his head (yuck) and disappears again. He then reappears with a boater hat in tow and soon after places it on his head at that classic "Willie angle."
  • Undoubtedly, there is a pause.
  • Winnie turns back toward us as she plucks at the grass around her waist.
  • In between pauses Winnie wishes that she could leave Willie in peace, but sadly for Winnie (and Willie) she needs to know that someone hears her, and that she isn't "merely talking to [her]self" (1.7). Winnie smiles, and then it's off once again.
  • After one of those trademark long pauses, Winnie stares out, presses her lips together and plucks at the grass as she thinks about a life without Willie. Jeez Winnie, what did that grass ever do to you?
  • She imagines a life of silence, a life devoid of words.
  • After a pause, a smile appears on Winnie's face, but the look quickly turns to anxiety: "My hair! (pause) Did I brush and comb my hair?" (1.7).
  • Winnie pauses, inspects the ground for the comb, and then looks up and says, "Human weakness" (1.7).
  • She once again looks at the mound that traps her in, and says, "natural weakness" (1.7).
  • Winnie inspects the ground a third time and comes to the conclusion that she can't find a comb or hairbrush anywhere. Naturally, Winnie looks puzzled. She goes to the bag and finds that the comb and brush are both inside: "Perhaps I put them back, after use" (1.7).
  • As a final reminder (to herself?) of her orderliness and routine she says, "all together at the end of the day" (1.7), smiles, and pauses. Then her smile turns off.
  • Winnie begins to question whether she should refer to her hair as "them" or "it" (1.7). She turns to her husband, Willie, for advice on whether hair can be classified as an "it" (one big mound of hair) or a "them" (all the individual hairs). Thrilling conversation, huh?
  • Willie does not respond. After a long pause, Willie replies "It" (1.8). (Here's the thing, Willie's bald. So, seeing as he doesn't have much hair, "it" seems to describe his hair better than "them.")
  • Thrilled at hearing her husband speak, Winnie turns back to us with a smile full of joy and happiness as she says, "Oh you are going to talk to me today, this is going to be a happy day!" (1.9).
  • One pause later and the joyous smile is off.
  • Winnie goes to take off her hat, but thinks better of it and lowers her hands instead.
  • Two pauses later, she reaches toward her hat, pulls out some loose hairs and places "it"—or is it "them"?—in front of her for inspection. She then says, "Golden you called it, that day, when the last guest was gone (hand up in gesture of raising a glass)—to your golden… may it never" (1.9).
  • Winnie repeats the phrase "may it never" once more before her voice breaks as her hand and head fall simultaneously.
  • A pause later she raises her head and, after another pause says, "Words fail, there are times when even they fail" (1.9).
  • She then turns to Willie for reassurance. When Willie says nothing, she turns back toward the audience and, a few pauses later, smiles, only for that very smile to off once more.
  • At this point, Willie collapses behind the mound, disappearing from sight. This catches Winnie's attention and shifts her thoughts from the futility of words. She tells Willie to "Go back into your hole now…you've exposed yourself enough" (1.9).
  • Winnie and the audience watch as Willie obeys and starts crawling toward his hole. She follows his progress carefully and reminds him that he should enter the hole feet first otherwise, "how [is he] going to turn?" (1.9).
  • Just as he's about to enter his hole, Winnie reminds Willie that he's forgotten his Vaseline. So poor Willie backtracks, and crawls towards a pot of Vaseline (he's going to try and jam himself in there, whatever it takes). After picking up the Vaseline, he once again tries to enter his hole, head-first. Winnie barks directions at Willie, amid seven pauses (we have a new pause record, Shmoopers). And asks him if he can hear her.
  • Willie replies he can hear her.
  • Winnie then turns toward us and asks Willie if he can hear her now (she kind of sounds like the guy from those cell phone commercials). Willie, annoyed, responds with a yes. Winnie then quietly asks, "And now?" (1.13).
  • Willie (even more annoyed) once again responds with a yes.
  • In an even quieter voice Winnie asks once again. At this point Willie hits the roof, and screams, "Yes!" (1.16).
  • Winnie continues to test his hearing by whispering a line from 4.1.258 in Shakespeare's Cymbeline, "Fear no more the heat o' the sun. Did you hear that?" (1.17).
  • The guessing game continues for several lines until Winnie thanks Willie for answering her.
  • Winnie then faces the stark reality that one day Willie won't be around to hear her ramblings, a time when she'll have to talk to herself.
  • While thinking about that time, Winnie begins pressing her lips together as she turns her smile on and then off, followed by a pause.
  • But wait, Shmoopers, there is hope after all because Winnie soon realizes that "There will always be the bag" (1.23), as she turns toward it.
  • Apparently Winnie believes that Willie will be going somewhere soon. After asking if he is in fact going, she leans back to look at him and tells him his eyes look "like saucers in the shadows" (1.23).
  • Willie doesn't respond—he's totally giving her the silent treatment—and she turns back toward the audiences.
  • A pair of pauses later, Winnie turns a little toward Willie again and asks if he can see her. She then implores him to look at her. Willie refuses (maybe he genuinely doesn't hear her) and she turns back to the front, hurt.
  • Winnie then remarks on how the "earth is very tight today" (1.23) and wonders whether she's put on some weight.
  • A pause later, Winnie's patting and stroking the surrounding ground talking about how things are "expanding" (1.23).
  • Winnie begins to justify her request, but her voice breaks as she begins to murmur that when thinking about your "fellow-creature" you should see "what he needs" (1.23).
  • A pause later, she suddenly stops stroking the earth around her as she notices something on the ground. What could it possibly be?
  • Winnie reaches for her glasses, puts them on and peers at the ground: "An emmet!" (1.23). She declares. Don't worry if you don't know what an "emmet" is, it's a very old English term for an ant. Why would Beckett—or more importantly, why would Winnie—use such an elusive term?
  • Winnie leans back and squeals with delight. She takes up the magnifying glass, examines the creature in all its details, and follows it as it scurries across the ground and disappears down a hole. Winnie stays on the spot where the insect has vanished and then lays down the magnifying glass, followed by a long pause.
  • Willie prevents Winnie from putting down her glasses, and he keeps saying "eggs" (1.24) and "formication" (1.26) (this is a medical word for a sensation that feels like small insects crawling on your skin. However, it also has a strong resemblance to another word. Oh Willie, what are you thinking about?).
  • Winnie is (finally) able to put down her glasses at which point Willie beings to laugh quietly. Suddenly they begin laughing together. But then Willie stops laughing whereas Winnie continues laughing. Then Willie joins in the laughter and once again they're laughing together. It all ends with Willie laughing a bit longer until he stops.
  • Winnie then talks about how happy she is to hear Willie laugh (apparently it's been a while since they've laughed) but then she begins to reflect on the reasons why they were laughing. She wonders whether they were "diverted by two quite different things?" (1.29). But don't worry, Shmoopers, in typical Winnie fashion, she alleviates her doubts by remembering a line from literature. In this instance, it's Gray's poem "Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College." Interestingly enough, the poem ends with the following lines, "where ignorance is bliss, / 'Tis folly to be wise." Those lines could easily be Winnie's mantra.
  • After a pause, Winnie asks Willie whether she was "ever lovable?" (1.29). Not surprisingly, Willie doesn't respond. She then apologizes for bothering Willie; after all, she's aware that Willie has exerted himself today.
  • At the end of the day, just knowing that Willie is "within hearing and conceivably on the semi-alert is…. er paradise enow" (1.29). ("Enow" is an old-fashioned way of saying enough.) Winnie borrows that particular phrase from a poem titled "The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam." If the poem could be summarized into a single phrase, it would be carpe diem.
  • So, on that note, Winnie thinks about singing a song but then quickly changes her mind and says that "it is perhaps a little soon for my song" (1.29).
  • Another teeny tiny pause later, Winnie turns to her trusty bag, and wonders if she can count everything inside.
  • A few pauses later, she thinks better of this, and closes her eyes for a PAUSE. Opening them again, she takes another look at that all-too-tempting bag and thinks about "what comforts" (1.29) lay in the bag.
  • She turns back to the audience and closes her eyes once again flings out her left hand, dives into the bag, and pulls out the gun as she exclaims "You again!" (1.29).
  • She opens her eyes to look at the revolver as she and considers its weight and texture and wonders how "you'd think the weight of this thing would bring it down among the… last rounds" (1.29).
  • Throughout a couple of pauses Winnie faces Willie and reminisces on how he used to tell Winnie to remove the revolver from his sight, "Take it away, Winnie, take it away, before I put myself out of my misery" (1.29).
  • After getting no reply from him, she then turns back toward us and finally decides to put the gun down but not away. (Thank goodness for that.) She then smiles but it goes off as quickly as it came on.
  • Winnie points to the ground around her and to the way in which she is buried up to her waist. Throughout five pauses, Winnie talks about the great pull of gravity and how if she wasn't stuck in the earth she'd easily float away "up into the blue" (1.29).
  • She asks Willie if he's ever had "that feeling … of being sucked up?" (1.29). Surprisingly, Willie answers her by repeating the phrase, "sucked up?" (1.30).
  • Winnie then explains what she means by "sucked up" and then begins to remember what it was like before she felt the great pull of gravity. She then thanks Willie once again for being there in the ground next to her, even if he doesn't say much.
  • After several pauses she turns toward her purse and back to us with a smile, which she then turns off.
  • Winnie then notices the parasol, and takes it up into her hand. With a bit of a struggle, she manages to open it fully and begins to twirl it from side to side as she thinks about the danger in having nothing to do while the hours whittle away.
  • She speaks of "finding oneself… left, with hours still to run, before the bell for sleep, and nothing more to say, nothing more to do" (1.31).
  • Winnie then raises her parasol up, turns toward us, and takes a maximum pause. (The King of Pauses. Pigs will fly by the time it's finished….) She realizes that she doesn't sweat as much as she did before, although the "heat is much greater" (1.31). That doesn't seem right.
  • After a series of pauses, she transfers the parasol to her other hand and talks about man's ability to adapt himself.
  • Following a long pause, Winnie begins complaining about the pain in her arm from holding up the parasol. She wants to put it down, but for some unknown reason cannot.
  • After a pause Winnie asks Willie to tell her with the parasol, "Bid me put this thing down, Willie, I would obey you instantly, as I have always done" (1.31), but her husband remains silent.
  • Suddenly, in perhaps the most dramatic moment of the play, the parasol bursts into flames; Winnie smells the smoke, notices the fire overhead, and throws the parasol as far behind her as she watches it burn and says, "Ah earth you old extinguisher" (1.31). Here, the earth functions as both the cause and solution to the fire. Interesting, huh?
  • Winnie then mentions, "this has occurred before, though I cannot recall it" (1.31).
  • Fearful that Willie is dead (his eyes are closed and he is still), Winnie tries to get some reaction from Willie. Happy when she finally does when he raises five fingers, she turns back toward the audience.
  • Surprised at the increasing temperature, she points toward the bare skin of her arms and wonders whether she'll be "charred to a black cinder" (1.31).
  • She then remembers a time before, a time when she "was not yet caught" (1.31) and when she could "seek out a shady place" (1.31). Boy, Winnie sure likes to reminisce on "happier times."
  • Winnie then contradicts herself once again by saying that, "it is no hotter today than yesterday" (1.31). Anyone else thinking what we're thinking? Maybe Winnie isn't the most credible character….
  • She realizes that "something seems to have occurred" (1.31) and then, in the same sentence, says, "nothing has occurred." (1.31).
  • After several pauses, Winnie takes her little pocket mirror, breaks it by slamming it against a stone behind her and then throws it behind the mound. After all, she knows that "it will be in the bag again tomorrow, without a scratch, to help me through the day…" (1.31).
  • Two pauses later, her voice breaks and her head droops down as she thinks about how wonderful it is that things don't change.
  • After a long pause and with her head still down, Winnie pulls from her bag different little bits of unrecognizable things only to put them back in her bag until she finally brings out what she was looking for: a music box. She winds it up and holds it to her chest as it plays a duet called "I Love You So" from The Merry Widow, an opera. A happy expression appears on her face as she moves to the rhythm of the song. Soon after, Willie joins in with a brief burst of musical grunts. Suddenly, Winnie's happy look gets bigger and bigger. Applauding Willie, she asks him to sing again, but Willie refuses. Winnie's happy expression turns off.
  • Winnie is understanding of Willie's refusal and says that a "song must come from the heart" (1.31). In fact she says that she's often tried singing during "evil hours" (1.31), but she couldn't.
  • Winnie then hints at the metatheatricality of the play and says that she has "a strange feeling that someone is looking at me" (1.31).
  • A few pauses later, Winnie decides that the best thing to do is to stop talking. So, instead of wasting all her "words for the day," she decides to "do something for a change" (1.31).
  • Holding out her hands in front of her (kinda like this) she tells herself to, "Do something!"
  • At the sight of her long "claws" (1.31), she fetches a nail file from her bag, turns back toward us and begins tidying up her nails in silence. Then she begins thinking about a Mr. and Mrs. Shower (here's a little brain snack: shower translates into "to look" in German…what does it mean??). She asks Willie if he remembers them. Three guesses as to what Willie says.
  • She inspects her work and then resumes filing. Once she is happy with the shape of her nails, she looks out toward us.
  • After a pause, she continues to file her nails, only to stop again as she tries to remember a different person's name.
  • Winnie tries to enlist Willie's help, so she leans back and asks, "Cooker, Willie, does Cooker strike a chord?" (1.31). (Cooker also means "to look" in German.)
  • Winnie suddenly realizes that Willie is, how shall we put this delicately, engaged in some serious nose-picking and -eating. After a pause she justifies his behavior by saying, "Ah well, I suppose it's only natural" (1.31).
  • After all, she surmises, "What is one to do? All day long" (1.31). Winnie then brings up her head, smiles, turns off smile, and resumes filing her nails. She soon realizes she is filing the same finger and so moves on to the next one.
  • She finishes filing her left hand and then moves on to the right hand as she resumes talking about a Mr. Cooker, or is it a Mr. Shower? She decides it doesn't matter what their names were; the point is there were two of them; they were a married couple.
  • Winnie then goes into storytelling mode. It seems that this Cooker or Shower man wants to know what Winnie "means" (1.31). He wonders what good Winnie is to Willie and vice versa. The woman accompanying the man poses the same question to the man. She says, "what's the idea of you… what are you meant to mean?" (1.31). Finally, after a brief discussion, the man and woman walk off. Apparently they were the "last human kind—to stray this way" (1.31).
  • Winnie resumes filing her right hand. Once all the filing is complete, she puts the nail file down on the ground and looks out toward us.
  • After bowing and raising her head several times, Winnie begins putting everything back into her bag in a methodical fashion (toothbrush goes last for some apparent reason). She then says that it might be "a little soon—to make ready—for the night" (1.31).
  • For some unexplained reason Winnie believes the bell will ring shortly (interestingly, the first act is just about finished).
  • She continues to tidy up, smiles, and then off four times before taking up the gun in her hand. And just as it seems like she is going to place the gun in her bag she decides to lay it down beside her. Uh-oh, this is beginning to look ominous. She notes how "strange" things seem and how there is "never any change" (1.31).
  • As Winnie places the final object in her bag (the toothbrush) she hears a noise come from Willie's hole. She guides Willie as he struggles to crawl toward the place he was at the beginning of the act, "Another foot, Willie, and you're home" (1.31).
  • After his last foot reaches his "home" she turns forward because all the turning back has literally been a pain in the neck, "Crick in my neck admiring you" (1.31).
  • Over several pauses she tells how she dreams of being able to see him properly, in front of her, but ultimately she understands that he can't.
  • With the toothbrush still in hand—remember, she never actually placed it in her bag—Winnie continues attempting to decipher the lettering on the side of the toothbrush, "Fully guaranteed… what's this it was?" (1.31).
  • Suddenly Willie's shiny, bald, and scarred head appears over the top of the slope. Winnie continues to inspect the cryptic writing on the toothbrush as he places his handkerchief on the cut on top of his head, followed by his favorite boater hat at a "cool" angle.
  • After much straining and several pauses Winnie is finally able to read, "genuine pure… ah! hog's setae" (1.31). Unfortunately for Winnie she can't remember what a hog is.
  • Over four painful pauses, Winnie pleads with Willie to define the word "hog." Willie actually answers this time: "Castrated male swine. Reared for slaughter" (1.32).
  • Winnie's happy expression tells us she loves this.
  • Willie goes back to his newspaper, and we see the top of the pages as he turns them behind the slope.
  • Winnie looks out to us with a happy expression and exclaims, "Oh this is a happy day! This will have been another happy day!" (1.33).
  • However, three pauses later, the happy expression turns off as Willie turns the pages of his newspaper.
  • Willie then reads, "Opening for smart youth" (1.34).
  • Winnie goes to take off her hat and just before she can put it back in her bag, she stops and smiles. The smile gets bigger as Winnie tells herself to "sing her song" and "say her prayer" (1.35).
  • Willie then reads off the paper again, "Wanted bright boy" (1.35). He then turns another page of his newspaper, after which his newspaper disappears and a long pause ensues.
  • The first acts ends with Winnie saying, "Pray your old prayer, Winnie" followed by a long pause. (Notice how she doesn't actually pray. Maybe things have changed after all.…)
  • Well done, you're halfway through. Now, on to Act II.

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