Sunday, November 13, 2011

Play Day: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot was the first “grown up” play I ever saw. I wasn’t entirely grown up myself at just 14. It was a very simply mounted production that stuck to Beckett’s script pretty faithfully. The two principal actors were beyond talented and brought a real effervescence to the play. I enjoyed the performance immensely. Whatever symbolism and existential undertones the play had, I neither understood nor cared about. I just thought it a lot of fun. It was only years later, in literature class, that I realised how intimidating this play can be. Critics and scholars and professors seem to delight in making the play as inaccessible as possible. But at the heart of it, it’s really a very simple play. A play where nothing happens. Twice. A brainteaser, yes, but then what work of art isn't?

The play is pretty much summarized in the title itself. It is about two guys waiting. For someone name Godot. We never find out who Godot is or why these guys should wait for him. The implication is that they don’t know either. We know very little about the two men except that they are called Vladimir and Estragon. There are faint allusions to them having seen better times but it has hardly any bearing on anything. To pass the time while they are waiting, the two engage in ridiculous banter, horse around with their boots and hats, and at more than one point they even consider hanging themselves. “Nothing to be done” is a recurring motif here.

Then there are Pozzo and Lucky. Two of the most inscrutable characters you ever did see. But then “inscrutable” is a word that keeps cropping up when you’re reading anything by or about Beckett. There is also the character of the ‘boy’ who brings the two tramps messages from Godot. Actually, he brings the same message, twice. Godot himself is the central character. But we know nothing about him. Nobody does. It isn’t even known if he exists.  It is often suggested that Godot is meant to be a metaphor for God, an unknown entity who we spend our whole lives waiting for.

The trouble with Waiting for Godot, and also its main strength is that it is so completely open to interpretation. This can be challenging for the average reader, like me. Especially when the interpretations get increasingly obscure and confusing. But Beckett didn’t intend it to be a puzzle. There is no right answer. You can make what you want of it and if it makes sense to you, you’ll be right. When I first saw the play, the interaction between Vladimir and Estragon seemed very like a Laurel and Hardy sketch. That is how the actors chose to play it. I also loved Lucky, his crazy dance and nonsensical ramblings. Waiting for Godot (A tragicomedy in two acts) is a prime example of the “Theatre of the Absurd” movement.  It is meant to be absurd and ridiculous. Rather, it is meant to mirror the absurdity and ridiculousness of the human existence. Why bother to ‘figure it out’?


  1. It is meant to be absurd and ridiculous. Rather, it is meant to mirror the absurdity and ridiculousness of the human existence. Why bother to ‘figure it out’?

    Hmmm...since you put it that way..

    I've always hated Waiting for Godot, and the whole concept of existentialism. But, now that you've mentioned it, I wonder if I would're reacted to it more positively had I watched it being performed. Your descriptions sounds quite interesting...and maybe Beckett is more enjoyable without trying to analyse him? I've studied two of his plays and I disliked them both. :-/

  2. I pretty much came to the same conclusion in my post in Waiting for Godot-I see it as a very Irish story.

  3. Risa Watching it performed puts a whole different spin on the play. Existentialism/Absurdism is always tricky. I get some and don't get some others :)

    Mel U I just read your brilliant post on Waiting for Godot. I had no idea the play was so traditionally Irish.I really liked your explanation regarding the 'tramps' in Irish lit.