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The Meaninglessness of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett produces a truly cryptic work. On first analyzing the
play, one is not sure of what, if anything, happens or of the title character's significance. In
attempting to unravel the themes of the play, interpreters have extracted a wide variety
symbolism from the Godot's name. Some, taking an obvious hint, have proposed that Godot
represents God and that the play is centred on religious symbolism. Others have taken the
name as deriving from the French word for a boot, godillot. Still, others have suggested a
connection between Godot and Godeau, a character who never appears in Honore de Balzac's
Mercadet; Ou, le faiseur. Through all these efforts, there is still no definitive answer as to
whom or what Godot represents, and the writer has denied that Godot represents a specific
thing, despite a certain ambiguity in the name. Upon study, however, one realizes that this
ambiguity in meaning is the exact meaning of Godot. Though he seems to create greater
symbolism and significance in the name Godot, Beckett actually rejects the notion of truth in
language through the insignificance of the title character's name. By creating a false
impression of religious symbolism in the name Godot Beckett leads the interpreter to a dead
For one to make an association between God and the title character's name is completely
logical. In fact, in producing the completely obvious allusion, Beckett beckons the interpreter
to follow a path of religious symbolism. Throughout the play, references to Christianity are so
often mentioned that one can scarcely identify a religious undercurrent; the presence of
religion is not really below the surface. In the opening moments of the play, Vladimir asks
"Hope deferred make something sick, who said that?" (8A).The real quotation, "Hope
deferred maketh the heart sick," comes from Proverbs 13:12 of the Bible. Shortly after,
Vladimir asks if Estragon has ever read the Bible and continues on a discussion of the
Gospels, the "Saviour," and the two thieves surrounding Christ during the crucifixion (8B9B). By inserting religious discussions in the first few moments play, the playwright
encourages the interpreter to assume the play's themes are greatly connected with religion.
Then, when the discussion turns to Godot, Estragon associates their request from Godot with
"A kind of prayer" (13A). The connection between God and Godot is seemingly firmly
established, leaving room for a variety of interpretations. Vladimir and Estragon are the
faithful adherents to God, and wait for Him, or a messianic figure, to come. Perhaps Vladimir
and Estragon are representatives of hope by demonstrating unwavering faith to a God who
does not present himself or, on the other hand, are showing the folly of blind faith as
espoused by Beckett. Considering Lucky's burdens and suffering and his alteration on Jesus'
last words in his speech, "unfinished," he could be a Christ figure (29B). Pozzo could
represent the earthly form of a God that treats his adherents like he treats Lucky. The range of
possible religious interpretations is virtually endless.
In truth, the proponents of these interpretations have fallen victim to a ruse, for Godot does
not represent God. Considering that the work becomes nearly incomprehensible at times, one
finds the religious explanation too simple. If Beckett provides such clear references to
religion, it seems he would simply call his title character God. Furthermore, Beckett, himself,
has denied the existence of a key or myth to the play. The playwright did not produce
religious ambiguities because Godot represents God; the ambiguities themselves hold the true
significance. The word Godot is meaningless in itself, and those who associate the word with
religious themes are fooled by Beckett's language. The play leads some along a long and
tedious path of interpretation; ultimately, the path hits a dead-end. Language is not

synonymous with truth, and the interpreter emerges with nothing.

The meaninglessness of Godot is further explained through its connection to godillot or
Estragon's boots. The play begins as "Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off
his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As
before" (7A). When Godot is substituted for the boot, the meaning becomes obvious. The
interpreter struggles with the significance of the word, exhausts himself, and begins again.
Moments later, Estragon increases the level of intensity, tearing at the boot (7B). Finally,
Gogo "with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about
inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out,
finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him" (8A). After much work,
one can find the significance of Godot, and, just as Estragon announces, "There's nothing to
show" (8A). The meaning of Godot is non-existent, and the effort to find one is futile and
exhausting. No matter how many times one searches, one will not find significance in the
word. The action continues in the second act, when the two discover that Estragon's boots
have been changed. The two discuss the situation: "Estragon: Mine were black. These are
brown. Vladimir: You're sure yours were black? Estragon: Well they were a kind of gray.
Vladimir: And these are brown. Show. Estragon: Well they're kind of green (43B). The
conversation shows the utter meaninglessness of Godot. Gogo cannot even decide the true
color of either pair of boots. Every thought or action to discover the meaning of Godot is
ridiculous. The interpretations of the name vary, but, just as in the boots, there is nothing
inside. Whereas the boots in the first act were too tight, Estragon decides that these are "too
big" and concludes the discussion frustrated, saying, That's enough about these boots"
(45A). The search for meaning in Beckett's language is frustrating and futile, and, because
there is no real meaning to Godot, the interpreter can never get all the significance to come
together. An exact fit is impossible.
As the insignificance of Godot is established the lack of meaning expands to other names in
episodes with Pozzo. Pozzo, himself, affirms the lack of meaning in a name as he periodically
refers to "Godin . . . Godet . . . Godot . . . anyhow you see who I mean" (24A). He confuses
the name with other words and seemingly feels no real need to learn the right one. Regardless
of the language he uses, Vladimir and Estragon understand what he means. By correctly
naming Godot, Pozzo would give too much significance to the name. In refusing to even
regard the name as important, Pozzo communicates the misleading nature of Beckett's
language and acts appropriately. In addition, Vladimir and Estragon expand the scope of
meaninglessness to other names when Pozzo first meets the pair. Introducing himself, Pozzo
exclaims, "I am Pozzo!" and asks "I say does that name mean nothing to you?" (15B). The
name does, in fact, mean absolutely nothing. Just as Godot is meaningless, so are the play's
other names. Vladimir and Estragon continue to repeat the name Pozzo, while interchanging
it with Bozzo, and Vladimir concludes, "I once knew a family called Gozzo" (15B). The
insignificance of all the words comes to the fore. Pozzo, Bozzo, Gozzo, and Godot are
indistinguishable nonsense. When Vladimir and Estragon are referred to with their
nicknames, all five names of the play have two syllables and end in a vowel sound.
Furthermore, if the silent, final letter is removed from Godot, it appears as a mere variation of
Gogo and Didi as Godo. In this way, characters' names are reduced to incomprehensible
utterances that an infant might make. Beckett's language is totally separate from knowledge
or truth. His names cannot be distinguished from one another and are completely devoid of
any real meaning.
Godot, a meaningless word or mere sound, reveals the insignificance of all Beckett's

language. While the play contains obvious ambiguities into the word's meaning, they are all
for show. There is no real meaning. The interpretation of Godot's religious significance, while
this significance is clearly alluded to, leads to interpreter into a long, blind alley of
meaninglessness. Just as Estragon's boots contain nothing inside them, there is no central
meaning to the word Godot. Furthermore, this meaninglessness can be expanded to all of
Beckett's language; full of hints of a greater significance, language hides the triviality of all
things described. Only after this revelation can one finally get towards the central meaning of
Beckett's play; there is no meaning. His characters engage in ridiculous language to pass the
time and to "give [them] the impression [they] exist" (44B). Illusions of significance continue
throughout the play, but, in truth, the play comes from nothing and ultimately ends in
nothing. Beckett exposes the pitfalls of a language that attempts to create meaning when none
exists. Waiting for Godot is not a commentary on religion or really anything for that matter.
Its meaning comes in its meaninglessness. That is the play's greater truth.

With Beckett, theatre is already in its grave.

Pierre Marcabru, Arts Spectacles

Waiting for Godot is not a traditional allegory; its allusions and apparent symbols
like Kafkasdo not yield a single coherent explicable meaning, though their
resonance has evoked intriguing interpretations. Like Eliots fragments shored
against my ruins", Becketts allusions , including the plays many overt Christian
references (e.g., the crucified thieves, the sheep and goats), are shards of a culture,
used in the play for their suggestiveness but without exact allegorical equation .
Among readers and audience members, as among the characters whom Beckett

described as "non-knowers and non-can-ers", a disconcerting uncertainty about the

meaning of the play is a crucial part of the experience of Waiting for Godot and
any discussion of it.
Apart from the fact of the characters waiting and the occurrence of certain events
during that time (the duration of which is itself uncertain), the only certainty is that
any certainty about their plight is wrong. Accordingly, any interpretation that
purports to know who Godot is (or is not), whether he exists, whether he will ever
come, whether he has ever come, or even whether he may have come without
being recognised (or possibly in disguise) is, if not demonstrably wrong, at least
not demonstrably right. This principle of literary uncertainty, which Waiting for
Godot brought to the theatre for the first time, is no less revolutionary than its
counterpart in physics, discovered by Werner Heisenberg in 1927: The accuracy of
a measurement (i.e., an assessment of the play) is given by the uncertainty in the
result (i.e., in the interpretation), and the product of the combined uncertainties of
simultaneous measurements of (critical) positions and momentum accounts for the
seemingly endless variety of interpretations (those of Becketts play are second in
volume and diversity only to those of Hamlet).
Other familiar literary parallels and precedents for the seemingly unprecedented
aspects of Waiting for Godot [include the following]: The plays sere, evening
landscape, which obviously resembles that of Eliots "Waste Land", is
fundamentally similar to Matthew Arnolds "darkling plain" in "Dover Beach".
Though Becketts plain is peopled by an unknown " they " that administers beating
for unknown reasons rather than "ignorant armies [that] clash by night", it is also a
world that "[h]ath really neither joy, now love, nor light/Nor certitude, nor peace,
nor help for pain". Furthermore, Becketts emphasis on our inability to find a single
coherent meaning in experience is anticipated in The Rubiyt of Omar Khayym,
whose speaker seeks meaning and wisdom in life from "all the Saints and Sages
who discussed/Of the Two Worlds so wisely" but to no avail, as the speaker
nevertheless "came out the same door where in [he] went".
Ultimately, like Tolstoys Ivan Ilych, Becketts characters confront
"helplessness, . . . terrible loneliness, the cruelty of man, the cruelty of God and the
absence of God"arguably the five most profound and recurrent themes of
modern literature. The questions that Ivan Ilych asks resonate throughout Becketts
works as well: "Why hast Thou done all this? Why has Thou brought me here?
Why, why dost Thou torment me so terribly?" Yet, invariably, Becketts characters
do not weep, as Ivan Ilych does, "because there was no answer and could be none".
Instead, they persevere and endure, going on even when they seem last able to,
waiting and hoping, refusing to give in to the temptation of despair.
William Hutchings Waiting for Godot and the Principle of Uncertainty
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's
Waiting for Godot

What this new school of dramatists is telling us is that all the subjects which have
traditionally engaged the attention of practitioners of the art reversals of fortune,
fall of princes, star-crossed lovers, etc are superficialities, and that the real
subject for the playwright is the basic minimum of human life , something that is
not changed one jot by such trifles as jealousy or anger or lust.
Anthony Hartley
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian

Critical Response to Samuel Beckett

From Harold Clurmans review of Godot:

Complete disenchantment is at the heart of the play, but Beckett refuses to honour
this disenchantment by a serious demeanour. Since life is an incomprehensible
nullity enveloped by colourful patterns of fundamentally absurd and futile
activities (like a clowns habit clothing a corpse), it is proper that we pass our time
laughing at the spectacle.
We pass the time, Beckett tells us, waiting for a meaning that will save ussave us
from the pain, ugliness, emptiness of existence. Perhaps the meaning is God, but
we do not know Him. He is always promised us but he never recognisably
appears. Our life is thus a constant waiting , always essentially the same, till time
itself ceases to have significance or substance. "I cant go on like this" man forever
cries; to which the reply is "Thats what you think." "Whatll we do? Whatll we
do?" man repeatedly wails. The only answer givenapart from suicide, which is
reticently hinted atis to wait: "In the meantime let us try to converse calmly,
since we are incapable of keeping silent."
Art, someone has said, is the articulation of an experience. Becketts experience is
almost commonplace by now to the middle-class European intelligentsia and valid
by virtue of that fact aloneand his expression of it is sharply witty, inventive,
theatrically compact. (He even uses boredom as a means of entertainment.) Yet the
play may be said to be too long, too simple, too clear, too symmetrical a fairy tale,
because it is an abstraction. . . . In Waiting for Godot, almost everything is
named. When abstraction is so clear, our attention weakens. As soon as we
perceive the plays design everything else appears superogatory.
Beckett is what in modern times we call a genius: he has built a cosmos out of the
awareness of a passing moment. But what saves humanity is its mediocrity : its
persistence in becoming wholly involved in the trivia of day-to-day physical
concerns out of which arise all our struggles and aspirations, even to the most
exalted level. It is this "stupid" appetite for life , this crass identity with it, which is
its glory, sometimes called divine.
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian

Critical Response to Samuel Beckett

The play does not, as it progresses, create a context in which one can risk an
interpretation; its words and action do not grow "to something of great constancy";
and when pressed to tell what the play finally means, [one] may want to say with
Bert Lahr, who played Estragon in the first American production, "Damned if I
Brooks Atkinson, of the New York Times, . . . was disarmed by the play: "Waiting
for Godot is all feeling. Perhaps that is why it is puzzling and convincing at the
same time". Norman Mailer , apologising for an earlier attack on Godot, suggested
that Luckys speech "is the one strangled cry of active meaning in the whole
play, . . . a cry across the abyss from impotence to Apollo"; he added in
parenthesis, " I am not altogether unconvinced that Lucky himself may be
Godot it is, at the least, a possibility".
Brechts description of the alienation effect in Chinese acting helps explain the
way Godot works:
[T]he audience was hindered from simply identifying itself with the characters in
the play. Acceptance or rejection of their actions and utterances was meant to take
place on a conscious plane, instead of, as hitherto, in the audiences subconscious.
While certainly not a piece of epic theatre, Godot hold members of the audience at
a distance , insists throughout that they are watching a performance, and keeps
them continually struggling, "on a conscious plane", to make sense of what is
happening on the stage, of what is seen and heard.
"The "symbolism", said Jacques Audiberti in a review of the first Paris production,
"is optional" and, one might add, too easily detachable from the words and action
of the play, "but applause is obligatory".
Godot simultaneously demands that we interpret it and eludes all our efforts to do
so. The play leaves us with another uncertainty as well, as Beckett suggested in
one of his best-known comments on Godot: "There is a wonderful sentence in
Augustine. . . . Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume: one
of the thieves was damned." Like King Lear, Waiting for Godot ends in a
question. It asks not whether Godot will ever come but, more profound and
troubling, whether we live in a sane or a lunatic universe. The question can never
be answered, and yet, as Godot insists, it must always remain a question lest we
give way to the arrogant presumption of certitude or the debilitating despair of
Having shown how Waiting for Godot is life materialised, [one] can then discuss
other "matters" of literature and drama: literary allusions, the nuances of language,

rhetorical techniques, philosophical parallels, religious symbolism, lighting,

staging devices. Without first grounding the play in the readers experience,
however, all these interesting avenues into the text generally lead only to some
regurgitating of half-remembered answers . . . in other words, to Luckys
Michael J Collins Let's Contradict Each Other":
Responding to Godot
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's
Waiting for Godot

. . . Becketts writings , it might well be argued, are more than mere illustrations of
the point-of-view of existentialist philosophers like Heidegger and Sartre;
they constitute the culmination of existential thought itself, precisely because they
are free of any abstract concepts or general ideas, and thus escape the inner
contradiction of existentialist statements that are couched in the form of

In this respect, for instance, they are certainly superior to

those of Sartres works, in which the philosopher has followed
the logic of his own position to the point of putting his ideas
into the form of fiction or drama; and this is the case not only
because Becketts work is on a higher level of artistic
intensity and creativeness, but also because Sartres narrative
prose and theatre clearly bear the marks of having been
preconceived as an illustration of general concepts and are
therefore denied the profound immediate experiential validity
of Becketts writings. Becketts rigid avoidance of comments
on his work must be seen in this light, and the correctness, the
inevitability, of his position will be instantly recognised.
In the relentlessness of his self-denial, the purity of his
dedication to his chosen talk, Beckett is akin to Kafka and
Kierkegaard, who were equally committed to a life of the
most uncompromising self-examination. Indeed, it is from the
writings of Kierkegaard, the first and still incomparably
the greatest of the existentialist thinkers, that we can , as it
were, deduce the theoretical framework , the basic pattern that
Kierkegaard sketched out for himself and tried to live up to,
but which Beckett fulfills more radically, giving it a far more
satisfying artistic realisation.
. . . Of course, we must always keep in mind in pursuing these
fascinating correspondences and parallels that it is the shape
of the thought, the symmetry that matters, that such enquiries
must never rigidify into results in Kierkegaards
sense. . . . Luckys speech in Waiting for Godot, richly
interlarded with references to the results of numerous
authorities . . . is , among other things, a salutary warning
against, and savage parody of, the belief that the sum of
human wisdom, of "thinking", can be increased by citing the results of established
The so-called nihilism of Beckett . . . can thus be seen as no more than the
necessary outcome of Becketts refusal to deal in generalisations and abstract
truths. . . . The existential experience is thus felt as a succession of attempts to
give shape to the void ; when nothing can lay claim to final, definitive reality, we
enter a world of games, of arbitrary actions structures to give the illusion of reality.
So Vladimir and Estragon think up their ways to pass the time, . . .
. . . it is not the content of the work, not what is said, that matters in a writer of
Becketts stamp, but the quality of the experience that is communicated. To be in
communication with a mind of such merciless integrity, of such uncompromising

determination to face the stark reality of the human situation and to confront the
worst without even being in danger of yielding to any of the superficial
consolations that have clouded mans self-awareness in the past; to be in contact
with a human being utterly free from self-pity, utterly oblivious to the pitfalls of
vanity or self-glorification, even that most venial complacency of all, the illusion
of being able to lighten ones anguish by sharing it with others ; to see a long
figure, without hope of comfort, facing the great emptiness of space and time
without the possibility of miraculous rescue or salvation, in dignity , resolved to
fulfill its obligation to express its own predicament to partake of such courage
and noble stoicism , however remotely, cannot but evoke a feeling of emotional
excitement, exhilaration.
Martin Esslin Samuel Beckett

[In attempting to understand the play, we consider] the intellectual and artistic
climate of postwar Europe, the culmination of a centuries-long attack on Christian
and humanist notions of humanity as part of a divinely ordered creation with
established social and metaphysical definitions of meaning. We consider the
undermining of this worldview by the Enlightenment; by developments in science,
psychology, social science and philosophy; by industrialism and two world wars,
and by breakdowns in the conventions of artistic representation. We consider
philosophical existentialism as a reflection of this historical and cultural milieu: a
radical denial of external meaning, a philosophy of human abandonment in a world
where "existence precedes essence" (Sartre, Philosophy) . . . [and] the following
The poem of the mind in the act of finding
What will suffice. It has not always had
To find: the scene was set; it repeated what
Was in the script.
Then the theatre was changed
To something else. Its past was a souvenir.
. . . It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one.
(Wallace Stevens, "Of Modern Poetry")

A world that can be explained even with bad reasons is a familiar world. But,
on the other hand, in a universe suddenly divested of illusions and lights, man
feels an alien, a stranger. His exile is without remedy since he is deprived of
the memory of a lost home or the hope of a promised land. This divorce

between man and his life, the actor and his setting, is properly the feeling of
absurdity. (Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus)
As Alain Robbe-Grillet notes in an essay on Becketts drama, "The condition of
man, says Heidegger, is to be there. The theatre probably reproduces this situation
more naturally than any of the other ways of representing reality. The essential
thing about a character in a play is that he is on the scene: there."
. . . What is the experience of silence, of speechlessness? when one is alone? when
one is with others? What is the specific experience of theatrical silence, the quality
of being when a roomful of people sit without speaking? . . . [we attempt] to
uncover the particular fullness of theatrical silence, the anxiousness, even the
unbearableness of that stillness when language stops . . . the physiology of silence
the awareness of heartbeat and respiration, a heightened attentionand we note
an acute consciousness of those around us, that awkward and inescapable
proximity of others that silence heightens. We note the experience of self that
rushes in when the shield of language gives way, the "suffering of being" that
seems such an intrinsic part of self-consciousness, and we explore the urge to fill
this silence with thought, distraction, anything. During such and exercise, it
becomes clear that the theatre is (in Jean-Louis Barraults words) an "Art of
Sensation" and that Becketts drama explores the "mystery of Presence" that the
theatre shares with life. . . . It becomes clear, too, that the language games of
Becketts worldthe little cantersare responses to felt urgencies, ways of
shielding oneself from the nakedness of exposure. Viewed this way, language
in Waiting for Godot becomes a way of shaping silence, an almost sculptural act by
which the stillness of theatrical space is alternately contained and liberated. The
cross talk and routines, even Luckys torrential monologue, are seen as defensive
manoeuvres, against the perceptual weight of a silence that the audience is made to
share. Forced into an awareness of its own responses, Becketts audience listens,
"Not to the play, but to itself, expressed/In an emotion as of two people, as of
two/Emotions becoming one."
A tantalising gloss on the material "thereness" of Becketts world comes from
Chekhov, in a 1904 letter to Olga Knipper: "You ask: What is life? That is just the
same as asking: What is a carrot? A carrot is a carrot, and nothing more is known
about it".
Stanton B Garner, Jr Teaching the Theatre, Teaching Godot
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's
Waiting for Godot

On that cold day in January 1965 I went hopefully to Sloane Square, feeling as
though I was to be given a half-hour sance with Shakespeare or Racineanyone
who thinks this exaggerated should read George Devines account in Beckett at

Sixty: "To meet Samuel Beckett for the first time must be described as the
experience of a lifetime. . . . In that half-hour, I was in touch with all the great
streams of European thought and literature from Dante onwards . . . "
Colin Duckworth: Is Luckys speech intended to be a parody of the Joycean
SB: No
CD: Does Godot come in the interval?
SB: No
CD: Do you feel a desire for self-destruction in the face of the horrors of
the world?
SB: The autobiographical aspect is not in the least important in Godot. I
express no personal opinions in it.
CD: Is a Christian interpretation of the play justified?
SB: Yes, Christianity is a mythology with which I am perfectly familiar. So
naturally I use it.

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

. . . Godot [is] remarkable by the mere fact of being a popular play on an

unpopular theme. Its popularity is a smack in the face for all those who say that to
be a skillful playwright one must first be a "man of the theatre." As far as I know,
Mr Beckett may never have been backstage in his life until Godot was first
performed. Yet, this first play shows consummate stagecraft. Its author has
achieved a theoretical impossibilitya play in which nothing happens, that yet
keeps audiences glued to their seats. Whats more, since the second act is a subtly
different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.
. . . Godot makes fun even of despair. No further proof of Mr Becketts essential
Irishness is needed. He outdoes MM Sartre and Camus in skepticism, just as Swift
beat Voltaire at his own game. . . . About the only thing Godot shows consistent
respect for is the music-hall low-comedy tradition.
Vivian Mercier
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian

Critical Response to Samuel Beckett

. . . the play [is] both splendidly comic and unmitigatedly pessimistic. The piece is,
after all, a tragicomedy, and it deals with that "mysterious situation before which,
horrified, we laugh" (Sartre). Vladimirs emphasis on the story of the two thieves,
dwelling on its textual uncertainties, betrays his own conflicting hope and despair.
Becketts placement of this story early in the play indicates his authorial concern
with establishing immediately the theme of blighted hope, the tone of grieving
despair. The comic mode of delivery underscores the tragicomic nature of the play.

Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June

Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

. . . it is . . . significant that the first practitioners of the "Theatre of the Absurd"

came from among a category of people particularly intensely exposed to . . .
problems of loss and alienationexiles: Adamov, a Russian-Armenian; Ionesco, a
Romanian; Beckett, a Parisian Irishman; and Genet, an outcast of society
everywhere as a criminal and ex-male-prostitute.
. . . there is their shared basic attitude to the world and life: a recognition that any
certainties, any valid insights into the essential nature of the universe for the
purpose of human life on earth are beyond our reach, humankind being too shortlived, too limited in its perceptual apparatus and in its intellect ever to penetrate
these ultimate mysteries. Camus and Sartre, the creators of French postwar
existentialism, coined the phrase that summed up this recognition: what is beyond
explanation, inaccessible to any rational explanation or understanding must remain
"senseless" andin that special meaning of the word"absurd". Like the
protagonists of Waiting for Godot, all of us are uncertain about who we are and
how we got here. Being rational creatures, we think there must be a purpose in our
being here: we are all tending to wait for it to become clear to us, but that is an
illusion. We might as well make the best of our situation as it is and learn to live
within the limits of our understanding.
The recognition of the limitations of the range of our possible understanding of the
world is linked with an awareness of our isolation as individuals: communication is
difficult, if not impossible. We can never really know what other people feel, what
it is like to be another human being. All we have is our own sensual apparatus, and
that is limited, fallible, and subject to our individual moods. "Reality" is simply
what we experience, and we can never be quite sure whether what we experience is
dream, hallucination, wishful fantasy, or hard "reality", however that may be
defined. The plays of the "Theatre of the Absurd" thus tend to hover in a
borderland between dream and reality . . .
In a world so short of certainties, anything that smacks of too rational or logical
structures is suspect: plots with rigid motivational chains of cause and effect . . . so
does too firm a definition of character. If one believes, as Christians, do, that each
human soul was specially created by God and will retain its unique identity for all
eternity (whether in heaven or hell), character is a rigidly defined entity. To the
playwrights of the "Theatre of the Absurd", there are no such definitions. The self
itself is a mystery. We often experience ourselves as bundles of contradictory
tendencies, and we know that we change through time. . . . With plot and character
thus made more problematic, . . . we do never quite clearly know who the

characters really are or where they come from, and endings tend to be
Moreover, language itself, in the light of so much uncertainty, will be perceived as
being far from so unproblematic a medium of exchange and communication as it
appears in traditional realistic theatre. The characters talk to each other, but are
they really communicating? Or is language merely a form of reassurance that they
are still there, that some sort of contact is still in being?
In stressing the "absurdity" of human existence, its evanescence and nugatory
nature in the face of eternal mystery and the absence of a discernible purpose of
our lives, even the saddest events cannot be taken too seriously, mustin the face
of eternal darkness and the inevitability of deathappear as comic. The highest
form of laughter (the "risus purus" Beckett calls it in his early novel Watt) is the
laughter about human unhappiness.
Yet, ultimately, this tragicomic theatre is life-enhancing: for it tries to remind the
audience of the need to face human existence "knowing the worst", which
ultimately is a liberation, with the courage and the humility of not taking oneself
and ones own pains too seriously , and to bear all lifes mysteries and
uncertainties, and thus to make the best of what we have rather than to hanker after
illusory certainties and rewards.
Martin Esslin Beckett and the "Theatre of the Absurd"
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's
Waiting for Godot


. . . a letter I received from a doctor, who voiced such strong protest about the
possible dangerous effects of Becketts plays, that his warning should be quoted at
My daughter has to study En attendant Godot at her university and it profoundly
disturbs me that this sort of thing should be read by girls of 19. She referred me to
your very interesting introduction to the play which reveals an apparent
schizophrenic disorder in Godotstrikingly confirmed when one comes to read
the text. There is an excellent and clear account of Schizophrenia in a little text
book of Psychiatric Medicine by Curran and Gutmann; and the following features
are listed by Dr Curran:
1Nihilistic ideas
2De-personalisation=loss of sense of "self"
3De-realisation=loss of sense of reality

5Failure of communication
6Catatonia=spells of physical immobility, as at the end of Acts I and II
7Obscene outbursts
8Preoccupation with disorders of excretory functions
10Frenzied outbursts
11Periods of silence and inertia
12Neglect of personal hygiene
13Flight of ideas (e.g. Luckys speech)
14Word "salads", neologisms, auto-echolalia (Luckys speech)
15Polyvalent ambiguous symbolism, vague metaphysical ideas and religious
Godot is full of these things. It is interesting to note that Dr Curran mentions that
some schizophrenics are successful in the theatre, the audience relishing the
allusive odd style of talking.
I do not imply that Beckett himself suffers from the rather terrible disorder of
Schizophrenia, in spite of the unfortunate photograph published with the play, but
that he has learned to copy its mode of expression. There is certainly a grotesque
sense of the comic Godot but one would need the sort of literary equivalent of
coprophilia to find anything "beautiful" or "artistic" in it if these terms any longer
have meaning.
From a medical point of view it is my opinion that this sort of play (and I am sure
that Godot is far from being the worst of its genre) is dangerous to the immature
unstable youngsters that today seem to gain entrance to our "universities" if it
propagates an offensive noxious nihilistic anti-religious idea of life. Adherents of
this barren idea solace themselves with drugs, sex and uncouth behaviour, and
arrive at my Hospital Emergency Department poisoned or injured. They arrogantly
replace the splendid positive attitudes which produced the great art of Florence and
Venice with a series of boring platitudes . . . and wonder why they become
miserable. The Chinese call it "seeking the Sacred Emperor in the low-class tea
Somebody ought to make a study of the psychopathology of novels and plays
written since 1918; they are a mine of morbid introspection, nihilism, depression,
schizophrenic ideas etc. Freudian free-association and the use of eccentric imagery
and vague symbolism is commonplace to any doctor who has attended a
psychiatric clinic, but I can understand its apparent novelty to lay persons. It offers
an enormous and fascinating field of writing to those without much talent, being
very easy to acquire, dispensing with rules and therefore difficulties, and being
fashionable. . . . there is nothing clever about Beckett in thisI could do the same

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

Schizophrenia is such an important characteristic of Becketts heroes it is advisable

to discuss the main features of it here. The essential element is a withdrawal of
interest from the outside world and a concentration upon an inner world of
phantasy , but there are many concomitant symptoms and variations in the degree
of the malady.
In the catatonic form of the disease the patient is at times quite inert and seems in a
stupor, while at other times he makes extraordinary gestures or takes up bizarre
postures, or behaves in obviously maniacal ways, perhaps attempting suicide or
homicide. Paranoic patients suffer from delusions of persecution or grandeur , hear
inner voices and sometimes have visual hallucinations. The distinction between
catatonic and paranoiac forms is perhaps rather one of clinical convenience than
anything fundamental, since as the malady progresses it tends to include some
symptoms of both types.
But there is one important and general feature, namely the poverty of the patients
emotional life ; he seems to have no affection for anyone, and this trait is usually
shown quite early in the course of the psychosis, or even before it is
established. The patient, in Freudian terminology, has withdrawn his libido from
people to concentrate it narcissistically on his own ego. This feature is
characteristic of the Beckett "heroes".
When living in London (1933-35) [Beckett] visited the Bethlem Royal Hospital
with a doctor friend who worked there; presumably this visit arose because he was
already interested in psychotics, and doubtless he learned much both from
observation and from discussion with the doctor.
More important than this, however must have been his earlier acquaintance with
the Joyce family . . . the daughter, Lucia, [who] fell rather violently in love with
Beckett, . . . [and] who was talented in music, dancing and painting, had seemed
even in her teens to be odd and rather unbalanced, . . . One day in 1932 (aged
twenty-five) she attacked her mother in an obviously psychotic outburst, and had to
be put into a sanatorium. . . . Not very long after this she fell into a catatonic stupor
and was diagnosed as a schizophrenic case. . . . It is hardly surprising that Beckett
should have become interested in the symptoms of schizophrenia . . .
But thoughts the slave of life, and lifes times fool;
And time, that takes survey of all the world,
Must have a stop.
Henry IV, Part I, V, iv

. . . in Waiting for Godot . . . he seems to be treating simultaneously on the stage the two basic
selves of the split mind, the inner-self and the pseudo-self, embodied in a pair of characters
whose inter-relationship is ambivalent , being based on mutual antagonism and mutual
dependence. Though constantly at loggerheads they are at bottom "like to a double cherry,
seeming parted, but yet an union in partition."
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

If we stand back from the play and try to see it whole, we can read it as a parable that points
into the philosophical domain. It is the parable of Two Tramps Waiting, in which waiting is
the ontological position of humankind. Like a New Testament parable, Godot reveals the
situation of the human being sub specie aeternitatis.
That the tramps represent all humanity is clear not so much from what they say (" all
mankind is us ", which might only be a convenient aphorism and must anyway be unreliable)
as from their unexplained, provisional and vulnerable status. They are human beings in a
classic allegorical position, on a road. Unlike Bunyans Christian, however, they are not on a
journey, instead they have nowhere to go. They are not travelling, but waitingGodot has
achieved almost mythic status as the waiting play. Sartre best expresses the meaningful side
of the parable when he deals with waiting in Being and Nothingness.
Everything in the play is subsumed under the heading of waiting. Luckys speech, for
instance, is at first waited for as if it might reveal something important: when he is ordered to
speak. Vladimir and Estragon are at once "all attention ". But when nothing is revealed,
Vladimir and Estragon "protest violently" and then fall on Lucky, punishing him, surely, for
his failure to deliver what they have been waiting for. Pozzo waits to sell Lucky but is unable
to do so. He waits for illumination, but he goes blind. Pozzo falls and waits for help to get up;
the tramps assist him only because it is dramatically necessary that they are alone onstage at
the end of the play. As soon as they get him off the stage, he collapses again.
In Being and Nothingness, Sartre describes the limitations that freedom imposes on freedom:
we freely choose to do something in the present, but the meaning of this choice will only
become apparent in the future when, by another free choice, we confirm or deny what we
thought we were about. Adolescents going through a religious phase may grow into adults
who look back at that time when they were "passing through a crisis of puberty";
alternatively, they may "engage . . . in earnest in the way of devotion", in which case they will
see their adolescent faith as the first step on the ladder of perfection. Only the future, then,
allows us to know what the present is, but by the time we reach the future, the present will, of
course, be the past. This predicament, says Sartre, creates the "necessity for us to wait for
ourselves. Our life is only a long waiting: first a waiting for the realisation of our ends . . .
and especially a waiting for ourselves". According to Sartre, people are human to the extent
that they "temporalise" or tell stories about themselves. "Thus it is necessary to consider our
life as being made up not only of waitings but of waitings which themselves wait for
waitings". For Sartre, human beings can never catch up with themselves or be in any final or
satisfying way. They are forever engaged in playing provisional rles, in expectation of
becoming fulfilled.

Such a chain of thought inevitably pushes us forward to the end of life:

These waitings evidently all include a reference to a final term which would be waited
for without waiting for anything more. A repose which would be being and no longer a
waiting for being. The whole series is suspended from this final term which on principle is
never given and which is the value of our being. (Being and Nothingness)
This "final term", for Sartre, if it ever came, would be God.
Or Godot. Vladimir and Estragon (and all humankind) wait for a final term from which they
are quite obviously suspended (they are "hanging around", as we say). Were Godot to come,
they would know the meaning of their lives, but he is ("on principle") never given. Godot
does not come in the play not because he has better things to do but because by not coming
he forces the tramps into the Sartrean position of waiting, that is, into an allegorical version
of human life itself.
The pretense that Godot can come is analogous to the creation by human beings of an
imaginary telos, a god who will at the end of time explain, adjust and fulfill all. It is not just a
question of the simple equation Godot=God, there is no God so there is no Godot; such an
emptiness could perhaps be filled by a robust atheist humanism. Beckett clearly wants to
avoid that path. Why? It can only be that his system of mathematics is different. For Beckett,
as for Sartre, human beings are condemned to a life of waiting for a telos that, be definition,
would be God if it came but that, also by definition, could not come without turning human
beings into something that was not human. To be human is to wait for what cannot come.
Suicide, then, is beside the point. It assumes that the problems in the play are problems within
the world. Becketts concern, rather, is with the nature of the world itself, its condition of
existence, which is Sartrean in the sense that there can be no world at all, no question of
suicide, for instance, except on the basis of a human reality that exists only in a state of
expectation, never in a state of fulfillment. Vladimir and Estragon would solve nothing by
hanging themselves because, paradoxically, the only meaning they can have is the provisional
Sartrean meaning that lies in the ever-deferred hope of present expectation(although "hope
deferred maketh the something sick", we remember). Death is not God or Godot; death
finally removes the possibility of even provisional meaning from life: "If I am a waiting for
waitings for waiting and if suddenly the object of my final waiting and the one who awaits it
are suppressed, the waiting takes on retrospectively the character of absurdity" (Sartre, Being
and Nothingness). There lies the trap, Sartres and Becketts: there is an absurdity in life,
which is waiting for that which never comes, and an absurdity in death, which cancels even
the possibility of waiting for what never comes.
Lance St John Butler Waiting for Godot and Philosophy from June Schlueter
and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Becketts choice of French as his medium is unique. Political or geographical necessities have
often compelled writers to abandon their native languages, and a desire to imitate the classics
prompted many English poets to turn their classical education into a reality.

Becketts decision, however, differs in purpose from all the accepted reasons. It seems to
have been both voluntary and a necessity: voluntary because the decision was made without
impersonal pressure, a necessity because it was urged by one of the frequent impasses at
which his art arrives. Moreover the transition from English to French was made feasible by
Becketts self-imposed exile in France. In this he deliberately chose the condition of his early
exemplars, Joyce and Dante, and it is not likely that he was unaware of its effect on the artist.
For exile forces writers to consolidate a vision of the world and to attempt to give the latter
total expression in their works.
In Becketts case . . . his adopted language proved more tractable and assisted in the creation
of his vision which became at once more complete and incisive than it had been in the
English novels. In French his hero discovers his true accent and assumes a universal
significance; . . . This achievement was doubly unique because it involves not only the use of
French but also the arduous process or retranslation into the authors native tongue.
. . . As a language English is more prone than most to diversions of meaning: its power of
suggestion far exceeds the more explicit French. Moreover in the writers native tongue
assimilated, concealed meanings are more difficult to discern than in the rational process of
using a learnt language. The use of French, therefore, helps Beckett to maintain the tension
on which his writing depends . . .
In French Beckett creates another literary personality, one who is able at times to separate
himself from the tissue of implied meanings within the words. The tone now suggests
fragments brought back from the edge of experience. The comparative certainty of the thirdperson narrative is replaced by the pained and worried first-person whose monologue is
broken into breath pause and articulatory emphasis by the obsessive comma.
When asked about the contradiction which must exist if one continues to write under the
conviction that language cannot convey a meaning, Beckett replied, "Que voulez-vous,
Monsieur? Cest les mots; on na rien dautre." [What do you want? They are words, we
have nothing else.]
In the theater, or at least in the theatrical tradition with which Beckett aligns himself,
language is only one vehicle among many and not the most important. The total meaning of a
performance includes mime, silence, decor and above all action, that which is actually seen to
take place by an audience.
This promises a firmer reality than a subjective monologue written and read in isolation:
perhaps on the stage the reality behind the words may be revealed by the action which often
contradicts their literal meaning. For example:
Well? shall we go?
V : Yes, lets go.
They do not move.

The theatre allows Beckett a double freedom; the opportunity to explore the blank spaces
between the words and the ability to provide visual evidence of the untrustworthiness of
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


The superficial comedy of the play which provokes in us an initial laughter is abruptly
corrected by our sudden recognition of the potential tragedy in the human situation as it is
portrayed here. However, there is every likelihood that the play comes full circle, so that
though we may not realise it, we are perhaps called upon to laugh at things we do not usually
laugh at. What may be appropriate here is the dianoetic laughter (the mirthless, the sardonic
laugh) which comes with the recognition of an absurdity which overrides the tragedy in the
human condition.
In other words, it is not so much a question of whether we have here a tragedy or a comedy
but rather that a unilateral response to En attendant Godot is not appropriate. We, the
audience, do not readily make this third step which would complete the cycle of responses
from comedy to tragedy to comedy, but it is likely that Beckett himself has made the
necessary transitions. He may then laugh not only at the characters in his play but at us when
we "weep" for them.
If, then, Beckett views this tragic plight with which we tend to sympathise as ultimately
comic, his opinion of man is indeed pessimistic and raises the question as to what his artistic
ends may be. Again conventional answers, such as catharsis, punishment through ridicule,
and so forth, are unacceptable.
Just how Beckett views art can be discerned to some extent from the play itself. We find
evidence here (as in his other writings) that art may constitute a diversion, however
momentary, from the tedium and the ennui of existence, as it may also deter withdrawal. If
this is the case, then we are confronted with a paradox, and Beckett may be as much against
as for art.

That aspect of comedy . . . is conventional in nature, having its origins in commedia dell-arte,
pantomime and vaudeville traditions. Comic devices belonging in this category include
physical comedy found in such things as falling and stumbling, and in the voyeurism of
Estragon. On a somewhat higher level, we have linguistic comedy coming from puns,
misunderstandings, scatalogical word play and from ceremonial and ritualistic uses of
language. . . .
. . . What we are laughing at here is for the most part limitations in both the physical and
intellectual domains. Our laughter in these cases may be classified as social because we are in
agreement concerning the subject for laughter.
However in Godot the superficial comedy is extended to grotesque exaggerations. These
appear in the egotism of the characters, especially the pompousness and platitudinousness of
Pozzo, as well as his mistreatment of Lucky. They can also be observed in the macabre
appearance of Lucky, and in the frenzied pace of games with which Estragon and Vladimir
intend to cope with the ever-present ennui. This grotesqueness underlying the superficial
comedy leads us , whether correctly or incorrectly, to the tragic mode.
. . . the tragic element . . . has been called an anti-play , on the grounds that it has no character
development and no plot. . . . This is true because insofar as there are no events
in Godot there can be no possibility of an outcome, no tragic recognition and no
transcendence. In addition, we have in this play stylisation or character "types" without any
clear identity. There is no development of the characters, no evolution, and indeed, if
anything, a declension. This, of course, is to be expected, in view of the fact that these men
are victims of their habits and are thus incapable of voluntary change. In fact, no one of the
men can be designated as the tragic hero who falls (conventionally from great heights), and
there is thus no sublimity involved.
Although in Godot there is no delving into individual psychological makeup of the four
characters, they are psychological types. Furthermore, collectively these characters represent
universal man. We do not identify with any one of the characters as we would do with a tragic
hero, but rather with the general human situation as well as with the particular situation in
which each character finds himself.
While in the case of the tragic hero we identify with his exceptional and his uncompromising
nature, we recognise in these four men another side of ourselves, that side which is all too
willing to compromise. The characters of Godot compromise not only with each other but
also with their situation, and this is in part why the play can be called an ultra-modern
tragedy. That is to say we do not have a catastrophe or some tragic condition which has been
brought about through tragic error; it is mans situation itself, neither remediable nor
provoked by human manipulations, which is tragic.
The play, then, is tragic in the sense that it portrays man as a victim of himself, a victim of his
own finite nature. It is a tragedy portraying the limitations of reason as well as of
imagination. It is deterministic, showing that the will is limited and yet capable of putting
man in a position of willful false optimism if not a willful lack of preoccupation with the
tragic elements of his existence. Instead, the characters, who are bound to the realm of
forfeiture described by Heidegger, are preoccupied only with trivia . . .

Mans tragedy as seen here has, in fact, a double sourcean internal one arising from his
finite nature and an external one in which that nature collides with the cosmos. In En
attendant Godot we have horror without exaltation. Our reaction to the scene that unfolds
before us is one of horror and despair. We sympathise, whether rightly or wrongly, with the
characters, who may also have a feeling of horror and despair, although with them it must be
considered largely subconscious.
Be that as it may, by the close of the play we feel the despair and ennui of existence; we are
made mindful of the foolishness of all activity between birth and death. What is proposed is a
tendency toward death in the form of absolutes, of withdrawal, of a denial of life.
The central irony of all this is that while the compromises depicted result in absurdity through
their imprisoning consequences, correctives such as withdrawal result in absurdity through
their freedom. And this freedom must be viewed as paradoxical freedom because it represents
life apart from life, a kind of death in life. It is freedom which is isolationist and nihilistic,
freedom without responsibility.
. . . Just as we have superficial comedy, so also do we have physical suffering, the most
elementary kind of suffering. Estragons feet hurts; he is hungry; he receives beatings during
the night. Because of his condition, Vladimir cannot laugh but only smile (thus physical
suffering may hamper the comic response), and he must urinate frequently (a source of
amusement to Estragon).
On the other hand, while Lucky does not in any way shows signs of resentment over the
physical abuse heaped upon him, he experiences anguish on another level when Pozzo
threatens to get rid of him. However, from Pozzos point of view, whatever sorrow Lucky
feels over this is short-lived. Indeed, as far as Pozzo is concerned, all states of suffering are
momentary, and life is perpetually tossed between the tragic and the comic. He says, "the
tears of the world are a constant quantity . For each one who begins to weep somewhere else
another stops. The same is true of the laugh." This contention seems to be borne out in the
play by the fact that whatever spiritual anguish the characters experience appears to be of a
fleeting nature. . . . They are creatures who are willfully avoiding the basic issues of despair
and death, and it is not unreasonable to think that Beckett views them as non-tragic because
they do not suffer to any significant degree.
Indeed, upon close scrutiny we discover that the nihilism, the ironies, the ambiguities
portrayed in the play are probably not tragic in the eyes of Beckett, but, rather, comic in a
very special way. One might imagine Beckett is here indulging in what is . . . "the laugh of
laughs . . . the laugh laughing at the laugh, the beholding, the saluting of the highest joke, in a
word, the laugh that laughs silence please at that which is unhappy ."
This laughter , which is sardonic and mirthless, compounds the horror of the play by laughing
at what is essentially evil, the metaphysical condition of man as demonstrated through his
many limitations. Such laughter is basically non-social in nature. In conventional comedy the
main character is ridiculed, . . .however, in Godot Beckett is not ridiculing but mocking the
main characters, who is, in reality, a composite of all four characters. That is to
say, universal man is being mocked in this play.
The majority of us are too involved with the tragic elements to have proper perspective.
Perhaps we also have habits in our concepts of tragedy and comedy which keep us from the

greater suffering which comes from seeing humour in that which is unhappy. We are tempted
to sympathise with the characters, or else with their situation, when we should perhaps be
holding it in disdain. This is in part why we, the audience, are viewed as being dead. . . .
As Beckett himself writes , "Either we speak and act for ourselvesin which case speech and
action are distorted and emptied of their meaning by an intelligence that is not ours, or else
we speak and act for others in which case we speak and act a lie." . . . [This is] the
recognition that language inescapably separates a person from himself as well as from
others . . . [which reflects] the desire of the literary artist to create the "perfect" work of art, a
desire to make a full artistic and intellectual statement, but a desire which can, or course,
never be fulfilled.
This ideal work of art is Becketts Godot, which he hopes for but can never attain, for he must
necessarily distort his vision, whether he attempt to formulate it through language, with all its
limitations, or through the mime, which, though less confining in one sense, is more so in
another. The irony here is that Beckett knows that he cannot get at the perfect, undistorted art
work and yet he continues to try because he must. Is his compulsion partially grounded in
habit like the compulsions of Vladimir and Estragon?
Although Beckett writes that "suffering opens a window on the real and is the main condition
of the artistic experience", in Godot we find Estragon unable to transcend his existence,
unable to appreciate things external to himself (such as the landscape), unwilling to grasp
nuancesall of which things would be necessary for the appreciation or creation of art. His
boredom"Boredom that must be considered as the most tolerable because the most durable
of human evils"obviates the possibility of an aesthetic experience.
The audience too is brought into the realm of the play . . . in Act I the audience is viewed as
a bog hence, like Estragon who says he is sunk in the mire and sand, it is unable to grasp
the full intellectual and aesthetic portent of the play. Furthermore, in Act II the audience is
viewed as being dead , hence beyond hope of being reached by the artist.
It is precisely because the destructive forces of the twentieth century have given the lie to
progress, reason, stability, perfectibility and simplicity that Beckett subscribes to none of
them and his writing is as it is.The one fundamental behind all of Becketts work is the
ancient tragic knowledge which has been revived by the absurd, of mans solitude,
imprisonment and pain in an intolerable universe that is indifferent to this suffering.
The world in which Beckett begins to write is without unity, clarity, rationality or hope, and
where man, absurdly conscious that he is conscious and bound to die, feels himself alone and
a stranger in a place which itself will one day cease to exist. The conflict between the worlds
irrationality and mans hopeless desire for unity is most acute in the artist who, having once
believed in his near omnipotence is now forced to recognise his almost total impotence.
Yet there remains the right to fail. Creating, or not creating, changes nothing, and the words
which are written will remain at best, only a hesitant approximation of those finer words
which, if they do exist, continue to elude his need.
But if he persists in this endeavour which he knows to be futile he will have sustained his
consciousness in the face of the universe and its absurdity. The artist is his own clown. For

him too, his perseverance is his dignity and his failure the emblem of his unextinguished
revolt. For Beckett it is the writing, not the writer nor the reader, that ultimately matters:
a cause which, while having need of us to be accomplished, was in its essence anonymous,
and would subsist, haunting the minds of men, when its miserable artisans should be no
Ramona Cormier and Janis L Pallister
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian Critical Response to Samuel Beckett

Beckett in interview:

I speak of an art . . . weary of puny exploits, weary of pretending to be able, of being able, of
doing a little better the same old thing, of going a little further along a dreary road.
And preferring what?
The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from
which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to
The kind of work I do is one in which Im not master of my material. The more Joyce knew
the more he could. Hes tending toward omniscience and omnipotence as an artist. Im
working with impotence, ignorance. I dont think impotence has been exploited in the past.
Kevin J H Dettmar Waiting for Godot and Critical Theory from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

In an essay on Beckett Alan Schneider relates an "apocryphal story about Sams next play":
"Untitled, of course. In two acts, the usual pause between. In the first act, the curtain rises on
a bare stage. No actors, of either sex. Runs about half an hour. In the second act, the curtain
doesnt rise at all; but its a very short act."
Lois Oppenheim Directing Beckett

From Becketts obituary

The most evident social trend of the 20th century has been consolidation multinationalised
business, globalised politics, homogenised cultures. Amid this bustling bigness and
togetherness has been heard a persistent cry of smallness and aloneness , a sense that
comforting certainties are being stripped away and each individual left isolated with nameless
terrors, deterioration and death.

. . . Beckett regarded himself as a sort of historian, a chronicler of misbegotten times. "I

didnt invent this buzzing confusion," he said. "Its all around us, and . . . the only chance of
renewal is to open our eyes and see the mess." Yet he had nothing of the reformer, no impulse
toward public life.
. . . [a] real-life influence on Becketts work . . . came in 1938. As Beckett walked along a
Paris street, a panhandler stabbed him in the chest, perforating a lung and narrowly missing
the heart. When Beckett later asked why the attack happened, the assailant replied, "I dont
know, sir." That glimpse of the random perils of existence may be confirmed Becketts dark
vision but did not initiate it.
. . . Becketts life and work taught others the lesson he said he learned from Joyce: the
meaning of artistic integrity. His vision never yielded. Even on a sunny day in London, as he
strolled through a park in evident pleasure, when a friend remarked that it was a day that
made one glad to be alive, Beckett turned and said, "I wouldnt go that far."
[Time Magazine, 8 January 1990]

. . . Finally, and fundamental to all Becketts works, there is his compassion; an intense and
moving regard for mans condition in this world from which meaning is withheld and
mortality "a long days dying" the one certainty. In Godot the tree flowers between the
acts but Godot still does not come. Pozzo goes blind, Lucky dumb, things human decay and
Luckys famous speech of the first act is realised. This speech is a lament for:
"man in short or man in brief [who] wastes and pines . . . abandoned . . . and . . . for reasons
unknown [continues] to shrink and dwindle [into] the great cold the great dark the air and the
earth abode of stones in the great cold alas alas . . . "
It is in this that the universality of Becketts writing lies, and the haunting, poetically resonant
language of such passages is the flowering of his futile yet continual revolt against the whole
idea of mortality, . . . His writing in this dimension does not make any ultimate pretensions
for our existence or attempt to provide a final answer.
Instead he speaks of the heroic absurdity of human endeavour in the fact of death , a subject
which always leads to his most sustained passages of poetic prose filled with a basic imagery
and emotion yet all the more powerful for their constraint within a form that is classical in its
This revolt . . . . is against the intolerable imprisonment of man within the determination of
cause and effect , of beginning and ending, of being obliged to end because something else is
beginning or begin because something else is ending in the transient course of life. At its
most basic it is a revolt against the meaningless limitations and compulsions of birth and
death, and the universe which imposes such conditions on man can never be accepted even if
the earth is neutral. As Beckett writes . . . in what might be taken as an epigraph for all his
work, the superb and enigmatic comment: "the whisky bears a grudge against the decanter."
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


Of course, personally, I dont usually like those quiet moments,
you know.
I really dont.
I mean, I dont know if its that Freudian thing or what
I mean, a
fear of unconscious impulses or my own aggression orI mean, if things get
quiet, you know, and as we were saying, I find myself just sitting there,
Im by myself , or Im with somebody else, well, I just have this feeling
of, My God,
Im going to be revealed.
I mean, Im adequate to do any sort of task,
you know,
but Im not adequate just to be a human being.
I mean, Im notyou know,
I mean,
if Im just trapped there and Im not allowed to do things, but I justall
I can do is
just be thereI will fail. . . .
. . . it isnt really that strange, Wally.
I mean, after all,
there are some pretty
good reasons for being frightened, because first of all a human being is a
dangerous and
complex creature.
I mean, really, if you start living each momentChrist,
quite a challenge.
I mean, if you really reach out and youre really in
touch with
[an]other person . . . the closer you come, the more really completely
that person becomes, and the more unreachable.
Because were ghosts.
phantoms. Who are we?
And thats to face, to confront the fact that youre completely
alone, and to accept
that youre alone is to accept death.
You mean, because somehow when you are alone youre alone with
Nothings obstructing your view of it, or something like that.
If I understood it correctly, I think Heidegger said that if you
were to experience
your own being to the full, you would be experiencing the decay of that
toward death as part of your experience.

Heidegger stated the theme clearly: "As soon as a man is born, he is old enough to

Godot, the drama of non-communication, depends upon the tension that it may not
always be so, that something valid will be said that will release the waiting tramps
perhaps through the intervention of Godot himself. This situation is essentially
dramatic for through their demands on each other the characters exist in conflict.

The pairs in the plays, Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky . . . are firmly
bound to one another, and their relationships are complex. At times the eternal
couple, tormenting and tormented, they show at others a moving tenderness and
compassion. They are brought together by solitude even the overlord Pozzo
needs companionship: "I cannot go for long without the society of my likes "
only to find themselves imprisoned in a mutual dependency they would desperately
like to break.
In . . . the first mention Godot receives, the music hall technique not only fixes the
audience within the evenings entertainment but also in the universal state of
waiting outside the theatre which the play reflects.Vladimirs "we" applies to the
audience and actors alike (in the French text the sentence "On attend Godot" is
more inclusive) and establishes them both, at the beginning, in the same anguished
condition. Not to realise this shared predicament, which the tramps commentary
on the action reveals, is to limit and endanger the comprehensive meaning and
image of the play. There is no escape. The tramps remind the audience that what
they are seeing tonight is not unique; that a performance was also enacted here last
night:" What did we do yesterday ? In my opinion we were here", and that
tonights entertainment is not the last.
Each night they begin again, attempt again and repeat again the failure of tonight, a
failure that cannot be dismissed as a mere entertainment for it has the reality of
life. And this reality is not conveyed as a photographically accurate representation
of life but within the nature of the performance itself. Not only are the tramps here
every night, an audienceany audience, it does not matterchooses to join them
and so wait for their time to pass.
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead

For certain people, Waiting for Godot is a fantastical drama. It is for them a play
that is curious, obscure, uprooted from life, arbitrary, strange, capricious. Maybe
also a posthumous secretion of "surrealism". Maybe also an obscure illustation for
an extravagant philosophy of existence. Maybe finally the pure objectification of
delirium. It becomes thus, for the audience, a drama that has nothing to do with
their lives, with their commute to work, with their office, with their conversations.
Waiting for Godot is for them a sort of bizarre animal in the theatre; like the
dramatisation of a dream or a magical experience. For others, they are up against
something worse: facing a hallucination or a work conceived during a psychotic
episode, or simply the jeering speculation of an author who tried to shock nave
men. At any rate, "this" is something that "doesnt concern us", or that, at least,
"shouldnt upset us too much" . We can put our hands in our pockets and whistle.

Alfonso Sastre Avant-garde et Ralit

Apart from young people, there is one other social group whose lack of ingrained
theatrical expectations left them wide open to the impact of a Beckett play: longterm convicts. . . . [Consider] the reaction of fourteen hundred convicts in San
Quentin penitentiary when they saw Godot in 1957. They wrote a series of articles
in their prison newspaper showing how the play had expressed their own
situation by virtue of the fact that its author expected each spectator to draw his
own conclusions. . . . The following year some prisoners put on their own
production of Waiting for Godot, and from that a Drama Society flourished in the
prison. It was so successful that in 1970 they had written a play and had been
paroled in order to tour the United States with it.
. . . A common factor in all of Becketts dramas is that the figures portrayed are all
imprisoned. Some can move away for a short time, in a restricted area, but they are
all quite incapable of extended mobility; which forces our attention upon the extent
to which we normally depend on mobilityboth in life and in literature. Mobility
offers the chance of escape from an undesirable situation , and the possibility of
communication with other beings outside our immediate vicinity. Without mobility
we are reduced to a vegetative, passive existence. But we are mobile, are we
not? . . . On the other hand, our area of choice is strictly limited by time and space .
Man is limited by his achievement, he will never reach infinity. Perhaps too within
one step of infinity, but never there. Man is imprisoned within his life-span, but for
Beckett it is not so simple as it is for those who believe there is an end to it. Most
of us cling to the idea of continuation or resurrection of identity, but supposing this
means going on for ever? Will not the end be increasingly desired as it draws near?
Shall we not long to be freed into a state of blessed nothingness? This depends on
the quality of the existence in store for us, and about this we are mercifully
ignorant, although we may entertain private hopes.
Beckett represents for us , in many varied images and forms, the imprisonment of
the human consciousness within the bounds of infinity and eternity not very
promising ground, on the face of it, for fiction and drama. He has faced the
challenge of the intransigent nature of the subject by scaling down the dimensions
of the problem without changing its fundamental elements. He shows us human
destiny in an accelerated, concentrated form, and he manages to remain amusing
and compassionate while he is doing it. The vision is dark, but laughter lends
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

. . . an important tendency in Beckettto merge all the tenses in to a continuous

present. The immediate experience is shown to be the same as past experiences,
and memories of the past are constantly recurring in the present.
. . . There is no development in Becketts plays because, according to him,
development is impossible. Any indications of it are illusory. This is why the total
action of his plays goes not farther than the basic situation. Both action and
situation can be summed up in the same present participle: two tramps waiting for
a Messiah; a master and his servant waiting for the end; . . . The preoccupation
with time is constantit would be hard to count the number of times that the word
"time" is mentioned in Waiting for Godot. . . . In fact that is exactly what Waiting
for Godot is, a humorous lament for the failure of the finite self to make contact
with the Other, the witness that is outside space and time.
. . . One commentator has suggested that it is through meeting Vladimir and
Estragon that Pozzo loses his contact with time. Certainly his attitude to it changes
during the course of the action.
. . . The three constant, contradictory complaints in Becketts work are that time
doesnt pass at all but stays around us, like a continuum, that it passes too slowly,
and that too much of it passes.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett

. . . In Waiting for Godot . . . silences are an undercurrent of every dramatic

situation, but they become a pattern of gaps almost visible to the audience when
the messenger from Godot arrives for the second time. . . . The words are an echo
poised uncomfortably on the silence which may contain either the truth or the
. . . the relevance of Jung to Waiting for Godot is brought out by the story he tells
of an uncle of his who stopped him in the street one day and asked him, "do you
know how the devil tortures the souls in hell? . . . He keeps them waiting."
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

. . . Purgatory seems to be another theological concept that Beckett has found

extremely useful for structural purposes. It formed no part of the Protestant
tradition in which he grew up; he may have heard of it first as a doctrine disputed

by Protestants, but clearly it was when he came to read Dante that it captured his
. . . According to Christian theologians, a place of eternal torment is properly called
Hell. In Becketts Purgatory , however, . . . we face something worse than pain or
penalty: the meaninglessness of a kitten chasing its tail. Hell is at least part of
Gods plan and He knows what goes on there, . . . my own severest criticism of
Becketts oeuvre is based not on its pessimism but on its proneness to self-pity,
even though that self-pity is of a very special kind, expressed by his characters on
behalf of the human race. It is more than a joke when Didi and Gogo insist that
their sufferings are greater than Christs because "where he lived it was warm, it
was dry! . . . Yes. And they crucified quick."
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

The presence and the immanence of the most fugitive character in modern theatre
must be felt on the stage throughout the play; he is as real and present as the void
he inhabits. Lamentations 3:26 may outline the fundamental dramatic situation
of Godot: "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation
of the Lord" ; but in Romans 8:24-25 we learn the function of absence: "For we are
saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he
yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for
The tramps suffering is spiritual and physical. Psalm 40 begins, "I waited patiently
for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He drew me up from the
desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps
secure." The fulfillment of that prophecy in the New Testament was the rock,
Simon Peter, the foundation of the Christian church and the first in line of the
apostolic succession. Beckett parodies this imagery in the iconography of the stage
and in the imagery of Luckys speech where the labours of two rocks, Steinweg
("stone road" in German) and Peterman (Rockman) are lost. The rock on which the
hope of the world was to be built has become a wasteland. In the third section of
Luckys speech, the theme "earth abode of stones" is repeated four times and
alluded to at least twice more. The phenomenal stone we see onstage is the one on
which Estragon rests to relieve the suffering not of his soul but of his feet, of
which, like the two thieves, one is damned, the other saved. The play is built
around such simultaneity of echoes and opposites, such dialectical tensions, . . .
The very physically present Vladimir and Estragon may be the issue of a dreaming
mind. The very absent Godot must be as present as the tree.
S E Gontarski "Dealing with a Given Space": Waiting for Godot and the
Stage from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching
Beckett's Waiting for Godot

The passing of time for Becketts clowns is the passing of time for the audience as
well. A friend who had directed Godot once speculated that in coming to the play
as audience, we only do what Vladimir and Estragon do without knowing it; we
also participate in a process, and if Godot fails to come for the pathetic specimens
of humanity represented onstage, he also fails for the specimens offstage as
well. Our own search in life (or in attending the play) for meaning or, barring that,
at least for entertainment, is identical with that of the unworthies before usand
around us and behind us, I might add. Like the clowns onstage, we are surrounded
by" all humanity "; yet perhaps in our single rle as spectator each of us might be
all humanity as well. Each struggles alone or with others to find an acceptable
allegory for the nontime, nonplace, nonaction of Godot.
We assist in this creation, this present, by coming to the theatre. Like the clowns,
we work, even if it be waiting in our seats; even the audience members at the
Coconut Grove premiere who stalked out in disgust contributed to the waiting by
enacting the alternative to those staying in their place. The actors do likewise
onstage, held there by convictions as characters (they have been told to wait) or as
actors (it is their rle). In this dual partnership of actor and audience, both
depending on the other for their present existence, we collectively establish an
artifice against an imposed Godot-ruled world, against the difficult, at times
incomprehensible reality that for them is "A country road. A tree. Evening." and for
us all that lies outside as well as inside the theatre.
. . . by Act II, the dark questions of who is Godot and will he come give way to the
human instinct for survival, to that creative urge which will fashion something out
of nothing, which will snatch from impending defeat (such as the nonappearance of
the divinity) a modest victory (passing the time with dialogue, putting the events of

Act I in some sort of order, albeit minimal). If we are chained to waiting, we will
still find a little leverage, a little breathing and creative space in our
chains. Godot is not a romantic play, but it is realistic. It is not about death, not
about suicide. To wait or to go onthese are actions, not nonactions; and waiting
and going on are the two alternatives to death. Vladimir and Estragon wait; they do
not go on. Pozzo and Lucky go on, and they disappear, accordingly and
appropriately, from the present play. The clowns stay with us, both to and at the
end: "They do not move". We are also the clowns, for in our seats we have done no
more, nor no less, than Vladimir and Estragon. Like us, they speculate about the
meaning of the play. For them, as for us, the play, even in the absence of meaning,
is a way of passing time, though time would have passed anyway, as Estragon
We share the same anxieties, though however aware they may be of the audience
the tramps cannot know this. If there is no Godot to witness and ratify their
actions, we are there, the "Godot" for whom they have waited. Without us their
audience shrinks to one, Estragon for Vladimir, Vladimir for Estragon. The two
other spectators are a sorry lot, mute and egotistical. Again, they are not there at the
end as we are. Vladimir is right, albeit a bit melodramatic, when he raises the idea
that all one can say of his life is "that with Estragon my friend, at this place, until
the fall of night, I waited for Godot". "Waited"he uses the word as a slur, as if
the time spent were nothing but a bag of actors tricks; and it is, it is. In the absence
of anything elseand Vladimir cannot imagine that we as audience both ratify and
interpret his stage "life"to have waited is to have lived, . . .
If one goal is not realised, that meeting with Godot, then another is, namely, the
creative powers of the human imagination that will draw the image of a rose from a
dunghill, that, in the absence of roses or of dunghills, will pass the time and avoid
the abyss by dialogue.
Again, nature signals its approval of this creation with its own scrawny leaves in
Act II. Vladimir and Estragon, I maintain, are not the same in the second act; nor
are we. We will not let ourselves not grow. Time passes and with time there is
change, be it progressive or cyclical or inevitable. At its roots "growth" implies
only change, not necessarily quality. As long as words are imposed on the
chronology of seconds and minutes and hours, time is not an abstraction but only a
measuring stick for a civilisation marked by language. We cling to life; we avoid
the abyss by talking. Every syllable uttered is a second gained. The frustration of
the unending wait is, from another perspective, a sign for limited joy; death is kept
at arms length, as is silence, as is loneliness.

As audience, we are asked to consider the meaning of our existence on lifes stage.
There are revolutionaries galore for whom the theatre is a mere trifle or an example
of decadent entertainment. For "everyone knows" we must accomplish something
in life, or do things, oracting as if any human motives could be purehelp our
comrades whether they want that help or not. In the presence of such challenges to
the meaning of our existence, we can only sayand say onlythat on any given
night of a performance of Godot we acted not alone put in concert, not with an
excessive trust in physical life, nor, given the physical nature of the stage, with a
pseudo-intellectual, let alone spiritual dismissal of physical reality. Together, actors
and audience, we waited for Godot . . .
Sidney Homan Beckett's Theatres: Interpretations for Performance

. . . what Gogo and Didi do is not what they are thinking; nor can we understand
their characters by adding and relating events to thoughts. And the action of the
playwaitingis not what they are after but what they want most to avoid. What,
after all, are their games for? They wish to "fill time" in such a way that the vessel
"containing" their activities is unnoticed amid the activities themselves. Whenever
there is nothing "to do" they remember why they are here: To wait for Godot. That
memory, that direct confrontation with Time, is painful. They play, invent, move,
sing to avoid the sense of waiting. Their activities are therefore keeping them from
a consciousness of the action of the play. Although there is a real change in
Vladimirs understanding of his experience (he learns precisely what "nothing to
be done" means) and in Pozzos life, these changes and insights do not emerge
from the plot, but stand outside of whats happened. Vladimir has his epiphany

while Estragon sleepsin a real way his perception is a function of the sleeping
Gogo. Pozzos understanding, like the man himself, is blind.
Structurally as well as thematically, Godot is an "incomplete" play; and its
openness is not at the end but in many places throughout: it is a play of gaps and
pauses, of broken-off dialogue, of speech and action turning into time-avoiding
games and routines. . . . Waiting for Godot is designed off-balance. It is the very
opposite of Oedipus. In Godot we do not have the meshed ironies of experience,
but that special anxiety associated with question marks preceded and followed by
[When Vladimir says to the boy" tell him you saw me "] the "us" of the first act is
the "me" of the second. Habits break old friends are abandoned, Gogofor the
momentis cast into the pit. When Gogo awakens, Didi is standing with his head
bowed. Didi does not tell his friend of his conversation with the Boy nor of his
insight or sadness. Gogo asks, "Whats wrong with you," and Didi answers,
"Nothing."Didi tells Estragon that they must return the following evening to keep
their appointment once again. But for him the routine is meaningless: Godot will
not come. There is something more than irony in his reply to Gogos
question, "And if we dropped him?" "Hed punish us," Didi says. But the
punishment is already apparent to Didi: the pointless execution of orders without
hope of fulfillment. Never coming; for Didi, Godot has come . . . and gone.
In the first act, Gogo/Didi suspect that Pozzo may be Godot. Discovering that he is
not, they are curious about him and Lucky. They circle around their new
acquaintances, listen to Pozzos speeches, taunt Lucky, and so on. Partly afraid,
somewhat uncertainly, they integrate Pozzo/Lucky into their world of waiting: they
make out of the visitors a way of passing time. And they exploit the persons of
Pozzo/Lucky, taking food and playing games. ( In the Free Southern Theatre
production, Gogo and Didi pick-pocket Pozzo, stealing his watch, pipe and
atomiserno doubt to hock them for necessary food. This interpretation has
advantages: it grounds the play in an acceptable reality; it establishes a first act
relationship of doubt exploitation Pozzo uses them as audience and they use him
as income. ) In the second act this exploitation process is even clearer. . . .
Gogo/Didi try to detain Pozzo/Lucky as long as possible. They play rather cruel
games with them, postponing assistance. It would be intolerable to Gogo/Didi for
this "diversion" to pass quickly, just as it is intolerable for an audience to watch it
go on so long. . . . When they are gone, Estragon goes to sleep. Vladimir shakes
him awake:" I was lonely ." And speaking of Pozzo/Lucky, "That passed the time."
For them, perhaps; but for the audience? It is an ironic scenethe entire cast
sprawled on the floor, hard to see, not much action. It makes an audience aware
that the time is not passing fast enough.
If waiting is the plays action, Time is its subject. Godot is not Time, but he is
associated with itthe one who makes but does not keep appointments. (An

impish thought occurs: Perhaps Godot passes time with Gogo/Didi just as they
pass it with him. Within this scheme, Godot has nothing to do [as the Boy tells
Didi in Act Two] and uses the whole play as a diversion in his day. Thus the "big
game" is a strict analogy of the many "small games" that make the play.) The basic
rhythm of the play is habit interrupted by memory, memory obliterated by games.
Why do Gogo/Didi play? In order to deaden their sense of waiting. Waiting is a
"waiting for" and it is precisely this that they wish to forget. One may say that
"waiting" is the larger connect within which "passing time" by playing games is a
sub-system, protecting them from the sense that they are waiting. They confront
Time (i.e.., are conscious of Godot) only when there is a break in the game and
they "know" and "feel" that they are waiting.

To wait and not know how to wait is to experience Time. To be freed from waiting
(as Gogo/Didi are at the end of each act) is to permit the moon to rise more rapidly
than it can (as it does on Godots stage), almost as if nature were illegally
celebrating its release from its own clock. Let loose from Time, night comes all of
a sudden. After intermission, there is the next dayand tomorrow, another
There are two time rhythms in Godot, one of the play and one of the stage.
Theatrically, the exit of the Boy and the sudden night are strong cues for the act
(and the play) to end. We, the audience, are relievedits almost over for us. They,
the actors, do not moveeven when the Godot-game is over, the theatre-game
keeps them in their place: tomorrow they must return to enact identical routines.
Underlying the play (all of it, not just the final scene of each act) is the theatre, and
this is exactly what the script insinuatesa nightly appointment performed for

people the characters will never meet. Waiting for Godot powerfully injects the
mechanics of the theatre into the mysteries of the play.
Richard Schechner Godotology: There's lots of time in Godot from
Frederick J Marker and Christopher Innes Modernism in European Drama:
Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett

Source of Godot:
[Another] story has Beckett rejecting the advances of a prostitute on the rue Godot
de Mauroy only to have the prostitute ask if he was saving himself for Godot.
Becketts longtime friend and English publisher John Calder summarises Becketts
position on the play thus: "He wanted any number of stories circulated, the more
there are, the better he likes it."
S E Gontarski "Dealing with a Given Space": Waiting for Godot and the
Stage from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching
Beckett's Waiting for Godot

Without either accepting or rejecting the widespread view that Waiting for
Godot is a religious allegory, let us consider what problems confront a dramatist
who wishes to write a play about waitinga play in which virtually nothing is to
happen and yet the audience are to be cajoled into themselves waiting to the
bittersweet end. Obviously those who wait on stage must wait for something that
they and the audience consider extremely important.
We are explicitly told that when Godot arrives, so Vladimir and Estragon believe,
they will be "saved". An audience possessing even a tenuous acquaintance with
Christianity need no further hint: an analogy , they deduce, is being drawn with
Christs Second Coming . They do not have to identify Godot with God; they do,
however, need to see the analogy if the play is not to seem hopelessly trivial. In
secular terms, salvation can mean the coming of the classless society, that of the
Thousand-Year Reich, or any other millennial solution. Ultimately, though, the
concept of the Millennium is itself religious in origin, being present in the Old
Testament as well as the New; a Jewish audience would remember that they are
still awaiting the Messiah.
In other words, a play like Waiting for Godot could hardly "work" artistically if it
did not invoke the Judaeo-Christian Messianic tradition and its political derivatives
(Having grown up in Ireland at the time of the struggle for independence, Beckett
was doubtless aware of the millennial salvationist hope implicit in all nationalist as

well as socialist movements.) It is a measure of Becketts art that he invokes this

tradition (this stereotype, almost) stealthily rather than blatantly.
. . . Any critic who accepts the religious analogy sees the boy messenger as
equivalent to an angel ("angel" is in any case derived from the Greek word for
"Messenger"), but Pozzo seems to be a stumbling-block for most of them. He need
not be: although Pozzo denies that he is Godot, he tells Vladimir and Estragon that
they are "on my land". Other hints suggest that he may be the very person they are
waiting for, but, like the Jews confronted with Jesus, they are expecting someone
so different that they fail to recognise him. On the other hand, one must admit
that Pozzos treatment of Lucky in Act I resembles the behaviour of the God of the
Old Testament ; it is in Act II that Pozzo himself begins to seem a victim, "a man
of sorrows and acquainted with grief." There are moments in the Old Testament
when the Jewsor some of themfailed to recognise their God, so we could
perhaps argue that Act I represents the Old Testament and Act II the New. But if
Vladimir and Estragon represent Christianity rather than Judaism, there are several
texts in the New Testament which warn that the Second Coming of Christ will
resemble in its stealth that of "a thief in the night". . . .
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

The two thieves are Didi and Gogo; the two thieves are Pozzo and Lucky; the two
thieves are you and me. And the play is shaped to reflect that fearful symmetry.
Ruby Cohn Back to Beckett
At the end of Act I, when the boy arrives to say that Mr Godot" wont come this
evening but surely tomorrow " and Vladimir proceeds to question him about his
"credentials", the boy reveals that he minds the goats and his brother minds the
sheep. Placing these two words together is enough to suggest one of Jesuss bestknown parables, frequently used in art and sermon, the parable of the sheep and the
goats :

When the Son of man shall come in his

glory, and all the holy angels with him,
then shall he sit upon the throne of his
glory: And before him shall be gathered
all nations; and he shall separate them
one from another, as a shepherd
divideth his sheep from the goats: And
he shall set the sheep on his right hand,
but the goats on the left. Then shall the
King say unto them on his right hand,
Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit
the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world. . . . Then shall
he say also unto them on the left hand,
Depart from me, ye cursed, into
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil
and his angels. . . . And these shall go
away into everlasting punishment: but
the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew
This parable is, of course, a narrative about salvation and damnation; the sheep are
the saved, the goats the damned. It is significant that the messenger who attends
Vladimir and Estragon is the goatherd. Previous ironies about the nature of the
God parodied in this play are intensified by his perverse beating of the boy who
tends the sheep, not the one who tends the goats (the damned are damned and the
saved get beaten). Act II ends after the appearance of a similar messenger
(apparently not the same one, but not necessarily his shepherd brother either). This
boy, in response to questions, provides the information that Godot has a white
beard, frightening Vladimir into pleas for mercy and expectations of punishment.
Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

. . . From all this we may gather the Godot has several traits in common with the
image of God as we know it from the Old and New Testament. . . . The
discrimination between goatherd [Satanic] and shepherd [priestlyagnus dei] is
reminiscent of the Son of God as the ultimate judge [judicare vivos et mortuos] . . .
while his doing nothing might be an equally cynical reflection concerning mans
forlorn state. This feature, together with Becketts statement about something being
believed to be " in store for us, not in store in us ," seems to show clearly
that Beckett points to the sterility of a consciousness that expects and waits for the
old activity of God or gods.

Whereas Matthew (25,33) says: "And he shall seat the sheep on his right hand, but
the goats on the left" in the play it is the shepherd who is beaten and the goatherd
who is favoured. What Vladimir and Estragon expect from Godot is food and
shelter, and goats are motherly, milk-providing animals. In antiquity, even the male
goats among the deities , like Pan and Dionysos, have their origin in the cult of the
great mother and the matriarchal mysteries , later to become devils.
. . . today religion altogether is based on indistinct desires in which spiritual and
material needs remain mixed. Godot is explicitly vague, merely an empty promise,
corresponding to the lukewarm piety and absence of suffering in the tramps.
Waiting for him has become a habit which Beckett calls a "guarantee of dull
inviolability", an adaptation to the meaningless of life. " The periods of
transition ," he continued, "that separate consecutive adaptations . . . represent the
perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, mysterious and
fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of
Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays

. . . the question of Godots identity does more than tantalise spectators of Becketts
play: it is a paradigm of textual tantalisation itself. Its answer appears to lie outside
the play, encouraging criticism to return to that realm it once called home: the
authors intentions. However, this ancient ground of textual meaning now seems
abandoned, most explicitly in Becketts work, where its vacancy is announced,
paradoxically, in the form of a text strongly marked with intentionality: the direct
nonfictional statement of authorial intent. I am referring, of course, to Becketts
notorious riposte to the question of Godots identity. "If I knew," Beckett said, "I
would have said so in the play."
. . . If indeed Beckett is not deliberately withholding the identity of Godot but
really does not know it (a supposition implying that there is something to be
known), then he is displacing the traditional notion of textual meaningfulness . . .
For if we take Becketts remark at face value, we are confronted with the incredible
spectacle of a work of art based on expressive deficiency, a work of art that lacks
the one necessary condition of art: mastery. It is surely significant that critics have
generally been unable to accept this feature in Becketts work and have preferred to
characterise Godots nonarrival as an effect of Becketts authorial power rather
than of the impotence and ignorance he himself insists on.
. . . origin is gone, nonexistent. For, on closer inspection, the original audience we
have posited is not the integrated, stable starting point of a process that will
continue beyond its encounter with the play: rather, it is an audience already in
process, divided against itself. The plays repetitious structure is such that it

reverses the usual rle-playing of audiences: instead of requiring later audiences to

play the rle of a first audience, Godot requires its first audience to play the rle of
a subsequent audience.
The tree in Godot functions, first, as a link between the audience and an organic
"other world", a world that includes, among (very few) other things, material
nature. . . . the tree is a relational sign, mediating the relation between the stage and
the road in such a way as to render that relation asymmetrical (the stage may
be the road, but not, thanks to the tree, vice versa). . . .
As one of the very few signs of the plays setting system, . . . the tree raises
the question of material realisation, which could be formulated simply as "Should
the tree be realistic?" However, the normative cast of this question is disturbing,
implying, as it does, that there is a "right" way to "do the tree". The play itself
indicates otherwise. The episode in which Didi and Gogo attempt to enact the tree
is an instructive example of the dialectic of representation and reference. The
episode sets up a relay of signification (actors playing characters play a stage tree
that is playing a real tree) in which what is dramatised is one of the thorniest and
most crucial aspects of dramatic significant: the transformability of signs. . . .
Their failure is especially remarkable in the context of their otherwise ample
theatrical skill and resourcefulness, which has led critics to read them as carriers of
the entire tradition of popular entertainment. . . . Not only are the tramps unsure
that this is the "right" tree, they are even uncertain about what kind of tree it is,
even whether it is a tree at all. Paradoxically, this persistent verbal ambiguating of
the tree has the effect of asserting its stage its stage identity, . . . Once so
established, . . . the tree functions as a sign of a tree and the question of its
materiality becomes irrelevant. . . . The stage tree refers to a real tree not because it
looks like one (though it may) but because it creates the stage as a road (in a world)
and the actors as characters (rather than, as metatheatrical readings insist, as
Thus the function of the tree goes beyond its world-creating capacity. The tree
becomes one of the principal mechanisms of the characters self-constitution, the
sign of the area within which their existence might ultimately make sense. It is not
so much a question of their "doing" the tree: the tree "does" them. While the
theatrically absent road tends to theatricalise the characters, to unravel their
characterological existence by placing them on a "mere" stage, the tree (despite its
impoverished aspect) richly bestows dramatic identity on the tramps. In this regard,
it does not recall the Christian images with which it has been associated as much as
it does the sacred post of the voodoo sance, down which the Mystres descend to
earth. Here, it is not divinity that the tree attracts like a lightning rod but
fictionality: another absent world that constitutes the actors as characters. Within
the world thus created, Godot is not merely an absence but a character, however
stubbornly diegetic. His literal absence, colliding with the others literal presence,

partakes of their referentiality. The question of his identity, while it can never be
answered, cannot be wished away either.
Una Chaudhuri Who is Godot? A Semiotic Approach to Beckett's Play from
June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting
for Godot

In ancient Egyptian art, the Tree is depicted as bringing forth the Sun itself. This
Cosmic Tree, the living Source of radiant energy/be-ing, is the deep Background of
the christian cross, the dead wood rack to which a dying body is fastened with
nails. As [Helen] Diner succinctly states: "In Christianity, the tree becomes the
torture cross of the world".
Thus the Tree of Life became converted into the symbol of the necrophilic S and M
Society. This grim reversal is not peculiar to Christianity. It was a theme of
patriarchal myth which made christianity palatable to an already death-loving
society. Thus Odin,worshiped by the Germans, was known as "Hanging God", "the
Dangling One", and "Lord of the Gallows". [Jungian Erich] Neumann remarks that
"scarcely any aspect of their religion so facilitated the conversion of the Germans
to Christianity as the apparent similarity of their hanged god to the crucified
Christ." In the cheerful German version, the tree of life, cross and gallows tree are
all forms of the "maternal" tree. . . .
The christian culmination of the Tree of Life is analysed by Neumann in the
following manner:
Christ, hanging from the tree of death, is the fruit of suffering and hence the
pledge of the promised land , the beatitude to come; and at the same time He is the
tree of life as the god of the grape. Like Dionysis, he is endendros, the life at work
in the tree, and fulfills the mysterious twofold and contradictory nature of the tree.
. . . we are told that the Cross is a bed. It is not only Christ's "marriage bed" , but
also it is "crib, cradle and nest". It is the "bed of birth and . . . it is the deathbed".
Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology

[quoting Beckett]:
If life and death did not both present themselves to us, there would be no
inscrutability. If there were only darkness, all would be clear. It is because there is
not only darkness but also light that our situation becomes inexplicable. Take
Augustines doctrine of grace given and grace withheld: have you pondered the

dramatic qualities of this theology? Two thieves are crucified with Christ, one
saved and the other damned. How can we make sense of this division? In classical
drama, such problems do not arise. The destiny of Racines Phedre is sealed from
the beginning: she will proceed into the dark. As she goes, she herself will be
illuminated. At the beginning of the play she has partial illumination and at the end
she has complete illumination, but there has been no question but that she moves
toward the dark. That is the play. Within this notion clarity is possible, but for us
who are neither Greek nor Jansenist there is not such clarity. The question would
also be removed if we believed in the contrarytotal salvation. But where we have
both dark and light we have also the inexplicable. The key word in my plays is
. . . I would gloss his commentary as follows: Vladimir and Estragon stand for the
"we", two moderns befogged in the inexplicable greyness of "perhaps". Pozzo is
Phedre: a relic, an anachronism, an erstwhile truthbut even so the logical
historical argument to the contrary. That is, if one were posing a contrast that
would illustrate how far we have come from an accountable universe, it might be
the dark world of tragedy which has, at least, the comfort of being designed and
instructive. Pozzos destiny, like Phedres is sealed from the beginning; he
proceeds into the dark, and though we do not see the scene, we presume that "as he
goes" he is illuminated. I am assuming that what Beckett means by "illumination"
is the process by which the tragic hero is made aware . . . of what the journey into
the dark means. In other words, tragedy is "a complex act of clarification". In
Pozzo this act is condensed into one speech in which he stands outside time in a
brief space of temporal integration. What he says is that all crises, from the coming
hither to the going hence, take place in the same second. The light gleams an
instant, then it is night once more.

Actually, Pozzo might have answered Vladimirs question (" Since when ?") even
more philosophically by quoting one of Becketts favourite secular thinkers: "Our
own past," Schopenhauer says, "even the most recent, even the previous day, is
only an empty dream of the imagination. . . . What was? What is? . . . Future and
past are only in the concept. . . . No man has lived in the past, and none will ever
live in the future; the present alone is the form of all life. . . . "
Bert O States The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot


. . . in the scene where Vladimir talks to the little boy, Godots messenger while
Estragon is asleep. It is as if Godot is himself afraid of not existing and needs the
reassurance of the two tramps continuing belief in him. But he is also, . . . a
Nothing figure and this is the only extent to which his existence is real. Nothing is
more real than nothing.

Godot cannot finally be equated either with the "other" of the existentialists or with
God, but together with other hints, the stress on witnessing and being witnessed
and the frequent references to the Bible do push us in the direction of both
equations. Luckys speech starts off by postulating "the existence as uttered forth in
the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with
white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension."
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett

A scene in Act I illustrates how Beckett builds into his plays the impossibility of
satisfactory explanation of actions and the reliance on visual images instead of
words. Estragon repeatedly tries to ask about the pairs connection with Godot,
about whether they are "tied to Godot". The questioning is interrupted by the
appearance of Lucky, who enters with a rope around his neck. He covers half the
distance of the stage before the audience and the pair see who is holding the rope.
A man held by an invisible power, tied to an unseen element, is a visual
concretisation of the very question Estragon has been trying to ask. "Tied" in the
person of Lucky becomes palpable: Estragon tied to Vladimir, the pair tied to
Godot, Lucky tied to Pozzo, and this second pair tied to the force that keeps them
walking. Here Beckett uses physical presence to circumvent words and to offer up
whatever meaning is possible. . . . Lucky tied to an unseen wielder of the rope
provides a visual image that cannot finally be reduced to simple declaratory
Linda Ben-Zvi Teaching Godot from Life from June Schlueter and Enoch
Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot

. . . another feature of Waiting for Godot which is very puzzling: . . . the

extraordinary difficulty everyone has in remembering anything. . . . Pozzos
indifference about time is rivalled only by Estragons indifference about place. For
him, everywhere is the same as everywhere else . . . The divisions of time and
place are arbitrary and irrelevant. It is all a void, so it could not matter less what
artificial categorisations are imposed on it.
. . . Memory is . . . affected by the fact that the perceiving mind is itself not quite
the same from one day to the next. . . . Becketts rejection of naturalism in art
follows logically from his scepticism about the perceiving mind. He sees it as an
instrument incapable of registering accurately the reality that confronts it. . . . The
intelligence is always censoring new experiences and rejecting as illogical and
insignificant all the elements that do not fit with its preconceived ideas. The
censoring process is necessary because reality would be intolerable for us it we had
to face it as it really is. The reality we see is just a projection of our consciousness.

We are habitually adapting, falsifying and faking evidence in order to adjust the
human organism to the conditions of its existence.
. . . To be sure of the reality of your own existence, you need to be sure of what has
happened to you. Which is impossible without an independent witness This is why
Vladimir and Estragon spend so much time arguing about what happened
yesterday. And if you cannot be certain about yesterdays events, how can you be
certain of todays? Are they really happening or is it all in the mind?
. . . The need for a witness from outside is the strongest reason of all for wanting
Godot to be real.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett

. . . the tree in Waiting for Godot can be seen as equivalent to both the Old
Testament and the New Testament "trees". Two other references support the
significance of the tree as the Cross and as the centre of life for the community of
the faithful. One is from Revelation: ] "And the leaves of the tree were for the
healing of the nations" (22:2). It would be surprising if Beckett, who appears to
know the Bible so well, were not acquainted with this verse. Purgatorio, Becketts
favourite book of the Divine Comedy, contributes the other reference, from Canto
32, lines 37-60, where the leafless tree burst into leaf and blossom after the
Griffon, symbolising Christ, ties the chariot (the church), to the trunk of the
tree. . . .
The theme of the Cross having thus been introduced early in the play, a few
moments later Vladimir says that they are to wait "by the tree". The use of the
article "the" cannot be an accident, for Beckett made his own translation of the
play. This is not just any tree, but "the" tree.
They wonder on which day they are to meet Godot, and Vladimir "thinks" it is
Saturday. In "Samuel Becketts Long Saturday", Josephine Jacobsen and William
Mueller have made their case for Saturday as the day of "Waiting for Godot", the
Saturday on which the shattered and grief-stricken disciples of Jesus scattered in
despair , believing their Lord had been destroyed, not knowing what was to come
on the morrow. But in the text of the play Estragon replies, "But what Saturday ?
And is it Saturday? It is not rather Sunday? [traditionally celebrated as the day of
the Resurrection] (Pause) Or Monday? (Pause) Or Friday?" At the mention of
Friday, traditionally the day of the crucifixion [and the day which Beckett claimed
as his birthday], Vladimir, "looking wildly about him, as though the date was
inscribed in the landscape", says, "Its not possible!" Why does he make this
strange comment? Because Vladimir remembers and understands Christian
tradition better than Estragon, although that is not saying very much. Estragons

reply to this is, "Or Thursday?" Thursday traditionally is the day of the institution
of the Holy Communion and of the prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane. In
the sacrament of the Holy Communion Christ is recalled into the midst of the
faithful. Thus, if one assumes the day of waiting for Godot is Thursday rather than
Saturday, hope is inherent in the amanuensis of Christ in the sacrament. On
Thursday also the disciples fell asleep in the garden while their Lord was praying.
Likewise, right after this conversation, Estragon falls asleep.
. . . some critics conclude that Beckett is only satirising religion. Yet a careful
reading of Waiting for Godot will show, I believe, that the object of satire is not the
waiting and longing for Godot. The objects of satire are . . . : first, sexual desire
and its apparatus (through Vladimir and Estragon), then power and brutality
(through Pozzo and Lucky), and finally academic pedantry (through Luckys
The words of [German theologian] Paul Tillich in The Shaking of the
Foundations (1948) are strikingly parallel to, almost a gloss on, the content of the
The state of our whole life is estrangement from others and ourselves, because we
are estranged from the Ground of our being, because we are estranged from the
origin and aim of our life. And we do not know where we have come from, or
where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the
greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth, but our ears are closed.
We feel that something radical, total, and unconditional is demanded of us, but we
rebel against it, try to escape its urgency, and will not adept its promise. We cannot
escape, however. If that something is the Ground of our being, we are bound to it
for all eternity, just as we are bound to ourselves and to all other life. We always
remain in the power of that from which we are estranged. That fact brings us to the
ultimate depth of sin; separated and yet bound, estranged and yet belonging,
destroyed and yet preserved, the state which is called Despair. Despair means that
there is no escape. Despair is "the sickness unto death". But the terrible thing about
the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or
hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapably to the
Ground of our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has
become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generation, because of
our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt and cynicismall expressions of
despair, or our separation from the roots and meaning of our life. Sin in its most
profound sense, sin as despair, abounds amongst us.
. . . in the chapter "Waiting" in the same book, [Tillich] strikingly expresses the
paradox of the mystics waiting for God; the book also contains an extraordinary
chapter titled "Born in the Grave", a phrase reminiscent of Becketts " They give
birth astride of a grave ". Tillich says:

Waiting is not despair. It is the acceptance of our not having, in the power of that
which we already have.
Our time is a time of waiting; waiting is its special destiny. And every time is a
time of waiting, waiting for the breaking in of eternity. . . . Time itself is waiting,
waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal.
This, I believe, is the meaning of the play.
Hlne L Baldwin Samuel Beckett's Real Silence

. . . in his "think" speech, which Pozzo suffers as part of his own initiation, Lucky
offers the half-mad babbling that is the result of his own experience of the abyss,
the nothingness of the void. Lucky, who embodies the dying certainties of past
civilisation in Act I, seems in his muteness to embody death itself in Act II, so that
Pozzo, who is tied first to the dying and then to Death itself, comes to accept the
burden of his own mortality, even though he continues to despise that burden.
Unable to rest in Luckys stance, nor to make do with Godot, Vladimir comes to a
crisis of faith at the plays climax that Estragon experiences before and after him.
Led by Pozzo as initiatory guide to the brink of the abyss, Vladimir undergoes the
plays central initiation into the sacred void, exploring as part of that experience the
mysterious relationship of life to death. . . . Vladimirs epiphany, unlike Pozzos, is
not an angry statement but an exploration of the levels of reality in his world. . . .
Vladimir questions, in Prospero fashion, the reality of his world, its truth or
meaning. Of what does that world consist? A faithful waiting for Godot, blows for
Estragon, friendship, death, the alleviation of suffering through habit. Placing
Godot in the wings on one side, and death in the wings on the other, Vladimirs
initiation involves a vision in which he brings the two face to face. Looking at the
now sleeping Estragon, whose nightmares he has refused throughout the play to
hear, he concludes his epiphany with a declaration of his own profound ignorance.
"At me too someone is looking , of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he
knows nothing, let him sleep on". It is as if he has been able, through his initiatory
confrontation with death, to move outside of himself and observe himself from
another perspective. Unlike Pozzo, however, who can go on in the face of the
unknowableness of life, Vladimir says, "I cant go on". As surely as Oedipus
comes to know the deeds he has done and the self that he is, Vladimir comes to
know that he will never possess his deeds or know himselfthat whether Godot or
death comes, he must share the darkness that Pozzo inhabits. But the rebirth that
initiation is all about and that Pozzo has experienced, eludes him.

Shortly before Vladimirs crisis of faith, Estragon suggests he cannot go on"But

I cant go on like this"and he echoes himself and Vladimir toward the plays end
when he again says, "I cant go on like this". . . . Vladimir . . . opting for survival,
like Pozzo will go on; but going on, as Pozzo does, without hope of finding greater
meaning in lifes fleeting moment is not possible for Vladimir. "What they seek to
complete," Michael Robinson writes of Didi and Gogo, "is the arbitrary series
begun by birth, to reach that end where time is no more and where their present
unreality is changed into certainty of their own identity and existence. What , in
fact, they seek is to be reunited with the Self they know must exist outside time in
the union of their personal infinity with that of the timeless void." Pozzo may be
able to make do with the flicker of life in the timeless void, but Vladimir insists on
the Self. "Tell him you saw me ", he says, almost attacking the messenger boy with
his insistence on his own reality and significance.
. . . Significantly, Beckett has noted that the key word in his play is "perhaps".
Katherine H Burkman The Arrival of Godot

. . . The most important trick in the style and structure of Waiting for Godot is the
old music-hall trick of protracted delay. No question can be answered and no action
can be taken without a maximum of interlocution, incomprehension, and
argument. You never go straight to a point if you can possibly miss it, evade it, or
start a long discussion about a shortcut.

. . . There is also a great deal of vaudeville business with hats and boots and
pratfalls. The bowler hats that all four characters wear belong to the tradition of
Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. Vladimir has a comic walk and a comic disability
that makes him rush off to pee in the wings each time he is made to laugh, and
Lucky has elaborate comic business with all the things he has to carry, dropping
them, picking them up and putting them down.
. . . Another important trick is the way Beckett uses interruption. Almost
everything in the play gets interrupted Luckys big speech, Estragons story about
the Englishman in the brothel, and Vladimir interrupts his own song about dogs
digging a dog a tomb. But it is a song that circles back on itself, so, as with
Luckys speech, we welcome the interruption because we feel that otherwise it
would have gone on forever.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett

The relationships between the four characters are inherently fortuitous and
unstable. In the state of nature, they are governed by calculations of immediate
interest; in the commonwealth [Pozzo-Lucky], they are founded on the artificial
creation of the sovereign. As Pozzo remarks, it is only by "chance " that he is
Luckys master rather than vice versa. By the same token, all four are potentially
masters or slaves of each other. Didi and Gogo begin by mistaking Pozzo for
Godot, and there is no reason why he cannot become Godot if he and they wish
it. . . . "Godot" can be anyone who is willing to play the part.
Beckett demonstrates this interchangeability in a variety of ways. He undermines
the stability of character by reversal and self-contradiction. Lucky, who is mute,
unleashes a torrent of words. Gogo, who cannot identify Christ at the beginning of
the play, claims to have imitated him all his life. Pozzo, who prides himself on
punctuality, declares he has "no notion of time ". . . . The exchange of roles
between Didi and Gogo is symbolised by the furious exchange of hats. Names
themselves are subversive of identity. "Pozzo: becomes Bozzo , Gozzo, Godot;
"Godot" is Godin or Godet. . . . In the end, all the protagonists become Everyman.
. . . Pozzos repudiation of time signifies the collapse of the commonwealth, of the
socially ordered sequence of chronos, of hierarchy and meaning. He is "all
humanity ", a blind wanderer-king like Lear or Oedipus, helpless and stricken, yet
greater naked than in his shabby pomp.
. . . Gogo, inspecting the fallen pair, addresses Pozzo as "Abel" and Lucky as
"Cain". Beckett is not idle in his choice of names; Lucky has been designated as

the slayer, if not of Pozzo the man, then of that artificial person and social hero, the
sovereign. Yet rebellion has not severed the bond between master and man, only
rendered it inefficacious. Lucky, who is free to abandon his blind master, does not
do so; nor does Pozzo, though helpless, forsake command. Unlike Didi and Gogo,
who can exchange roles at will, they are chained to one another until
death. Rebellion cannot liberate either one, but only circumscribe them both more
closely; for those who have taken up the burden of society, there is no return to the
state of nature [chez the Rationalist philosophers]
Robert Zaller Waiting for Leviathan

. . . these four characters are Becketts equivalent of William Blakes Four Zoas.
Blake held that the perfect man maintained a harmonious balance between four
functions of the psyche: Imagination, Reason, Passion and bodily Sensation, which
he personified as giants named Los, Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas. Mans Fall, and
all evil, arose because these functions warred against each other; in particular
Urizen tried to usurp power over the rest. In his Prophetic Books Blake gave
various, and somewhat conflicting, accounts of this internal, psychological strife.
In Becketts play is may well be that we have a different account of the same
warfare within the split psyche. Pozzo corresponds to Tharmas, the sensations; he
has enslaved Lucky , who corresponds to Urizen, or thought . The tenderhearted Vladimir is Luvah (feeling) and he alternatively quarrels with and
embraces the poet Estragon who represents imagination (Los).
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

[in the gravedigger puts on the forceps speech ] . . . Vladimir becomes aware of a
difference between two possible ways of living life. One awake. One in a state of
twilight. And he even realises that he cant go onwith what? With an existence in
which the womb and the tomb seem to fit together like two hemispheres which are
life apart for a brief moment to let in a ray of light. But, at this very instant, when
Vladimir is about to wake up, Godots boy-messenger appears and destroys the
process that was just about to take place in Vladimir . Godots function seems to be
to keep his dependents unconscious. His messenger does not know anything either;
. . . He even fails to recognise the tramps he had seen the day before (the French
version states that it is the same boy).

. . . The unconsciousness and ambivalence of Godot, expressed in his promise to

rescue the tramps and his preventing them from becoming conscious, demonstrates
exactly what Jung, speaking about God, formulates in these words: " The face of
Gods unconsciousness throws a peculiar light on the doctrine of salvation. Man
is not so much delivered from his sins . . . as delivered from fear of the
consequences of sin . . . "
When Vladimir says: "at me, too, someone is looking . . . " he expresses a faint
awareness of the sin of unconsciousness and the notion of a knowing witness. The
words . . . indicate that a spontaneous image has arisen within Vladimir and that,
for a short moment, he is outside the sphere of habit and conventional expectation.
He is aware of an inner witness, "in store in him." But this he cannot endure ("The
God that saw all, even manthat God could not but die! Man could not endure
that such a witness should live." [Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra]).
The hopelessness of Vladimirs situation, after the advent of the messenger, is as
grim as that of Pozzos vision of life as a flash between the womb and the tomb :
Vladimirs flash of consciousness dies between his question: "What have I said?"
and his relapse into the reliance upon the coming of Godot.
This episode may well explain why there is no woman in this play, that is to say no
woman on the human level: the mother goddess, who is both the womb and the
tomb, envelops all and everything with her dread power . In ancient Egypt this
goddess was known as an upper and a lower hemisphere, not only feared but
worshipped . . . Beckett, however, refrains both from differentiation and from
. . . Neumann describes the emergence of self-consciousness in adolescence as one
in which "feelings of transitoriness and mortality, impotence and isolation" prevail,
"in absolute contrast to the [childs] situation of contentment and containment."
Obviously, the characters in this play are exactly on the border between these two
. . . Neumann, following Jung, equates the mother goddess with the
unconscious and says: Western culture and religion , society and morals are mainly
formed by the Judeo-Christian father-god image and the psychic structure of the
individual is partly made ill by it.
. . . Today, as always, the battle of Western consciousness is fought in the spirit of
the Old Testament war that Yahweh waged against the mother-goddess." . . . the
compensatory trend in the unconscious of our time, speaking through Beckett,
wages this same war from the opposite side, namely in favour of the latent values
in the unconscious and against the obsolete and dying conventions and attitudes.

In Waiting for Godot we saw the inability of the two figures in each couple to let
each other go, although the stagnating quality of their togetherness was amply
expressed. The wish to control (Pozzo) and the wish to be protected (Lucky)
remain inseparable. So do the impotence of consciousness (Vladimir) and the
power of unconsciousness (Estragon).
Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays

. . . Even before the curtain rises, the program informs us that there will
be two acts , though we do not know how the second will reflect the first. The set
pits the horizontal road on the stage board against the vertical tree. The action will
balance four characters falling down against their looking up at the sky.
The very names of the four main characters indicate their pairing : Pozzo and
Lucky contain two syllables and eight letters each; Estragon and Vladimir contain
three syllables and five letters each, but they address one another only by
nicknamesGogo and Didi, childish four-letter words composed of repeated
monosyllables. Even the fifth character, the nameless boy, has a brother, . . .
Godot is as arbitrary as the God of Matthew 25?32-33: "And before him shall be
gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd
divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand but
the goats on the left." Sheep and goat become saved thief and damned thief of St
Augustines symmetry.
Pozzo and Lucky have no nicknames and we view them formally, externally,
during their intermittent presence before us. Their clothes are elaborate but dated,
their relationship is repulsive, but it is not really our business. . . .
. . . And Godot has subsequently been explained as God, a diminutive god, Love,
Death, Silence, Hope, de Gaulle, Pozzo, a Balzac character, a bicycle racer, Time
Future, a Paris street for call-girls, a distasteful image evoked by French words
containing the root god (godailler to guzzle; godenot, runt; godelureau,
bumpkin; godichon, lout). Beckett told Roger Blin that the name Godot derived
from French slang words for bootgodillot, godasse. A decade after Godot was
produced I informed Beckett of a San Francisco morticians firm, Godeau Inc.
Ruby Cohn Waiting

Although there are four major characters in the play, they are used in such a way as
to minimise any possibilities of story elaboration and to constitute what amounts to
an "armature" or single portrait of "man in Essy". For one thing, Becketts people
condense, like Cain and Abel, into pairs or cooperating identities, and this alone
tends to subvert any conflict of competitive wills to a symbiotic tension: Vladimir
and Estragon , as we say, form the complementary parts of individual man
(mind/body, soul/appetite); Pozzo and Lucky form the complementary parts of the
social hierarchy (master/servant, capitalist/philosopher), Pozzos rope being less a
tether or rein than a reciprocal bond and the visible symbol of civilisations
unfortunate continuity.
On one hand, the world represented by Pozzo and Lucky implies a concept of
cause and effect, of sin and punishment, or at least of Fortune striking with some
justification. The world of Vladimir and Estragon, on the other, is one in which
Pride does not go before a Fall but before a vast silence. Hence the impression of
an unchanging essential: of time without content, chronicity without chronology.
Everything happens, as it were, at a distance and leaks through the surface of a
diversionary routine which is the last refuge of the dying ego. There is only a
vestige of the oppressive society in the form of thugs who administer unprovoked
beatings under cover of night, and all that remains of the demanding god is a dim
historical memory with barely enough gravitational pull to keep his "subjects" in a
vague orbit of supplication. But the Vladimir/Estragon plot is intelligible largely as
a "last bridge" in this whole burdensome history of obligation and ego-frustration.
. . . we might think of Becketts narrative problem in Godot as being essentially a
biblical one: how to keep the Vladimir/Estragon situation from becoming a
tautological bore; how, in short, to give this circularity enough linear drive to make
it interesting without compromising the all-important theme that the essential
doesnt change. To this end, Pozzo and Lucky give the play a considerable
narrative boost: theirs is the drama of mans "charge" through time; they are the
personifications of historical motion and thrust , of becoming, of man burdened
with the baggage of a sinful past and bound for a future which will come, like the
Judgement, when they least expect it. Put side by side as purely temporal rhythms,
these two plots also have something of the same relationship that tragedy has to the
history play : tragedy (the isolation and death of the hero) completes its action,
implying that everything that is important happens one fatal time; the history play
(the trials of the nation, or race) implies a fresh beginning in every ending, and
assures us that what has been done will have to be done again and again.
Bert O States The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot


"In my beginning is my end. . . . In my end is my beginning."

"And to say that the end precedes the beginning/And the beginning and ending
were always there/Before the beginning and after the end/And all is always now"
T S Eliot, Four Quartets
. . . Becketts characters . . . must wait forever, without any prospect of ultimate
salvation, condemned to "wander the last of the living in the depths of an instant
without bounds". In Waiting for Godot, it is always evening, before sunset and
moonrise; . . . Accompanying the temporal limbo is a physical stasis that gradually
but relentlessly increases. Gogo and Didi are rooted to a single spot, a country road
with a tree, . . .
Paralysed, immobilised, forced to remain stationary, Becketts characters must
remain passive as well. Unable to act, they are capable only of a purgatorial
nonaction: waiting, waiting for the end they know will never come, for the
salvation that may or may not exist. . . . [they] must remain still, in constant hope
of being acted upon, in eternal expectation of being fulfilled.
. . . To while away the endless hours, to make the time pass as quickly as
possible, Becketts heroes become artists, that is, they tell stories. No longer the
medium for a penetrating search into the Self, literature becomes an innocuous
pastime, an existential "filler".
. . . By making waiting, in a sense, the subject of his plays, Beckett is writing about
life per se, life minus the traumatic events, the emotional or spiritual crises that are
usually the focus of novels or plays. Aside form, this effort to reproduce the
fundamental texture of life, the sheer living of it, Becketts plays, by concerning
themselves with such integral but intangible human experiences as waiting and
ending, also attempt to discover their own texture, their own theatrical form. Made
conscious of what it is to be an audience, to sit in a theater and wait for and watch
a play, the Beckett playgoer is also made aware of what a play actually is. Alain
Robbe-Grillet, in discussing Waiting for Godot, explains the revolution purpose
and effect of Becketts tragicomedy:
"We suddenly realise, as we look at them [Didi and Gogo], the main function of
theatre, which is to show what the fact of being there consists in. For this is what
we have never seen on the stage before, or not with the same clarity, not with so
few concessions and so much force. A character in a play usually does no more
than play a part, as all those about us do who are trying to shirk their own
existence. But in Becketts play it is as if the two tramps were on the stage without
a part to play."
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce

Although it brilliantly contains a circular, cyclical world, the real genius of Waiting
for Godot is that the play itselfits form and movementis circular, like a wornout wheel of fortune at a deserted fairground, mysteriously turning. Indeed, the
idea of refrain, or repetition, is seen in several details, and it is the focal point of
the entire structure, for the "dramaturgy" of the play is cyclical. . . . It reinforces
the perfect circularity of time. Nothing ever finishes, and everything begins
again. The heroes of the plays . . . are condemned to pause forever in the stasis
where the curtain leaves them, eternally approaching and never entering the future
beyond. What they seek to complete is the arbitrary series begun by birth, to reach
that end where time is no more and where their present unreality is changed into
the certainty of their own identity or existence.
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce
. . . And yet when one looks at photographs of the first Paris staging of Godot,
apparently supervised with care by Beckett, one sees that both Vladimir and
Estragon are more shabby-genteel than ragged. A stage direction mentions
Estragons "rags " (haillons), but the pair are dressed in intact though far from
pristine dark clothes. Vladimir actually wears a stiff collar and a tie; although
Estragon wears a scarf round his neck and presumably no collar, the fact that both
wear intact bowler hats suggests they still have aspirations to gentility.
. . . Although they dont know where they are or what day of the week it is, they
can talk intelligently in a large vocabulary on a variety of subjects. Within a
passage of a few lines, Gogo compares themselves to caryatids and Didi uses the
Latin tag Memoria praeteritorum bonorum . [The past is always recalled to be
good] . . .
Estragon adapts Shelleys "To the Moon": "Art thou pale for weariness /Of
climbing heaven and gazing on the earth . . .?" . . . Beckett inserted this passage
into the English quite self-consciously, so as to leave no doubt that Didi and Gogo
are not merely "natures gentlemen" but have received some formal education.
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett
Art thou pale for weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing

on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a
different birth
And ever changing, like a
joyless eye
That finds no object worth its

. . . Vladimir goes on straight

away to make his statement of
faith . . that " At me too someone
is looking . . . " . . . reminiscent of
. . . Lamartine: "Insecte clos de
ton sourire,/Je nais, jgarde et
jexpire . . . Dieu ma vu! le
regard de vie/Sest abaiss sur
mon nant" ["Insect hatched from
your smile/I am born, I consider
and I die . . . God has seen me! the
glance of life/Has humbled itself
on my nothingness] . . . one has to be careful not to miss the flicker of an ironic
smile with Beckett. Whereas one knows that Lamartine had no doubt about the
secure and comforting gaze of God,Beckett may be inviting us to see the sheer
ludicrousness of Vladimirs pretension to being an object of Gods all-seeing eye.
His lines and Lamartines could be considered as commentaries . . . on the eleventh
Psalm: "The Lord is in his holy temple . . his eyes behold . . . his countenance doth
behold the upright."
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

Estragon: Do you think God sees me ?

He is standing with his arms out, like a treeone of the Yoga positions, as Beckett
pointed out to Alan Schneiderstaggering on one leg. At the same time as he is
imitating the crucifixion (in Peter OTooles production, he and Vladimir stand
each side of the tree in a Calvary tableau, which is justified by the earlier attention
they pay to the story of the two thieves) . . . The meaning is swiftly changed by
Estragons mention of God: to balance the physical exercises they are now doing a
spiritual exercise for which the cross-like stance is merely a shaping-up, and the
laughter is quickly suppressed as Estragon shouts out his supplication: "God have
pity on me".

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

"As we look at them [Didi and Gogo], we suddenly realise the main function of
theatre, which is to show what the fact of being there consists in. For this is what
we have never seen on the stage before, or not with the same clarity, not with so
few concessions and so much force. A character in a play usually does no more
than play a part, as all those about us do who are trying to shirk their own
existence. But in Becketts play it is as if the two tramps were on the stage without
a part to play."
Stripping his characters down to their irreducible humanity and mortality, Beckett
also reduces the theatre to its pure naked essence . His plays become, in a Platonic
sense, the very Idea of a play people on a stage conscious that they are people on
a stage:
V: Well come back tomorrow.
E: And then the day after tomorrow.

Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce

Form, in the Platonic sense of Idea is all; content becomes minimal: . . . The shape,
the structure, is what matters, . . . The stress of form over content, on shape over
substance is an emphasis that Beckett himself is conscious of and has
"I take no sides. I am interested in the shape of ideas. There is a wonderful
sentence in Augustine: Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not
presume; one of the thieves was damned. That sentence has a wonderful shape. It
is the shape that matters."
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce

. . . the connexion between this [Luckys] speech and the well-known

poem Hyperions Shicksalsied by the German poet Hlderlin, the last verse of
which reads:
Doch uns ist gegeben,
auf keiner Sttte zu ruhn;
es schwinden, es fallen
die leidenden Menschen
blindlings von einer
Stunde zur andern,

But to us it is not given

in any place to rest;
suffering humanity
decays and falls
blindly from one
hour to the other,

wie Wasser von Klippe

zu Klippe geworfen,
jahrlang ins Ungewisse hinab.

like water dashed

from crag to crag,
year after year, down into the
unknown. [the abyssal depths]

[This poem was used by Beckett in an earlier novel] Moreover in Act II of this play
Estragons nightmare is concerned with falling from a height which plausibly could
be a cliff .
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

The Cackon country

Play on Cockaigne or Cucany, an imaginary land of idleness and plenty sung about
by the Goliard, the works of whom Orff used as a source for the popular
work Carmina Burana.
"Goliard" was a general name given to any street poet living by his wits. Usually
he had been at one time a monk or student, but now he lived a life of change and
danger, roving from town to town, begging food and lodging, earning some coins
by pleasing their audience with their songs. In taverns, drinking songs were
demanded, or perhaps satiric songs about rapacious clergy whom everyone had to
pay annually a full tenth of their income. In the home of a merchant or someone of
high social standing, the poet might sing a song of love or one of more
philosophical bent. The songs of the Goliards speak of disillusionment with the
world. Church ceremonies and hymns were mocked in their poems, slyly or
The word Cockaigne comes from the Old French pais de cocaigne, "land of
cakes". In this country, houses were built of cake, roast geese wandered through
the streets, larks fell already cooked and buttered from the sky, and rivers and
fountains ran with wine. Cucany remained in the poetic imagination down through
the seventeenth century and is still used in culinary nomenclature.
Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis
I am the abbot of Cockaigne
et consilium meum est cum bibulis,
and my assembly is one of drinkers,
et in secta Decii voluntas mea est,
and I wish to be in the order
of Decius [the god of dice-throwers]
et qui mane me quesierit in taberna and whoever searches me out at the
tavern in the morning,
post vesperam nudus egredietur,
after Vespers he will leave naked,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit:
and thus stripped of his clothes he
will call out:
Wafna! Wafna!Woe! Woe!
quid fecesti sors turpissima? what have you done, vilest Fate?
nostre vite gaudiathe
joys of my life,
abstulisti omnia!
you have taken all away!


[In Carmina Burana] this is sung by a solo baritone as a mock church chant: the
Goliard play "abbot" before a rowdy tavern group of drunkards [another example
of the sermon joyeux see notes on Luckys speech]. The Goliard reveals himself
as an inveterate gambler, and rather than freeing a person of his sins, the Goliard
"frees" him of his garments and money.
Judith Lynn Sebesta Carmina Burana

. . . [a] real-life influence on Becketts work . . . came in 1938. As Beckett walked

along a Paris street, a panhandler stabbed him in the chest, perforating a lung and
narrowly missing the heart. When Beckett later asked why the attack happened, the
assailant replied, "I dont know, sir ." That glimpse of the random perils of
existence may be confirmed Becketts dark vision but did not initiate it.
William A Henry III from Cathleen Culotta Andonian Critical Response to
Samuel Beckett

Vladimirs second act circular song , from the original French version, and the
original German drinking song that influenced it:
Un chien vint dans loffice A dog came in the kitchen
Et prit une andouilletteAnd took a piece of sausage
Alors coups de louche With blows of the ladle
Le chef le mit en miettes. The cook beat him to a pulp
Les autres chiens ce voyant The other dogs, seeing this
Vite vite lensevelirent Quickly buried him and wrote
Au pied dune croix en bois blanc At the foot of the cross
O le passant pouvait lire: Where the passer-by could read:
Un chien vint dans loffice

. . . A dog came in the kitchen . . .

Chanson a boire traditionelle des tudiants allemands

Ein Hund kam in die Kuche A dog came in the kitchen
Und stahl dem Koch ein Ei And stole an egg from the cook
Der Koch der nahm ein Messer The cook took a knife
Und schnitt den Hund entzwei And sliced the dog in two
Da kamen andre Hunde The the other dogs came
Und gruben ihm ein Grab And dug him a grave
Sie setzten ihm einen Grabstein They put thereon a gravestone
Auf dem geschreiben stand:
On which was written:
Ein Hund kam in die Kuche

. . .A dog came in the kitchen . . .

Erika Ostrovsky Le Silence de Babel

[NB: The melody for "Ein Hund kam in die Kuche" is the same as that for the
German children's song "Mein Hut", a song taught to English-speaking children as
"My hat, it has three corners", based on Paganini's Carnevale di Venezia. This
melody was used in the San Quentin production, directed by Jan Jnson and
supervised by Beckett.]
E (avec volupt)Calme... Calme... (Rveusement) Les Anglais disent
cm. . . .
(voluptuously) Calm . . . calm . . . (Dreamily) The English say
cawm. . . . ]

A deliberate play on words from Baudelaires most celebrated poem, "lInvitation

au Voyage":
Mon enfant, ma sur,
Songe la douceur
Daller l-bas vivre ensemble!
Aimer loisir,
Aimer et mourir
Au pays qui te ressemble!
Les soleils mouills
De ces ciels brouills
Pour mon esprit ont les charmes
Si mystrieux
De te tratres yeux,
Brillant travers leurs larmes.

My child, my sister,
Dream of the sweetness
Of going far away to live together!
To love at leisure
To love and die
In the land that resembles you!
The dewy sun
In the burning sky
Charms my spirit
As mysteriously
As do your traitorous eyes,
When they glitter with tears.

L, tout nest quordre et beaut, There, all is naught but order and
Luxe, calme et volupt.
Rich, calm and voluptuous.
Des meubles luisants,
Glimmering furnishings,
Polis par les ans,
Polished by the years,
Dcoreraient notre chambre;
Would decorate our room;
Les plus rares fleurs
The rarest flowers
Mlant leurs odeurs
Infusing their odours
Aux vagues senteurs de lambre,With the wafting perfume of amber
Les riches plafonds,
The ornate ceilings,
Les miroirs profonds,
The deep mirrors,
La spendeur orientale,
The oriental splendour,
Tout y parlerait
All would speak to
A lme secret
Our secret soul
Sa douce langue natale.
In its sweet native language.
L, tout nest quordre et beaut,
Luxe, calme et volupt.
Vois sur ces canaux
See how, on the canals
Dormir ces vaisseaux
The vessels sleep
Dont lhumeur est vagabonde; That wander by whim;
Cest pour assouvir
It is to satiate
Ton moindre dsir
Their least desires
Quils viennent du bout du monde.That they come to the edge of the world.
Les soleils couchants
The setting sun
Revtent les champs,
Clothes anew the fields,
Les canaux, la ville entire,
The canals, the entire city,
Dhyacinthe et dor;
In lavender and gold;

Le monde sendort
Dans une chaude lumire.

The world slumbers

Bathed in a warm light.

L, tout nest quordre et beaut,

Luxe, calme et volupt.

Beaudelaire wrote this poem about his mistress Dorothe, a mulatto prostitute. His
romanticisation of the "far-away land"of her ancestry is not only an echo of most
19th-century imperialistic idealisation of exotic colonial holdings, but this poem in
particular became emblematic of the paradisical object of escapist fantasies in
general. As arguably the most well-known poem ever written in French, the refrain
"Luxe, calme et volupt" is almost universally recognised; and Becketts
juxtaposition of these words in Gogos line would not likely be missed by even the
most rudimentarily educated reader.


Very early in the play, in what appears (but is not) a non sequitur after remarks
about anonymous beatings and painful boots, Vladimir suddenly announces, "One
of the thieves was saved ", and insists on telling the story to an unwilling Estragon.
Here are three important issues: the nature of the story itself; the historical fact
that biblical versions differ; and the
dramatic fact that Vladimir chooses to
tell this particular story at this
particular time.
And one of the malefactors which
were hanged railed on him, saying, if
you be Christ, save thyself and us. But
the other answering rebuked him,
saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing
thou art in the same condemnation?
And we indeed justly; for we receive
the due reward of our deeds: but this
man hath done nothing amiss. And he
said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me
when thou comest into thy kingdom.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say
unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me
in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43; King
James Version)
The conflicting version that Vladimir mentions . . . is Matthew 27:44: "The thieves
also, which were crucified with him, cast the same [mockery] in his teeth".

Although Vladimir is technically correct that "of the other three [evangelists] two
dont mention any thieves at all", Mark 15:32 refers to others not called thieves but
executed at the same time: "And they that were crucified with him reviled him".
Line-by-line examination [shows] the pattern of affirmation and negation, the
juxtaposition of opposites, that constitutes part of the comedy of this sequence and
that ultimately determines the overall tenor of the play. The assertion "One of the
thieves was saved" (a thoughtful reference to a serious story) is followed by what
could be either a flippant or a serious judgement: "Its a reasonable percentage " .
Whether or not the comedy of that line is maximised by the mode of delivery, the
line itself introduces considerations of a different order: the secular world of
economics, mathematics, sociology; the world of cost-benefit analysis rather than
the divine order of the souls salvation. The irreverence implied by this quite
sudden shift from the divine to the secular shocks and surprises an informed
audience, and from this experience of shock and surprise comes a response of
uneasy humour. And so the sequence continues throughout. The serious issue of
repentance is undercut by the comic evasiveness of not going into details. The
best-selling book of the Judeo-Christian tradition is trivialised to some pretty
coloured maps. The central figure in Christianity becomes a vaudeville double
take: "Our Saviour". . . "Our what?". A significant theological term, a work used
daily by ordinary people is momentarily forgotten as if it were abstruse: Vladimir
searches for the opposite of saved and finally remembers damned. . . . the
juxtapositions and the rapidity of their presentation, not the subject, provide the

Estragon is bored with a story he does not want to hear (does the audience laugh at
his sarcastic "I find this really most extraordinarily interesting " because its
thoughts have been voiced?). Yanked unwillingly through a tired old problem from
the nineteenth-century Higher Criticism and forced to face the critical question of
which evangelist to believe, Estragon quips, "Who believes him ?" While some
audience members may accept the Bible as truth, others may not believe "the old
stories": thus Estragons annoyed irreverence can produce a gasp of shocked
surprise and a laugh of recognition. The next pair of lines similarly engages the
audience: "Everybody [believes him]. Its the only version they know" is met by
the judgement "People are bloody ignorant apes ". Once again, the audience can be
shocked and amusedbut this time caught as well. For they realise that they, too,
may have only a vague knowledge of the crucifixion story and the two
thieves: having been lured into laughing at other people as "bloody ignorant apes",
they then find themselves included.
The biblical material has thus been used to achieve two ends: it introduces a theme central
to the play as a whole and sounds a note of cynical humour that is heard throughout. The
theme, of course, is that suffering permeates human life, makes it a kind of hell; the
cynical humour depends on seeing the major story of the Christian tradition, meant to be
good news, as really bad news, garbled and ineffective. The joke is on those who have
believed it. "Hope deferred maketh the something sick ," Vladimir says, groping for

Proverbs 13:12: "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh,
it is a tree of life." Waiting for what does not come indeed makes the heart (and
feet and other body appendages) sick. And yet, by a withered tree, he and Estragon
continue to wait.

Im sure someone has already noticed this, but Ive wondered if there isnt a
possible connection between Didi and Gogo and Dysmas and Gestas, the names
given to the two thieves in the Middle Ages, . . . It would be an interesting point for
a director to bear in mind for an audience with theological scruples, particularly in
the placement of the two men in the second "Crucifixion" scene. Dysmas (crucified
to Christs right) was the repentant thief. He entered heaven with a cross on his
shoulders, the first mortal redeemed by Christs death. But which tramp should
have the honour? Didi seems the logical beneficiary, given his preoccupation with
repentance and crucifixion throughout the play; and at the end he does speak the
words, "Christ have mercy upon us ". Unfortunately, this would consign Gogo to a
fate worse than death, and that is hardly what the play has in mind. But if the
reader finds this idea far-fetched, consider one propounded by Beckett himself on
Estragons chances: "One of Estragons feet is blessed, and the other damned. The
boot wont go on the foot that is damned, and it will go on the foot that is not. It is
like the two thieves on the cross." I simply dont know what to make of this: it
seems to be carrying thievery to the limit of subtlety (Should one presume, or
despair?). Perhaps we should call it a stand-off: Estragon gets at least one foot in
the gate, which is more than we can clearly say for
The Crucifixion is kept before the audience by references
such as Vladimirs use of the clich " To every man his
little cross " and by Estragons Crucifixion posture when
he does the exercise "the tree", asking, " Do you think
God sees me ?"; the implied answer seems to be no since
he cries out for pity. Estragons comparison of himself
with Christ emphasises the protracted suffering of human
life: if the terrible slow torture of Christs Crucifixion is
considered "quick", then the pain and despair of Vladimir
and Estragons lingering life is even further
accentuated. Vladimirs false alarm concerning Godots
arrival is met with a line suggesting a messianic herald:
"The wind in the reeds " echoes Jesuss remarks about
John the Baptist:
What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed
shaken with the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to
see? A prophet yea, I say unto you, and more than a
prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I
send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare
thy way before thee. (Matthew 11:7-10)
This reference to hope and salvation, along with the others, ironically indicates the
extent to which Vladimir and Estragon have been misled by their culture, conned
into desiring, awaiting the impossible or the nonexistent.

Other biblical or theological and religious references in the play serve similar
ironic functions: the well-known biblical injunction "Seek and ye shall find" is
garbled to "When you seek you hear . . . . That prevents you from finding"; Pozzo,
condescending and punitive, seems at time a parody of God the Father, though "not
particularly human", happy to meet "the meanest creature", "of the same species as
Pozzo! Made in Gods image ", "even when the likeness is an imperfect
one"; Vladimir and Estragon seem parodies of humankind, Estragon giving his
name as Adam and Vladimir sententiously concluding that " all mankind is us ";
Godot seems a parody of popular imaged of God, having a significant white beard,
little boys for messengers (angels) and a nasty tendency to punish those who refuse
to wait on him. The irony of these references keeps alive in the play what the story
of the two thieves had suggested, that there is no happy salvation for Vladimir and
Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

The sense that Vladimir and Estragon will not be saved is reinforced by a second
parable, the well-known story of the wise and foolish virgins:
Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their
lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and
five were foolish. They were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them:
But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom
tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made,
Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. . . . and they that were
ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came
also the other virgins [who had gone to buy oil for their lamps], saying, Lord, Lord,
open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not.
Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour therein the Son of man
cometh. (Matthew 25:1-13)
The biblical words "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" are
echoed in Vladimirs triumphant announcement," Its Godot ! Were saved! Lets
go and meet him!". Like attendant virgins of ancient ceremony, these two derelicts
have awaited one who they are sure has a special claim on them and in waiting
have proved themselves worthy: "What are we doing here , that is the question.
And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this
immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come".
In the parable, the bridegroom does finally arrive and takes those who are ready
into the wedding feast (an image for the kingdom of heaven or salvation; see
Matthew 22:1-14 for a similar parable associating darkness and damnation). But in
this play, Vladimir is wrong, they are not saved (or blessed), and Estragon is right,

they are "in hell ". Once again, a biblical parable serves as ironic contrast to the
dramatic scene:the received wisdom of Vladimirs world is untrue; Vladimir may
regulate his behaviour and set his expectations according to the old stories, but in
fact these stories are not reliable: he may keep his appointment, but the bridegroom
does not. In the parable, of course, the bridegroom tarries, arriving finally at
midnight; it is precisely this detail of the story that traps Vladimir, who never
knows whether he has waited long enough: perhaps Godot will come tomorrow,
"without fail ".
Vladimir is not, of course, consciously referring to this parable; but its ethic resides
in him, as his echo of its words suggests. Thus the audience senses one more
grimly comic moment of blighted hope: "your only hope left is to disappear ". But
Didi and Gogo continue to wait, hoping for a salvation, a deliverance, even though all their
biblical stories of salvationthe two thieves, the sheep and goats, the ten virginsmock
those hopes.
Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

Vladimir, looking again at the sleeping, dreaming Estragon, can say, " At me too
someone is looking , of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows
nothing, let him sleep on". The line echoes Christs observation of Peter in
Gethsemane (Mark 14:41): "Sleep on now and take your rest."
S E Gontarski "Dealing with a Given Space": Waiting for Godot and the
Stage from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching
Beckett's Waiting for Godot


. . . always, at the back of our minds and of Becketts too, there is the image of the
tramp as scapegoat, the tramp as an ironic, half-involuntary Christ .
V: But you cant go barefoot!
E: Christ did.
V: Christ! What has Christ got to do with it? Youre not going to compare
yourself to Christ!
E: All my life Ive compared myself to him.
V: But where he lived it was warm, it was dry!
E: Yes. And they crucified quick.

. . . Luckys famous speech with its confusion of garbled knowledge recalls the
Doctor in ancient farce while the improvisation of the two tramps suggests the
endless semantic speculations and misunderstandings of the Commedia
dellArte. . . . each has his own set-piece to perform, an exact and welltried lazzo such as the exchange of hats. . . . If language does threaten to assert
itself, its pretensions are burst by the pratfall. At times the pratfall works from
within language itself as in Pozzos inflated speech which portends, in the
beginning, to be the definitive speech we have come to the theatre to hear: after
leading his audience to a climax of expectation he cannot sustain the illusion and
gloomily concludes" Thats how it is on this bitch of an earth ."
More frequently , however, it is solely physical and often disgusting. It deflates the
platitudes and expressions of sentiment with which the characters clothe their
isolation, as for example where Vladimir and Estragon, out of habit and the
boredom of the condition, attempt a reconciliation:
E: Come Didi. (silence) Give me your hand. (Vladimir turns) Embrace me!
(Vladimir softens.
They embrace. Estragon recoils) You stink of garlic.
V: Its good for the kidneys.(silence). Estragon looks attentively at the
tree) What do we do now?
E: We wait.

The pratfall returns them to the painful level of reality from which they will begin
another "little canter " towards the same end. This is the clowns weapon, the
undignified, ceremonious collapse of human pretension, a levelling down from the
upright to the horizontal . In Act II the tramps, Pozzo and Lucky all stumble and
fall together to form a pile of bodies centre stage. It is the universal pratfall.
V: Weve arrived
P: Who are you?
V: We are men.

Detached from history and society Vladimir and Estragon have time to be
men. Though they are sharply individualised, have their own past and are
concerned, in the present, with the vagrants usual preoccupationswhat to eat;
where to sleep; beatings and the state of their bootsThey achieve a universal
dimension. . . . they present a commentary on life and a definition of man:
humanity considered in its residue, left facing itself.
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

. . . The pitiful struggle they are waging to keep up the semblance of action is
probably so impressive only because it mirrors our own fate, that of modern mass
man . Since, through the mechanisation of labour, the worker is deprived of the
chance to recognise what he is actually doing , and of seeing the objectives of his
work, his working too has become something like a sham activity. . . . On the other

hand, by this kind of work, man has become so thoroughly unbalanced that he now
feels the urge to restore his equilibrium during his leisure time by engaging in
substitute activities and hobbies , and by inventing pseudo-objectives with which
he can identify himself and which he actually wishes to reach: thus it is precisely
during his leisure time and while playing that he seems to be doing real work. . . .
And this is not even the extreme case. For mass-man today has been deprived so
completely of his initiative and of his ability to shape his leisure time himself
that he now depends upon the ceaselessly running conveyor belt of radio and
television to make time pass . . . . If the silly seriousness with which Estragon and
Vladimir struggle to produce a semblance of activity strikes us as so deadly serious
and so fantastically symptomatic for our time, it is only because today working
time and leisure time, activity and indolence, real life and playing, have become so
inextricably intertwined.
Gnther Anders Being without Time: On Beckett's Play Waiting for Godot

Vladimir and Estragon pass the time while waiting by playing at a series of games
language gameswhich are two key concepts in much of contemporary
thought; . . . Godot is the play of Vladimir and Estragons words, not any agreedupon meaning for them, which constitutes their social bond. This postmodern
social bond is suspended in Godot by Vladimir and Estragons drive to recuperate a
transcendent principlerepresented by Godotwhich they feel while give
meaning to their lives and their speech, thereby legitimating their society. All their
games have reference to one metagame: waiting for Godot.

. . . In postmodern society, it is
precisely in the social bond of
language and language games that
we can legitimate our own society.
In such a postmodern society,
people have untied themselves from
the belief in a metaphysical, transhistorical, absolute ground for their
existence. It has become apparent
that no such system exists, but this
does not reduce postmodern society
to barbarity and chaos, as the
modernists thought it would.
Postmoderns look to themselves
and their communicational
interaction in society to legitimate
their existence.
In Godot, Gogo and Didi have such
a communicational society but they
do not realise it because of their
deep-seated drive toward
legitimation in Godot. Early in the
play we see how this belief in a
static metaphysical support displaces any postmodern notion of society:

Lets go
We cant
Why not?
Were waiting for Godot.

This simple sequence occurs several times throughout the play, and always after a
long pause following the final "trick" played in a language game:when their games
break down or are played out, they constantly refer back to their metagame, their
metadiscourseGodot. For example, after Pozzo and Lucky leave near the end of
the first act, we have this exchange:
P: Adieu
Long silence
V: That passed the time.
E: It would have passed in any case.
V: Yes, but not so rapidly.
E: What do we do now?
V: I dont know.
E: Lets go.
V: We cant
E: Why not?
V: Were waiting for Godot.

Significance (i.e., Godot, for whom we wait) is always a suspense and a test of
meaning, perpetually in crisis. It depends on what narrative can produce: narrative
manipulates character. Meaning is as "dark as [it is] in a head before the worms get
at it" (Stories). This production of meaning is generally seen, then, as an
illumination, a function of insight. Beckett reverses this dead metaphor of insight
a fundamental cultural metaphorby showing narrative as a function rather of
blindness (Pozzo) or, at best, or partial sight (all five characters), which is
Becketts Platonic metaphor for the interaction of language and meaning. Nor do
characters "produce" dialogue in Godot, but what I have called the two registers of
language produce their own distinct dialogue; indeed, this narrative produced the
characters. The lecture, as recitation, and the lecture, as reading, separate and
interact to suspend and to test meaning. This dialogue of reading characterises the
entire text of Godot, . . .
The opening exchange of the play, between Gogo and Didi, is an introduction to
and immersion in the confrontation of lecture and lecture.
E: Nothing to be done.

. . . in response to Gogos offhand remark, Didi delivers a lecture, as though he

were reading it.
V: Im beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life Ive tried to
put it from me, saying,
Vladimir, be reasonable, you havent yet tried everything. And I resumed
the struggle.
(He broods, musing on the struggle. . . . )

Didi has not addressed Gogo at all, nor has he addressed the audience or reader
outside the play. He has "read" a text here, one that remains concealed from the
reader or view of Godot, an underlying text whose authority is never questioned or
revealed. This unrevealed, authoritative text, which gives Didi such weighty and
ponderous delivery, is the text of the politician, the philosopher, the rhetorician,
and it is utterly unavailable to Gogo. Having delivered his lecture, Didi slips out to
Gogos experiential world:
V: So there you are again.

This transitional remark is itself caught between two kinds of discourse; it marks
the emergence and the nonsynthesis of layers of language.
Jeffrey Nealon from Cathleen Culotta Andonian Critical Response to Samuel


. . . Alain Robbe-Grillet, although concerned to stress certain philosophic

overtones, provides the best description of this quality:
"The dramatic character, in most cases, merely plays a rle, like the people around
us who evade their own existence. In Becketts play, on the contrary, everything
happens as if the two tramps were on stage without having a rle.
They are there; they must explain themselves. But they do not seem to have a text
prepared beforehand and scrupulously learned by heart, to support them. They
must invent. They are free." . . . action has lost so much of its independence that it
itself has become a form of passivity and even where action is deadly strenuous or
actually deadly, it has assumed the character of futile action or inaction. That
Estragon and Vladimir, who do absolutely nothing, are representative of millions
of people, is undeniable.
. . . mass men, after all, dont give up living even when their life becomes
pointless; even the nihilists will to go on living, or at least they dont wish not to
be alive. And it is not despite the pointlessness of their life that the Estragons and
Vladimirs wish to go on living, but on the contrary, just because their life has
become pointless . . . ruined by their habit of inaction or of acting without their
own initiative, they have lost their will power to decide not to go on, their freedom
to end it all. Or, ultimately, they go on living merely because they happen to exist,
and because existence doesnt know of any other alternative but to exist.
. . . before and after become like left and right, they lose their time character; after
a while this circular movement gives the impression of being stationary, time
appears to be standing still and becomes (in analogy to Hegels "Bad infinity") a
"bad eternity".
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

Throughout Becketts novels and plays there is a desperate need to be observed

and, in Sartrian terms, to be witnessed by the Other. Vladimir in Waiting for
Godot tells the Boy, Godots messenger, that he should report back to Mr Godot
"Tell him . . . (he hesitates) . . . tell him you saw me and that . . . (he hesitates) . . .
that you saw me . . . Youre sure you saw me, you wont come and tell me
tomorrow that you never saw me!" repeating the terms that he used to terminate the
brief meeting with the boy in Act I, but changing the object from "us" to a more
selfish, because more desperate, "me". The fear of darkness and silence . . . is
balanced then by a dread at the prospect that there should be no "eye" to observe
James Knowlson Light and Darkness in the Theatre of Samuel Beckett

In the course of the play it becomes increasingly apparent that Vladimir and
Estragon are, relative to Godot, in the same servile position Lucky is, especially
with respect to the doubly-violent end to his deconstructive think. For example,
near the end of the playafter the boy has told Vladimir and Estragon that Godot
again will not come todaywe have this exchange:

. . . Lets go away from here.

We cant.
Why not?
We have to come back tomorrow.
What for?
To wait for Godot . . .
. . . And if we dropped him (Pause)
Hed punish us.

If we dropped him?

Here we see Vladimir and Estragon on the verge of a deconstructive breakthrough,

but again their dependence on the metadiscourse of Godot holds them back. In this
passage, we see reiterated the violent nature of the limitations that a belief in Godot
places on Vladimir and Estragon both physical limits and, perhaps more
importantly, intellectual ones: if they "dropped him", they feel he
would punish them. Vladimir and Estragon cannot leave the place they are in or
think beyond the limits of a static, objective metasystem because of the rigid,
violent limits placed on both their actions and their thought by the modernist
metadiscourse represented by Godot. Their minds are slaves to Godot in the same
way Luckys body is a slave to Pozzo.
In Godot, Beckett shows us that Vladimir and Estragon are trapped by their
modernist nostalgia for legitimation in Godot: they have a totalising modernist
world view in an infinite, postmodern world. From the beginning of the play,
Beckett emphasises that this legitimation is always already there in the play of
language games and the active interpretation of the postmodern, noncentred world
not in the passive, stifling waiting for the return of an objective grand Narrative
that never really offered any metaphysical support in the first place. . . .
Jeffrey Nealon from Cathleen Culotta Andonian Critical Response to Samuel


. . . With some consistency, Didi of Act I speaks as mind, and Gogo as body. . . .
Didi is the more eloquent of the two, with Gogo sitting, leaning, limping, falling,
i.e. seeking nearness to the ground. Gogos stage business bears on his boots, and
Didis on his hat. Gogo wants Lucky to dance, but Didi desires him to think. Gogo
stinks from his feet, and Didi from his mouth. Gogo is given to pantomime, while

Didi leans toward rhetoric. Their very nicknamesgo go and dis dis (from
French dire) summarise the polarity . . . At the end of Act I, it is the active Gogo
who asks, " Well, shall we go ?" and the meditative Didi assents, "Yes, lets go."
Act II closes with the same lines, but the speakers are reversed .
Ruby Cohn Philosophical Fragments in the Works of Samuel Beckett

For the tramps, their nobility lies in their persistent search for meaning; their
tragedy in the impotence of the intelligence to overcome the incommensurables
that surround it.
Of the two Vladimir thinks more and is therefore more eloquent: his anguish is
intellectual. Consequently he appears to be the stronger. . . . But Vladimirs
thinking is fallible and exposes him to greater anguish than Estragon. When they
discuss the idea of hanging themselves Estragon sees at once that Vladimir, who is
the heavier of the two, may break the bough, but Vladimir has to have it explained
to him as if he were a child and then says, "I hadnt thought of that ." And it is
Estragon who often destroys his painfully built intellectual certainties: "Nothing is
certain when youre about ". Vladimirs head is a " charnel house " of dead ideas,
and when he needs to think he takes off his hat and peers inside as if looking for
somethinga pantomime of the intellectuals hollow crown. When Lucky leaves
his hat behind Vladimir exchanges it for his, perhaps preferring other mens ideas
to his own.
Vladimir is also capable of thinking of others whereas Estragon is only concerned
by his own pain. . . . But as it proves intellectual compassion is not boundless:
Vladimirs sympathy is for the suffering of the moment.
Estragon . . . is more petulant, stubborn and egotistical than Vladimir. He sulks like
a child, sitting inert on the mound while Vladimir paces restlessly about with his
eyes searching the horizon as if the answer to his agony might be found there. His
imagination is spontaneous and he habitually personalises the universe, thus when
he talks of Christ it is not surprising to find him identifying himself with him or
that he claims, looking at his rags, to have been a poet.
Vladimir read the Bible for instruction, Estragon for the coloured maps of the Holy
Land . . . His suffering is physical, as with his boots, or emotional, but he still
delights in the body and in physical coarseness as when Vladimir (who despises it)
has to relieve himself. Then he stand in the middle of the stage and enjoys the
spectacle. Estragon is also more naturally a victim . . . and in his innocence of
thought seems to be more beloved by whoever it is who introduces the several
mysterious acts of grace into the evening. In the first act he struggles to get his feet
into his boots; after the interval they have been replaced by a pair a little too

large. Beckett told Harold Hobson: "One of Estragons feet is blessed, and the
other is damned. The boot wont go on the foot that is damned; and it will go on
the foot that is not." Finally, Estragon is closer to timelessness than Vladimir. All
landscapes are now the same to him and his memory is incapable of reaching back
even to the previous day. Once completed an event is forgotten; and in his mind,
which makes no distinction between events in time, his thoughts belong to the
infinite number of repeated present moments in which they are spoken. Thus he is
easily pleased by their improvisations and when he is, is confident for the
tomorrow of which he cannot form
any real conception, unlike Vladimir
who dreads the always coming of the
The dialogue in which the tramps
attract and repel, demand and reject,
possess and elude one another,
expresses a friendship which is
situated somewhere between fatigue
and ennui. . . . Each feels closer to his
own Self without the other who
reminds him of his imprisonment in
time . They remain unknown and
unknowable to one another but prefer
to continue a relationship which
repeatedly stresses their inviolable
isolation, rather than separate and
endure the inescapable self-perception
of life alone. Both feel pain and call
on the other to recognise their
suffering but neither is capable of
penetrating to the others being: Vladimir suffering intellectually is a spectacle for
Estragon; Estragon suffering physically is beyond Vladimirs comprehension.
. . . Suffering doesnt ennoble or create a human solidarity; it is unsharable and it
brutalises. When he is kicked Estragon spits at Lucky and later, when the latter is
incapable on the ground, belabours him with fists and feet. Again when Estragon
calls on God for pity, Vladimir, his friend, is excluded from the plea:
E: God have pity on me!
V: And me?
E: On me! On me! Pity! On me!

Like all who love, or are close to another, they are adept at wounding. Rejection is
followed by counter rejection and Estragons selfish wants encourage Vladimir to
sarcasm and bitterness. . . . But despite the suffering which sets a distance between
them , and the others presence which emphasises their essential loneliness, there is

also a profound need which can sometimes transform the irritations of hatred into
tenderness and their anger into a compassion which is close to love. Vladimir
needs someone to listen to him explain the conflicting evidence in his
head (" Come on , Gogo, return the ball, cant you")and the childlike Estragon
wants protection from himself and others ("When I think of it . . . all these
years . . . but for me . . . where would
you be . . ? Youd be nothing more than
a little heap of bones at the present
Pozzo and Lucky are representatives of
the ordinary world from which the
tramps are excluded. "Weve lost our
rights ?" Estragon asks. Vladimir
prefers to say "Weve waived them."
Even the tramps will to assert their
importance as free agents by insisting
that their exclusion is voluntary. By
contrast with Pozzo and Lucky,
however, it is the tramps lives which
appear normal. . . . In a world where
man awaits a revelation, Pozzo, the
master, is the nearest approach to what
is absent. Life, for Pozzo, is important.
When he enters he still values the body
(the provisions he has brought for
himself); he is capable of enjoying sensual delight and depends upon a collection
of cherished possessions (his pipe and vaporisor [much like relics prized by the
many established religions, notably the Roman Catholic church]). Pozzos is a
fixed and well-regulated world in contrast to the stationary confusion of the tramps
where everything is in flux, and his behaviour echoes the image which the tramps
have of Godot (so does his name).
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


. . . If we are right in assuming that the Pozzo-Lucky couple are comparable to the
collective pseudo-ego , we may expect the tramps, Vladimir and Estragon ,
to reveal features of the lost value hidden in those who have "something above the
average, an overplus for which there is no adequate outlet" [from Jungs
description of schizophrenics], of the rejected which will have to come to the
rescue of a no longer valid normality.

Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays

Estragon , who was once a poet, is predominantly the withdrawn inner self . On the
stage he several times attempts to go to sleep and dream; when woken up by
Vladimir he loses his temper and with a gesture towards the universe exclaims
"This one is enough for you ?" He has given up the struggle ("Nothing is to be
done"), and twice he suggests that they both hang themselves; in fact we learn that
years ago he tried to drown himself in the Rhne but Vladimir rescued him. The
suicidal impulses of the inner self are often countered by the pseudo-self which is
more closely identified with the body than is the other; . . .
In his rle as the inner self we find that Estragon is the cold member of the pair,
who refuses the embrace of his more warm-hearted companion and is generally
more surly and even occasionally cruel. His contributions to the dialogue are apt to
be terse, shrewd and gloomy, but sometimes he bursts out furiously and shouts
with no apparently adequate provocation. Several times he suggests going away
and separating from Vladimir, but actually he clings to his friend whose presence
he needsin fact they could not exist apart for long; as single cherries they would
rot immediately.
Apparently, however, they do lose each other each night (when the body-bound
pseudo-self sleeps) and during the day (when the pseudo-self is occupied with the
outer world) and only come into communication during the twilight of evening . . .
. Vladimir is joyous at their reunion and wants to embrace his friend, but Estragon
is sulky. It seems that once again unknown persons have beaten him during the
night; the life of the inner self in the periods when it is completely divorced from
the pseudo-self is not [a] cosy state, . . . but is unfortunately likely to consist of
terrifying phantasies.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

Vladimir is more emotional, more easily hurt, and more dependent on friendship
than is Estragon. He is also rather more hopeful, not quite convinced that there is
"nothing to be done". He is the relatively practical one . . . Vladimir, too, is the one
who has a sense of time; . . . Estragon has very little sense of time and hardly any
memory; . . . and when asked about what was said at the beginning of this very
evening can only reply "dont ask me. Im not a historian ."
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

Estragon . . . [believes] that his whole life has been one long crucifixion. Beckett
constantly uses the cross as a symbol of the agony of human life rather than of
redemption in this play it appears on the stage as a tree on which Estragon
proposes they should hang themselves, and behind which he tries in vain to hide
and abandons with the comment: " Decidedly this tree will not have been of the
slightest use to us ."
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

[The] schizophrenic split [as embodied by Pozzo and Lucky] was one in which the
imaginative part , the function which William Blake called the poetic Genius, was
shut off and made into a feeble inner self, while the remainder of the ego built up a
pseudo-self which was occupied with material prosperity. As time went on the
pseudo-self grew more and more domineering, self-important and callous but also
more unsure of itself; on the other hand the inner self became more unreal and
The split as embodied in Estragon and Vladimir is not so severe ; they still retain
feelings of affection for each other, come together each evening for mutual support
and are visibly human beings who suffer. But Pozzo and Lucky represent a much
more radical split in which the elements of feeling and imaginative thought have
been suppressed and starved while a swollen ego has successfully pursued selfish
material ends.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


. . . Didi and Gogo are regularly contaminated with finite time by the very events
they welcome as diversions (the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky). . . . Didi and Gogo
therefore exist in an area of dimension of finite time and are excluded from the
infinite within eternity. This exclusion, this exile and separation, are perpetuated by
the welcome appearance of the cyclic elements. So we begin to see the
intimate ironic connexion between the repetitive structure of the play, and the
overall theme of waiting for the end of time.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

Dialogue proves to be even more repetitious and circular than physical gestures.
The conversations of Didi and Gogo possess a litany like structure, with constant

verbal repetition and recurrence of phases and motifs . . . In many such " canters "
Estragon and Vladimir change places, each asking or declaring what the other had
just a few moments before . . . Conversation to both is a " ball " that has to be
"returned", another game to pass the time until Godot comes. . . . at their best, the
short, stichomythic speeches of Didi and Gogo are a lilting counterpoint, poetic as
well as musical.
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce

Two single speeches exemplify this extraordinary ability of the dialogue to turn
back on itself. Luckys monologue in Act I . . . establishes the pitiful mortality of
man and his works. . . . the whole tour de force finally culminates in lines whose
repeated echoes of "stone" and "skull" evoke the image of the graveyard that is
every mans end. Death imagery also pervades Vladimirs second-act song, . . .
which is capable of infinite expansion (or rather, regression). Circular in structure,
repetitious in vocabulary, the song is a symbol of the play itself, a "closed plot
from which there is no exit."
. . . [the] influence of Joyce and Finnegans Wake in particular can be seen
in Waiting for Godots careful balancing of opposites. The overwhelming tendency
to circular movement is countered if not conquered by an effort at linear
progression. Against the monotony of the circle is set the fearful descending line
that ends in the grave.
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce

Distinct individuals, Gogo and Didi are also two complementary halves of a single
personality. Vladimir is mans mental aspect, Estragon his physical body. If
Vladimirs mouth smells, Estragons feet stink; if Vladimir continually plays with
his hat, Estragon is always trying to take off his boots. Both will to see Lucky
perform, but Vladimir wants him to think and Estragon wants him to dance.
. . . Pozzos right lung [in Estragons lampooning of his use of the vaporiser] is
good, but his left one is bad, and Beckett[said] "one of Estragon's feet is blessed,
and the other is damned. The boot wont go on the foot that is damned; and it will
go on the foot that is not."
Finally, Waiting for Godot balances the opposites of art and artifice. A play, it is
aware, as are all of Becketts works, of its own theatrical illusion. Far from

pretending that their stage has four walls, Gogo and Didi are highly conscious of
the audience watching them. "Inspiring prospects " is Estragons comment on the
playgoers. Vladimir, not so polite, perhaps voices the secret hostility of many an
author when he turns toward the auditorium and says, "that bog . . .". Estragon, like
an usher, directs Vladimir to the mens room. . . while Vladimir appropriately
responds, Keep my seat ." Aware that he and Vladimir are actors uttering lines,
Estragon comments directorially on their delivery: "That wasnt such a bad little
canter ."
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce


. . . In Waiting for Godot the central point to which all four figures are constantly
drawn is the tree, the Cross (by extension of significance), the symbol of the deity
to whom Vladimir and Estragon both appeal(" Do you think God sees
me ?""God have pity on meAnd me!"). But these appeals to God, to
the control deity, set him quite apart from Godot, who has many of the attributes of
the old-style conventional image of God with a white beard. Are there, then two
gods? Why not? Becketts view is a simple gnostic ambiguity: there is a demiurge
who created this imperfect and suffering world, and there is hope for a Redeemer
who may set all things to rights when he chooses, for reasons unknown but time
will tell.
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness

While Estragon broods to one side Vladimir questions the boy about Mr Godot and
learns that he does nothing. On being told that he has a beard Vladimir asks "fair or
. . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?" The boy thinks that it is white, at which Vladimir
exclaims "Christ have mercy on us!" He was prepared to find that Godot was the
Saviour or even the Devil; but appalled by the possibility of him being Jehovah,
the God of the Judgment Day.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach

Vladimir is the romantic, given to nostalgia; Estragon , whom he has virtually

called into existence by acknowledging his opening remark (" but for me . . .
.where would you be?") is pragmatically involved with easing the pain of the

present. To Vladimirs conceptual intelligence ("Boots must be taken off every

day") . . . Estragon opposes the stricken cry of the man given to single perceptions.
But it means he cannot sympathise with Vladimirs torment, and however much of
a poseur Vladimir may seem, he takes the truth of inherited quotations (" Hope
deferred . . . ") seriously. Only when the consultation of his hat proves infectious
does he come round to Estragons original position, "Nothing to be done", closing
the first of many closed systems out of which the play is built.
Estragon begins the next movement by parodying the last act of the previous
movement: Vladimirs quest for inspiration is reduced to Estragon inspecting his
boot. Vladimirs scorn for the elementary logic Estragon reveals in this enterprise
does nothing to ease his own problem. His apothegms lead only to the exposure of
accepted wisdom, not to the creation of new truths; the story he tells merely
occupies the vacancy of time. Estragon is always content to return to the point of
origin; he is the architect of a close system centreing on himself (" Youre
merciless ", Vladimir says). . . .
To the idealist Vladimir, Estragons pragmatism is confusing: "Nothing is certain
when youre about." As an idealist he finds that the one dream is sufficient:
introduce personal freedom, as Estragon seeks to do, and it will look very much
like a nightmare . . . the laughter of relief is " prohibited ". Furthermore, the only
moments of ordinary quotidian reality occur when Estragon decides not only to
"return the ball ", but to initiate the rally, and then Vladimir finds himself at the
mercy of Gogos good will. Godot, for Estragon, is simply the "wind in the reeds "
from Vladimirs nostalgic nineties ". . . .
John Pilling Samuel Beckett

Vladimir is careful to let Pozzo announce himself; his whole position would be in
danger if the concept of Godot could not also be a precept. But like the blustering
Satan of Paradise Lost, Pozzo is disappointed that he has been summoned and yet
they do not know him. The new arrivals increase ones sense of possibility. Lucky
is like Estragon, in snatching the sleep he can get, but Pozzo introduces the notion
of "species" and can laugh where Vladimirs timidity and querulousness do not
allow him to. At the same time, Pozzos epicureanism is dependent on the
continued enslavement of Lucky. . . . Pozzo pretends Lucky is an analogue of the
Kenotic Christ or Suffering Servant, but he is committed to a closed system that
denies Christianity, and trying to father it on Lucky does him no good.
John Pilling Samuel Beckett

At one moment in Godot this mutual expectation appears to be redeemed from

improvisation by the entrance of Pozzo. Here, is would seem, is the real actor, an
imposing figure who makes his entrance conscious of its effect and with none of
the timid uncertainty and inconclusiveness attached to the tramps. Bestriding the
stage he declaims:
I am Pozzo.




Does that name mean nothing to

I say does that name mean nothing to you?

At his first entrance Pozzo has no doubts; he knows who he is and the audience,
who, like the tramps, probably mistake him for Godot, believe that the waiting will
now be resolved. For several minutes he sustains the illusion. With the aid of his
vaporiser he recites a speech describing the fall of night. This is the true
performance, patiently, studied and rehearsed frequently spoken and owing nothing
to the improvised passages that have been offered earlier in the evening. It is
lyrical, prosaic and vibrant, uses dramatic pause and a variety of accepted theatrical
gestures ("hand raised in admonition; he raises his eyes to the sky") to increase its
effect. Afterwards the artiste asks his audience, represented by Estragon and
Vladimir, "How did you find me ?", thanks them for their automatic enthusiasm
and concedes: "I weakened a little towards the end, you didnt notice?

The general effect, however, has been disappointing; as Estragon says: "Ive been
better entertained ." Pozzo is not Godot as the second act makes clear. The evening

is not saved for he needs the tramps as the audience needs them and Lucky needs
him; it is another of those chains of cause and effect . . . The deadening repetition
of dialogue and action is demonstrated in the theatrical situation itself. If the
necessity of being seen compels the actors to return before an audience night after
night, the audience, for the moment the tyrant or witness, comes because it too is
committed to wait. And if, during the evening, any progress is made . . . the next
night returns them to the same point on the circle once again.
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead

When Vladimir says that he and Estragon waived their rights rather than lost them
he is consciously adopting an importance which he does not possess. "Were not
tied ?" asks Estragon. "No question of it!" replied Vladimir. "For the moment." The
tramps, like those in the society from which they are excluded, want to believe that
their individual decisions change things and that these decisions are made without
duress. But, despite their apparent freedom as outcasts, their condition is as
circumscribed as Pozzos. They need Godot to give a meaning to their
universe: they depend on his arrival, and so long as Godot does not come to
resolve their waiting everything that happens is only provisional.
Godot, because he exists for the tramps and directs the course of the evening in
progress, is as real a character as any of those we see. . . . To the tramps he lives in
the capitalist world of family, agents, correspondents and bank accounts. They
identify his power with what is more familiar to them in the only world they have
experience of: authority. But to the boy who brings his messages Godot has a white
beard and his life is occupied by the far older mastership over the sheep and the
Beckett employs Christian imagery to broaden his effects. In the theatre of life
there exists this strange disposal of approval and disapproval, or blessedness and
damnation, it is difficult to know what, which applies to Estragons feet as well as
to Cain and Abel or the two thieves. Vladimir regards the Bible as a document to
be verified, not as the repository of the word of God , and is tormented by the
discrepancies which exist between the four Gospels. What Vladimir seeks is not
the Christian solution that end either in heaven or hell but simply , as he says, to be
saved "from death" which extinguishes all meaning. That one of the thieves
succeeded in finding a way round death is what compels his imagination, never
who saved him. Godots existence is the result of mans inability to be a nihilist: he
is the creation of mans profound need for meaning. When man is shown, as here,
to be incapable of accepting his own insignificance in a slowly dying world, and of
realising that his suffering is meaningless, Godot is the necessary unknown at the
end of the series who is introduced to justify existence by the rational leap into the
dark. He is the missing quantity in the universe which the tramps can define in no

other way, the answer to the unanswerable question who would, if he appeared,
integrate the world that is always disintegrating and restore man, out of
meaningless, into meaning.
A God who conceives such a world in the full consciousness of what he has created
must either, in his desire to hear the cries of another, be the most monstrous of
tyrants, or elseand this seems the more likely as he continues to refrain from
extending an upholding handhe is not there.
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead

. . . Becketts skill in sending thoroughly human characters through an action, a

"doing" that leaves the more reflective and articulate Didi, at least, more knowing
at the end of the play than he was at the start.Didi , I argue, has learned as a result
of his urgent but futile initiatives through the course of the play. Because Didi and
Gogo are invested with such elemental humanity and because Beckett has teased
us into whiling away with them a couple of hours , scratching our heads as they
scratch theirs, bumping our noses on the inscrutable as they bump theirs, we are in
a position to learn along with Didi. We are in a position to be moved by his
declaration, "The air is full of our cries".
Mary Scott Simpson, Waiting for Godot and the Forms of Tragedy from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

Synonyms: dragonne, serpentine
Tarragon originated in Russian Asia and Mongolia and was introduced to Europe in
the Middle Ages, by the Mongol invasions and the crusaders. The Arabs had
named the herb tharkhoun after the Tartar planes. The name evolved to tarcon or
targon and dragon, giving tarragon in English and estragon in French. The term
dragon, and the subsequent petit serpent or serpentine comes from the shape of the
roots. In contrast to most other Artemisia oils, the essential oil of Artemisia
Dracunculus is a sweet smelling, spicy oil. The plant is a small member of the
Compositae family, growing wild in many European and Asian countries. It is
widely cultivated as a culinary herb or household spice for its sweet anisic,
somewhat celery leaf like and fresh green flavor for use in vinegar, pickles,
seasonings, meat sauces, etc. Estragon Oil is a colorless or very pale yellow to

greenish yellow liquid with a sweet anisic, green spicy, slightly celery like odor,
very similar to that of the fresh herb. Like anise and basil oils, estragon oil tends to
resinify on ageing and becomes dark yellow and sticky, viscous and loses its fresh
green note and pleasant aroma. Estragole is the main constituent of estragon oil
and it is found in pine oil and in American turpentine oil. Growing used as a herbal
tea (20-30 grams per liter) to stimulate the appetite; if that works too well, the
tarragon herbal tea is also good to help digestion. Chew a leaf to stop hiccups.
Used as antidiarrheal, antirheumatic, aperitif, appetizer, carminative, digestive,
diuretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, insecticide, stimulant, stomachic; recommended
for childrens ailments, common cold, digestive problems, gastro-intestinal
disturbances, insomnia, swelling, urinary ailments, womens ailments.

Names as Interpreted by Numerologists:

The name of Vladimir gives you a very individual, reserved, serious nature. You
stick stubbornly to your ideas or decisions, in spite of any appeals or advice; you
are not willing to accept a compromise. You prefer to be alone with your own
thoughts, rather than in the company of others. This name restricts spontaneity in
association and the fluency of your verbal expression. When you are required to
express yourself in personal matters requiring finesse and diplomacy, you feel
awkward and embarrassed. Although you realize perfectly well what is expected of
you, you are unable to find the right words, and hence you end up saying
something inappropriate in a candid way. You can express your deeper thoughts
and feelings best through writing. Your friendships and personal associations are
rather restricted, being limited to those of a similar nature who can understand and
accept your rather straightforward yet reserved manner. You are steadfast and loyal,
and do not allow gossip or anything belittling to be said against those whom you
accept in friendship. You find satisfaction in being outdoors or in getting out into
nature, or in dealing with the products of the earth. There is originality and depth
of thought contained in this name, particularly along practical and mathematical
lines. This name can adversely affect the health of your respiratory organs, the
heart and lungs. Also, you are prone to suffer from weaknesses centering in the
Your name of Estragon creates a very expressive, versatile, and spontaneous
nature. You are happiest when you are associating with people and participating in
activities with others. Your name gives you a desire to sing, dance, and have a good
time. This name makes you very idealistic, emotional, and temperamental, liking to
do things on the spur-of-the-moment and disliking being repressed or held down to

monotonous detail. A lack of concentration makes it difficult to establish stable,

secure conditions in your business life. In order to bring out the higher side of your
nature, you should develop your artistic and creative talents. Over-indulgence in
food or emotional desires could cause you to have problems in your nervous
system as well as with your skin.
Your first name of Godot makes you spontaneous and versatile, enjoying congenial
association, appreciating the finer things of life, and loving to talk and debate. You
are strong willed and self-sufficient, not depending on others for encouragement.
Your desire for independence and freedom means that you seldom tolerate
limitations. Although you are naturally happy and generous, you fail to hold
friendships because you are inclined to be too dogmatic, argumentative, or
sarcastic. In an argument, you usually emerge the victor, but at a cost. Physical
weaknesses centre in the head. The eyes, ears, teeth, or sinuses could be affected,
or you could experience loss of hair. Skin problems such as acne or eczema could
also appear.
Note: Lucky's Thought as presented here is a variant of the Grove Press version
that was "translated from his original French text by the author".
LUCKY:(monotone sales-pitch)Being given the existence such
(dbit monotone) tant donn lexistence telle
that it gushes forth from the recent public works of
quelle jaillit des rcents travaux publics de
Poinon and Wattman1 of a personal God quaquaquaqua
Poinon et Wattman dun Dieu personnel quaquaquaqua
with a white beard quaqua outside of the time of
barbe blanche quaqua hors du temps de
the extent that from height of its divine apathia2 its divine
ltendue qui du hau de sa divine apathie sa divine
athambia3 its divine aphasia4 [who]loves us well with
athambie sa divine aphasie nous aime bien
some near exceptions one knows not why but
quelques exceptions prs on ne sai pourquoi mais
it will come and suffers as in the divine
a viendra et souffre linstar de la divine
Miranda5 with those who are one knows not why
Miranda avec ceux qui sont on ne sait pourquoi
but one has[the ]time in the torment in
mais on a le temps dans le tourment dans
the fires whereof the fires the flames for little
les feux dont les feux les flames pour peu
that it endures a little more and that can while
que a dure encore un peu et qui peut en
doubting will put in the end the fire in the
douter mettront la fin le feu aux
beams [whereas they are]known[that they] will carry up

poutres assavoir porteront

hell of the naked[ones]so blue by instances
lenfer aux nues si bleues par moments
still today and calm so calm of a
encore aujourdhui et calmes si calmes dun
calme that can be intermittent[but] within which is
calme qui peut tre intermittent nen est
not less welcome but let us anticipate not
pas moins le bienvenu mais nanticipons pas
and anticipated on the other hand according to
et attend dautre part qu la suite
the unfinished research let us anticipate not of the
des recherches inacheves nanticipons pas des
unfinished research but nevertheless crowned(celebrated
recherches inacheves mais nanmoins courones
by the Acacacacademy of Anthropopopometry of Berne-enpar lAcacacacadmie dAnthropopopomtrie de Berne-enBresse6 of Testu7 and Conard it is established without
Bresse de Testu et Conard il est tabli sans
Further possibility of error that this afferent to the
autre possibilit derreur que celle affrente aux
human basis8 that according to the research unfinished
calcus humains
qu la suite des
unfinished of Testu and Conard it is established tabled9
inacheves de Testu et Conard il est tablie table
tabled that which follows which follows which table
ce qui suit qui suit qui
follows[whereas it is]known but let us anticipate not
suit assavoir mais nanticipons pas
one knows not why according to the works of
on ne sait pourquoi la suite des travaux de
Poinon10 and Wattmann it appears as clearly [as] so [as]
Poinon et Wattmann il apparat aussi clairement si
Clearly that in view of the labours of Fartov and
Clairement quen vue des labours de Fartov et
Belcher unfinished11 unfinished one knows not why
Belcher inachevs inachevs on ne sait pourquoi
[that]of Testu and Conard unfinished unfinished it
de Testu et Conard inachevs inachevs il
appears that man contrary to the opinion
apparat que lhomme contrairement lopinion
contrary[opposing]that man in Bresse of Testu
contraire que lhomme en Bresse de Testu
and Conard that man finally in brief that
et Conard que lhomme enfin bref que
man in brief finally despite the progress of
lhomme en bref enfin malgr les progress de
alimentation and of elimination of waste is
lalimentation et de llimination des dchets est
in the process of growing thin and at the same parallel time
en train de maigrir et en meme temps paralllement
one knows not why despite the strides of
on ne sait pourquoi malgr lessor de
physical culture of the practise of sports such as
la culture physique de la pratique des sports tels
such as such as tennis football racing and(both)tells tells
le tennis le football la course et
on foot and on bicycle swimming riding
pied et bicyclette la natation lquitation

flying conation12 tennis camogie skating

laviation la conation le tennis le camogie le patinage
and both)on ice and on asphalt tennis flying
et sur glace et sur asphalte le tennis laviation
sports sports of Winter of Summer of Autumn
les sports les sports dhiver dt dautomne
of Autumn tennis on grass on wood and on
dautomne le tennis sur gazon sur sapin et sur
clay flying tennis hockey on the ground
terre battue laviation le tennis le hockey sur terre
on the sea and in the air penicillin13 and
sur mer et dans les airs la penicillin et
substitutes in brief I reiterate at the same parallel time
succdans bref je reprends en mme temps paralllement
to shorten [make a long story short]14 one knows not why
de rapetisser on ne sait pourquoi
despite the tennis I reiterate flying golf both
malgr le tennis je reprends laviation le golf tant
nine and eighteen holes tennis on ice in brief one
neuf qu dix-huit trous le tennis sur glace bref on
knows not why in Seine15 Seine-et-Oise Seine-et-Marne
ne sait pourquoi en Seine Seine-et-Oise Seine-et-Marne
Marne-et-Oise[whereas it is]known at the same parallel time
Marne-et-Oise assavoir en mme temps paralllement
one knows not why to grow thin to narrow [it] down
on ne sait pourquoi de maigrir rtrcir
I reiterate Oise16 Marne in brief the dry loss by the
Je reprends Oise Marne bref la perte sche par
head of the pipe17 since the death of Voltaire18 being on
tte de pipe depuis la mort de Voltaire tant de
the order of two fingers 100 grams per head of
lordre de deux doigts cent grammes par tte de
pipe19 thereabouts on average about nearly round figures
pipe environ en moyenne peu prs chiffres ronds
well weighed20 undressed in Normandy one knows not
bon poids dshabill en Normandie on ne sait
why in brief finally [of] little import the facts are
pourquoi bref enfin peu importe les faits sont
there and considering on the other hand that which is
l et considrant dautre part ce qui est
yet more serious that it stands out that which is
encore plus grave quil resort ce qui est
yet more serious as to the light the light
encore plus grave qu la lumire la lumire
of the experiments in progress of Steinweg21 and
des expriences en cours de Steinweg et
Petermann it stands out that which is yet more
Petermann il resort ce qui est encore plus
Serious that it stands out that which is yet more
grave quil resort ce qui est encore plus
serious [as]to the light the light of the
grave la lumire la lumire des
abandoned experimentation of Steinweg and Petermann
expriences abandonnes de Steinweg et Petermann
that[of]the countryside the mountains and by
qu la champagne la montagne et au bord de
the sea and by the rivers and(both)of water and of fire
la mer et des cours et deau et de feu

the air is the same and the earth [as it is]known the air
lair est le mme et la terre assavoir lair
and the earth by the great coldness[of]air and[of]
et la terre par les grands froids lair et
the earth made for the stones by the great
la terre faits pour les pierres par les grands
coldness alas in the seventh[century]22 of their era
froids hlas au septime de leur re
the ethereal the earth the sea for the stones from
lthere la terre la mer pour les pierres par
the great depths the great coldness on the sea
les grands fonds les grands froids sur mer
on earth and in the precious air I reiterate one
sur terre et dans les air peuchre je reprends on
knows not why despite the tennis the facts
ne sait pourquoi malgr le tennis les faits
are there one knows not why I reiterate
sont l on ne sait pourquoi je reprends
it follows in brief finally alas it follows for the
au suivant bref enfin hlas au suivant pour les
stones who can doubt it I reiterate but let us anticipate
pierres qui peut en douter je reprends mais nanticipons
not I reiterate the head at the same parallel time one
pas je reprends la tte en meme temps paralllement on
knows not why despite the tennis it follows the
ne sait pourquoi malgr le tennis au suivant la
beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so
barbe les flames les pleurs les pierres si bleues si
calm alas the head the head the head the head
calmes hlas la tte la tte la tte la tte
in Normandy despite the tennis the labours
en Normandie malgr le tennis les labours
abandoned unfinished more serious the stones in brief
abandonns inachevs plus grave les pierres bref
I reiterate alas alas abandoned unfinished the head
Je reprends hlas hlas abandonns inachevs la tte
the head in Normandy despite the tennis the head
la tte en Normandie malgr le tennis la tte
alas the stones Conard Conard(Mle. Lucky pushes on
hlas les pierres Conard Conard... (Mle. Lucky pousse encore
with a few more shouts.)Tennis The stones so calm
quelques vocifrations.) Tennis! ...
Les pierres! ... Si calmes!
Conard Unfinished
... Conard! ...
Inachevs! ...
Daughter of Prospero; the name means "admirable"
calcus related to Latin root for rock. In this case, "calcus"
roughly means bedrock. Foreshadowing of repeated use of the word "stone".
French pun. By omitting the first syllable of tablie,
established, Lucky echoes the final two syllables tabli, tabled; e.g., to
put aside (like the work of Testu and Conard).
Sexual pun on the inability to achieve orgasm.
12 conationword coined by Beckett, using his favourite word con
(stupid asshole) as a root; in this context, it refers to being a dumb
asshole for sport.
Cure for syphilis

Sexual pun, referring to post-coital penis.
Satiric names for French dpartements (roughly equivalent to
counties), all centred around the confluence of the Seine, Oise and Marne
rivers in Paris. There actually exists a dpartement called Seine-et-Marne,
but the other names are takeoffs on this.
These dpartements do exist and were regions in which a number of
WWI battles took place.
Another sexual pun.
Continuation of previous pun: Voltaire was impotent.
Further continuationreference to masturbation.
Another sexual pun; in this case, well-hung.
The century in which St Augustine produced his writings. Didi
quotes Augustines meditation on the two thieves earlier in the play.


. . . No doubt the most striking loss of this kind to the English reader is the humour
Beckett derives from a mixture of real and invented proper names in Luckys
speech in the French Waiting for Godot, where the punning is dazzlingly rich.
. . . the English "Acacacacademy of Anthropopometry of Essy-in-Possy" had been
that of Berne-en-Bresse in French, an amusingly obscure or provincial-sounding
town which in fact doesnt exist. It recalls Bourg-en-Bresse, a centre not of
learning but of gastronomy, and Becketts replacement of Bourg by the Swiss
Berne is probably to be explained by the association with the verb berner, to
hoodwink or hoax.
Similar resonances are present in the names of most of the "scholars" Lucky
mentions. Puncher and Wattman in the English text are a rather lacklustre
Anglicisation of the French Poinon et Wattman awattman in French being a

tramdriver, so that Poinon (poinon=ticket punch) is his conductor. This helps to

explain the "public works" they are involved in, whilst both names are vaguely
reminiscent of those of actual authorities such as James Watt or the French
mathematician Louis Poinsot.
The range of suggestion of the English Testew and Cunard is limited when
compared to the vistas opened up, for the amateur of puns, by the Rabelaisian
French names they are derived from: Testu et Conard. The most obvious
association here is with ttu et conard: mulish and (in coarse slang) stupid. There
are also the echoes , given the context of French words for testicle (testicule) and
vagina (again in slang:con) . Finally the names are also those of real people in the
world of learning: Testu, author of an Histoire universelle des thtres de toutes les
nations (1779-81) or Jean-Lo Testut, author of a standard medical
textbook, Prcis danatomie descriptive , which has appeared in many editions
since 1926and Conard, the eminently respectable Paris publishing house
responsible for standard editions of numerous French authors.
Finally Steinweg et Petermann (Steinweg and Peterman in the English text) are
slightly more recondite because of the German element. For an English audience
familiar with underworld slang (peterman=cracksman) the second of these two
names could seem absurdly humorous. For a French audience it would be amusing
in a different way (pter=to fart). It seems likely, however, that the joke is even
more intricate and characteristically Beckettian in that it brings in a knowledge
of German and of elementary etymology : these two German authorities are as dry
(or as dense?) as stone, since stein=stone and Peter=Greek petros=stone. This
would also account for the fact that in the remainder of Luckys speech stones are
mentioned seven times.
One last type of humour present in French but less noticeable in English is that of
Becketts jokes about his French style, which reveal him as somewhat selfconscious in his use of French. Luckys false start to his speech: "Dautre part,
pour ce qui est . . . " (in the English: "On the other hand, with regard to . . . ") is a
parody of learned prose and also a piece of self-parody by Beckett, since . . . the
use of this expression is one of his mannerisms.
Harry Cockerham Bilingual Playwright

The most striking speech in the whole play, Luckys monologue when ordered to
think, rivets our attention at first by its shocking mixture of seeming sense and
evident nonsense, mingling reflections on "this existence . . . of a personal God . . .
with white beard. . . . outside time without extension . . " (If God is without
extension, how can he be said to have a white beard?).

But as an audience loses the thread of the progressively more disrupted sentence, it
ceases to try to understand and is swept away by the verbal torrent which, in
English, breaks down into the heavily accented dimeters already noted in Becketts
free verse:
the air the earth
the sea the earth
abode of stones


in the great deeps
the great cold
on sea on land
and in the air
I resume
for reasons unknown
in spite of the tennis
the facts are there
but time will tell. . . .

Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

Biblical or theological and religious references in the play serve similar ironic
functions: the well-known biblical injunction "Seek and ye shall find" is garbled to
"When you seek you hear. . . . That prevents you from finding" ; Pozzo,
condescension and punitive, seems at time a parody of God the Father, though "not
particularly human", happy to meet "the meanest creature", "of the same species as
Pozzo! Made in Gods image ", "even when the likeness is an imperfect one";
Vladimir and Estragon seem parodies of humankind, Estragon giving his name as
Adam and Vladimir sententiously concluding that " all mankind is us "; Godot
seems a parody of popular images of God, having a significant white beard, little
boys for messengers (angels) and a nasty tendency to punish those who refuse to
wait on him. The irony of these references keeps alive in the play what the story of
the two thieves had suggested, that there is no happy salvation for Vladimir and
Luckys monologue also sounds the note of blighted hope. . . . [a] paraphrase of
Luckys argument: Despite the supposed existence of a personal Godboth
popular (with white beard) and philosophical (God qua God)who supposedly

loves humankind (while at the same time having neither sensitivity to human
suffering nor power to relieve that suffering and sometimes even causing torment)
and despite supposed intellectual and physical progress, humankind wastes and
pines: No distractions of physical activity or mental contrivance can hide the fact
that humankind is only a "skull", fading, dying, only a skull that has been
abandoned unfinished. . . . The discourse is unfinished; humankind, that mere
skull, is unfinished.
In a play where the word saved is used frequently and desperately, in a play that
virtually begins with a "sacred" but untrustworthy story about salvation, it can be
unsettling to hear even chaotic denial of the main hope of Western thought
concerning the relationship between God and human beings. The
word skull climaxes that denial. Not only does skull obviously suggest death and
disintegration, but to those who know their Bible it also suggests the name
"Golgotha", that place of the skull (as the name signifies [Matthew 27:33]) where
the two thieves were crucified. If, as Luckys monologue indicates, humankind is
only a skull, then special places like Golgotha and special salvations from dying
Gods or delaying Godots are the mere delusion Vladimir uneasily fears they may
be. Luckys "discourse" thus becomes one more story to put beside Vladimirs
story of the two thieves, both ironic commentaries on the present situation of
blighted hope.
Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June
Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for

Philosophical issues such as freedom form part of Godot, but they are discussed to
comically and inconclusively for us to be able to say that any philosophy has been
done. Even in Luckys speech philosophy is used and not done . What he delivers
is a pastiche of an academic lecture, with its references to learned authorities
("Puncher and Wattmann", "Fartov and Belcher") and its absurdly calm "I
resume"s. The subject of the lecture is the diminution of the human species in
physical size. Not only is the delivery of this lecture hopelessly garbled, but the
audiences attention is diverted by the actions of the other three characters onstage,
who groan, protest and finally attack Lucky to silence him. Most audience
members cannot get more than a few shreds of the speech, but the impression of
complete senselessness is slightly modified by its philosophical scraps. The God
mentioned at the outset is "without extension", as in Descartes for whom the
mental-spiritual world of God (and res cogitans is not "extended" in space (as
opposed to the material world, which is res extensa). From Descartes, too, comes
the method of systematic doubt in philosophical inquiry: "all other doubt than that
which clings to the labours of men". "Essy" and "Possy" are English
pronunciations of esse and posse"being" and "being able". Taken from the
Scholastic philosophy of the Middle Ages , the words appear courtesy of "Testew
and Cunard". Bishop Berkeley, for whom the existence of things was a

philosophical question (for whom "essy" was "being perceived") also makes a brief
and enigmatic appearance.
These ill-heard and
unconnected scraps do not
mean that Luckys speech is a
farrago of nonsensical
elements. His inability to
"think" properly reflects a
desperation that is not merely
satiric. He balances the
labours of scholars and the
hope that they offer ("God",
"beyond all doubt",
"penicilline") with the despair
of ignorance and uncertainty
("quaquaquaqua", "the labours
unfinished", "for reasons
unknown"), and he places
particular emphasis on "man",
about whom it is hard to say
anything at all: "it is
established what many deny
that man in Possy of Testew
and Cunard that man in Essy that man in short that man in brief in spite of the
strides of alimentation and defecation . . . " We are left with King Lears
"unaccommodated man", to whom philosophy seems hopelessly irrelevant or even
threatening in that it asks unanswerable questions and leaves us to the "labour
unfinished" of waiting for Godot.
Lance St John Butler Waiting for Godot and Philosophy from June Schlueter
and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot

The centerpiece of Becketts theme of reading and recitation is, of course, Luckys
speech near the end of Act I. It is the single time in the play when, for Lucky,
words suspend physical action but do not supplant it. The speech is itself physical
action, as Becketts stage directions indicate: Pozzos first instruction, "Think,
pig !" results in a dance since Lucky cannot remember what think means (he
subsequently "remembers" better than any of the other characters do). Think here
means "language", and its manifestation is a ritualised recitation. . . . Camus,
in The Myth of Sisyphus, argues that the absurd is precisely the suspense and
tension, the abyss, in the human being, instigated by the thought of being caught
between the arbitrary irrationality of the world and the rage for order in the
mind. Just such a rage for order lies behind both Luckys speech and Becketts
structure of reading and recitation in Godot. For Camus, as for Beckett, meaning

must be lived to be significant. In the order of the recitation, of Luckys speech as

lecture, meaning is arbitrary, certainly not the product of "lived" thought. The
monologue does not break through to a lived meaning for Lucky or anyone else,
since his words do not express any kind of conscious or intellectual conviction.
The speech is a vast compendium of hidden texts, of philosophy, religion,
scholarship, scepticism and more. . . . [It] is a self-immolation for Lucky, who
presents himself as a ritual sacrifice to interpretation (or to meaning); . . . But
interpretation is impossible. . . . During his lecture, Luckys control (ordering) of
his language is absurdly disordered and Pozzos control of Lucky disintegrates;
Pozzo becomes more and more agitated. Finally, all three attack Lucky and drag
him to the ground, enervated, on his last word, which is, appropriately,
"Unfinished". After Pozzos instruction to nab Luckys hat, with which Didi
complies, Beckett indicates in stage direction, "Silence of Lucky . He falls. Silence.
Panting of the victors". Becketts use of vainqueurs is telling here. Lucky has
radically altered his identity in this speech, outdoing Pozzo, Gogo and Didi in his
verbal energy . . . Lucky demonstrates that repetition is not order, though it is not
necessarily disorder ; he enacts the rending or sacrifice or order to disembodied
language. In this [manner] Lucky challenged Pozzo, Gogo and Didi to suppress
him. In the play, they are "victorious" over Luckys speech and, more important,
over his violent manifestation of the slippage of language. To Luckys suppression,
Gogo asserts, "Avenged!", and Lucky is treated as a figure of contempt. For his
part, Lucky, conquered, collapses into a comatose apathy ("divine aphathia"?), as
though his force has been utterly drained. He must, indeed, be taught to feel again.
Stephen Barker Lecture and Lecture: Recitation and Reading in Waiting for
Godot from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching
Beckett's Waiting for Godot

The usual view [of Luckys speech] is that it is a definition, in garbled syllogistic
form, of the human predicament as the play itself acts it out; given the existence of
a personal God, it is established beyond all doubt that man is plunged in torment,
wastes and pines, the skull fading, fading. And it ends in a corruption of Christs
last words on the cross which gives rise to the idea that Lucky, like Estragon, sees
life as a perverted ongoing Crucifixion.
There is little doubt that the speech is spun out on some such bleak axis. What this
view sacrifices, however, is the sheer pictorial density of its mass. What happens as
the speech proceeds is that this frenzied attempt to "establish" as basic proposition,
or certainty, about man in the world becomes hopelessly engulfed in the variety in
which the world asserts itself. In short, the speech may be a parody of academic
"thinking", but it is also a great verbal frieze, or the ruin of one, depicting a whole
world bound on one side by the processes of life (labour, physical culture,
alimentation, defecation, etc) and on the other by the processes of nature. For all

this, it is not a real world because it lacks connective tissue, contingency; but
something like a logic emerges. In fact, the salient dramatic feature of the speech is
that it simulates an explosion: as it builds, the human world of Fulham and
Clapham gradually "fades" and is overwhelmed by a catastrophe that sounds
suspiciously like the death of a star ("the rivers running water running fire . . . and
then the earth in the great cold the great dark the air and the earth abode of stones
in the great cold"). At the centre one somehow sees a group of busy scholars
labouring the big questions of God, man and matter in the Academy; and outside,
on the fields and lakes and lawns, the rest of humanity is making great strides in
sports of all kinds; all this against the backdrop of the world of the elements
churning awayin spite of the tennistoward entropy or toward some sort of
apocalypse. So we end with something like a rewriting of Montaignes dictum:
" . . . there is no constant existence, either of our own being, or of that of what we
observe. Both we and our judgement and all mortal things are incessantly flowing
and rolling on."
All in all, it is an excellent example of a "containing" speech: it reaches out
toward essential matters (man in Essy), the idea being that if a dramatist would
examine man thoroughly, he must put him in some sort of a universe, not merely in
a locale. And one might say that Becketts main purpose in giving Lucky this
speech, carefully "cured" in his long silence preceding it, was to expand the
implications of waiting into final realms: tennis and thought in the context of the
Bert O States The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot

Pozzos rhetoric on the subject of the approach of night in Act I is clearly an

exercise in bathos, but his sudden outburst in the second act is rhetoric of a
different order. Part of it would make acceptable free verse in the original French:

ne vous suffit pas,
jour pareil aux autres
est devenu muet,

un jour
je suis devenu aveugle,
un jour
nous deviendrons sourds,
un jour
nous sommes ns,
un jour
nous mourrons,
le mme jour,
le mme instant,
a ne vous suffit pas?
[One day,
is that not enough for you,
a day like all others
he went dumb
one day
I went blind
one day
well go deaf
one day
we were born
one day
we shall die
the same day
the same second
is that not enough for you?]

Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett

"blind as Fortune "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi

Of all the ancient divinities only Fortuna survived through the change in religion
that occurred when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman
Empire. Why she was also to do so is a complicated question to answer. Part of the
answer lies in the fact that she was not a deity with a specialised function or sphere
of influence. She was an omnipotent deity, like Jupiter, whom she supplanted as
supreme pagan god.
Her survival after the advent of Christianity also lies in the collapse of the Roman
Empire, which seemed to portend for Christians the increasing disorder and
conflict which was to herald the Second Coming of the Lord. The breakdown of
Roman society and government, together with the sudden, unpredictable invasions
and calamities of the fifth and sixth centuries AD, showed Fortuna to be an entity
increasingly active in the world, and the unpredictability of her character became
more and more pronounced.
No one could influence her, let alone control her. She respected not rank, not
wealth, not merit. She favoured the good and bad equally, and abandoned them
with equal disregard to their deserts. Fortunas character is mysterious; not only do

mens fortunes wax and wane, but even her power over the world seems to wax
and wane, viewed from mans standpoint. Thus she is like the moon, which waxes
and wanes. . . . she is obscure and cloaked as to her presence, intent and effect.
Controlling all, a natural force as immanent in the universe as heat and cold, she is
rightly called Imperatrix Mundi [Queen of the World].
From the Carmina Burana, the collection of quasi-secular mediaeval poems which
Carl Orff used for his oratorio of the same name, the first two songs are dedicated
to Fortune.
O Fortuna
O Fortune
velut Luna
like the moon
statu variabilis,
you are changeable,
semper crescis
ever waxing
aut decrescis;
and waning;
vita detestabilis
hateful life
nunc obdurat
first oppresses
et tunc curat
and then soothes
ludo mentis aciem,
as fancy takes it;
and power
dissolvit ut glaciem.
it melts them like ice.
Sors immanis
et inanis,
and empty,
rota tu volubilis,
your whirling wheel,
status malus,
you are malevolent,
vana salus
well-being in vain
semper dissolubilis,
and always fades to nothing,
et velata
and veiled
michi quoque niteris;
you plague me too;
nunc per ludum
now through the game
dorsum nudum

I bring my bare back

fero tui sceleris.
to your villainy.
Sors salutis
Fate is against me
et virtutis
in health
michi nunc contraria
and virtue,
est affectus
driven on
et defectus
and weighted down,
semper in angaria.
always enslaved.
Hac in hora
So at this hour
sine mora
without delay
cordum pulsum tangite;
pluck the vibrating strings;
quod per sortem
since Fate
sternit fortem
strikes down the strong man,
mecum omnes plangite!
everyone weep with me!
Fortune plango vulnera
I bemoan the wounds of Fortune
stillantibus ocellis,
with weeping eyes,
quod sua michi munera
for the gifts she made me
subtrahit rebellis.
she perversely takes away.
Verum est, quod legitur,
It is written in truth,
fronte capillata,
that she has a fine head of hair,
sed pleumque sequitur
but, when it comes to seizing an
occasio calvata
opportunity, she is bald.
In Fortune solio
On Fortune's throne
sederam elatus,
I used to sit raised up.
prosperitatis vario
crowned with
flore coronatus;
the many-coloured flowers of prosperity;
quicquid tamen florui
though I may have flourished
felix et beatus,
happy and blessed,
nunc a summo corrui

now I fall from the peak

gloria privatus
deprived of glory.
Fortune rota volvitur:
The wheel of Fortune turns:
descendo minoratus;
I go down, demeaned;
alter in altum tollitur;
another is raised up;
nimis exaltatus
far too high up
rex sedet in vertice
sits the king at the summit
caveat ruinam!
let him fear ruin!
nam sub axe legimus
for under the axis is written
Hecubam reginam
Queen Hecuba

She is variable and veiled in purpose and action. Her apparent blessings may be in
reality losses, and vice versa. The one favoured by her is happy and elevated and,
like a king, is crowned, with flowers. The floral imagery, however, is used
ironically. Flowers last but a season, and then wither: they metaphorically suggest
that the happiness Fortune gives is as ephemeral. Fortuna gives worldly prosperity
only to take it away as she did from
If Fortuna is Imperatrix Mundi, what is
her relationship to God, the supreme
governor of the universe? If she is
independent of Him, He is not omnipotent.
If she is subservient to Him, in what way is
she Imperatrix?
Dante was one of those who was most
responsible for the Christianisation of
Fortuna. In the Inferno, Vergil explains to
Dante Fortunas true rle in Gods scheme,
a rle which is commonly misunderstood
by men. Just as He created the angels to
guide the celestial phenomena, so God
created Fortuna to guide the Earths splendours. To the extent that she is above
men, as the angels are, human reason cannot totally comprehend her or her actions
and she appears to be hidden to it.
She is often shown as being two-faced, one face frowning. If she is depicted
single-faced, the artist represents the duality of good and bad fortunate by making

one half of her face white, the other black. She may have wings, for Fortuna is
fleeting; she may be blind-folded, or even blind, since she seems not to regard
merit in handing out rewards or ruin. Often she has only a forelock of hair and is
bald on her head to show how difficult it is to snatch at Fortune.
The Italians called her, among other things fallace (deceitful)
and favorvole (favourflightly). The French addressed her as cruelle (cruel)
and belle (beautiful). By English poets she is termed blind and double (doubledealing). Writers of mediaeval Latin verse described her
as amara (bitter), fera (untamed) and, of course, volubilis (changeable).
The average man saw her as being in full control of his life. In many illustrations
she is shown stranding on a ball which symbolises both the earth, over which she
rules, and her inherent instability. Most commonly, however, she is shown standing
near a wheel which she turns. The wheel is perpendicular to the ground and below
it, usually is a deep pit or grave.
The various stages in which Fortuna favours and then abandons man are shown in
reference to the wheel. Men, standing in line, approach it, waiting their turn for
Fortunas favour. One has begun to climb onto the wheel, ready to take his chance
at success, fame and fortune. Sometimes a whole series of men, clothes as
merchants, nobles or bishops, are strapped to the wheel; sometimes only four men
are shown with little inscriptions indicating their relationship to Fortuna. The man
at the top of the wheel usually holds a sceptre and wears a crown: his inscription
reads Regno (I reign). To his right, a figure falling from the wheel grabs at his
crown as it slips from his head; his inscription reads Regnavi (I used to reign). At
the bottom of the wheel, stretch out, bereft of crown and sceptre, is the figure
titled Sum sine regno (I am without power). On the wheels left, a man is climbing
up, undaunted by the fate of the last two figures; he is described as Regnabo (I
would reign).
[In other words, in the pagan/extra-JudaeoChristian world all men are slaves to
Fortune, and those whom Fortune chooses to favour are called "Lucky"]

" They give birth astride a grave, the light gleams an instant then it's night once
more. "
Ognuno sta solo sul cuor della terra
Everyone is alone in his heart on earth
Trafitto da un raggio di sole
Transported by a ray of sunlight
Ed subito sera.
And it is suddenly evening.
Salvatore Quasimodo, 1942


. . . it is above all in Luckys speech, that torrent of seeming madness, that
Becketts mingling of the sacred and the profane and even the scatological assumed
truly medieval aspects. In the manner of participants in mediaeval farce [e.g., the
Festival of the Ass, an annual savage parody of the Latin Mass using the bawdiest
of language], Lucky turns traditional patterns of reasoned discourse and theological
debate into farce.
Yet the seriousness of his concerns becomes apparent when we strip his speech of
its carnivalesque elements. He then seems to suggest something like "given the
existence . . . of a personal God . . . with white beard . . . outside time . . . who from
the heights of divine . . . aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons
unknown . . . and suffers with those who . . . are plunged in torment . . . it is
established beyond all doubt . . . that man . . . fades away" . . . . It is
clearly patterned after a mediaeval French sermon joyeux, a burlesque sermon of
the kind preached in churches during carnivalesque celebration . . .[that] often
travesties sacred texts by speaking of food, drink and sex as if they were discussing
theology or vice versa.
. . . Such phrases as "labours left unfinished", "for reasons unknown", together with
heaven, hell, flames and fire conjure up a world presided over by a god as
inscrutable as he is unpredictable, while the phrase "it is established beyond all
doubt" ridicules the foolish and arrogant certainties of certain scholars. Like a
mediaeval fool, Lucky truly leaps from topic to topic, as he turns the world
mockingly upside down.
Edith Kern Beckett's Modernity and Mediaeval Affinities

Another example of the sermon joyeux-style parody of the Catholic liturgy, the
penultimate chorus of Carmina Burana includes a parody of the Hail Mary in
which the young girl, who has consented to have sex with the singer, is
transformed from the Virgin Mary into the more pagan Venus:
Ave, formosissima,
Hail, most beautiful one,
gemma pretiosa,
precious jewel,
ave, decus virginum,
Hail, pride among virgins,
virgo gloriosa.
glorious virgin,
ave, mundi luminar,
Hail, light of the world,

ave, mundi rosa,

Hail, rose of the world,
Blanziflor et Helena,
Blanchefleur and Helen,
Venus generosa!
noble Venus!


. . . the connexion between this speech and the well-known poem Hyperions
Shicksalsied by the German poet Hlderlin, the last verse of which reads:
Doch uns ist gegeben,
But to us it is not given
auf keiner Sttte zu ruhn;
in any place to rest;
es schwinden, es fallen
suffering humanity
die leidenden Menschen
perishes and falls
blindlings von einer
blindly from one
Stunde zur andern,
hour to the other,
wie Wasser von Klippe
like water dashed
zu Klippe geworfen,
from crag to crag,
jahrlang ins Ungewisse hinab.
year after year, down into the unknown.

[This poem was used by Beckett in an earlier novel] Moreover in Act II of this play
Estragons nightmare is concerned with falling from a height which plausibly could
be a cliff.
The essence of Luckys speech is that man "wastes and pines, shrinks and
dwindles", and these four verbs are all translations of the German verb schwinden.
The images in the poem are strewn through the speech in a typically schizophrenic
manner (technically called asyndetic thought) by which the exact thought is not
reproduced by the precise word but is conveyed approximately by a number of
closely related words.
Thus the image of water is replaced by "the seas the rivers the great deeps"; and
Hlderlins cliffs are not mentioned, but instead we have "the mountains" and "the
abode of stones". Again, the idea of a fall into an abyss appears behind "in the great
deeps the great cold" and "the great cold the great dark".

The schizophrenic is unable to hit the definite word or image but produces near
misses which are clearly connected with the image, as in this example the ideas of
great depth, cold and darkness are with the abyss. All these images, of course, are
poured out higgledy-piggledy without any logical links so that the whole speech is
In the final twelve lines of the speech a new image, the skull, occurs eight times
although it has no apparent linkage with surrounding words like tennis, stones and
Connemara; but of course it is the natural image for mans ultimate fate, the end
product of his wasting, pining, shrinking and dwindling in spite of the Deitys love
and the progress of science and physical culture.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


. . . actor Jack MacGowran has indicated the three threads of Luckys monologue:
the constancy of the divine, the shrinkage of humanity, the petrifaction of the
earth : Luckys monologue displays Western civilization as shards of religion,
philosophy, science, art, sport and modern industry. In that monologue Lucky
utters the word "unfinished" seven times; his sentences do not finish, and his
monologue is not permitted to finish. Named with devastating irony, Lucky is
modern man with his contradictory unfinished fragments.

Ruby Cohn Waiting

Two single speeches exemplify this extraordinary ability of the dialogue to turn
back on itself. Luckys monologue in Act I . . . establishes the pitiful mortality of
man and his works . . . . the whole tour de force finally culminates in lines whose
repeated echoes of "stone" and "skull" evoke the image of the graveyard that is
every mans end.
Death imagery also pervades Vladimirs second-act song , . . . which is capable of
infinite expansion (or rather, regression). Circular in structure, repetitious in
vocabulary, the song is a symbol of the play itself, a "closed plot from which there
is no exit."

. . . influence of Joyce and Finnegans Wake in particular can be seen in Waiting for
Godots careful balancing of opposites. The overwhelming tendency to circular
movement is countered if not conquered by an effort at linear progression. Against
the monotony of the circle is set the fearful descending line that ends in the grave.
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce


. . . Luckys "think" can be seen as a transgression and disruption of the limits of
the ultimate metagameWestern metaphysics, the language game of truth. The
text of Luckys speech is akin to the product of taking all the great works of
Western thought, putting them through a paper shredder, and pasting them back
together at random.
Beckett directs Luckys monologue against the popular notion that philosophys
job is to restore unity to mans learning , a job which philosophers can only do by
recuperating some metanarrative which links together all moments in human
history within a single, continuous metaphysical system. Luckys think, though,
is a narrative that disrupts and deconstructs all notions of universal, ahistorical,
consistent metanarrativeall Godots.
Luckys think is directed against all the grand Narratives of
western metaphysics, which ground themselves in discourses
claiming to be: referential and self-validating
("quaquaquaqua"); ahistorical ("outside time"); metaphysical
or mystical ("for reasons unknown"); teleological and
revelatory ("but time will tell"); and bulwarks against radical
skepticism ("calm which even though intermittent is better
than nothing").
Luckys think exposes the limits imposed by all prior
objectivist thinking; it is a thoroughly postmodern language
game that moves at the limit of what has been thought. It is a
speech of liberation set against the metaphysical tyranny of
limitations on thought imposed by limitations on language.
. . . It is, however, not non-sense. Simple non-sense would still be though dictated
by the dialectic of reason; it would involve a simple crossing over to the other side

of the dialecticdoing or saying the un-reasonable thingleaving its limits intact.

Luckys think is not unreasonable; it is, to coin a word, transreasonable: it does
not simply offer us the other side of the dialectic of reason, but moves at and
beyond the margins of the dialectic, beyond the limitations that have been placed
on language.
In Luckys speech, Beckett exposes and transgresses these limits, mixing bits of
grammatical sense (inside the limit) and transgrammatical nonsense (outside the
limit) to the point where the limit itself is effaced, opening up the field of what can
be thought. Through Luckys speech, Beckett emphasises "new moves" and even
new rules for language games, having transgressed and disrupted the old rules and
Luckys think, though, meets with a less than enthusiastic response from the other
characters on the stage. . . . This "intellectual" violence mirrors the physical
violence that Lucky is subjected to throughout the play. . . . Luckys playful,
"peaceful" discourse is met with violence intellectual and physical because it
disrupts the modernist notion of coherence in the grand Narrative :specifically, it
disrupts the narrative upon which Vladimir and Estragon have based their
existence, Godot.
Luckys speech is essentially peaceful because it displaces the notion of objective
knowledge, a notion that moves hand-in-hand with power. Knowledge is power,
and objectivist modern knowledge is always used to create or uphold a violent
power structure. . . . much of Luckys knowledge may seem incomprehensible, but
this is precisely the point because the postmodern drive is to push beyond the
limits of the old paradigms. Vladimir and Estragon are at least on the right track
when Vladimir says "this is getting really insignificant," to which Estragon replies
"Not enough".
Jeffrey Nealon from Cathleen Culotta Andonian Critical Response to Samuel

. . . Luckys famous speech with its confusion of garbled knowledge recalls the
Doctor in ancient farce while the improvisation of the two tramps suggests the
endless semantic speculations and misunderstandings of the Commedia
dellArte. . . . each has his own set-piece to perform, an exact and welltried lazzo such as the exchange of hats . . .

If language does threaten to assert itself, its pretensions are burst by the pratfall. At
times the pratfall works from within language itself as in Pozzos inflated speech
which portends, in the beginning, to be the definitive speech we have come to the
theatre to hear: after leading his audience to a climax of expectation he cannot
sustain the illusion and gloomily concludes"Thats how it is on this bitch of the
More frequently, however, it is solely physical and often disgusting. It deflates the
platitudes and expressions of sentiment with which the characters clothe their
isolation, as for example where Vladimir and Estragon, out of habit and the
boredom of the condition, attempt a reconciliation:
Come Didi.(silence) Give me your hand. (Vladimir turns) Embrace
me! (Vladimir softens. They embrace. Estragon recoils)You stink of garlic.
V: Its good for the kidneys.(silence). Estragon looks attentively at
the tree)What do we do now?
E: We wait.

The pratfall returns them to the painful level of reality from which they will begin
another "little canter" towards the same end. This is the clowns weapon, the
undignified, ceremonious collapse of human pretension, a levelling down from the
upright to the horizontal. In Act II the tramps, Pozzo and Lucky all stumble and fall
together to form a pile of bodies centre stage. It is the universal pratfall . . .

Weve arrived


Who are you?


We are men.

Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


. . . Although in stark contrast to each other, Pozzo and Lucky have one thing in
common: they are both driven by a desperate attempt to evade panic which would
grip them if they lost their belief in that Pozzo stands for. . . .
Lucky deserves his name because he has a master who, however cruelly, organises
his life for him. . . . his thinking has deteriorated into the endless repetition of
meaningless words reminiscent of the "word-salad" of schizophrenia.
I think we are justified in interpreting Pozzo as a gruesome product of the modern
age. This "small bundle of subjective feeling and responses" may sometimes

indulge in self-pity but represses its fear with narcissistic pomposity: "Do I look
like a man who can be made to suffer?" but deeply hidden under the mask of
hardness there lies an unconscious nostalgia for lost values.
. . . In Lucky , on the other hand, we can see the destroyed contact with the creative
sources of the psyche. It becomes more and more evident in the course of the play
that Lucky takes it for granted that only within the pattern of a mutual
sadomasochistic relationship between himself and Pozzo can there be any safety
for him.
Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays

[The] schizophrenic split [as embodied by Pozzo and Lucky] was one in which the
imaginative part , the function which William Blake called the poetic Genius, was
shut off and made into a feeble inner self, while the remainder of the ego built up a
pseudo-self which was occupied with material prosperity. As time went on the
pseudo-self grew more and more domineering, self-important and callous but also
more unsure of itself; on the other hand the inner self became more unreal and
The split as embodied in Estragon and Vladimir is not so severe; they still retain
feelings of affection for each other, come together each evening for mutual support
and are visibly human beings who suffer. But Pozzo and Lucky represent a much
more radical split in which the elements of feeling and imaginative thought have
been suppressed and starved while a swollen ego has successfully pursued selfish
material ends.
[Luckys speech] is a wonderful piece of schizophrenic oratory, a torrent of broken
sentences and repeated phrases which makes a stream of apparently comic
nonsense. But it contains a perfectly sane exposition of the fundamental impasse
that has baffled all the theologianshow to reconcile our instinctive belief in a
transcendent and beneficent Divine power with the undeniable experience of evil
and misery. This thread of the speech may be summarised as follows:
"Given the existence of a personal God with white beard who loves us dearly (with
some exceptions) and suffers with those whom (for reasons unknown but time will
tell) he has damned and plunged into hell; yet it is certain that man, both potential
and actual, wastes and pines; in spite of all our science, medicine, sports and

physical culture man shrinks and dwindles. In short, humanity suffers and we know
not why."
This speech shows many of the technical characteristics of schizophrenic thought
disorders, such as the frequent repetitions of phrases quite out of context, echolalia
(as in "Feckham Peckham Fulham Clapham" [another example of risqu reference]
or "apathia athambia aphasia") , and the combination of two mutually contradictory
ideas , as for example his statement that God loves us dearly "from the heights of
divine apathia"for the word signifies complete indifference and lack of feeling.
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


Since the early thirties when Hegels dialectic and Marxs theory of the class
struggle began to interest the younger generation in France, the famous image of
the pair "master and servant" from Hegels Phaenomenologie des Geistes so
deeply engraved itself into the consciousness of those intellectuals born around
1900 [like Beckett] that . . . it has become the image of man in general . . . . "Man"
is now seen as a pair of men; that the individual has now been replaced
by men who fight each other for domination. . . they alone are seen as the "motor
of time": for time is history; and history, in the eyes of dialectical philosophy, owes
its movement exclusively to antagonism . . .

This Hegelian symbol of the motor of history steps onto the stage embodied by the
figures Pozzo and Lucky, onto the stage on which, so far, nothing had reigned by
" being without time ". . . . however shy Vladimir and Estragon may feel when first
facing the new pair, there is one thing they cannot conceal: that they regard them as
enviable. . . . And even though they pass the two timeless tramps by without
knowing that they have already done so the day beforeas "blind history" as it
were, which has not yet become aware of its being historythey nevertheless,
whether dragged or pushed, are already in motion and therefore, in Estragons and
Vladimirs eyes, fortunate creatures.
Gnther Anders Being without Time: On Beckett's Play Waiting for Godot


Vladimir is careful to let Pozzo announce himself; his whole position would be in
danger if the concept of Godot could not also be a precept. But like the blustering
Satan of Paradise Lost, Pozzo is disappointed that he has been summoned and yet
they do not know him.
The new arrivals increase ones sense of possibility. Lucky is like Estragon, in
snatching the sleep he can get, but Pozzo introduces the notion of "species " and
can laugh where Vladimirs timidity and querulousness do not allow him to. At the

same time, Pozzos epicureanism is dependent on the continued enslavement of

Lucky. . . . Pozzo pretends Lucky is an analogue of the Kenotic Christ or Suffering
Servant, but he is committed to a closed system that denies Christianity, and trying
to father it on Lucky does him no good.
John Pilling Samuel Beckett

At one moment in Godot this mutual expectation appears to be redeemed from

improvisation by the entrance of Pozzo. Here, is would seem, is the real actor, an
imposing figure who makes his entrance conscious of its effect and with none of
the timid uncertainty and inconclusiveness attached to the tramps. Bestriding the
stage he declaims:
I am Pozzo . (silence) Pozzo! (silence) Does that name mean
nothing to you? (silence) I say does that name mean nothing to
At his first entrance Pozzo has no doubts; he knows who he is and the audience,
who, like the tramps, probably mistake him for Godot, believe that the waiting will
now be resolved. For several minutes he sustains the illusion. With the aid of his
vaporiser he recites a speech describing the fall of night.
This is the true performance, patiently, studied and rehearsed frequently spoken
and owing nothing to the improvised passages that have been offered earlier in the
evening. It is lyrical, prosaic and vibrant, uses dramatic pause and a variety of
accepted theatrical gestures (" hand raised in admonition; he raises his eyes to the
sky") to increase its effect.
Afterwards the artiste asks his audience, represented by Estragon and Vladimir,
"How did you find me?", thanks them for their automatic enthusiasm and
concedes: "I weakened a little towards the end, you didnt notice?
The general effect, however, has been disappointing; as Estragon says: "Ive been
better entertained." Pozzo is not Godot as the second act makes clear. The evening
is not saved for he needs the tramps as the audience needs them and Lucky needs
him; it is another of those chains of cause and effect . . .
The deadening repetition of dialogue and action is demonstrated in the theatrical
situation itself. If the necessity of being seen compels the actors to return before an

audience night after night, the audience, for the moment the tyrant or witness,
comes because it too is committed to wait. And if, during the evening, any progress
is made . . . the next night returns them to the same point on the circle once again.
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead

Pozzo and Lucky are representatives of the ordinary world from which the tramps
are excluded. "Weve lost our rights ?" Estragon asks. Vladimir prefers to say
"Weve waived them." Even the tramps will to assert their importance as free
agents by insisting that their exclusion is voluntary. By contrast with Pozzo and
Lucky, however, it is the tramps lives which appear normal.
. . . In a world where man awaits a revelation, Pozzo, the master, is the nearest
approach to what is absent. Life, for Pozzo, is important. When he enters he still
values the body (the provisions he has brought for himself); he is capable of
enjoying sensual delight and depends upon a collection of cherished possessions
(his pipe and vaporisor [much like relics prized by many established religions,
notably the Roman Catholic church]). Pozzos is a fixed and well-regulated world
in contrast to the stationary confusion of the tramps where everything is in flux,
and his behaviour echoes the image which the tramps have of Godot (so does his
Pozzo is a temporal substitute for Godot: he is the man who has taken it upon
himself to act as if the answers are known, who lives exclusively in terms of
power, and whose existence is circumscribed by time. Lucky, it seems, is fortunate
in his having found this substitute. His bondage is an alternative to the tramps
unbearable waiting.
. . . when Vladimir asks [Pozzo] a question which, as an appeal to another, is the
most precious form of linguistic contact, Pozzo prepares his answer like a teacher
or a priest. If Lucky has found a substitute Godot, Pozzo avoids the tramps waiting
by filling his life with illusion. Pozzo on his journey clings to his condition: the
tramps who remain where they are are always seeking to change theirs.
It is Lucky who has transformed the world for his master and given Pozzo what
intelligence and culture he now possesses. However, this has changed . . .
and Luckys thinking is now not the rationalist consolation it once was but total
scepticism which illuminates the agony beneath appearances.

This becomes apparent in Luckys great speech which terrifies the other characters
because it foretells the extinction of the world. The authorities, bent on establishing
"beyond all reasonable doubt" the exact truth about man . . . discover that in spite
of all the researches of science, the intuition of the artist, the physical culture of
sport and the endurance of the earth, everything is condemned to waste into the
great dark of nothing. This is the only certainty which his intelligence has
discovered . . .
The change which has overtaken Pozzo and Lucky by the second act is not simply
a comment on the inevitable deterioration of the master-slave society, though
Pozzos blindness does create a tragic image of his earlier refusal to see human
existence as it really is. Rather it belongs to the larger context of Becketts
treatment of man in time.
When he first appears Pozzo is still firmly immersed in normal time. At first he
notices that "all subsides . A great calm descends . . . Pan sleeps", and then he starts
to lose his possessions, first his pipe, then his vaporizer and finally his watch.
When this happens he experiences difficulties in remembering what he has just
said and his hold on what he insists is reality begins to weaken.
During the interval the process is completed. In the time since "yesterday" he has
gone blind and Lucky dumb. Even Estragon is surprised at the rapidity of the
change. "Since when ?" he demands to know . . . Pozzos great cry which provides
the answer contains all of Becketts pent-up anguish over man in time: in our
conception is our end and yet we have to live it out to this dreadful conclusion
which men are powerless to alter ("One day, is that not enough for you . . . They
give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then its night once
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead

. . . Lucky has been taken to be Pozzos soul " But for him all my thoughts, all
my feelings would have been of common things". There was a stage in Pozzos life
when he learned from Lucky, but this is over now; and having exploited, abused,
denied and finally silenced the spiritual side of his own nature until the very
presence of Lucky seems like a reproach, Pozzo, the materialist, wants to be rid of
him altogether.

In the French version of the play, he is going to sell him in the "March du Saint
Sauveur". . . . In this particular case the body-soul interpretation is illuminating up
to a point, and it fits beautifully with Pozzos line: "One journeys all alone . . . and
never a soul in sight."