Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512
20th Century Drama
Essay: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Samuel Beckett¶s Waiting for Godot, an example of the theatre of the absurd is by no means a traditional drama. Beckett does not follow ³the tradition which demands that a play have an exposition, a climax and a dénouement´ (Worton 69), and instead creates a play which has no action, no character development, and the only plot is that two men, named Estragon and Vladimir, are waiting for a man named Godot, who may or may not arrive. It is therefore difficult to examine this play in terms of character and plot, as it is essentially lacking in both. However, despite this, Beckett¶s play is a complex and fascinating one. In order to appreciate this play close attention must be paid instead to dialogue, the actions and movements of the characters, stage direction and particularly repetition and relationships between characters. In this essay I will analyse the opening of the play to Estragon¶s line and stage direction: µI¶m going¶ [He does not move.]. This scene introduces many of the main themes and dynamics of the play. Unlike in a traditional play, it does nothing in terms of establishing a background, location or plot, as these are not important elements of Godot. The play opens with a description of the scene: [A country road. A tree. Evening.] The bareness of the scene is an important point to note. As well as functioning as a metaphorical image for the emptiness, the nothingness that is central to the play, it also emphasises the one of the central elements of the play: time and place are meaningless and irrelevant in Godot. This is not a play that deals with a story that takes place in a particular setting. It is a play that deals not with particulars, but with humanity. Just like the description of the scene, we are given similarly vague descriptions of the central characters. In this scene we are told only that Estragon is wearing boots, without socks, and that Vladimir wears a hat. This reinforces the idea that this is not a play of specifics. ³Who´
In this way the opening scene. Nothing was achieved. ³Nothing to be done´ (Beckett 9). Estragon¶s ³struggle´.Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512
20th Century Drama
these characters are has no real significance. This cycle of events reoccurs throughout the play. this line (which is repeated in various forms throughout the play) is of central significance to the play. The ordeal with the boot could be seen as a metaphor for the play itself. Though a seemingly innocuous throwaway statement. Godot essentially deals with meaninglessness. and Estragon¶s opening line. and he remains in the same position as he began in. he represents a ³function rather than a meaning. we still do them. What is important is what they say and do. and the opening line. and by its conclusion the men are in the very same position as they started in. shakes it. This action reveals another central issue of the play: despite the ultimate meaninglessness of our actions. of language. This is reinforced when Estragon finally succeeds in removing the boot later in the scene and examines it to find what it was that was causing his discomfort: [He looks inside it. These characters wait for Godot. In fact.]. despite his defeatist opening statement and his recognition of the futility of his efforts.. as well as how they interact. However. introduces the central theme of the play. The first line of the play is Estragon¶s. nothing really happens during its course. When Vladimir asks him what he found he replies ³nothing´ (Beckett 11). and the subsequent ³struggle´ with his boot that occurs in this scene is a metaphor for this meaninglessness. the play begins with the two men waiting. the play itself is simply a repeat of this cycle on a larger scale. turns it upside down. who Godot actually is bears no significance in the context of the play. it presents human aspiration as simultaneously futile and essential. he says as he gives up his struggle to remove his boot. as Vladimir refers to it. Estragon is relentless in his struggle. for we have no alternative. and of time. He stands for what keeps us chained to and in existence´
. came to nothing. feels about inside it.. the meaninglessness of action.
Vladimir responds ³It¶ll pass the time´ and proceeds (Beckett 12). Here Beckett is essentially re-stating George Berkeley¶s philosophy ³to be is to be perceived´ (Worton 72).Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512
20th Century Drama
(Worton 71). Vladimir¶s line ³We should have thought of it a million years ago. Just like Estragon¶s boot. This line sums up these characters¶ view of time. This particular interaction reveals the fundamental importance of their relationship. as we can see from Estragon¶s response. Though they bicker. but more importantly about the nature of human relationships in general. and we must assume that without Estragon Vladimir himself feels this way. the characters need each other. When Vladimir offers to tell Estragon the story of the thieves from the Bible. they will repeat their cycle until death. it will not ultimately change anything. he too believed he was ³gone for ever´. it would seem that Beckett knows that whether or not Godot does eventually arrive. but characters must find a way of actively passing time (Worton 72). without Vladimir with him. Vladimir¶s first words to Estragon are ³I¶m glad you¶re back. fight and ignore each other on several occasions throughout the play. all their ³struggles´ will have been for nothing in the end. In the world of Godot. Estragon declines. to which he responds ³Me too´ (Beckett 9). the introduction of both these characters and their interactions with each other reveal certain aspects about their relationship. and just like the boot. not just for company. what they are striving for. time does not pass naturally. and when that comes. which is dealt with in this scene. but to affirm their own existence. Time is another key theme of Waiting for Godot. idly chat and repeat scenarios and conversations that have already occurred all in an effort to pass the time until Godot arrives. Without the other to respond and reply to. I thought you were gone for ever´. in the nineties´ (Beckett
. This becomes increasingly evident throughout the play. The two men tell stories. Godot is merely what occupies the characters at one particular moment. neither character can be certain of their own existence. Throughout this opening scene. it will be meaningless.
one day he went dumb. just as with the boots. Estragon: It hurts? Vladimir: Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! (Beckett 10)
echoes the theme presented by the metaphor of Estragon¶s boot. one day we shall die. reflecting the idea that life is merely a series of ultimately futile repeated events.. This is seen more clearly later in the play. the same day. In Michael Worton¶s essay on Waiting for Godot and Endgame. Time in this play is simply a series of events that are seemingly unrelated. one day we were born. one day he went blind. One example of how this holds true in Godot is Beckett¶s use of repetition. Throughout the opening scene the dialogue is interjected with pauses. Throughout the play such repetition reoccurs. and must engage in these trivial conversations as it is all they can do to pass the time. One day like any other day.. particularly in Pozzo¶s speech in the second Act: ³Have you done tormenting me with your accursed time? . and there is often
. I don¶t count. The stage direction and instruction during the opening scene also demonstrate Beckett¶s use of structure as a key element in the ³communicative functioning´ of the play. the characters do. one day we¶ll go deaf. which occurs several times during the first scene. both in dialogue and in actions.´ This is certainly evident in Godot. yet. I¶d like to hear what you¶d say if you had what I have. such as the back-and-forth between Vladimir and Estragon in this scene:
Vladimir: It hurts? Estragon: Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! Vladimir: No one ever suffers but you. he suggests that ³as a playwright. The repetition of lines. the same second´ (Beckett 89). it is the form and structure of the play that truly reflect these.Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512
20th Century Drama
10) also hints at another significant aspect of time in Godot. the characters in the play have no concept of the continuity of time. While the themes mentioned above are hinted at through dialogue and metaphor in the opening scene. [Beckett] considers structure to be more important than any µmessage¶ for the communicative functioning of a play.
When asked if he had read the Bible. The silences are a physical representation of many of these issues. Though Waiting for Godot cannot be examined in a traditional sense in terms of character and plot. as neither can recall even the previous day.) We wouldn¶t have to go into the details. Estragon replies ³The Bible. most notably the notion of meaninglessness. However more important is the way that these silences fragment the text. ³making it a series of discrete speeches and episodes rather than the seamless presentation of a dominant idea´. I must have taken a look at it´. These silences occur throughout the play and are crucial in deciphering its many key issues. ³He reflects´ (Beckett 9).
The pause in this line captures one of Beckett¶s one of the crucial issues at the heart of Godot.. as Pozzo claims. For example:
Vladimir: Suppose we repented. and more importantly the absence of continuity in a world where time is represented as merely fragments. and as such cannot be trusted. musing on the struggle´. movement. (He reflects. and it is through silences such as the above that he captures this.. By fragmenting the text in this way. is ³defective´ (Beckett 38). Estragon: Repented what? Vladimir: Oh. the text is split into these individual ³episodes´. This is reflected in the opening scene as neither character can recall their past.. There is an absence of any semblance of memory or evidence that these characters have had a past. dealing with an array of themes and issues. and imagery help to create a complex play..
. Throughout Godot. as we see in the second act. ³Pause´ (Beckett 11). the opening scene contains many examples of how dialogue. whether it be in reference to language. ³Silence´ (Beckett 12). disjointed episodes that lack anything to hold them together. Memory. action or life in general. Beckett dramatises the collapse of meaning and language.Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512
20th Century Drama
silences instructed between questions and replies: ³He broods. the failures of language. and reflects the concern shown throughout the play with time. stage direction.
. Pilling. Faber and Faber. The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. 1990. 1994. ³µWaiting for Godot¶ and µEndgame¶´. John.Andrew O¶Tuama (08481512 Works Cited:
20th Century Drama
Beckett. Cambridge University Press. Waiting for Godot. Michael Worton.