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Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play by Samuel Beckett, written in the late 1940s and first published in 1952. Beckett originally wrote Godot in French (En Attendant Godot), his second language, and the simplicity of the dialogue reflects this. An English translation by Beckett himself was published in 1955.

The play is in two acts. The plot, such as it is, concerns Vladimir and Estragon, who await the arrival of the eponymous Godot, who never arrives. Once in each act they are joined by Pozzo and Lucky. The four are often played as tramps, although Beckett does not actually describe them as such in the text. Towards the end of each act, a boy arrives with a message he says is from Godot that he will not be coming today, but will come tomorrow. The much quoted ending of the play might be said to sum up the whole work:

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let's go.
They do not move.

Beckett uses the characters' interaction to symbolise the tedium and meaninglessness of modern life, both major themes of the existentialists. The critic Vivian Mercier summed up the two act play with the words "nothing happens, twice." Despite its essential bleakness, however, it has many moments of comedy, some of it inspired by the deadpan slapstick of Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton that Beckett was so fond of. Near the end of the play, for example, Estragon removes the cord holding his trousers up so he can hang himself with it, and his trousers fall down.

This was Beckett's second attempt at drama after the considerably more conventional Eleutheria, but the first to be performed. It was a big step back towards normal human experience, after his novel The Unnamable. Subtitled "a tragicomedy," the play has little indication of setting or costume; the only indication for decor is the typically succinct "A country road. A tree. Evening" prior to Act I. As such, Godot is capable of sustaining a wide range of interpretation.

Skilled comedians have had the most success with the characters in popular esteem, and there is a heartfeltness about the dialog and situation that is not always completely aligned with despair; perhaps this is why the play is beloved by its fans.

Beckett went on to resume his march towards the void in his new medium, and his later plays have had much less popular success, though they continue to be produced, and are generally accepted as important works.

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