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Waiting for Godot

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Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot (1953) by Samuel Beckett is an absurdist comedy/tragicomedy that is presented in two acts. It was originally written in French and titled En attendant Godot. It premiered on January 5th 1953 at the Théâtre de Babylon in Paris, and remains an important study in Modernist and Irish Drama.

Absurdism is a philosophical movement that started in the 19th century in Europe. Absurdism deals with the human search for meaning that often fails and reveals that life is illogical and absurd. One of the main absurdist philosophers was Albert Camus (1913-1960).

The Theatre of the Absurd (or Absurdist drama) is a genre of drama that explores ideas connected to absurdism.

Tragicomedy is a genre of drama that uses both comic and tragic elements. Plays that fall under the tragicomedy genre are neither comedies nor tragedies but a combination of both genres.
AuthorSamuel Beckett
Written between1946-1949
Published 1952
First stage performance1953
GenreTragicomedyAbsurdist comedyBlack comedy
StyleMinimalistic
FormCircular structure
Dramatic devicesRepetition SymbolismDramatic irony
Literary devicesAllusion ImageryForeshadowingPersonification

Waiting for Godot: Summary

Act One

The play opens in a country road. Two men, Vladimir and Estragon, meet there by a leafless tree. Their conversation reveals that they are both waiting for the same person to arrive. His name is Godot and neither of them is sure if they have met him before or if he would indeed ever arrive. Vladimir and Estragon aren't aware why they exist and they hope that Godot has some answers for them.

As the two of them are waiting, two other men, Pozzo and Lucky, enter. Pozzo is a master and Lucky is his slave. Pozzo talks to Vladimir and Tarragon. He treats Lucky horribly and shares his intention to sell him at the market. At one point Pozzo commands Lucky to think. Lucky responds by performing a dance and a special monologue. Eventually Pozzo and Lucky leave for the market. Vladimir and Estragon keep waiting for Godot. A boy enters. He introduces himself as Godot's messenger and informs the two men that Godot wouldn't arrive tonight but the next day. The boy exits. Vladimir and Estragon declare that they'll also leave but they stay where they are.

Act Two

Act 2 opens on the following day. Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting by the tree which has now grown leaves. Pozzo and Lucky return but they are changed - Pozzo is now blind and Lucky has become mute. Pozzo doesn't remember ever having met the two other men. Estragon also forgets that he has met Pozzo and Lucky. The master and servant leave, and Vladimir and Estragon keep waiting for Godot.

Soon the boy comes again and lets Vladimir and Estragon know that Godot will not be coming. The boy also doesn't remember ever having met the two men before. Before he leaves, he even insists that he is not the same boy that visited them the day before. To wait for Godot was Vladimir's and Estragon's only purpose in life. In their frustration and desperation, they consider committing suicide. However, they realise that they don't have any rope. They announce that they will leave to get rope and come back the next day but they stay where they are.

Waiting for Godot: a short analysis

Let's analyse the main themes and symbols in Waiting for Godot.

Themes

Some of the themes in Waiting for Godot are:

Existentialism

'We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?'

- Estragon, Act 2

Estragon says this to Vladimir. What he means is that neither of them is sure if they actually exist and if there's meaning in what they're doing. Waiting for Godot makes their existence more certain and it gives them purpose.

At its core, Waiting for Godot is a play about the meaning of life. Human existence is shown as absurd and, through their actions, Vladimir and Estragon fail to escape this absurdity. They find meaning in waiting for Godot and, when they learn that he will not be coming, they lose the only purpose they had.

The two men say that they will leave but they never do - the play ends with them stuck exactly where they started. This presents Beckett's view that human existence has no meaning unless people create their own purpose. The issue with Vladimir and Estragon is that instead of moving on to find a new purpose, they keep falling into the same absurd pattern.

The passing of time

'Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It's awful.'

- Estragon, Act 1

While they're waiting for Lucky to show them how he's thinking, Estragon complains. His days are empty and time stretches out before him. He's waiting for Godot but nothing changes and he doesn't come.

The passing of time in the play is depicted through the return of the secondary characters - Pozzo, Lucky and the boy. The stage directions also contribute to that - the leafless tree grows leaves after some time has passed.

Waiting for Godot is essentially a play about waiting. For most of the play, Vladimir and Estragon hope that Godot will arrive and that doesn't make them feel as if they're wasting their time. Repetition is used in the language of the play and also as a dramatic technique. The same situations are repeated with slight changes: Pozzo, Lucky and the boy appear on the first and second day, both days they come in the same order. The repetitive nature of the story reveals to the audience that the two main characters are actually stuck.

Suffering

'Was I sleeping, while the others suffered? Am I sleeping now?'

- Vladimir, Act 2

By saying this, Vladimir shows that he knows that everyone is suffering. He's also aware that he is not looking at the people around him who are suffering, and yet he does nothing to change that.

Waiting for Godot addresses the human condition, which inevitably involves suffering. Each character represents a different kind of suffering:

  • Estragon is starving and he mentions that many people have been killed (this is an unclear remark, as most things in the play are non-specific).
  • Vladimir is frustrated and feels isolated, since he's the only one who can remember, while the others keep forgetting.
  • Lucky is a slave who is treated like an animal by his master, Pozzo.
  • Pozzo becomes blind.

To lessen their suffering, the characters seek the companionship of others. Vladimir and Estragon keep telling each other that they will separate, but they stay together in a desperate need to avoid loneliness. Pozzo abuses his companion, Lucky, in a perverse attempt to ease his own misery. The reason why, at the end of the day, each character is trapped in a repetitive cycle of suffering, is that they don't reach out to each other. Lucky and Pozzo don't care that Vladimir and Estragon are losing their only purpose: Godot is probably never coming. In turn, Estragon and Vladimir do nothing to stop Pozzo's treatment of Lucky or to help Pozzo when he's blind. Thus, the absurd cycle of suffering goes on because they are all indifferent to one another.

Beckett wrote Waiting for Godot right after World War II. How do you think living in this historical period influenced his view of human suffering?

Waiting for Godot is not a tragedy because the main reason for the suffering of the characters (especially Vladimir and Estragon) is not some great catastrophe. Their suffering is absurd because it's caused by their inability to make a decision - their uncertainty and inaction is what keeps them trapped in the repetitive cycle.

Symbols

Some of the symbols in the play are:

Godot

Godot is a symbol that has been interpreted in different ways. Samuel Beckett himself never reiterated what he meant by 'Godot'. The interpretation of this symbol is left to the understanding of each individual reader or audience member.

Some interpretations of Godot include:

  • Godot is God - the religious interpretation that Godot symbolises a higher power. Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot to come and bring answers and meaning into their lives.
  • Godot as purpose - Godot stands for the purpose that the characters are waiting for. They live an absurd existence and they hope that it will become meaningful once Godot arrives.
  • Godot as death - Vladimir and Estragon are passing the time until they die.

How do you interpret Godot? What do you think the meaning of this symbol is?

The tree

There have been many interpretations of the tree in the play. Let's consider three of the most popular ones:

  • The tree stands for the passage of time. In Act 1, it is leafless and when it grows a few leaves in Act 2 this shows that some time has passed. This is a minimalistic stage direction that allows for more to be shown with less.
  • The tree symbolises hope. Vladimir was told to wait for Godot by the tree and although he's not sure that this is the right tree, it presents the hope that Godot might meet him there. What is more, when Vladimir and Estragon meet by the tree they find hope in each other's presence and in their shared purpose - to wait for Godot. By the end of the play, when it becomes clear that Godot is not coming, the tree briefly offers them the hope of escape from their meaningless existence by hanging on it.
  • The Biblical symbolism of the tree that Jesus Christ was nailed to (the crucifixion). At one point in the play, Vladimir tells Estragon the gospel story of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. This points to Vladimir and Estragon being the two thieves, in a symbolic way.

Night and day

Vladimir and Estragon are separated by night - they can only be together during the day. Moreover, the two men can only wait for Godot during daytime which suggest that he can't come at night. Night falls right after the boy brings the news that Godot will not come. Therefore, daylight symbolises hope and opportunity, while night stands for a time of nothingness and despair.

Objects

The minimal props described in the stage directions serve a comedic but also a symbolic purpose. Here are some of the main objects:

  • The boots symbolise that daily suffering is a vicious circle. Estragon takes the boots off but he always has to put them back on - this represents his inability to escape the pattern of his suffering. Lucky's baggage, which he never leaves and keeps carrying symbolises the same idea.
  • The hats - On one hand, when Lucky puts on a hat, this represents thinking. On the other hand, when Estragon and Vladimir exchange their hats, this symbolises the exchange of their identities and their uncertainty about their individuality.

How has Waiting for Godot influenced culture today?

Waiting for Godot is one of the most famous plays of the 20th century. It has had many interpretations, ranging from politics to philosophy and religion. Indeed, the play is so well-known that, in popular culture, the phrase 'waiting for Godot' has become synonymous with waiting for something that would probably never happen.

The English-language premiere of Waiting for Godot was in 1955 at the Arts Theatre in London. Since then, the play has been translated into many languages and there have been numerous stage productions of it around the world. A notable recent English-language production is the 2009 performance directed by Sean Mathias, which featured the famous British actors Ian McKellen and Patrick Steward.

Did you know that there's a 2013 web series adaptation of the play? It's called While Waiting for Godot and it sets the story in the context of the New York homeless community.

Waiting for Godot (1953) Overview - Key takeaways

  • Waiting for Godot is an absurdist two-act play by Samuel Beckett. It was originally written in French and titled En attendant Godot. It was published in 1952 and it premiered in 1953 in Paris.
  • Waiting for Godot is about two men - Vladimir and Estragon - who are waiting for another man called Godot.
  • Waiting for Godot is about the meaning of life and the absurdity of existence.
  • The main themes in the play are: Existentialism, The passing of time, and Suffering.
  • The main symbols in the play are: Godot, the tree, night and day, and the objects described in the stage directions.

Frequently Asked Questions about Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot follows two characters - Vladimir and Estragon - as they wait for someone else called Godot who never appears.

The main themes of Waiting for Godot are: Existentialism, The passing of time, and Suffering.

The moral of Waiting for Godot is that human existence has no meaning unless people create their own.

Godot is a symbol that has been interpreted in many different ways. Samuel Beckett himself never reiterated what he meant by 'Godot'. Some interpretations of Godot include: Godot as a symbol for God; Godot as a symbol for purpose; Godot as a symbol for death.

The characters in Waiting for Godot represent different kinds of suffering. The main characters - Vladimir and Estragon - represent human uncertainty and the failure to escape the absurdity of existence.

Final Waiting for Godot Quiz

Question

True or False: Waiting for Godot has a circular structure.

Show answer

Answer

True.

Show question

Question

Who is NOT a character in Waiting for Godot?

Show answer

Answer

 Clov

Show question

Question

Which character is the only one who remembers things the other characters have forgotten?

Show answer

Answer

 Vladimir

Show question

Question

Which characters puts on a hat to show that they are thinking?

Show answer

Answer

 Lucky

Show question

Question

True or False: 'Godot as God' is one of the most famous interpretations of Godot.

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or False: The leafless tree which grows leaves symbolises the passage of time.

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Answer

True.

Show question

Question

True or False: Vladimir and Estragon can only wait for Godot duing nghttime.

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Answer

False.

Show question

Question

What was the original title of the play?

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Answer

 En attendant Godot

Show question

Question

True or False: The boots symbolise the characters' uncertainty as individuals.

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Answer

False.

Show question

Question

Which dramatic technique reveals to the audience that the characters are stuck?

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Answer

Repetition

Show question

Question

What is the phrase 'waiting for Godot' synonymous with?

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Answer

Waiting for something that would probably never happen. 

Show question

Question

What is NOT one of the main themes in Waiting for Godot ?

Show answer

Answer

 Money

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Question

How many acts does Waiting for Godot have?

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Answer

 2

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