“Waiting for Godot” is the most famous play by Samuel Beckett. It has two acts. It was initially written in French but the writer himself translated it to English. The play became popular and it was translated to many foreign languages.
The reason for its popularity lies in the fact that the play has no plot but we can find many meaningful lessons in it.
Next to the characters Vladimir, Lucky, Pozzo and Estragon there is a boy who is a messenger but he only has about two lines so he can’t even be stated as a character.
Even though it seems that the play has a plot it actually represents many other boring, tragic, real life events that have no plot.
There is not exciting moments in the play and the only thing existing are the episodes of waiting. The author tries to break the monotony by putting in dialogues and some events just to keep the reader reading.
The characters, every now and then, seem funny so some call this a tragicomedy.
Genre: absurdist play
Time: unspecified time
Place: the place was barely described
Everything happened in an unspecified place under a tree, near a road where two wanderers Vladimir and Estragon wait for the mysterious Godot. They believe that his arrival will bring them salvation.
The act begins with Estragon’s failed tries to take off his shoe. Vladimir joins him in his conclusion that there is nothing he can so about the shoe.
While they wait, they have meaningless talks. Estragon told him that he spent the night in the street and that he was beaten up by some bullies. Vladimir was looking into his hat and Estragon managed to take of his shoe so he looked at it.
Soon after that Vladimir suggests to Estragon that they should repent and Estragon asks him for a reason but Vladimir has none. Estragon wants to go somewhere but Vladimir reminds him that they have to wait for Godot. They were discussing about being in the right place and if Godot will appear at all.
They both doubt that Godot will arrive and while they talked Estragon fell asleep. When he woke up he had a desire to tell Vladimir about his dream but he wouldn’t listen. They get into a huge fight that results in a conclusion that they should both hang themselves. They gave up on that idea because the branches of the tree were too weak to hold them.
Again they started talking about Godot and why he needs them. Estragon was hungry so Vladimir gave him a carrot.
They heard a scream. Pozzo appeared with his slave Lucky. Pozzo was dragging Lucky around on a string and controlled him with a whip. He was violent and loud while Lucky was carrying heavy burden – food basket, chair and a suitcase.
Estragon and Vladimir observed them and Estragon thought that one of them could be Godot.
Pozzo ordered Lucky to set his chair and make him something to eat. Vladimir and Estragon asked Pozzo to give them some chicken bones and at the same time they were shocked by his cruelty towards Lucky. Pozzo was probably rich, had a lot of food and he was shrewd.
Pozzo told them that Lucky did all of these thing because he loved his positions and he also told them that he is about to sell him. Lucky started crying when he heard that. Estragon went to console him but Lucky then kick him with his foot. Estragon started spitting all over him to get his revene.
Pozzo ordered Lucky to take of his hat so everybody sees his gray hair. Everybody was surprised with Lucky’s behavior. Pozzo ordered Luckyto start dancing and then to put on his hat. Lucky started humming something but nobody understood him and then Lucky kicked him again.
Pozzo said that something stinks and Estragon told him that it was his feet and Vladimir’s breath.
Pozzo and Lucky went to the fair where Pozzo wanted to sell him.
Vladimirand Estragon stayed at the same place and, while they were talking, a boy appeared. The boy was Godot’s shepherd and messenger. He told them that Godot won’t be coming tonight.
The darkness came and Estragon took of his shoes because he wanted to walk barefoot. They, again, came to the conclusion that it would be best if they hanged themselves. They talked about staying together and agreed that they shouldn’t split now.
The same events from the first act take place in the second with some minor changes. Vladimir and Estragon are still waiting for Godot.
Vladimir was singing a sad song and Estragon came beaten up again. After he got his hug of consolation he suggested that they should split now.
Estragon didn’t remember that the same thing already happened to them and that they were at that same place again. Both of them saw many leaves on the branches and Estragon concluded that under the tree weren’t the shoes he had left before. He wanted to leave but Vladimir told him they have to wait for Estragon.
Estragon told Vladimir he was hungry so he gave him some radish. Estragon didn’t eat it because it wasn’t ripe. He decided to go to sleep but he put on his shoes first. Vladimir covered him up with a coat and Estragon suddenly woke up. Vladimir consoled him again and calmed him down.
They found Lucky’s hat so Vladimir threw away his hat and took Lucky’s. They started impersonating Lucky and Pozzo by offending each other.
After some time, the real Pozzo and Lucky came by. Pozzo was blind and Lucky was mute. Lucky pulled the blind Pozzo but he stumbled and fell down. Vladimir and Estragon started thinking about taking advantage of their incapability to see or speak. Pozzo offered money to help them.
Soon after Pozzo fell asleep and when he woke up he asked for Lucky. Lucky and Pozzo went their own way and Vladimir keeps on waiting with Estragon.
Again the boy appears and says that Godot isn’t coming tonight. Vladimir feel suspicious so he asks the boy if he told them the same news someday in the past. The boy told them that this is the first time he sees them.
Estragon wants to leave because he was tired of waiting but Vladimir told him they have to wait for Godot or he will punish them.
Estragon suggested that they should hang themselves but they did not have a rope so they used a belt. The belt broke so they decided to try again tomorrow with a rope.
Without hisbelt, Estragon had to always hold his pants up. Both of them stood at the same place and they kept on waiting for Godot.
The whole story spins around the arrival of the man who isn’t coming and we can’t say what is the beginning, middle or the end of the play.
Characters: Vladimir, Estragon, Pozzo, Lucky, the boy
Estragon – he is a slave to his primary instincts, loses his strength easily and just goes with the flow
Vladimir – he doesn’t go with the flow that easily, he fights the destiny and the monotonous lifestyle.
Pozzo – brutal and intelligent. He held his slave on a leash like a dog
Lucky – Pozzo’s servant who is a victim of his cruelty
Samuel Beckett Biography
Samuel Beckett was born on April 13, 1906, near Dublin, Ireland, on April 13 into a middle-class home. His mother was a nurse, while his father worked as a quantity surveyor. When he was 14, Beckett was sent to get his education at the same school Oscar Wilde went. He studied French, English and Italian at the Trinity College in Dublin.
Beckett is known for his comment “I had little talent for happiness” which means that he was trapped in some sort of depression even as a young boy. He hated long conversations with people he did not know and often stayed in bed for the entire day. He had an opportunity to be advanced by James Joyce’s daughter who he rejected by saying that he did not have classic human feelings. This type of depression can be seen in his work, especially in Waiting for Godot which he wrote when he had to struggle to get through life.
In 1926, he moved to Paris where he met James Joyce who was, then, a respected older writer. He soon became his assistant, which resulted in Beckett writing an essay Dante… Brino. Vico… Joyce in which he defended Joyce’s work to the public. One year later, in 1927, Beckett won his first prize for writing the poem “Whoroscope” in which he wrote about Descarte’s meditating as well as the transience of life and the subject of time. After that, he completed his study of Proust and left his job at Trinity College as he decided to travel.
He journeyed through Germany, England, Ireland, and France as well as he continued writing his stories and poems. It is likely that he met many people who later can be found in his writing, for example, two tramps Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting for Godot. While he was traveling through Paris, Beckett always made a visit to his friend Joyce.
He decided to permanently move to Paris in 1937 and, after a short period of time, a man who asked for the money stabbed him on the street. His recovery from a perforated lung lasted long but he wanted to know why the man attacked him. He even went to visit him in prison. When he asked him why he stabbed him, the man said: “Je ne sais pas, Monsieur” (I don’t know, Mister). The attitude and the sentence can be found in several of Beckett’s later writings.
During World War II, he joined a resistance movement in Paris and remained there until 1942 when several members of the group were arrested. Until then, he was forced to run away with his wife to the zone that wasn’t occupied. In 1945, when Paris was liberated from the Germans, Beckett and his wife returned. From that time, he made a rising career as one of the most popular writers by publishing a book of criticism, two books of short stories, novels: Mercier et Camier, The Unnamable, Malone Dies, Endgame, Eleutheria and his most popular work Waiting for Godot. There were some disputes about the genre for his novels (Molloy, Murphy, Watt…) – whether they belong to modern, modernist or postmodernist novels, but his plays, immediately after their publication and presentation, were seen as the culmination of a new direction – antitheatre.
His first play was surely Eleutheria which showed a young man’s effort to escape social obligations and cut himself loose from his annoying family. Eleutheria was often compared to his own search for freedom.
On January 5, 1953, he experienced great success when his work Waiting for Godot first premiered at the Theatre de Babylone. Although many critics wrote about the play as the “weird little play where nothing happens“, Waiting for Godot became successful. Over a couple of years, it ran for 400 performances at the mentioned theatre and was praised by world-renowned critics and writers. He warned us of some typical feelings and problems of our time – “waiting for Godot” has become a saying that stands for a hopeless and senseless expectation of someone or something that might save/help us, even when we don’t believe it will happen.
The novel also saw an interesting production in 1957 by Actor Workshop who performed the play at the San Quentin penitentiary. 1400 convicts immediately identified with Estragon and Vladimir’s pain of waiting for their life to end and the daily struggle for their existence. Endgame, his second masterpiece, was premiered at the Royal Court Theatre in London on April 3, 1957.
All of his major works were mostly written in French as he was in the belief that he should use is more wisely and forced him to be more disciplined in writing. However, he translated Waiting for Godot in English by himself.
Beckett was one of the first absurdist playwriters who won international fame. His works have been translated into more than 20 languages. He also received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969 and continued to write until his death.
Samuel Beckett died on December 22, 1989 in Paris, and toward the end, he said that each word he wrote during his life seemed as “an unnecessary stain of nothingness and silence“.