Review: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

“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. Let us not then speak ill of our generation, it is not any unhappier than its predecessors.”
~Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

Plot summary

“A seminal work of twentieth century drama, Waiting for Godot was Samuel Beckett’s first professionally produced play. It opened in Paris in 1953 at the tiny Left Bank Theatre de Babylone, and has since become a cornerstone of twentieth-century theater.

Staging of “Waiting for Godot” with Ian McKellan & Patrick Stewart. Photo: Aaron Muszalski (CC BY 2.0)
Staging of “Waiting for Godot” with Ian McKellan & Patrick Stewart. Photo: Aaron Muszalski (CC BY 2.0)

The story line revolves around two seemingly homeless men waiting for someone or something named Godot. Vladimir and Estragon wait near a tree on a barren stretch of road, inhabiting a drama spun from their own consciousness. The result is a comical wordplay of poetry, dreamscapes, and nonsense, which has been interpreted as a somber summation of mankind’s inexhaustible search for meaning. Beckett’s language pioneered an expressionistic minimalism that captured the existentialism of post-World War II Europe. His play remains one of the most magical and beautiful allegories of our time.” More on Goodreads

On Samuel Beckett

“Samuel Barclay Beckett was an Irish avant-garde novelist, playwright, theatre director, and poet, who lived in France for most of his adult life. He wrote in both English and French. His work offers a bleak, tragicomic outlook on human nature, often coupled with black comedy and gallows humour.

Beckett is widely regarded as among the most influential writers of the 20th century. Strongly influenced by James Joyce, he is considered one of the last modernists. As an inspiration to many later writers, he is also sometimes considered one of the first postmodernists. He is one of the key writers in what Martin Esslin called the “Theatre of the Absurd”. His work became increasingly minimalist in his later career.

Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize in Literature ‘for his writing, which—in new forms for the novel and drama—in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation’.” More on Goodreads

Key concepts
  • Minimalistic conversation style
  • Absurdity of means and ends
  • Nonsensical existence
Review

The funny thing about our world is that sometimes there isn’t enough of nonsense and at times there seems to be an abundance of it. Waiting for Godot is an example of the latter category. Beckett’s play with imagination and nonsensical conversations are to remind us that one should not take things too seriously. There is never too much of laughter and sense of humor on this planet. Naturally tragi-comedy exists but there should be more magical nonsense to boost the interesting nature of the world.

Waiting for Godot. Photo: SilverTD (CC BY-ND 2.0)
Waiting for Godot. Photo: SilverTD (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Waiting for Godot let’s us into the realm of speculation. Who or what is Godot and shall he, she or it ever arrive and where to start with? Why are Estragon and Vladimir waiting so patiently and what is the metaphorical level of Godot? I guess the fascinating thing about the whole ordeal is that we’ll never find out.

In an exchange of letters with Michael Polac (Paris, 1952) and Desmond Smith (1956), Samuel Beckett wrote the following: “I know no more about the characters than what they say, what they do, and what happens to them. About their looks, I must have indicated the little I have been able to catch a glimpse of. The bowler hats, for instance. I do not know who Godot is. I do not even know if he exists. And I do not know if they believe he does or doesn’t, those two who are waiting for him. The two others who drop in towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be in order to break the monotony…” (The New Yorker 1996)

Well, there we have it, the big revelation. No longer need to have sleepless nights after pondering for years what Godot is. I think Beckett played his PR cards marvelously by not spoiling anything. My hunch is that Beckett doesn’t actually have any explanation for Godot’s existence in reality, maybe the constructed idea of him/her/it is enough to create tension in the play. The conversation between Estragon and Vladimir is more important to bring meaning into life.

What we might forget is that absurdity does not require explanations or logical argumentation. The absurdity and level of nonsense in Waiting for Godot is striking, but so is reading styles of different interpretations about Beckett’s play and what the hidden meaning behind the topic might be.

Existing interpretations for Waiting for Godot
  • The protagonists are waiting for hope to arrive (GrAdeSaver)
  • The protagonists are having a crisis of existentialism (LetterPile) or the characters constantly struggle to prove their existence (ACU Academy)
  • “[Beckett] has strong feelings about the degradation of mankind, and he has given vent to them copiously. ‘Waiting for Godot’ is all feeling. (…) It is a mystery wrapped in an enigma.” (Atkinson 1956, see below)
  • The meaninglessness of time (samuel-beckett.net)
  • The religious interpretation: Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for the return of the savior (ACU Academy)
  • Political interpretations: the play is an allegory for Franco-German relations, or a Marxist interpretation with Pozzo as the capitalist and Lucky as the laborer (ACU Academy)
  • Miscellaneous explanations: Allegory of the Cold War, Freudian, Jungian, ethical, existential, Christian, autobiographical interpretation on Beckett’s relationships, homoeroticism between the main characters (Wikipedia)

I’m voting for the existential and/or time-related interpretations. How would you interpret Beckett’s play? Let me know.

More information
– Brooks Atkinson: Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’, column published in The New York Times on 20 April 1956, link retrieved on 24 November 2016
– Samuel Beckett: Who is Godot? Letters published The New Yorker on 24 June 1996, p. 136, link retrieved on 24 November 2016 (required subscription for access to the whole article)
– Peter Crawley: Waiting for Godot review: The best production for 25 years, review on a recent play published in The Irish Times on 12 July 2016, link retrieved on 24 November 2016
– Lyn Gardner: Waiting for Godot review – a dystopian Laurel and Hardy after an apocalypse, review on a recent play published in the Guardian on 7 June 2015, link retrieved on 24 November 2016
– Nancy Groves: Hugo Weaving: ‘Beckett has the most amazing sense of humour’, Interview published in the Guardian on 2 April 2015, link retrieved on 24 November 2016

Other novels, stories and studies by Beckett
  • Proust (1931)
  • More Pricks Than Kicks (1934)
  • Murphy (1938)
  • Mercier and Camier (1946)
  • Malone Dies (1951)
  • Molloy (1951)
  • The Unnamable (1953)
  • Endgame (1957)
  • Krapp’s Last Tape & Embers (1958)
  • Happy Days (1960)
  • Stories and Texts for Nothing (1974)

“Estragon: We always find something, eh Didi, to give us the impression we exist?
Vladimir: Yes, yes, we’re magicians.”
~Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

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Author: fictivestina

Hey, I'm a native Helsinkian but a cosmopolitan at heart :) Outdoors, reading, writing and cultural attractions are my passion. Hiking in Lapland cannot be competed with!

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