When something is voted “the most significant English language play in the 20th century”, you know it must be something truly spectacular. Waiting for Godot, penned by Samuel Beckett, premiered on the 5th of January 1953 in French and was subtitled as a “tragicomedy in two acts.”
Waiting for Godot is an absurdist play that explores the genre of existentialism. The utter emptiness and arbitrariness of the plot makes the audience ponder if anything is really going to happen, and if there is any true meaning to the plot (and to life). The reason this particular play sent shockwaves through the theatrical world was its utter ignorance towards the conventional norms of dramatics. The lack of a plot and intricate character development made Beckett stand out as a rebel- and who doesn’t love a rebel? The play grew to form the basis of an entire new genre of “Le Théâtre de l’Absurde,” a dramatic body based largely on the character traits of Godot.
The entire script basically consists of two men, Vladimir and Estragon, and their endless wait for someone they refer to as “Godot”. While waiting, they contemplate on the philosophical issues of life including that of death, and wonder why they haven’t killed themselves already. Two other elderly men, Pozzo and Lucky (a master and his slave respectively), enter the scene. Lucky dances for everyone’s entertainment until he is forcefully silenced, and then the two depart. Now a boy arrives stating that though Godot will not be able to come today, he will surely come tomorrow and as Estragon and Vladimir wait, the first act ends. The second act is almost an exact replication of the first, with the only difference being that Pozzo is blind and Lucky is mute. The mysterious boy appears with the same message and the two men continue to wait, in vain, for Godot. Thus, the inevitable question arises… Who is this Godot?
There are many views as to what “Godot” is supposed to represent. On one level it is misread to represent God, or the ultimate spiritual being. However, on a deeper level, it can be seen to represent the idea of a totalizing or unifying force which would solve all misery, and how humans put their entire lives on standstill waiting for it instead of taking positive action. It is up to us to figure out the reason behind our existence, or else continue to live absurd lives.
Though it won’t take readers more than about two hours to read the play, the questions that it will arise will keep you pondering for days to come. “Let’s go.” “We can’t.” “Why not?” “We’re waiting for Godot.”
By Sanjana Ahuja