Language, Action and Time in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot

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Language, Action and Time in Waiting for Godot

Twenty-two hundred years before the emergence of the Theater of the Absurd, the Greek philosopher Artistotle stumbled upon one of the themes developed in Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot; that is, that Thought (Dianoia) is expressed through Diction and that Thought (Theoria) is in itself a form of Action (Energeia). Intellectual action is thus measured equally in comparison to physical action. Over the centuries, theories regarding thought, action and language have evolved considerably, but certain underlying themes in Beckett's unconventional work can trace their origins back to Aristotle's original concepts concerning drama, namely the relationships between language, thought and the action involved in contemplation.

Aristotle proposes that Thought and Diction imitate Action. In Beckett's Waiting for Godot, it is possible to see a similar pattern (that when taken a step further is no longer linear but circular), in which Language permits the existence of Thought which in turn becomes vicarious Action. (Ironically, this whole process which is portrayed by Beckett on-stage is equivalent to the art of theater itself which, manifested through language, permits the audience offstage, whose witnessing of a play replaces imagining it, to undergo the same process in acting vicariously through the characters.) The first and more interesting part of the process is best illustrated by the ending of both acts when Vladimir, and then Estragon, says "Yes, let's go" and the stage directions indicate "They do not move". It suffices simply to say and subsequently to think of leaving, for there is no more meaning in the vicarious action than in its actual physical manifestation.


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... Vladimir who comments about the condition of Estragon's feet: "There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet." The boots represent god, for each is an external object that man contrives to protect himself. Beckett is saying that man should not blame the devices that he creates when they fail to protect him from himself, but should rather accept the responsibility for their failure as he is the creator of those devices. If god does not fill man's existential void, instead of hopelessly waiting for that unreliable god to come and rescue him, he should consider looking to himself to resolve the problem of the meaninglessness of his life.


Aristotle. Poetics. Tr. S.H. Butler. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Press, 1954

Durozoi, Gérald. Beckett. Paris: Bordas, 1972
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