Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot has been criticized as a play in which nothing happens-twice. Not only are Vladimir and Estragon, the two primary characters, unable to change their circumstances in the first act, the second act seems to be a replay of this existential impotence.
Vladimir's remark "Nothing to be done," at the opening of the play, may be said to characterize the whole. Estragon complains that "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!" (Beckett 27).
Ostensibly, the play is a series of meaningless conversations on subjects of no importance. One wonders, then, if it isn't true that nothing happens in this play and, hence, if the play has my real artistic merit. But something is happening. The characters are struggling to free themselves from a treadmill of an existence in which they are trapped-a struggle that is, perhaps, significantly like our own.
Let us first consider the role of time in the play. Vladimir and Estragon want time to pass but are forced to acknowledge that even when it does, nothing changes. In other words, the time they recognize offers them no genuine future. On the contrary, it promises them more of the same:
We came too soon.
It's always at nightfall.
But night doesn't fall.
It'll fall all of a sudden, like yesterday.
Then it'll be night.
And we can go.
Then it'll be day again. (Pause. Despairing.) What'll we do, what'll we do! (Beckett 45-
If night would only come there would be an end to this day. But that is no hope since another day ...
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Fletcher, Beryl S., and John Fletcher. A Student's Guide to the Plays of Samuel Beckett. Boston: Faber and Faber, 1985.
Fletcher, J. Action and Play in Beckett's Theater. Modern Drama 9 (1966/67) 242-246.
Iser, W. Beckett's Dramatic Language. Modern Drama 9 (1966/67) 251-259.
Kenner, Hugh. A Reader's Guide to Samuel Beckett. New York: Farar, Straus, and Giroux, 1983.
Lamont, Rosette. Beckett's Metaphysics of Choiceless Awareness. Samuel Beckett Now. Ed. Melvin J. Friedman. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1975.
Lyons, Charles R. Samuel Beckett. New York: Grove Press, 1983.
Metman, Eva. Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays. Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Martin Esslin. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965.
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