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“Accordingly, any interpretation that purports to know who Godot is (or is not), whether he exists whether he will ever come, whether he has ever come, or even whether he may have come without being recognized (or possibly in disguise) is, if not demonstrably wrong, at least not demonstrably right” (Hutchings 27).
“Although works of the theater of the absurd, particularly Beckett’s, are often comical, their underlying premises are wholly serious: the epistemological principle of uncertainty and the inability in the modern age to find a coherent system of meaning, order, or purpose by which to understand our existence and by which to live” (Hutchings 28).
Godot’s characters do not despair in the face of their situation, and this “perseverance remains constant throughout a body of work that, in the words of the citation awarding Beckett the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969 had ‘transmuted the destitution of modern man into his exaltation’ (qtd. in Bair 606)” (Hutchings 30).
“Many relate the play to existentialism…:God is dead, life is absurd, existence precedes essence, ennui is endemic to the human condition…In many ways, such a reading is an evasion of the play’s complexity, a way of putting to rest the uncertainty of one’s response to it” (Collins 33).
The reader, like modern man, must not give into “the arrogant presumption of certitude or the debilitating despair of skepticism,” but instead must “live in uncertainty, poised, by the conditions of our humanity and of the world in which we live, between certitude and skepticism, between presumption and despair “(Collins 36).
Tragicomedy is life enhancing because it tries to “remind the audience of the real need to face existence ‘knowing the worst,’ which ultimately is liberation, with courage and humility of not taking oneself or one’s own pain too seriously, and to bear all life’s mysteries and uncertainties; and thus to make the most of what we have rather than to hanker after illusory certainties and rewards” (Esslin, Theater 47).
“Act II. The next day. But is it really the next day? Or after? Or before?” (Esslin, Presence 109).
Many details point out the absence of (meaninglessness of) traditional time, which is just one of many ways that the play resists interpretation and meaning:
“People misunderstand it on all sides, just as everyone does his own sorrow. Explanations flow in from all quarters, each more pointless than the last” (Esslin, Presence 110).
Some of the many attempts to impose meaning on the play include
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Godot is God; 2.) Godot is “the earthly ideal of a better social order”; 3.) Godot is death; 4.) Godot is silence; 5.) Godot is the inaccessible self (Esslin, Presence 110).
The play is, in fact, less than nothing—suggests REGRESSION: “But here less than nothing happens. It is as if we were watching a sort of regression beyond nothing. As always in Beckett, that little we are given to begin with, and which we thought so meager at the time, soon decays under our very eyes—disintegrates like Pozzo, who comes back bereft of sight, dragged by a Lucky, bereft of speech; like the carrot, which as if by mockery has dwindled by the second act to a radish” (Esslin Presence 111).
“A character in a play usually does no more than play a part, as all those about us do who are trying to shirk their own existence.” But in Beckett’s play, the two tramps are on a stage with no part to play. “They must invent. They are free.” (Esslin Presence 113).
The play does not tell a story; it examines a static situation
Nearly one quarter of the play’s text is presented in the form of questions.
The play starts in medias res; begins in the midst of circular and pointless repetition.
Bert O. States applies to Beckett’s work the words Roland Bartes uses to describe Kafka’s works:
The work “authorizes thousands of equally plausible keys—which is to say, it validates none” (States 82).
“There are no more significant solvable problems left unsolved; success in art is paid for by insignificance, not to say outright plagiarism of earlier solutions. The artist-as-failure, if he is to exist at all, is thus condemned to tread a narrow line between inauthentic success and truly irremediable failure to produce anything at all” The artist must fail to express—and he must fail to express his failure to express (States 96).
The characters talk to each other but fail to communicate. Language (notably in the form of cliches) is a form of reassurance – but not real connection occurs; instead, language is “noise to fill the void created by the absence of meaningful human contact” (Esslin, Theater 45).
“Hence the presence of cliches in the discourse of the characters point toward the fact that in ‘real life’ most verbal exchanges are equally devoid of real communication” (Esslin, Theater 45).
Repeated phrases, lines, and words and the fact that the second act repeats the first act are used to “signify the senseless repetition and relentless flow of time inherent to human existence” (Esslin, Theater 46).
“Their talk is not so much anti-intellectual as it is counterintellectual; in the course of the play they mock or demolish all of our myths of meaning, using language against itself so as to prevent it from disguising their radical vulnerability.” (Gilman 75).
Also ask me about mythic parallels (Sisyphus and Tantalus); Chaplin, music hall, comic theater
Readers must guard against overanalyzing, and thereby overemphasizing, the Biblical allusions; Beckett’s audience knew the Bible much better than do modern audiences—connections and associations were immediate and automatic for Beckett’s first audiences (Morrison 56).
Biblical allusions usually create humor by rapid shifts from divine to secular. “The irreverence implied by this quick shift from divine to secular shocks and surprises an informed audience, eliciting a response of uneasy humor and so this sequence continues throughout” (Morrison 57).
“…the juxtapositions and the rapidity of their presentation, not the subject, provide the
humor “ (Morrison 57).
The Biblical allusions accomplish 2 things: 1.) introduce the play’s central theme: life is full of hellish suffering; 2.) establishes a tone of cynical humor which is heard throughout the play—much of the cynical humor is based on seeing the Christian “good news” of salvation (the crucifixion) as “bad news” (“Only one thief was saved). The joke is on those who believe the “good news” (Morrison 58).
“’Hope deferred maketh the something sick, Vladimir says (8a), groping for Poverbs 13.12: ‘Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.’ Waiting for what does not come indeed makes the heart (and feet and other body appendages) sick, and yet by a withered tree, he and Estragon continue to wait” (Morrison 58).
“Didi and Gogo wait for a nonexistent hope and thus miss ‘the real thing’ (the possibility of such a real thing being suggested by the leaves appearing on the tree in act 2) “ (Morrison 58).
“Beckett’s placement of the [50-50 chance of salvation motif through the two thieves] story early in the play indicates his authorial concern with establishing immediately the theme of blighted hope, the tone of grieving despair. The comic mode of delivery underscores the tragicomedy nature of the play” (Morrison 59).
Other crucifixion references noted by Morrison (59)
Estragon’s crucifixion posture in the yoga exercise
“Do you think God sees me?”
The wind is in the reeds” (John the Baptist preparing the way for Christ, Matt. 11.7-10)
Repetition of skull in Lucky’s monologue. Golgotha (the place of skulls, Matt. 27.33) is the location where Christ and 2 thieves died
At end of Act I, the boy says he minds the goats but his brother minds the sheep. Godot beats only his brother—this situation is an ironic reversal of Matt.25.31-46—in which the sheep go to the right and are saved, while the goats go to the left and are damned (Morrison 61).
The psychological equivalents of salvation and damnation are hope and despair (Morrison 63).
In Act I, Didi usually speaks as mind, and Gogo speaks as body. “Gogo “eats, sleeps, and faces beating while onstage, whereas Didi ponders spiritual salvation. Didi is the more eloquent of the two, with Gogo sitting, leaning, limping, falling, i.e., seeking nearness to the ground. Gogo relies on pantomime, while Didi leans toward rhetoric. Gogo wants Lucky to dance; Didi wants him to think. Gogo stinks from his feet, Didi from his mouth. By act 2, the distinctions are blurred. Both Gogo and Didi engage in mental and physical exercises to pass interminable time, and Didi seems to be more agile in each domain. At the end of Act I, it is the active Gogo who asks, ‘Well, shall we go?’ and the meditative Didi who assents, ‘Yes, let’s go.’ Act 2 closes with the same lines, but the speakers are reversed” (Cohn 171).
“Vladimir and Estragon are complimentary characters, as are Lucky and Pozzo. “
Lucky taught Pozzo all the higher values of life (“beauty, grace, truth”); Lucky is mind and spirit—Pozzo is body and material; “Intellect is subordinate to the appetites of the body,” but they are tied together” (Esslin, Search 28).
Are Estragon and Vladimir superior to Pozzo and Lucky because the former have companionship, compassion, and because the former have faith and hope?--or are the two couples equally absurd and foolish? (Esslin, Search 30).
Lucky and Pozzo both benefit from the S & M, slave and master relationship because the relationship gives them identity and purpose.
Bair, Deirdre. Samuel Beckett. A Biography. New York: Harcourt, 1978.
Cohn, Ruby. “Philosophical Fragments in the Works of Samuel Beckett.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schlueter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 1991. 169-177.
Collins, Michael J. “Let’s Contradict Each Other.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schlueter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 1991. 31-36.
Esslin, Martin. “Beckett and the Theater of the Absurd.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schleuter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 1991. 42-47.
---. “Samuel Beckett, or ‘Presence’ in the Theater.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schlueter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 1991. 108-116.
---. “The Search for the Self.” Modern Critical Interpretations of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 23-40.
Gans, Eric. “Beckett and the Problem of Modern Culture.” Modern Critical Interpretations of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 95- 110.
Gilman, Richard. “The Waiting Since.” Modern Critical Interpretations of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 67-78.
Hutchings, William. “Waiting for Godot and Principles of Uncertainty.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schlueter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 26-30.
Morrison, Kristin. “Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot.” Approaches to Teaching Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Jane Schlueter and Enoch Brater. New York: MLA, 1991. 56-64.
States, Bret O. “The Language of Myth.” Modern Critical Interpretations of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. 79-94.