Samuel Beckett's WAITING FOR GODOT (1952) has been acclaimed as one of the most significant plays of the post-Second World War era. Martin Esslin, one of the pioneering critics of the play, calls it "one of the successes of the post--war theater" (39). Poet Kenneth Rexroth, concurring with playwright Tennessee Williams, says that GODOT is the greatest play since Pirandello's SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR" (244). For Andrew Kennedy, Beckett's change of status "from the obscure avant-garde writer to the world figure" (Beckett was awarded the 1969 Nobel Prize for Literature) is attributed to the fame of the play (1). And David Gates, in an obituary for Beckett that he wrote for NEWSWEEK, calls WAITING FOR GODOT the most influential play of the 20th century" (43). Indeed, that Robin Williams and Steve Martin, whom Jack Kroll (also reporting for NEWSWEEK) calls "Americas two best comic actors", acted in it in a prestigious off-Broadway theater as recently as 1988 testifies to the play's lasting importance; no wonder Kroll calls GODOT "the most famous play of the century" (87).

        Ironically, the critical acclaim of the play is not based on its form as a "well-wrought urn," to borrow Cleanth Brooks's metaphor. Commenting on the body of plays that have been given the label of "Theater of the Absurd" to which WAITING FOR GODOT belongs, Esslin writes,

If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these have no story or plot to speak of; if a good play is judged by the subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained theme which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play has to hold the mirror up to nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares; if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist of incoherent babblings. (21--22)

        If the value of the play does not lie in its form, as Esslin convincingly argues, then, many critics contend, it lies in its theme: the absurdity of the human condition.

        Eugene Ionesco defines "the absurd" as that "which is devoid of purpose...Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless" (qtd. in Esslin 23).

       The sense of despair and rootlessness that is the characteristic of the Theater of the Absurd, as Esslin explains, was mainly a result of the Second World War, which shattered many artists hopes for mankind-in-progress and shook their religious faith (23).


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