It goes without saying that it would be
foolhardy to teach GODOT to students who have not been exposed to a relatively wide range
of literature and its genres. Ideally, GODOT should be taught after the class has read and
discussed a tragedy (for example Shakespeare's OTHELLO or HAMLET) and a comedy (for
example Molieres TARTUFFE or Oscar Wilde's THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST). By reading
GODOT after these two genres, students would have a common frame of reference since the
play is a tragicomedy.
Naturally, having not been introduced to
reader--response criticism, their comments on GODOT would be made in the analytical mode.
They would be tempted to talk for example of setting, plot, characters, language and the
like. However, as Esslin has aptly explained, the play violates almost all the conventions
of the above. The initial reaction of students, therefore, should be expected to be one of
bafflement, bewilderment and even frustration. Comments likely to be made are: "the
play is 'weird' or strange"; "the characters [Vladmir and Estragon] are
indistinguishable from each other"; "you cant tell who is speaking";
"the language doesn't make sense." While students are making these comments and
several others in a similar vein, the teacher should nod in approval and reassure them
that they are on target and that they have, contrary to what they had thought, made much
progress in understanding the play. For the teacher, these reactions should serve to
introduce the play as being unconventional and subversive (in the sense that it subverts
almost all the norms of appreciating what is traditionally known as good literature).
After making this observation, the teacher may proceed to discuss in brief (save the
characters who would later be analyzed in more detail) how Beckett violates the
conventions of setting, plot and character development in realistic literature.
A formal discussion of the play
may begin with the questions of where and when the action of the play takes place. In a
realistic text, the author usually gives the time and the real name of the place. Even
when the name of the place is fictitious, the reader may infer from various signs in the
text where and when the action is taking place. For example, although in George Orwell's
ANIMAL FARM the setting seems to be England (the name "Manor Farm" is English)
and most of the characters are animals, a competent reader knows too well that the setting
is Russia from the Bolshevik revolution to the Stalin era.
This brief reminder of the concept of setting
in realism will trigger the class to realize that the setting of GODOT (by a road under a
tree) cannot be geographically and temporally located, nor do the names of the characters
give any clue: Estragon sounds French and Vladmir Russian. This, students should be told,
has made many critics to conclude that the stage of the play is the world, or at least
could be anywhere in the world.
In discussing plot, the teacher
should also begin with its definition in realism, which is an action that has a beginning
(situation), a middle (conflict) and an end (resolution of the conflict). With this
background in mind, students should not find it difficult to note that there is not much
of a plot in GODOT: Vladmir and Estragon are waiting (hardly an action) for Godot who
never comes. However, the students may still be asked here to search in the text for
explicit statements that say that nothing really happens, such as: "nothing to be
done" (8); "don't let's do anything" (12); "in the meantime nothing
happens" (26); "nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, its awful"