. . . And yet when one looks at photographs of the first Paris staging of Godot, apparently supervised with care by Beckett, one sees that both Vladimir and Estragon are more shabby-genteel than ragged. A stage direction mentions Estragon’s " rags " (haillons), but the pair are dressed in intact though far from pristine dark clothes. Vladimir actually wears a stiff collar and a tie; although Estragon wears a scarf round his neck and presumably no collar, the fact that both wear intact bowler hats suggests they still have aspirations to gentility.

 . . . Although they don’t know where they are or what day of the week it is, they can talk intelligently in a large vocabulary on a variety of subjects. Within a passage of a few lines, Gogo compares themselves to caryatids and Didi uses the Latin tag Memoria praeteritorum bonorum . [The past is always recalled to be good] . . .

Estragon adapts Shelley’s "To the Moon": "Art thou pale for weariness /Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth . . .?" . . . Beckett inserted this passage into the English quite self-consciously, so as to leave no doubt that Didi and Gogo are not merely "nature’s gentlemen" but have received some formal education.

Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett


Art thou pale for weariness Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth, Wandering companionless Among the stars that have a different birth— And ever changing, like a joyless eye That finds no object worth its constancy? —Shelley


. . . Vladimir goes on straight away to make his statement of faith . . that " At me too someone is looking . . . " . . . reminiscent of . . . Lamartine: "Insecte éclos de ton sourire,/Je nais, j’égarde et j’expire . . . Dieu m’a vu! le regard de vie/S’est abaissé sur mon néant" ["Insect hatched from your smile/I am born, I consider and I die . . . God has seen me! the glance of life/Has humbled itself on my nothingness] . . . one has to be careful not to miss the flicker of an ironic smile with Beckett. Whereas one knows that Lamartine had no doubt about the secure and comforting gaze of God, Beckett may be inviting us to see the sheer ludicrousness of Vladimir’s pretension to being an object of God’s all-seeing eye. His lines and Lamartine’s could be considered as commentaries . . . on the eleventh Psalm: "The Lord is in his holy temple . . his eyes behold . . . his countenance doth behold the upright."

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness


Estragon: Do you think God sees me ?

He is standing with his arms out, like a tree—one of the Yoga positions, as Beckett pointed out to Alan Schneider—staggering on one leg. At the same time as he is imitating the crucifixion (in Peter O’Toole’s production, he and Vladimir stand each side of the tree in a Calvary tableau, which is justified by the earlier attention they pay to the story of the two thieves) . . . The meaning is swiftly changed by Estragon’s mention of God: to balance the physical exercises they are now doing a spiritual exercise for which the cross-like stance is merely a shaping-up, and the laughter is quickly suppressed as Estragon shouts out his supplication: "God have pity on me".

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness


"As we look at them [Didi and Gogo], we suddenly realise the main function of theatre, which is to show what the fact of being there consists in. For this is what we have never seen on the stage before, or not with the same clarity, not with so few concessions and so much force. 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 it is as if the two tramps were on the stage without a part to play."

Stripping his characters down to their irreducible humanity and mortality, Beckett also reduces the theatre to its pure naked essence . His plays become, in a Platonic sense, the very Idea of a play— people on a stage conscious that they are people on a stage:

V We’ll come back tomorrow.
E And then the day after tomorrow.

Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce


Form, in the Platonic sense of Idea is all; content becomes minimal: . . . The shape, the structure, is what matters, . . . The stress of form over content, on shape over substance is an emphasis that Beckett himself is conscious of and has acknowledged:

"I take no sides. I am interested in the shape of ideas. There is a wonderful sentence in Augustine: ‘Do not despair; one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume; one of the thieves was damned.’ That sentence has a wonderful shape. It is the shape that matters."

Barbara Reich GluckBeckett and Joyce


. . . the connexion between this [Lucky’s] speech and the well-known poem Hyperions Shicksalsied by the German poet Hölderlin, the last verse of which reads:

Doch uns ist gegeben,But to us it is not given
auf keiner Stätte zu ruhn;in any place to rest;
es schwinden, es fallensuffering humanity
die leidenden Menschendecays and falls 
blindlings von einerblindly from one 
Stunde zur andern,hour to the other, 
wie Wasser von Klippelike water dashed 
zu Klippe geworfen,from crag to crag,
jahrlang ins Ungewisse hinab.year after year, down into the
unknown. [the abyssal depths]

[This poem was used by Beckett in an earlier novel] Moreover in Act II of this play Estragon’s nightmare is concerned with falling from a height which plausibly could be a cliff .

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


The Cackon country

Play on Cockaigne or Cucany, an imaginary land of idleness and plenty sung about by the Goliard, the works of whom Orff used as a source for the popular work Carmina Burana.

"Goliard" was a general name given to any street poet living by his wits. Usually he had been at one time a monk or student, but now he lived a life of change and danger, roving from town to town, begging food and lodging, earning some coins by pleasing their audience with their songs. In taverns, drinking songs were demanded, or perhaps satiric songs about rapacious clergy whom everyone had to pay annually a full tenth of their income. In the home of a merchant or someone of high social standing, the poet might sing a song of love or one of more philosophical bent. The songs of the Goliards speak of disillusionment with the world. Church ceremonies and hymns were mocked in their poems, slyly or openly.

The word Cockaigne comes from the Old French pais de cocaigne, "land of cakes". In this country, houses were built of cake, roast geese wandered through the streets, larks fell already cooked and buttered from the sky, and rivers and fountains ran with wine. Cucany remained in the poetic imagination down through the seventeenth century and is still used in culinary nomenclature.

Ego sum abbas CucaniensisI am the abbot of Cockaigne
et consilium meum est cum bibulis,and my assembly is one of drinkers,
et in secta Decii voluntas mea est,and I wish to be in the order 
of Decius [the god of dice-throwers]
et qui mane me quesierit in taberna,and whoever searches me out at the tavern 
in the morning,
post vesperam nudus egredietur,after Vespers he will leave naked,
et sic denudatus veste clamabit:and thus stripped of his clothes he will call out:
Wafna! Wafna!Woe! Woe!
quid fecesti sors turpissima?what have you done, vilest Fate?
nostre vite gaudiathe joys of my life,
abstulisti omnia!you have taken all away!

[In Carmina Burana] this is sung by a solo baritone as a mock church chant: the Goliard play "abbot" before a rowdy tavern group of drunkards [another example of the sermon joyeux —see notes on Lucky’s speech]. The Goliard reveals himself as an inveterate gambler, and rather than freeing a person of his sins, the Goliard "frees" him of his garments and money.

Judith Lynn Sebesta Carmina Burana


. . . [a] real-life influence on Beckett’s work . . . came in 1938. As Beckett walked along a Paris street, a panhandler stabbed him in the chest, perforating a lung and narrowly missing the heart. When Beckett later asked why the attack happened, the assailant replied, " I don’t know, sir ." That glimpse of the random perils of existence may be confirmed Beckett’s dark vision but did not initiate it.

William A Henry III 
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian  Critical Response to Samuel Beckett


Vladimir’s second act circular song , from the original French version, and the original German drinking song that influenced it:

Un chien vint dans l’officeA dog came in the kitchen
Et prit une andouilletteAnd took a piece of sausage
Alors à coups de loucheWith blows of the ladle
Le chef le mit en miettes.The cook beat him to a pulp
Les autres chiens ce voyant The other dogs, seeing this
Vite vite l’ensevelirentQuickly buried him and wrote
Au pied d’une croix en bois blancAt the foot of the cross 
Où le passant pouvait lire:Where the passerby could read:
Un chien vint dans l’office . . . A dog came in the kitchen . . . 
Chanson a boire traditionelle des étudiants allemands
Ein Hund kam in die KucheA dog came in the kitchen
Und stahl dem Koch ein EiAnd stole an eggfrom the cook
Der Koch der nahm ein MesserThe cook took a knife
Und schnitt den Hund entzweiAnd sliced the dog in two   
Da kamen and’re HundeThe the other dogs came
Und gruben ihm ein GrabAnd dug him a grave
Sie setzten ihm einen GrabsteinThey put thereon a gravestone
Auf dem geschreiben stand:On which was written:
Ein Hund kam in die Kuche . . .A dog came in the kitchen . . .

Erika Ostrovsky Le Silence de Babel

[NB: The melody for "Ein Hund kam in die Kuche" is the same as that for the German children's song "Mein Hut", a song taught to English-speaking children as "My hat, it has three corners", based on Paganini's Carnevale di Venezia. This melody was used in the San Quentin production, directed by Jan Jönson and supervised by Beckett.]

 E  (avec volupté)—Calme... Calme... (Rêveusement)  Les Anglais disent câââm. . . . 
[E   (voluptuously)  Calm . . . calm . . . (Dreamily) The English say cawm. . . . ]

A deliberate play on words from Baudelaire’s most celebrated poem, "l’Invitation au Voyage":

Mon enfant, ma sœur,My child, my sister,
Songe à la douceurDream of the sweetness
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble!Of going far away to live together!
Aimer à loisir,To love at leisure
Aimer et mourirTo love and die
Au pays qui te ressemble!In the land that resembles you!
Les soleils mouillésThe dewy sun
De ces ciels brouillésIn the burning sky
Pour mon esprit ont les charmesCharms my spirit
Si mystérieuxAs mysteriously
De te traîtres yeux,As do your traitorous eyes,
Brillant à travers leurs larmes.When they glitter with tears.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,There, all is naught but order and beauty
Luxe, calme et volupté.Rich, calm and voluptuous.
Des meubles luisants,Glimmering furnishings,
Polis par les ans,Polished by the years,
Décoreraient notre chambre;Would decorate our room;
Les plus rares fleursThe rarest flowers
Mêlant leurs odeursInfusing their odours
Aux vagues senteurs de l’ambre,With the wafting perfume of amber
Les riches plafonds,The ornate ceilings,
Les miroirs profonds,The deep mirrors,
La spendeur orientale,The oriental splendour,
Tout y parleraitAll would speak to
A l’âme secretOur secret soul
Sa douce langue natale.In its sweet native language.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.
Vois sur ces canauxSee how, on the canals
Dormir ces vaisseauxThe vessels sleep
Dont l’humeur est vagabonde;That wander by whim;
C’est pour assouvirIt is to satiate
Ton moindre désirTheir least desires
Qu’ils viennent du bout du monde.That they come to the edge of the world.
—Les soleils couchantsThe setting sun
Revêtent les champs,Clothes anew the fields,
Les canaux, la ville entière,The canals, the entire city,
D’hyacinthe et d’or;In lavender and gold;
Le monde s’endortThe world slumbers
Dans une chaude lumière.Bathed in a warm light.
Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté,
Luxe, calme et volupté.

Beaudelaire wrote this poem about his mistress Dorothée, a mulatto prostitute. His romanticisation of the "far-away land"of her ancestry is not only an echo of most 19th-century imperialistic idealisation of exotic colonial holdings, but this poem in particular became emblematic of the paradisical object of escapist fantasies in general. As arguably the most well-known poem ever written in French, the refrain "Luxe, calme et volupté" is almost universally recognised; and Beckett’s juxtaposition of these words in Gogo’s line would not likely be missed by even the most rudimentarily educated reader.



Very early in the play, in what appears (but is not) a non sequitur after remarks about anonymous beatings and painful boots, Vladimir suddenly announces, " One of the thieves was saved ", and insists on telling the story to an unwilling Estragon. Here are three important issues: the nature of the story itself; the historical fact that biblical versions Duccio di Buoninsegna crucifixion differ; and the dramatic fact that Vladimir chooses to tell this particular story at this particular time.

And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, if you be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:39-43; King James Version)

The conflicting version that Vladimir mentions . . . is Matthew 27:44: "The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same [mockery] in his teeth". Although Vladimir is technically correct that "of the other three [evangelists] two don’t mention any thieves at all", Mark 15:32 refers to others not called thieves but executed at the same time: "And they that were crucified with him reviled him".

Line-by-line examination [shows] the pattern of affirmation and negation, the juxtaposition of opposites, that constitutes part of the comedy of this sequence and that ultimately determines the overall tenor of the play. The assertion "One of the thieves was saved" (a thoughtful reference to a serious story) is followed by what could be either a flippant or a serious judgement: " It’s a reasonable percentage " . Whether or not the comedy of that line is maximised by the mode of delivery, the line itself introduces considerations of a different order: the secular world of economics, mathematics, sociology; the world of cost-benefit analysis rather than the divine order of the soul’s salvation. The irreverence implied by this quite sudden shift from the divine to the secular shocks and surprises an informed audience, and from this experience of shock and surprise comes a response of uneasy humour. And so the sequence continues throughout. The serious issue of repentance is undercut by the comic evasiveness of not going into details. The best-selling book of the Judeo-Christian tradition is trivialised to some pretty coloured maps. The central figure in Christianity becomes a vaudeville double take: " Our Saviour " . . . "Our what?". A significant theological term, a work used daily by ordinary people is momentarily forgotten as if it were abstruse: Vladimir searches for the opposite of saved and finally remembers damned. . . . the juxtapositions and the rapidity of their presentation, not the subject, provide the humour.

Andrea Mantegna crucifixion

Estragon is bored with a story he does not want to hear (does the audience laugh at his sarcastic " I find this really most extraordinarily interesting " because its thoughts have been voiced?). Yanked unwillingly through a tired old problem from the nineteenth-century Higher Criticism and forced to face the critical question of which evangelist to believe, Estragon quips, " Who believes him ?" While some audience members may accept the Bible as truth, others may not believe "the old stories": thus Estragon’s annoyed irreverence can produce a gasp of shocked surprise and a laugh of recognition. The next pair of lines similarly engages the audience: "Everybody [believes him]. It’s the only version they know" is met by the judgement " People are bloody ignorant apes ". Once again, the audience can be shocked and amused —but this time caught as well. For they realise that they, too, may have only a vague knowledge of the crucifixion story and the two thieves: having been lured into laughing at other people as "bloody ignorant apes", they then find themselves included.

The biblical material has thus been used to achieve two ends: it introduces a theme central to the play as a whole and sounds a note of cynical humour that is heard throughout. The theme, of course, is that suffering permeates human life, makes it a kind of hell; the cynical humour depends on seeing the major story of the Christian tradition, meant to be good news, as really bad news, garbled and ineffective. The joke is on those who have believed it. " Hope deferred maketh the something sick ," Vladimir says, groping for Proverbs 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.

Agnolo Gaddi crucifixion

Van Eyck crucifixion I’m sure someone has already noticed this, but I’ve wondered if there isn’t a possible connection between Didi and Gogo and Dysmas and Gestas, the names given to the two thieves in the Middle Ages, . . . It would be an interesting point for a director to bear in mind for an audience with theological scruples, particularly in the placement of the two men in the second "Crucifixion" scene. Dysmas (crucified to Christ’s right) was the repentant thief. He entered heaven with a cross on his shoulders, the first mortal redeemed by Christ’s death. But which tramp should have the honour? Didi seems the logical beneficiary, given his preoccupation with repentance and crucifixion throughout the play; and at the end he does speak the words, " Christ have mercy upon us ". Unfortunately, this would consign Gogo to a fate worse than death, and that is hardly what the play has in mind. But if the reader finds this idea far-fetched, consider one propounded by Beckett himself on Estragon’s chances: "One of Estragon’s feet is blessed, and the other damned. The boot won’t go on the foot that is damned, and it will go on the foot that is not. It is like the two thieves on the cross." I simply don’t know what to make of this: it seems to be carrying thievery to the limit of subtlety (Should one presume, or despair?). Perhaps we should call it a stand-off: Estragon gets at least one foot in the gate, which is more than we can clearly say for Vladimir.

The Crucifixion is kept before the audience by references such as Vladimir’s use of the cliché " To every man his little cross " and by Estragon’s Crucifixion posture when he does the exercise "the tree", asking, " Do you think God sees me ?"; the implied answer seems to be no since he cries out for pity. Estragon’s comparison of himself with Christ emphasises the protracted suffering of human life: if the terrible slow torture of Christ’s Crucifixion is considered "quick", then the pain and despair of Vladimir and Estragon’s lingering life is even further accentuated. Vladimir’s false alarm concerning Godot’s arrival is met with a line suggesting a messianic herald: " The wind in the reeds " echoes Jesus’s remarks about John the Baptist:

What went ye out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken with the wind? . . . But what went ye out for to see? A prophet yea, I say unto you, and more than a prophet. For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. (Matthew 11:7-10)

This reference to hope and salvation, along with the others, ironically indicates the extent to which Vladimir and Estragon have been misled by their culture, conned into desiring, awaiting the impossible or the nonexistent.

Other biblical or theological and religious references in the play serve similar ironic functions: the well-known biblical injunction "Seek and ye shall find" is garbled to " When you seek you hear . . . . That prevents you from finding"; Pozzo, condescending and punitive, seems at time a parody of God the Father, though "not particularly human", happy to meet "the meanest creature", "of the same species as Pozzo! Made in God’s image ", "even when the likeness is an imperfect one"; Vladimir and Estragon seem parodies of humankind, Estragon giving his name as Adam and Vladimir sententiously concluding that " all mankind is us "; Godot seems a parody of popular imaged of God, having a significant white beard, little boys for messengers (angels) and a nasty tendency to punish those who refuse to wait on him. The irony of these references keeps alive in the play what the story of the two thieves had suggested, that there is no happy salvation for Vladimir and Estragon.

Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater  Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot


The sense that Vladimir and Estragon will not be saved is reinforced by a second parable, the well-known story of the wise and foolish virgins:

Blake–Wise and Foolish Virgins Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. . . . and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins [who had gone to buy oil for their lamps], saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch, therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour therein the Son of man cometh. (Matthew 25:1-13)

The biblical words "Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him" are echoed in Vladimir’s triumphant announcement, " It’s Godot ! We’re saved! Let’s go and meet him!". Like attendant virgins of ancient ceremony, these two derelicts have awaited one who they are sure has a special claim on them and in waiting have proved themselves worthy: " What are we doing here , that is the question. And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come—". In the parable, the bridegroom does finally arrive and takes those who are ready into the wedding feast (an image for the kingdom of heaven or salvation; see Matthew 22:1-14 for a similar parable associating darkness and damnation). But in this play, Vladimir is wrong, they are not saved (or blessed), and Estragon is right, they are " in hell ". Once again, a biblical parable serves as ironic contrast to the dramatic scene: the received wisdom of Vladimir’s world is untrue; Vladimir may regulate his behaviour and set his expectations according to the old stories, but in fact these stories are not reliable: he may keep his appointment, but the bridegroom does not. In the parable, of course, the bridegroom tarries, arriving finally at midnight; it is precisely this detail of the story that traps Vladimir, who never knows whether he has waited long enough: perhaps Godot will come tomorrow, " without fail ".

Vladimir is not, of course, consciously referring to this parable; but its ethic resides in him, as his echo of its words suggests. Thus the audience senses one more grimly comic moment of blighted hope: " your only hope left is to disappear ". But Didi and Gogo continue to wait, hoping for a salvation, a deliverance, even though all their biblical stories of salvation—the two thieves, the sheep and goats, the ten virgins—mock those hopes.

Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater  Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot


Vladimir, looking again at the sleeping, dreaming Estragon, can say, " At me too someone is looking , of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on". The line echoes Christ’s observation of Peter in Gethsemane (Mark 14:41): "Sleep on now and take your rest."

S E Gontarski  "Dealing with a Given Space": Waiting for Godot and the Stage
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater  Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot




. . . always, at the back of our minds and of Beckett’s too, there is the image of the tramp as scapegoat, the tramp as an ironic, half-involuntary Christ .

V But you can’t go barefoot!
E Christ did.
V Christ! What has Christ got to do with it? You’re not going to compare yourself to Christ!
E All my life I’ve compared myself to him. 
V But where he lived it was warm, it was dry! 
E Yes. And they crucified quick.

. . . Lucky’s famous speech with its confusion of garbled knowledge recalls the Doctor in ancient farce while the improvisation of the two tramps suggests the endless semantic speculations and misunderstandings of the Commedia dell’Arte. . . . each has his own set-piece to perform, an exact and well-tried lazzo such as the exchange of hats. . . . If language does threaten to assert itself, its pretensions are burst by the pratfall. At times the pratfall works from within language itself as in Pozzo’s inflated speech which portends, in the beginning, to be the definitive speech we have come to the theatre to hear: after leading his audience to a climax of expectation he cannot sustain the illusion and gloomily concludes—" That’s how it is on this bitch of an earth ." More frequently , however, it is solely physical and often disgusting. It deflates the platitudes and expressions of sentiment with which the characters clothe their isolation, as for example where Vladimir and Estragon, out of habit and the boredom of the condition, attempt a reconciliation:

E Come Didi. (silence) Give me your hand. (Vladimir turns) Embrace me! (Vladimir softens. 
They embrace. Estragon recoils) You stink of garlic.
V It’s good for the kidneys.(silence. Estragon looks attentively at the tree) What do we do now?
E We wait.

The pratfall returns them to the painful level of reality from which they will begin another " little canter " towards the same end. This is the clown’s weapon, the undignified, ceremonious collapse of human pretension, a levelling down from the upright to the horizontal . In Act II the tramps, Pozzo and Lucky all stumble and fall together to form a pile of bodies centre stage. It is the universal pratfall.

V We’ve arrived
P Who are you?
V We are men.

Detached from history and society Vladimir and Estragon have time to be men. Though they are sharply individualised, have their own past and are concerned, in the present, with the vagrant’s usual preoccupations—what to eat; where to sleep; beatings and the state of their boots—They achieve a universal dimension. . . . they present a commentary on life and a definition of man: humanity considered in its residue, left facing itself.

Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett


. . . The pitiful struggle they are waging to keep up the semblance of action is probably so impressive only because it mirrors our own fate, that of modern mass man . Since, through the mechanisation of labour, the worker is deprived of the chance to recognise what he is actually doing , and of seeing the objectives of his work, his working too has become something like a sham activity. . . . On the other hand, by this kind of work, man has become so thoroughly unbalanced that he now feels the urge to restore his equilibrium during his leisure time by engaging in substitute activities and hobbies , and by inventing pseudo-objectives with which he can identify himself and which he actually wishes to reach: thus it is precisely during his leisure time and while playing that he seems to be doing real work.  . . . And this is not even the extreme case. For mass-man today has been deprived so completely of his initiative and of his ability to shape his leisure time himself that he now depends upon the ceaselessly running conveyor belt of radio and television to make time pass .  . . . If the silly seriousness with which Estragon and Vladimir struggle to produce a semblance of activity strikes us as so deadly serious and so fantastically symptomatic for our time, it is only because today working time and leisure time, activity and indolence, real life and playing, have become so inextricably intertwined.

Günther Anders Being without Time: On Beckett's Play Waiting for Godot


Vladimir and Estragon pass the time while waiting by playing at a series of games—language games—which are two key concepts in much of contemporary thought; Tree at Drumcree . . . Godot is the play of Vladimir and Estragon’s words, not any agreed-upon meaning for them, which constitutes their social bond. This postmodern social bond is suspended in Godot by Vladimir and Estragon’s drive to recuperate a transcendent principle—represented by Godot—which they feel while give meaning to their lives and their speech, thereby legitimating their society. All their games have reference to one metagame: waiting for Godot.

. . . In postmodern society, it is precisely in the social bond of language and language games that we can legitimate our own society. In such a postmodern society, people have untied themselves from the belief in a metaphysical, trans-historical, absolute ground for their existence. It has become apparent that no such system exists, but this does not reduce postmodern society to barbarity and chaos, as the modernists thought it would. Postmoderns look to themselves and their communicational interaction in society to legitimate their existence.

In Godot, Gogo and Didi have such a communicational society but they do not realise it because of their deep-seated drive toward legitimation in Godot. Early in the play we see how this belief in a static metaphysical support displaces any postmodern notion of society:

E Let’s go
V We can’t
E Why not?
V We’re waiting for Godot.

This simple sequence occurs several times throughout the play, and always after a long pause following the final "trick" played in a language game: when their games break down or are played out, they constantly refer back to their metagame, their metadiscourse—Godot. For example, after Pozzo and Lucky leave near the end of the first act, we have this exchange:

P Adieu
Long silence
V That passed the time.
E It would have passed in any case.
V Yes, but not so rapidly.
E What do we do now?
V I don’t know.
E Let’s go.
V We can’t
E Why not?
V We’re waiting for Godot.

Significance (i.e., Godot, for whom we wait) is always a suspense and a test of meaning, perpetually in crisis. It depends on what narrative can produce: narrative manipulates character. Meaning is as "dark as [it is] in a head before the worms get at it" (Stories). This production of meaning is generally seen, then, as an illumination, a function of insight. Beckett reverses this dead metaphor of insight—a fundamental cultural metaphor—by showing narrative as a function rather of blindness (Pozzo) or, at best, or partial sight (all five characters), which is Beckett’s Platonic metaphor for the interaction of language and meaning. Nor do characters "produce" dialogue in Godot, but what I have called the two registers of language produce their own distinct dialogue; indeed, this narrative produced the characters. The lecture, as recitation, and the lecture, as reading, separate and interact to suspend and to test meaning. This dialogue of reading characterises the entire text of Godot, . . .

The opening exchange of the play, between Gogo and Didi, is an introduction to and immersion in the confrontation of lecture and lecture.

E Nothing to be done.

. . . in response to Gogo’s offhand remark, Didi delivers a lecture, as though he were reading it.

V I’m beginning to come round to that opinion.  All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying,
Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything.  And I resumed the struggle.
(He broods, musing on the struggle.  . . . )

Didi has not addressed Gogo at all, nor has he addressed the audience or reader outside the play. He has "read" a text here, one that remains concealed from the reader or view of Godot, an underlying text whose authority is never questioned or revealed. This unrevealed, authoritative text, which gives Didi such weighty and ponderous delivery, is the text of the politician, the philosopher, the rhetorician, and it is utterly unavailable to Gogo. Having delivered his lecture, Didi slips out to Gogo’s experiential world:

V So there you are again.

This transitional remark is itself caught between two kinds of discourse; it marks the emergence and the nonsynthesis of layers of language.

Jeffrey Nealon 
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian  Critical Response to Samuel Beckett



. . . Alain Robbe-Grillet, although concerned to stress certain philosophic overtones, provides the best description of this quality:

"The dramatic character, in most cases, merely plays a rôle, like the people around us who evade their own existence. In Beckett’s play, on the contrary, everything happens as if the two tramps were on stage without having a rôle.

They are there; they must explain themselves. But they do not seem to have a text prepared beforehand and scrupulously learned by heart, to support them. They must invent. They are free." . . . action has lost so much of its independence that it itself has become a form of passivity and even where action is deadly strenuous or actually deadly, it has assumed the character of futile action or inaction. That Estragon and Vladimir, who do absolutely nothing, are representative of millions of people, is undeniable.

. . . mass men, after all, don’t give up living even when their life becomes pointless; even the nihilists with to go on living, or at least they don’t wish not to be alive. And it is not despite the pointlessness of their life that the Estragons and Vladimirs wish to go on living, but on the contrary, just because their life has become pointless . . . ruined by their habit of inaction or of acting without their own initiative, they have lost their will power to decide not to go on, their freedom to end it all. Or, ultimately, they go on living merely because they happen to exist, and because existence doesn’t know of any other alternative but to exist.

. . . before and after become like left and right, they lose their time character; after a while this circular movement gives the impression of being stationary, time appears to be standing still and becomes (in analogy to Hegel’s "Bad infinity") a "bad eternity".

Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett


Throughout Beckett’s novels and plays there is a desperate need to be observed and, in Sartrian terms, to be witnessed by the Other. Vladimir in Waiting for Godot tells the Boy, Godot’s messenger, that he should report back to Mr Godot "Tell him . . . (he hesitates) . . . tell him you saw me and that . . . (he hesitates) . . . that you saw me . . . You’re sure you saw me, you won’t come and tell me tomorrow that you never saw me!" repeating the terms that he used to terminate the brief meeting with the boy in Act I, but changing the object from "us" to a more selfish, because more desperate, "me". The fear of darkness and silence . . . is balanced then by a dread at the prospect that there should be no "eye" to observe one.

James Knowlson Light and Darkness in the Theatre of Samuel Beckett


In the course of the play it becomes increasingly apparent that Vladimir and Estragon are, relative to Godot, in the same servile position Lucky is, especially with respect to the doubly-violent end to his deconstructive think. For example, near the end of the play—after the boy has told Vladimir and Estragon that Godot again will not come today—we have this exchange:

E . . . Let’s go away from here.
V We can’t.
E Why not?
V We have to come back tomorrow.
E What for?
V To wait for Godot . . . 
E . . . And if we dropped him (Pause)  If we dropped him?
V He’d punish us.

Here we see Vladimir and Estragon on the verge of a deconstructive breakthrough, but again their dependence on the metadiscourse of Godot holds them back. In this passage, we see reiterated the violent nature of the limitations that a belief in Godot places on Vladimir and Estragon —both physical limits and, perhaps more importantly, intellectual ones: if they "dropped him", they feel he would punish them. Vladimir and Estragon cannot leave the place they are in or think beyond the limits of a static, objective metasystem because of the rigid, violent limits placed on both their actions and their thought by the modernist metadiscourse represented by Godot. Their minds are slaves to Godot in the same way Lucky’s body is a slave to Pozzo.

In Godot, Beckett shows us that Vladimir and Estragon are trapped by their modernist nostalgia for legitimation in Godot: they have a totalising modernist world view in an infinite, postmodern world. From the beginning of the play, Beckett emphasises that this legitimation is always already there in the play of language games and the active interpretation of the postmodern, noncentred world—not in the passive, stifling waiting for the return of an objective grand Narrative that never really offered any metaphysical support in the first place. . . .

Jeffrey Nealon 
from Cathleen Culotta Andonian  Critical Response to Samuel Beckett



 . . . With some consistency, Didi of Act I speaks as mind, and Gogo as body.  . . . Didi is the more eloquent of the two, with Gogo sitting, leaning, limping, falling, i.e. seeking nearness to the ground. Gogo’s stage business bears on his boots, and Didi’s on his hat. Gogo wants Lucky to dance, but Didi desires him to think. Gogo stinks from his feet, and Didi from his mouth. Gogo is given to pantomime, while Didi leans toward rhetoric. Their very nicknames—go go and dis dis (from French dire) summarise the polarity . . . At the end of Act I, it is the active Gogo who asks, " Well, shall we go ?" and the meditative Didi assents, "Yes, let’s go." Act II closes with the same lines, but the speakers are reversed .

Ruby Cohn Philosophical Fragments in the Works of Samuel Beckett


For the tramps, their nobility lies in their persistent search for meaning; their tragedy in the impotence of the intelligence to overcome the incommensurables that surround it.

Of the two Vladimir thinks more and is therefore more eloquent: his anguish is intellectual. Consequently he appears to be the stronger.  . . . But Vladimir’s thinking is fallible and exposes him to greater anguish than Estragon. When they discuss the idea of hanging themselves Estragon sees at once that Vladimir, who is the heavier of the two, may break the bough, but Vladimir has to have it explained to him as if he were a child and then says, " I hadn’t thought of that ." And it is Estragon who often destroys his painfully built intellectual certainties: " Nothing is certain when you’re about ". Vladimir’s head is a " charnel house " of dead ideas, and when he needs to think he takes off his hat and peers inside as if looking for something—a pantomime of the intellectual’s hollow crown. When Lucky leaves his hat behind Vladimir exchanges it for his, perhaps preferring other men’s ideas to his own.

Vladimir is also capable of thinking of others whereas Estragon is only concerned by his own pain.  . . . But as it proves intellectual compassion is not boundless: Vladimir’s sympathy is for the suffering of the moment.

Estragon . . . is more petulant, stubborn and egotistical than Vladimir. He sulks like a child, sitting inert on the mound while Vladimir paces restlessly about with his eyes searching the horizon as if the answer to his agony might be found there. His imagination is spontaneous and he habitually personalises the universe, thus when he talks of Christ it is not surprising to find him identifying himself with him or that he claims, looking at his rags, to have been a poet.

Vladimir read the Bible for instruction, Estragon for the coloured maps of the Holy Land . . . His suffering is physical, as with his boots, or emotional, but he still delights in the body Williamson/Lynch as Didi/Gogo and in physical coarseness as when Vladimir (who despises it) has to relieve himself. Then he stand in the middle of the stage and enjoys the spectacle. Estragon is also more naturally a victim . . . and in his innocence of thought seems to be more beloved by whoever it is who introduces the several mysterious acts of grace into the evening. In the first act he struggles to get his feet into his boots; after the interval they have been replaced by a pair a little too large. Beckett told Harold Hobson: "One of Estragon’s feet is blessed, and the other is damned. The boot won’t go on the foot that is damned; and it will go on the foot that is not." Finally, Estragon is closer to timelessness than Vladimir. All landscapes are now the same to him and his memory is incapable of reaching back even to the previous day. Once completed an event is forgotten; and in his mind, which makes no distinction between events in time, his thoughts belong to the infinite number of repeated present moments in which they are spoken. Thus he is easily pleased by their improvisations and when he is, is confident for the tomorrow of which he cannot form any real conception, unlike Vladimir who dreads the always coming of the night.

The dialogue in which the tramps attract and repel, demand and reject, possess and elude one another, expresses a friendship which is situated somewhere between fatigue and ennui.  . . . Each feels closer to his own Self without the other who reminds him of his imprisonment in time . They remain unknown and unknowable to one another but prefer to continue a relationship which repeatedly stresses their inviolable isolation, rather than separate and endure the inescapable self-perception of life alone. Both feel pain and call on the other to recognise their suffering but neither is capable of penetrating to the other’s being: Vladimir suffering intellectually is a spectacle for Estragon; Estragon suffering physically is beyond Vladimir’s comprehension.

. . . Suffering doesn’t ennoble or create a human solidarity; it is unsharable and it brutalises. When he is kicked Estragon spits at Lucky and later, when the latter is incapable on the ground, belabours him with fists and feet. Again when Estragon calls on God for pity, Vladimir, his friend, is excluded from the plea:

E God have pity on me!
V And me?
E On me! On me! Pity! On me!

Williamson/Lynch as Didi/Gogo Like all who love, or are close to another, they are adept at wounding. Rejection is followed by counter rejection and Estragon’s selfish wants encourage Vladimir to sarcasm and bitterness.  . . . But despite the suffering which sets a distance between them , and the other’s presence which emphasises their essential loneliness, there is also a profound need which can sometimes transform the irritations of hatred into tenderness and their anger into a compassion which is close to love. Vladimir needs someone to listen to him explain the conflicting evidence in his head (" Come on , Gogo, return the ball, can’t you") and the childlike Estragon wants protection from himself and others ("When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would you be . . ? You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute.").

Pozzo and Lucky are representatives of the ordinary world from which the tramps are excluded. " We’ve lost our rights ?" Estragon asks. Vladimir prefers to say "We’ve waived them." Even the tramps with to assert their importance as free agents by insisting that their exclusion is voluntary. By contrast with Pozzo and Lucky, however, it is the tramps’ lives which appear normal.  . . . In a world where man awaits a revelation, Pozzo, the master, is the nearest approach to what is absent. Life, for Pozzo, is important. When he enters he still values the body (the provisions he has brought for himself); he is capable of enjoying sensual delight and depends upon a collection of cherished possessions (his pipe and vaporisor [much like relics prized by the many established religions, notably the Roman Catholic church]). Pozzo’s is a fixed and well-regulated world in contrast to the stationary confusion of the tramps where everything is in flux, and his behaviour echoes the image which the tramps have of Godot (so does his name).

Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead



. . . If we are right in assuming that the Pozzo-Lucky couple are comparable to the collective pseudo-ego , we may expect the tramps, Vladimir and Estragon , to reveal features of the lost value hidden in those who have "something above the average, an overplus for which there is no adequate outlet" [from Jung’s description of schizophrenics], of the rejected which will have to come to the rescue of a no longer valid normality.

Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays


Estragon , who was once a poet, is predominantly the withdrawn inner self . On the stage he several times attempts to go to sleep and dream; when woken up by Vladimir he loses his temper and with a gesture towards the universe exclaims " This one is enough for you ?" He has given up the struggle ("Nothing is to be done"), and twice he suggests that they both hang themselves; in fact we learn that years ago he tried to down himself in the Rhône but Vladimir rescued him. The suicidal impulses of the inner self are often countered by the pseudo-self which is more closely identified with the body than is the other; . . .

In his rôle as the inner self we find that Estragon is the cold member of the pair, who refuses the embrace of his more warm-hearted companion and is generally more surly and even occasionally cruel. His contributions to the dialogue are apt to be terse, shrewd and gloomy, but sometimes he bursts out furiously and shouts with no apparently adequate provocation. Several times he suggests going away and separating from Vladimir, but actually he clings to his friend whose presence he needs—in fact they could not exist apart for long; as single cherries they would rot immediately.

Apparently, however, they do lose each other each night (when the body-bound pseudo-self sleeps) and during the day (when the pseudo-self is occupied with the outer world) and only come into communication during the twilight of evening .  . . . Vladimir is joyous at their reunion and wants to embrace his friend, but Estragon is sulky. It seems that once again unknown persons have beaten him during the night; the life of the inner self in the periods when it is completely divorced from the pseudo-self is not [a] cosy state, . . . but is unfortunately likely to consist of terrifying phantasies.

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


Vladimir is more emotional, more easily hurt, and more dependent on friendship than is Estragon. He is also rather more hopeful, not quite convinced that there is "nothing to be done". He is the relatively practical one . . . Vladimir, too, is the one who has a sense of time; . . . Estragon has very little sense of time and hardly any memory; . . . and when asked about what was said at the beginning of this very evening can only reply "don’t ask me. I’m not a historian ."

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


Estragon . . . [believes] that his whole life has been one long crucifixion. Beckett constantly uses the cross as a symbol of the agony of human life rather than of redemption —in this play it appears on the stage as a tree on which Estragon proposes they should hang themselves, and behind which he tries in vain to hide and abandons with the comment: " Decidedly this tree will not have been of the slightest use to us ."

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


[The] schizophrenic split [as embodied by Pozzo and Lucky] was one in which the imaginative part , the function which William Blake called the poetic Genius, was shut off and made into a feeble inner self, while the remainder of the ego built up a pseudo-self which was occupied with material prosperity. As time went on the pseudo-self grew more and more domineering, self-important and callous but also more unsure of itself; on the other hand the inner self became more unreal and impoverished.

The split as embodied in Estragon and Vladimir is not so severe ; they still retain feelings of affection for each other, come together each evening for mutual support and are visibly human beings who suffer. But Pozzo and Lucky represent a much more radical split in which the elements of feeling and imaginative thought have been suppressed and starved while a swollen ego has successfully pursued selfish material ends.

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach



. . . Didi and Gogo are regularly contaminated with finite time by the very events they welcome as diversions (the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky). . . . Didi and Gogo therefore exist in an area of dimension of finite time and are excluded from the infinite within eternity. This exclusion, this exile and separation, are perpetuated by the welcome appearance of the cyclic elements. So we begin to see the intimate ironic connexion between the repetitive structure of the play, and the overall theme of waiting for the end of time.

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


Dialogue proves to be even more repetitious and circular than physical gestures. The conversations of Didi and Gogo possess a litanylike structure, with constant verbal repetition and recurrence of phases and motifs . . . In many such " canters " Estragon and Vladimir change places, each asking or declaring what the other had just a few moments before . . . Conversation to both is a " ball " that has to be "returned", another game to pass the time until Godot comes. . . . at their best, the short, stichomythic speeches of Didi and Gogo are a lilting counterpoint, poetic as well as musical.

Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce


Two single speeches exemplify this extraordinary ability of the dialogue to turn back on itself. Lucky’s monologue in Act I . . . establishes the pitiful mortality of man and his works.  . . . the whole tour de force finally culminates in lines whose repeated echoes of "stone" and "skull" evoke the image of the graveyard that is every man’s end. Death imagery also pervades Vladimir’s second-act song, . . . which is capable of infinite expansion (or rather, regression). Circular in structure, repetitious in vocabulary, the song is a symbol of the play itself, a "closed plot from which there is no exit."

. . . [the] influence of Joyce and Finnegans Wake in particular can be seen in Waiting for Godot’s careful balancing of opposites. The overwhelming tendency to circular movement is countered if not conquered by an effort at linear progression. Against the monotony of the circle is set the fearful descending line that ends in the grave.

Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce



Distinct individuals, Gogo and Didi are also two complementary halves of a single personality. Vladimir is man’s mental aspect, Estragon his physical body. If Vladimir’s mouth smells, Estragon’s feet stink; if Vladimir continually plays with his hat, Estragon is always trying to take off his boots. Both with to see Lucky perform, but Vladimir wants him to think and Estragon wants him to dance.

. . . Pozzo’s right lung [in Estragon’s lampooning of his use of the vaporiser] is good, but his left one is bad, and Beckett[said] "one of Estragon's feet is blessed, and the other is damned. The boot won’t go on the foot that is damned; and it will go on the foot that is not."

Finally, Waiting for Godot balances the opposites of art and artifice. A play, it is aware, as are all of Beckett’s works, of its own theatrical illusion. Far from pretending that their stage has four walls, Gogo and Didi are highly conscious of the audience watching them. " Inspiring prospects " is Estragon’s comment on the playgoers. Vladimir, not so polite, perhaps voices the secret hostility of many an author when he turns toward the auditorium and says, " that bog . . . " Estragon, like an usher, directs Vladimir to the men’s room . . . while Vladimir appropriate responds, " Keep my seat ." Aware that he and Vladimir are actors uttering lines, Estragon comments directorially on their delivery: " That wasn’t such a bad little canter ."

Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce




. . . In Waiting for Godot the central point to which all four figures are constantly drawn is the tree, the Cross (by extension of significance), the symbol of the deity to whom Vladimir and Estragon both appeal (" Do you think God sees me ?"—"God have pity on me—And me!"). But these appeals to God, to the control deity, set him quite apart from Godot, who has many of the attributes of the old-style conventional image of God with a white beard. Are there, then two gods? Why not? Beckett’s view is a simple gnostic ambiguity: there is a demiurge who created this imperfect and suffering world, and there is hope for a Redeemer who may set all things to rights when he chooses, for reasons unknown but time will tell.

Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness


While Estragon broods to one side Vladimir questions the boy about Mr Godot and learns that he does nothing. On being told that he has a beard Vladimir asks "fair or . . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?" The boy thinks that it is white, at which Vladimir exclaims "Christ have mercy on us!" He was prepared to find that Godot was the Saviour or even the Devil; but appalled by the possibility of him being Jehovah, the God of the Judgment Day.

G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach


Vladimir is the romantic, given to nostalgia; Estragon , whom he has virtually called into existence by acknowledging his opening remark (" but for me . . . .where would you be?") is pragmatically involved with easing the pain of the present. To Vladimir’s conceptual intelligence ("Boots must be taken off every day") . . . Estragon opposes the stricken cry of the man given to single perceptions. But it means he cannot sympathise with Vladimir’s torment, and however much of a poseur Vladimir may seem, he takes the truth of inherited quotations (" Hope deferred . . . ") seriously. Only when the consultation of his hat proves infectious does he come round to Estragon’s original position, "Nothing to be done", closing the first of many closed systems out of which the play is built.

Estragon begins the next movement by parodying the last act of the previous movement: Vladimir’s quest for inspiration is reduced to Estragon inspecting his boot. Vladimir’s scorn for the elementary logic Estragon reveals in this enterprise does nothing to ease his own problem. His apothegms lead only to the exposure of accepted wisdom, not to the creation of new truths; the story he tells merely occupies the vacancy of time. Estragon is always content to return to the point of origin; he is the architect of a close system centreing on himself (" You’re merciless ", Vladimir says).  . . .

To the idealist Vladimir, Estragon’s pragmatism is confusing: "Nothing is certain when you’re about." As an idealist he finds that the one dream is sufficient: introduce personal freedom, as Estragon seeks to do, and it will look very much like a nightmare . . . the laughter of relief is " prohibited ". Furthermore, the only moments of ordinary quotidian reality occur when Estragon decides not only to " return the ball ", but to initiate the rally, and then Vladimir finds himself at the mercy of Gogo’s good will. Godot, for Estragon, is simply the " wind in the reeds " from Vladimir’s nostalgic " nineties ".  . . .

John Pilling Samuel Beckett


Vladimir is careful to let Pozzo announce himself; his whole position would be in danger if the concept of Godot could not also be a precept. But like the blustering Satan of Paradise Lost, Pozzo is disappointed that he has been summoned and yet they do not know him. The new arrivals increase one’s sense of possibility. Lucky is like Estragon, in snatching the sleep he can get, but Pozzo introduces the notion of "species" and can laugh where Vladimir’s timidity and querulousness do not allow him to. At the same time, Pozzo’s epicureanism is dependent on the continued enslavement of Lucky.  . . . Pozzo pretends Lucky is an analogue of the Kenotic Christ or Suffering Servant, but he is committed to a closed system that denies Christianity, and trying to father it on Lucky does him no good.

John Pilling Samuel Beckett


At one moment in Godot this mutual expectation appears to be redeemed from improvisation by the entrance of Pozzo. Here, is would seem, is the real actor, an imposing figure who makes his entrance conscious of its effect and with none of the timid uncertainty and inconclusiveness attached to the tramps. Bestriding the stage he declaims:

I am Pozzo.  (silence)  Pozzo!  (silence)  Does that name mean nothing to you?
  (silence)  I say does that name mean nothing to you?

At his first entrance Pozzo has no doubts; he knows who he is and the audience, who, like the tramps, probably mistake him for Godot, believe that the waiting will now be resolved. For several minutes he sustains the illusion. With the aid of his vaporiser he recites a speech describing the fall of night. This is the true performance, patiently, studied and rehearsed frequently spoken and owing nothing to the improvised passages that have been offered earlier in the evening. It is lyrical, prosaic and vibrant, uses dramatic pause and a variety of accepted theatrical gestures ("hand raised in admonition; he raises his eyes to the sky") to increase its effect. Afterwards the artiste asks his audience, represented by Estragon and Vladimir, " How did you find me ?", thanks them for their automatic enthusiasm and concedes: "I weakened a little towards the end, you didn’t notice?

Drumcree summit

The general effect, however, has been disappointing; as Estragon says: " I’ve been better entertained ." Pozzo is not Godot as the second act makes clear. The evening is not saved for he needs the tramps as the audience needs them and Lucky needs him; it is another of those chains of cause and effect . . . The deadening repetition of dialogue and action is demonstrated in the theatrical situation itself. If the necessity of being seen compels the actors to return before an audience night after night, the audience, for the moment the tyrant or witness, comes because it too is committed to wait. And if, during the evening, any progress is made . . . the next night returns them to the same point on the circle once again.

Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


When Vladimir says that he and Estragon waived their rights rather than lost them he is consciously adopting an importance which he does not possess. " We’re not tied ?" asks Estragon. "No question of it!" replied Vladimir. "For the moment." The tramps, like those in the society from which they are excluded, want to believe that their individual decisions change things and that these decisions are made without duress. But, despite their apparent freedom as outcasts, their condition is as circumscribed as Pozzo’s. They need Godot to give a meaning to their universe: they depend on his arrival, and so long as Godot does not come to resolve their waiting everything that happens is only provisional.

Godot, because he exists for the tramps and directs the course of the evening in progress, is as real a character as any of those we see.  . . . To the tramps he lives in the capitalist world of family, agents, correspondents and bank accounts. They identify his power with what is more familiar to them in the only world they have experience of: authority. But to the boy who brings his messages Godot has a white beard and his life is occupied by the far older mastership over the sheep and the goats.

Beckett employs Christian imagery to broaden his effects. In the theatre of life there exists this strange disposal of approval and disapproval, or blessedness and damnation, it is difficult to know what, which applies to Estragon’s feet as well as to Cain and Abel or the two thieves. Vladimir regards the Bible as a document to be verified, not as the repository of the word of God , and is tormented by the discrepancies which exist between the four Gospels. What Vladimir seeks is not the Christian solution that end either in heaven or hell but simply , as he says, to be saved "from death" which extinguishes all meaning. That one of the thieves succeeded in finding a way round death is what compels his imagination, never who saved him. Godot’s existence is the result of man’s inability to be a nihilist: he is the creation of man’s profound need for meaning. When man is shown, as here, to be incapable of accepting his own insignificance in a slowly dying world, and of realising that his suffering is meaningless, Godot is the necessary unknown at the end of the series who is introduced to justify existence by the rational leap into the dark. He is the missing quantity in the universe which the tramps can define in no other way, the answer to the unanswerable question who would, if he appeared, integrate the world that is always disintegrating and restore man, out of meaningless, into meaning.

A God who conceives such a world in the full consciousness of what he has created must either, in his desire to hear the cries of another, be the most monstrous of tyrants, or else—and this seems the more likely as he continues to refrain from extending an upholding hand—he is not there.

Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead


 . . . Beckett’s skill in sending thoroughly human characters through an action, a "doing" that leaves the more reflective and articulate Didi, at least, more knowing at the end of the play than he was at the start. Didi , I argue, has learned as a result of his urgent but futile initiatives through the course of the play. Because Didi and Gogo are invested with such elemental humanity and because Beckett has teased us into whiling away with them a couple of hours , scratching our heads as they scratch theirs, bumping our noses on the inscrutable as they bump theirs, we are in a position to learn along with Didi. We are in a position to be moved by his declaration, "The air is full of our cries".

Mary Scott Simpson, Waiting for Godot and the Forms of Tragedy
from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot




Synonyms: dragonne, serpentine

Tarragon originated in Russian Asia and Mongolia and was introduced to Europe in the Middle Ages, by the Mongol invasions and the crusaders. The Arabs had named the herb tharkhoun after the Tartar planes. The name evolved to tarcon or targon and dragon, giving tarragon in English and estragon in French. The term dragon, and the subsequent petit serpent or serpentine comes from the shape of the roots. In contrast to most other Artemisia oils, the essential oil of Artemisia Dracunculus is a sweet smelling, spicy oil. The plant is a small member of the Compositae family, growing wild in many European and Asian countries. It is widely cultivated as a culinary herb or household spice for its sweet anisic, somewhat celery leaf like and fresh green flavor for use in vinegar, pickles, seasonings, meat sauces, etc. Estragon Oil is a colorless or very pale yellow to greenish yellow liquid with a sweet anisic, green spicy, slightly celery like odor, very similar to that of the fresh herb. Like anise and basil oils, estragon oil tends to resinify on ageing and becomes dark yellow and sticky, viscous and loses its fresh green note and pleasant aroma. Estragole is the main constituent of estragon oil and it is found in pine oil and in American turpentine oil. Growing use as a herbal tea (20-30 grams per liter) to stimulate the appetite; if that works too well, the tarragon herbal tea is also good to help digestion. Chew a leaf to stop hiccups. Used as antidiarrheal, antirheumatic, aperitif, appetizer, carminative, digestive, diuretic, emmenagogue, hypnotic, insecticide, stimulant, stomachic; recommended for children’s ailments, common cold, digestive problems, gastro-intestinal disturbances, insomnia, swelling, urinary ailments, women’s ailments.


Names as Interpreted by Numerologists


The name of Vladimir gives you a very individual, reserved, serious nature. You stick stubbornly to your ideas or decisions, in spite of any appeals or advice; you are not willing to accept a compromise. You prefer to be alone with your own thoughts, rather than in the company of others. This name restricts spontaneity in association and the fluency of your verbal expression. When you are required to express yourself in personal matters requiring finesse and diplomacy, you feel awkward and embarrassed. Although you realize perfectly well what is expected of you, you are unable to find the right words, and hence you end up saying something inappropriate in a candid way. You can express your deeper thoughts and feelings best through writing. Your friendships and personal associations are rather restricted, being limited to those of a similar nature who can understand and accept your rather straightforward yet reserved manner. You are steadfast and loyal, and do not allow gossip or anything belittling to be said against those whom you accept in friendship. You find satisfaction in being outdoors or in getting out into nature, or in dealing with the products of the earth. There is originality and depth of thought contained in this name, particularly along practical and mathematical lines. This name can adversely affect the health of your respiratory organs, the heart and lungs. Also, you are prone to suffer from weaknesses centering in the head.


Your name of Estragon creates a very expressive, versatile, and spontaneous nature. You are happiest when you are associating with people and participating in activities with others. Your name gives you a desire to sing, dance, and have a good time. This name makes you very idealistic, emotional, and temperamental, liking to do things on the spur-of-the-moment and disliking being repressed or held down to monotonous detail. A lack of concentration makes it difficult to establish stable, secure conditions in your business life. In order to bring out the higher side of your nature, you should develop your artistic and creative talents. Over-indulgence in food or emotional desires could cause you to have problems in your nervous system as well as with your skin.


Your first name of Godot makes you spontaneous and versatile, enjoying congenial association, appreciating the finer things of life, and loving to talk and debate. You are strong willed and self-sufficient, not depending on others for encouragement. Your desire for independence and freedom means that you seldom tolerate limitations. Although you are naturally happy and generous, you fail to hold friendships because you are inclined to be too dogmatic, argumentative, or sarcastic. In an argument, you usually emerge the victor, but at a cost. Physical weaknesses centre in the head. The eyes, ears, teeth, or sinuses could be affected, or you could experience loss of hair. Skin problems such as acne or eczema could also appear.


Intro   Program Notes   Pozzo/Lucky   Godot   Beckett   Influences/Resonances   Staging

Production History   "Four" Symbolism

Act I text   Act II text