WHO IS WAITING FOR GODOT ABOUT, ANYWAY?
Wally Of course, personally, I don’t usually like those quiet moments, you know.
I really don’t. I mean, I don’t know if it’s that Freudian thing or what—I mean, a fear of unconscious impulses or my own aggression or—I mean, if things get too quiet, you know, and as we were saying, I find myself just sitting there, whether I’m by myself , or I’m with somebody else, well, I just have this feeling of, My God, I’m going to be revealed. I mean, I’m adequate to do any sort of task, you know, but I’m not adequate just to be a human being. I mean, I’m not—you know, I mean, if I’m just trapped there and I’m not allowed to do things, but I just—all I can do is just be there—I will fail. . . . Andre . . . it isn’t really that strange, Wally. I mean, after all, there are some pretty good reasons for being frightened, because first of all a human being is a dangerous and complex creature. I mean, really, if you start living each moment—Christ, that’s quite a challenge. I mean, if you really reach out and you’re really in touch with [an]other person . . . the closer you come, the more really completely mysterious that person becomes, and the more unreachable. Because we’re ghosts. We’re phantoms. Who are we? Wally Right Andre And that’s to face, to confront the fact that you’re completely alone, and to accept that you’re alone is to accept death. Wally You mean, because somehow when you are alone you’re alone with death. Nothing’s obstructing your view of it, or something like that. Andre Right Wally If I understood it correctly, I think Heidegger said that if you were to experience your own being to the full, you would be experiencing the decay of that being toward death as part of your experience.
Heidegger stated the theme clearly: "As soon as a man is born, he is old enough to die."
Godot, the drama of non-communication, depends upon the tension that it may not always be so, that something valid will be said that will release the waiting tramps—perhaps through the intervention of Godot himself. This situation is essentially dramatic for through their demands on each other the characters exist in conflict. The pairs in the plays, Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo and Lucky . . . are firmly bound to one another, and their relationships are complex. At times the eternal couple, tormenting and tormented, they show at others a moving tenderness and compassion. They are brought together by solitude —even the overlord Pozzo needs companionship: " I cannot go for long without the society of my likes "—only to find themselves imprisoned in a mutual dependency they would desperately like to break.
In . . . the first mention Godot receives, the music hall technique not only fixes the audience within the evening’s entertainment but also in the universal state of waiting outside the theatre which the play reflects. Vladimir’s "we" applies to the audience and actors alike (in the French text the sentence "On attend Godot" is more inclusive) and establishes them both, at the beginning, in the same anguished condition. Not to realise this shared predicament, which the tramps’ commentary on the action reveals, is to limit and endanger the comprehensive meaning and image of the play. There is no escape. The tramps remind the audience that what they are seeing tonight is not unique; that a performance was also enacted here last night: " What did we do yesterday ? In my opinion we were here", and that tonight’s entertainment is not the last.
Each night they begin again, attempt again and repeat again the failure of tonight, a failure that cannot be dismissed as a mere entertainment for it has the reality of life. And this reality is not conveyed as a photographically accurate representation of life but within the nature of the performance itself. Not only are the tramps here every night, an audience—any audience, it does not matter—chooses to join them and so wait for their time to pass.
Michael Robinson The Long Sonata of the Dead
For certain people, Waiting for Godot is a fantastical drama. It is for them a play that is curious, obscure, uprooted from life, arbitrary, strange, capricious. Maybe also a posthumous secretion of "surrealism". Maybe also an obscure illustation for an extravagant philosophy of existence. Maybe finally the pure objectification of delirium. It becomes thus, for the audience, a drama that has nothing to do with their lives, with their commute to work, with their office, with their conversations.
Waiting for Godot is for them a sort of bizarre animal in the theatre; like the dramatisation of a dream or a magical experience. For others, they are up against something worse: facing a hallucination or a work conceived during a psychotic episode, or simply the jeering speculation of an author who tried to shock naïve men. At any rate, "this" is something that "doesn’t concern us", or that, at least, "shouldn’t upset us too much" . We can put our hands in our pockets and whistle.
Alfonso Sastre Avant-garde et Réalité
Apart from young people, there is one other social group whose lack of ingrained theatrical expectations left them wide open to the impact of a Beckett play: long-term convicts. . . . [Consider] the reaction of fourteen hundred convicts in San Quentin penitentiary when they saw Godot in 1957. They wrote a series of articles in their prison newspaper showing how the play had expressed their own situation by virtue of the fact that its author expected each spectator to draw his own conclusions. . . . The following year some prisoners put on their own production of Waiting for Godot, and from that a Drama Society flourished in the prison. It was so successful that in 1970 they had written a play and had been paroled in order to tour the United States with it.
. . . A common factor in all of Beckett’s dramas is that the figures portrayed are all imprisoned. Some can move away for a short time, in a restricted area, but they are all quite incapable of extended mobility; which forces our attention upon the extent to which we normally depend on mobility—both in life and in literature. Mobility offers the chance of escape from an undesirable situation , and the possibility of communication with other beings outside our immediate vicinity. Without mobility we are reduced to a vegetative, passive existence. But we are mobile, are we not? . . . On the other hand, our area of choice is strictly limited by time and space . Man is limited by his achievement, he will never reach infinity. Perhaps to within one step of infinity, but never there. Man is imprisoned within his life-span, but for Beckett it is not so simple as it is for those who believe there is an end to it. Most of us cling to the idea of continuation or resurrection of identity, but supposing this means going on for ever? Will not the end be increasingly desired as it draws near? Shall we not long to be freed into a state of blessed nothingness? This depends on the quality of the existence in store for us, and about this we are mercifully ignorant, although we may entertain private hopes.
Beckett represents for us , in many varied images and forms, the imprisonment of the human consciousness within the bounds of infinity and eternity —not very promising ground, on the face of it, for fiction and drama. He has faced the challenge of the intransigent nature of the subject by scaling down the dimensions of the problem without changing its fundamental elements. He shows us human destiny in an accelerated, concentrated form, and he manages to remain amusing and compassionate while he is doing it. The vision is dark, but laughter lends wings.
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness
. . . an important tendency in Beckett—to merge all the tenses in to a continuous present. The immediate experience is shown to be the same as past experiences, and memories of the past are constantly recurring in the present.
. . . There is no development in Beckett’s plays because, according to him, development is impossible. Any indications of it are illusory. This is why the total action of his plays goes not farther than the basic situation. Both action and situation can be summed up in the same present participle: two tramps waiting for a Messiah; a master and his servant waiting for the end; . . . The preoccupation with time is constant—it would be hard to count the number of times that the word "time" is mentioned in Waiting for Godot. . . . In fact that is exactly what Waiting for Godot is, a humorous lament for the failure of the finite self to make contact with the Other, the witness that is outside space and time.
. . . One commentator has suggested that it is through meeting Vladimir and Estragon that Pozzo loses his contact with time. Certainly his attitude to it changes during the course of the action.
. . . The three constant, contradictory complaints in Beckett’s work are that time doesn’t pass at all but stays around us, like a continuum, that it passes to slowly, and that too much of it passes.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett
. . . In Waiting for Godot . . . silences are an undercurrent of every dramatic situation, but they become a pattern of gaps almost visible to the audience when the messenger from Godot arrives for the second time. . . . The words are an echo poised uncomfortably on the silence which may contain either the truth or the threat.
. . . the relevance of Jung to Waiting for Godot is brought out by the story he tells of an uncle of his who stopped him in the street one day and asked him, "do you know how the devil tortures the souls in hell? . . . He keeps them waiting."
Colin Duckworth Angels of Darkness
. . . Purgatory seems to be another theological concept that Beckett has found extremely useful for structural purposes. It formed no part of the Protestant tradition in which he grew up; he may have heard of it first as a doctrine disputed by Protestants, but clearly it was when he came to read Dante that it captured his imagination.
. . . According to Christian theologians, a place of eternal torment is properly called Hell. In Beckett’s Purgatory , however, . . . we face something worse than pain or penalty: the meaninglessness of a kitten chasing its tail. Hell is at least part of God’s plan and He knows what goes on there, . . . my own severest criticism of Beckett’s oeuvre is based not on its pessimism but on its proneness to self-pity, even though that self-pity is of a very special kind, expressed by his characters on behalf of the human race. It is more than a joke when Didi and Gogo insist that their sufferings are greater than Christ’s because "where he lived it was warm, it was dry! . . . Yes. And they crucified quick."
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett
The presence and the immanence of the most fugitive character in modern theatre must be felt on the stage throughout the play; he is as real and present as the void he inhabits. Lamentations 3:26 may outline the fundamental dramatic situation of Godot: "It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the Lord" ; but in Romans 8:24-25 we learn the function of absence: "For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it."
The tramps’ suffering is spiritual and physical. Psalm 40 begins, "I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry. He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure." The fulfillment of that prophecy in the New Testament was the rock, Simon Peter, the foundation of the Christian church and the first in line of the apostolic succession. Beckett parodies this imagery in the iconography of the stage and in the imagery of Lucky’s speech where the labours of two rocks, Steinweg ("stone road" in German) and Peterman (Rockman) are lost. The rock on which the hope of the world was to be built has become a wasteland. In the third section of Lucky’s speech, the theme "earth abode of stones" is repeated four times and alluded to at least twice more. The phenomenal stone we see onstage is the one on which Estragon rests to relieve the suffering not of his soul but of his feet, of which, like the two thieves, one is damned, the other saved. The play is built around such simultaneity of echoes and opposites, such dialectical tensions, . . . The very physically present Vladimir and Estragon may be the issue of a dreaming mind. The very absent Godot must be as present as the tree.
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
The passing of time for Beckett’s clowns is the passing of time for the audience as well. A friend who had directed Godot once speculated that in coming to the play as audience, we only do what Vladimir and Estragon do without knowing it; we also participate in a process, and if Godot fails to come for the pathetic specimens of humanity represented onstage, he also fails for the specimens offstage as well. Our own search in life (or in attending the play) for meaning or, barring that, at least for entertainment, is identical with that of the unworthies before us—and around us and behind us, I might add. Like the clowns onstage, we are surrounded by " all humanity "; yet perhaps in our single rôle as spectator each of us might be all humanity as well. Each struggles alone or with others to find an acceptable allegory for the nontime, nonplace, nonaction of Godot.
We assist in this creation, this present, by coming to the theatre. Like the clowns, we work, even if it be waiting in our seats; even the audience members at the Coconut Grove premiere who stalked out in disgust contributed to the waiting by enacting the alternative to those staying in their place. The actors do likewise onstage, held there by convictions as characters (they have been told to wait) or as actors (it is their rôle). In this dual partnership of actor and audience, both depending on the other for their present existence, we collectively establish an artifice against an imposed Godot-ruled world, against the difficult, at times incomprehensible reality that for them is "A country road. A tree. Evening." and for us all that lies outside as well as inside the theatre.
. . . by Act II, the dark questions of who is Godot and will he come give way to the human instinct for survival, to that creative urge which will fashion something out of nothing, which will snatch from impending defeat (such as the nonappearance of the divinity) a modest victory (passing the time with dialogue, putting the events of Act I in some sort of order, albeit minimal). If we are chained to waiting, we will still find a little leverage, a little breathing and creative space in our chains. Godot is not a romantic play, but it isrealistic. It is not about death, not about suicide. To wait or to go on—these are actions, not nonactions; and waiting and going on are the two alternatives to death. Vladimir and Estragon wait; they do not go on. Pozzo and Lucky go on, and they disappear, accordingly and appropriately, from the present play. The clowns stay with us, both to and at the end: "They do not move". We are also the clowns, for in our seats we have done no more, nor no less, than Vladimir and Estragon. Like us, they speculate about the meaning of the play. For them, as for us, the play, even in the absence of meaning, is a way of passing time, though time would have passed anyway, as Estragon observes.
We share the same anxieties, though however aware they may be of the audience the tramps cannot know this. If there is no Godot to witness and ratify their actions, we are there, the "Godot" for whom they have waited. Without us their audience shrinks to one, Estragon for Vladimir, Vladimir for Estragon. The two other spectators are a sorry lot, mute and egotistical. Again, they are not there at the end as we are. Vladimir is right, albeit a bit melodramatic, when he raises the idea that all one can say of his life is "that with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I waited for Godot". "Waited"—he uses the word as a slur, as if the time spent were nothing but a bag of actor’s tricks; and it is, it is. In the absence of anything else—and Vladimir cannot imagine that we as audience both ratify and interpret his stage "life"—to have waited is to have lived, . . .
If one goal is not realised, that meeting with Godot, then another is, namely, the creative powers of the human imagination that will draw the image of a rose from a dunghill, that, in the absence of roses or of dunghills, will pass the time and avoid the abyss by dialogue.
Again, nature signals its approval of this creation with its own scrawny leaves in Act II. Vladimir and Estragon, I maintain, are not the same in the second act; nor are we. We will not let ourselves not grow. Time passes and with time there is change, be it progressive or cyclical or inevitable. At its roots "growth" implies only change, not necessarily quality. As long as words are imposed on the chronology of seconds and minutes and hours, time is not an abstraction but only a measuring stick for a civilisation marked by language. We cling to life; we avoid the abyss by talking. Every syllable uttered is a second gained. The frustration of the unending wait is, from another perspective, a sign for limited joy; death is kept at arm’s length, as is silence, as is loneliness.
As audience, we are asked to consider the meaning of our existence on life’s stage. There are revolutionaries galore for whom the theatre is a mere trifle or an example of decadent entertainment. For "everyone knows" we must accomplish something in life, or do things, or—acting as if any human motives could be pure—help our comrades whether they want that help or not. In the presence of such challenges to the meaning of our existence, we can only say—and say only—that on any given night of a performance of Godot we acted not alone put in concert, not with an excessive trust in physical life, nor, given the physical nature of the stage, with a pseudo-intellectual, let alone spiritual dismissal of physical reality. Together, actors and audience, we waited for Godot . . .
Sidney Homan Beckett's Theatres: Interpretations for Performance
. . . what Gogo and Didi do is not what they are thinking; nor can we understand their characters by adding and relating events to thoughts. And the action of the play—waiting—is not what they are after but what they want most to avoid. What, after all, are their games for? They wish to "fill time" in such a way that the vessel "containing" their activities is unnoticed amid the activities themselves. Whenever there is nothing "to do" they remember why they are here: To wait for Godot. That memory, that direct confrontation with Time, is painful. They play, invent, move, sing to avoid the sense of waiting. Their activities are therefore keeping them from a consciousness of the action of the play. Although there is a real change in Vladimir’s understanding of his experience (he learns precisely what "nothing to be done" means) and in Pozzo’s life, these changes and insights do not emerge from the plot, but stand outside of what’s happened. Vladimir has his epiphany while Estragon sleeps—in a real way his perception is a function of the sleeping Gogo. Pozzo’s understanding, like the man himself, is blind.
Structurally as well as thematically, Godot is an "incomplete" play; and its openness is not at the end but in many places throughout: it is a play of gaps and pauses, of broken-off dialogue, of speech and action turning into time-avoiding games and routines. . . . Waiting for Godot is designed off-balance. It is the very opposite of Oedipus. In Godot we do not have the meshed ironies of experience, but that special anxiety associated with question marks preceded and followed by nothing.
[When Vladimir says to the boy " tell him you saw me "] the "us" of the first act is the "me" of the second. Habits break old friends are abandoned, Gogo—for the moment—is cast into the pit. When Gogo awakens, Didi is standing with his head bowed. Didi does not tell his friend of his conversation with the Boy nor of his insight or sadness. Gogo asks, "What’s wrong with you," and Didi answers, "Nothing." Didi tells Estragon that they must return the following evening to keep their appointment once again. But for him the routine is meaningless: Godot will not come. There is something more than irony in his reply to Gogo’s question, "And if we dropped him?" "He’d punish us," Didi says. But the punishment is already apparent to Didi: the pointless execution of orders without hope of fulfillment. Never coming; for Didi, Godot has come . . . and gone.
In the first act, Gogo/Didi suspect that Pozzo may be Godot. Discovering that he is not, they are curious about him and Lucky. They circle around their new acquaintances, listen to Pozzo’s speeches, taunt Lucky, and so on. Partly afraid, somewhat uncertainly, they integrate Pozzo/Lucky into their world of waiting: they make out of the visitors a way of passing time. And they exploit the persons of Pozzo/Lucky, taking food and playing games. ( In the Free Southern Theatre production, Gogo and Didi pick-pocket Pozzo, stealing his watch, pipe and atomiser—no doubt to hock them for necessary food. This interpretation has advantages: it grounds the play in an acceptable reality; it establishes a first act relationship of doubt exploitation‚ Pozzo uses them as audience and they use him as income. ) In the second act this exploitation process is even clearer. . . . Gogo/Didi try to detain Pozzo/Lucky as long as possible. They play rather cruel games with them, postponing assistance. It would be intolerable to Gogo/Didi for this "diversion" to pass quickly, just as it is intolerable for an audience to watch it go on so long. . . . When they are gone, Estragon goes to sleep. Vladimir shakes him awake. " I was lonely ." And speaking of Pozzo/Lucky, "That passed the time." For them, perhaps; but for the audience? It is an ironic scene—the entire cast sprawled on the floor, hard to see, not much action. It makes an audience aware that the time is not passing fast enough.
If waiting is the play’s action, Time is its subject. Godot is not Time, but he is associated with it—the one who makes but does not keep appointments. (An impish thought occurs: Perhaps Godot passes time with Gogo/Didi just as they pass it with him. Within this scheme, Godot has nothing to do [as the Boy tells Didi in Act Two] and uses the whole play as a diversion in his day. Thus the "big game" is a strict analogy of the many "small games" that make the play.) The basic rhythm of the play is habit interrupted by memory, memory obliterated by games. Why do Gogo/Didi play? In order to deaden their sense of waiting. Waiting is a "waiting for" and it is precisely this that they wish to forget. One may say that "waiting" is the larger connect within which "passing time" by playing games is a sub-system, protecting them from the sense that they are waiting. They confront Time (i.e.., are conscious of Godot) only when there is a break in the game and they "know" and "feel" that they are waiting.
To wait and not know how to wait is to experience Time. To be freed from waiting (as Gogo/Didi are at the end of each act) is to permit the moon to rise more rapidly than it can (as it does on Godot’s stage), almost as if nature were illegally celebrating its release from its own clock. Let loose from Time, night comes all of a sudden. After intermission, there is the next day—and tomorrow, another performance.
There are two time rhythms in Godot, one of the play and one of the stage. Theatrically, the exit of the Boy and the sudden night are strong cues for the act (and the play) to end. We, the audience, are relieved—it’s almost over for us. They, the actors, do not move—even when the Godot-game is over, the theatre-game keeps them in their place: tomorrow they must return to enact identical routines. Underlying the play (all of it, not just the final scene of each act) is the theatre, and this is exactly what the script insinuates—a nightly appointment performed for people the characters will never meet. Waiting for Godot powerfully injects the mechanics of the theatre into the mysteries of the play.
Richard Schechner Godotology: There's lots of time in Godot from Frederick J Marker and Christopher Innes Modernism in European Drama: Ibsen, Strindberg, Pirandello, Beckett
WHO IS GODOT?
Source of Godot:
[Another] story has Beckett rejecting the advances of a prostitute on the rue Godot de Mauroy only to have the prostitute ask if he was saving himself for Godot. Beckett’s longtime friend and English publisher John Calder summarises Beckett’s position on the play thus: "He wanted any number of stories circulated, the more there are, the better he likes it."
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
Without either accepting or rejecting the widespread view that Waiting for Godot is a religious allegory, let us consider what problems confront a dramatist who wishes to write a play about waiting—a play which virtually nothing is to happen and yet the audience are to be cajoled into themselves waiting to the bittersweet end. Obviously those who wait on stage must wait for something that they and the audience consider extremely important.
We are explicitly told that when Godot arrives, so Vladimir and Estragon believe, they will be "saved". An audience possessing even a tenuous acquaintance with Christianity need no further hint: an analogy , they deduce, is being drawn with Christ’s Second Coming . They do not have to identify Godot with God; they do, however, need to see the analogy if the play is not to seem hopelessly trivial. In secular terms, salvation can mean the coming of the classless society, that of the Thousand-Year Reich, or any other millennial solution. Ultimately, though, the concept of the Millennium is itself religious in origin, being present in the Old Testament as well as the New; a Jewish audience would remember that they are still awaiting the Messiah.
In other words, a play like Waiting for Godot could hardly "work" artistically if it did not invoke the Judaeo-Christian Messianic tradition and its political derivatives (Having grown up in Ireland at the time of the struggle for independence, Beckett was doubtless aware of the millennial salvationist hope implicit in all nationalist as well as socialist movements.) It is a measure of Beckett’s art that he invokes this tradition (this stereotype, almost) stealthily rather than blatantly.
. . . Any critic who accepts the religious analogy sees the boy messenger as equivalent to an angel ("angel" is in any case derived from the Greek word for "Messenger"), but Pozzo seems to be a stumbling-block for most of them. He need not be: although Pozzo denies that he is Godot, he tells Vladimir and Estragon that they are "on my land". Other hints suggest that he may be the very person they are waiting for, but, like the Jews confronted with Jesus, they are expecting someone so different that they fail to recognise him. On the other hand, one must admit that Pozzo’s treatment of Lucky in Act I resembles the behaviour of the God of the Old Testament ; it is in Act II that Pozzo himself begins to seem a victim, "a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." There are moments in the Old Testament when the Jews—or some of them—failed to recognise their God, so we could perhaps argue that Act I represents the Old Testament and Act II the New. But if Vladimir and Estragon represent Christianity rather than Judaism, there are several texts in the New Testament which warn that the Second Coming of Christ will resemble in its stealth that of "a thief in the night". . . .
Vivian Mercier Beckett/Beckett
The two thieves are Didi and Gogo; the two thieves are Pozzo and Lucky; the two thieves are you and me. And the play is shaped to reflect that fearful symmetry.
Ruby Cohn Back to Beckett
At the end of Act I, when the boy arrives to say that Mr Godot " won’t come this evening but surely tomorrow " and Vladimir proceeds to question him about his "credentials", the boy reveals that he minds the goats and his brother minds the sheep. Placing these two words together is enough to suggest one of Jesus’s best-known parables, frequently used in art and sermon, the parable of the sheep and the goats :When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations; and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. . . . Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels. . . . And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. (Matthew 25:31-46)
This parable is, of course, a narrative about salvation and damnation; the sheep are the saved, the goats the damned. It is significant that the messenger who attends Vladimir and Estragon is the goatherd. Previous ironies about the nature of the God parodied in this play are intensified by his perverse beating of the boy who tends the sheep, not the one who tends the goats (the damned are damned and the saved get beaten). Act II ends after the appearance of a similar messenger (apparently not the same one, but not necessarily his shepherd brother either). This boy, in response to questions, provides the information that Godot has a white beard, frightening Vladimir into pleas for mercy and expectations of punishment.
Kristin Morrison Biblical Allusions in Waiting for Godot from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot
. . . From all this we may gather the Godot has several traits in common with the image of God as we know it from the Old and New Testament. . . . The discrimination between goatherd [Satanic] and shepherd [priestly—agnus dei] is reminiscent of the Son of God as the ultimate judge [judicare vivos et mortuos] . . . while his doing nothing might be an equally cynical reflection concerning man’s forlorn state. This feature, together with Beckett’s statement about something being believed to be " in store for us, not in store in us ," seems to show clearly that Beckett points to the sterility of a consciousness that expects and waits for the old activity of God or gods.
Whereas Matthew (25,33) says: "And he shall seat the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left" in the play it is the shepherd who is beaten and the goatherd who is favoured. What Vladimir and Estragon expect from Godot is food and shelter, and goats are motherly, milk-providing animals. In antiquity, even the male goats among the deities , like Pan and Dionysos, have their origin in the cult of the great mother and the matriarchal mysteries , later to become devils.
. . . today religion altogether is based on indistinct desires in which spiritual and material needs remain mixed. Godot is explicitly vague, merely an empty promise, corresponding to the lukewarm piety and absence of suffering in the tramps. Waiting for him has become a habit which Beckett calls a "guarantee of dull inviolability", an adaptation to the meaningless of life. " The periods of transition ," he continued, "that separate consecutive adaptations . . . represent the perilous zones in the life of the individual, dangerous, precarious, mysterious and fertile, when for a moment the boredom of living is replaced by the suffering of being.
Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays
. . . the question of Godot’s identity does more than tantalise spectators of Beckett’s play: it is a paradigm of textual tantalisation itself. Its answer appears to lie outside the play, encouraging criticism to return to that realm it once called home: the author’s intentions. However, this ancient ground of textual meaning now seems abandoned, most explicitly in Beckett’s work, where its vacancy is announced, paradoxically, in the form of a text strongly marked with intentionality: the direct nonfictional statement of authorial intent. I am referring, of course, to Beckett’s notorious riposte to the question of Godot’s identity. "If I knew," Beckett said, "I would have said so in the play."
. . . If indeed Beckett is not deliberately withholding the identity of Godot but really does not know it (a supposition implying that there is something to be known), then he is displacing the traditional notion of textual meaningfulness . . . For if we take Beckett’s remark at face value, we are confronted with the incredible spectacle of a work of art based on expressive deficiency, a work of art that lacks the one necessary condition of art: mastery. It is surely significant that critics have generally been unable to accept this feature in Beckett’s work and have preferred to characterise Godot’s nonarrival as an effect of Beckett’s authorial power rather than of the impotence and ignorance he himself insists on.
. . . origin is gone, nonexistent. For, on closer inspection, the original audience we have posited is not the integrated, stable starting point of a process that will continue beyond its encounter with the play: rather, it is an audience already in process, divided against itself. The play’s repetitious structure is such that it reverses the usual rôle-playing of audiences: instead of requiring later audiences to play the rôle of a first audience, Godot requires its first audience to play the rôle of a subsequent audience.
The tree in Godot functions, first, as a link between the audience and an organic "other world", a world that includes, among (very few) other things, material nature. . . . the tree is a relational sign, mediating the relation between the stage and the road in such a way as to render that relation asymmetrical (the stage may be the road, but not, thanks to the tree, vice versa). . . .
As one of the very few signs of the play’s setting system, . . . the tree raises the question of material realisation, which could be formulated simply as "Should the tree be realistic?" However, the normative cast of this question is disturbing, implying, as it does, that there is a "right" way to "do the tree". The play itself indicates otherwise. The episode in which Didi and Gogo attempt to enact the tree is an instructive example of the dialectic of representation and reference. The episode sets up a relay of signification (actors playing characters play a stage tree that is playing a real tree) in which what is dramatised is one of the thorniest and most crucial aspects of dramatic significant: the transformability of signs. . . . Their failure is especially remarkable in the context of their otherwise ample theatrical skill and resourcefulness, which has led critics to read them as carriers of the entire tradition of popular entertainment. . . . Not only are the tramps unsure that this is the "right" tree, they are even uncertain about what kind of tree it is, even whether it is a tree at all. Paradoxically, this persistent verbal ambiguating of the tree has the effect of asserting its stage its stage identity, . . . Once so established, . . . the tree functions as a sign of a tree and the question of its materiality becomes irrelevant. . . . The stage tree refers to a real tree not because it looks like one (though it may) but because it creates the stage as a road (in a world) and the actors as characters (rather than, as metatheatrical readings insist, as performers).
Thus the function of the tree goes beyond its world-creating capacity. The tree becomes one of the principal mechanisms of the characters’ self-constitution, the sign of the area within which their existence might ultimately make sense. It is not so much a question of their "doing" the tree: the tree "does" them. While the theatrically absent road tends to theatricalise the characters, to unravel their characterological existence by placing them on a "mere" stage, the tree (despite its impoverished aspect) richly bestows dramatic identity on the tramps. In this regard, it does not recall the Christian images with which it has been associated as much as it does the sacred post of the voodoo séance, down which the Mystères descend to earth. Here, it is not divinity that the tree attracts like a lightning rod but fictionality: another absent world that constitutes the actors as characters. Within the world thus created, Godot is not merely an absence but a character, however stubbornly diegetic. His literal absence, colliding with the others’ literal presence, partakes of their referentiality. The question of his identity, while it can never be answered, cannot be wished away either.
Una Chaudhuri Who is Godot? A Semiotic Approach to Beckett's Play from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot
In ancient Egyptian art, the Tree is depicted as bringing forth the Sun itself. This Cosmic Tree, the living Source of radiant energy/be-ing, is the deep Background of the christian cross, the dead wood rack to which a dying body is fastened with nails. As [Helen] Diner succinctly states: "In Christianity, the tree becomes the torture cross of the world".
Thus the Tree of Life became converted into the symbol of the necrophilic S and M Society. This grim reversal is not peculiar to Christianity. It was a theme of patriarchal myth which made christianity palatable to an already death-loving society. Thus Odin,worshiped by the Germans, was known as "Hanging God", "the Dangling One", and "Lord of the Gallows". [Jungian Erich] Neumann remarks that "scarcely any aspect of their religion so facilitated the conversion of the Germans to Christianity as the apparent similarity of their hanged god to the crucified Christ." In the cheerful German version, the tree of life, cross and gallows tree are all forms of the "maternal" tree. . . .
The christian culmination of the Tree of Life is analysed by Neumann in the following manner:Christ, hanging from the tree of death, is the fruit of suffering and hence the pledge of the promised land , the beatitude to come; and at the same time He is the tree of life as the god of the grape. Like Dionysis, he is endendros, the life at work in the tree, and fulfills the mysterious twofold and contradictory nature of the tree.
. . . we are told that the Cross is a bed. It is not only Christ's "marriage bed" , but also it is "crib, cradle and nest". It is the "bed of birth and . . . it is the deathbed".
Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology
[quoting Beckett]:If life and death did not both present themselves to us, there would be no inscrutability. If there were only darkness, all would be clear. It is because there is not only darkness but also light that our situation becomes inexplicable. Take Augustine’s doctrine of grace given and grace withheld: have you pondered the dramatic qualities of this theology? Two thieves are crucified with Christ, one saved and the other damned. How can we make sense of this division? In classical drama, such problems do not arise. The destiny of Racine’s Phedre is sealed from the beginning: she will proceed into the dark. As she goes, she herself will be illuminated. At the beginning of the play she has partial illumination and at the end she has complete illumination, but there has been no question but that she moves toward the dark. That is the play. Within this notion clarity is possible, but for us who are neither Greek nor Jansenist there is not such clarity. The question would also be removed if we believed in the contrary—total salvation. But where we have both dark and light we have also the inexplicable. The key word in my plays is "perhaps".
. . . I would gloss his commentary as follows: Vladimir and Estragon stand for the "we", two moderns befogged in the inexplicable greyness of "perhaps". Pozzo is Phedre: a relic, an anachronism, an erstwhile truth—but even so the logical historical argument to the contrary. That is, if one were posing a contrast that would illustrate how far we have come from an accountable universe, it might be the dark world of tragedy which has, at least, the comfort of being designed and instructive. Pozzo’s destiny, like Phedre’s is sealed from the beginning; he proceeds into the dark, and though we do not see the scene, we presume that "as he goes" he is illuminated. I am assuming that what Beckett means by "illumination" is the process by which the tragic hero is made aware . . . of what the journey into the dark means. In other words, tragedy is "a complex act of clarification". In Pozzo this act is condensed into one speech in which he stands outside time in a brief space of temporal integration. What he says is that all crises, from the coming hither to the going hence, take place in the same second. The light gleams an instant, then it is night once more.
Actually, Pozzo might have answered Vladimir’s question (" Since when ?") even more philosophically by quoting one of Beckett’s favourite secular thinkers: "Our own past," Schopenhauer says, "even the most recent, even the previous day, is only an empty dream of the imagination. . . . What was? What is? . . . Future and past are only in the concept. . . . No man has lived in the past, and none will ever live in the future; the present alone is the form of all life. . . . "
Bert O States The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot
WHO NEEDS WHOM? AND WHY?
. . . in the scene where Vladimir talks to the little boy, Godot’s messenger while Estragon is asleep. It is as if Godot is himself afraid of not existing and needs the reassurance of the two tramps’ continuing belief in him. But he is also, . . . a Nothing figure and this is the only extent to which his existence is real. Nothing is more real than nothing.
Godot cannot finally be equated either with the "other" of the existentialists or with God, but together with other hints, the stress on witnessing and being witnessed and the frequent references to the Bible do push us in the direction of both equations. Lucky’s speech starts off by postulating "the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension."
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett
A scene in Act I illustrates how Beckett builds into his plays the impossibility of satisfactory explanation of actions and the reliance on visual images instead of words. Estragon repeatedly tries to ask about the pair’s connection with Godot, about whether they are " tied to Godot". The questioning is interrupted by the appearance of Lucky, who enters with a rope around his neck. He covers half the distance of the stage before the audience and the pair see who is holding the rope. A man held by an invisible power, tied to an unseen element, is a visual concretisation of the very question Estragon has been trying to ask. "Tied" in the person of Lucky becomes palpable: Estragon tied to Vladimir, the pair tied to Godot, Lucky tied to Pozzo, and this second pair tied to the force that keeps them walking. Here Beckett uses physical presence to circumvent words and to offer up whatever meaning is possible. . . . Lucky tied to an unseen wielder of the rope provides a visual image that cannot finally be reduced to simple declaratory statements.
Linda Ben-Zvi Teaching Godot from Life from June Schlueter and Enoch Brater Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot
. . . another feature of Waiting for Godot which is very puzzling: . . . the extraordinary difficulty everyone has in remembering anything. . . . Pozzo’s indifference about time is rivalled only by Estragon’s indifference about place. For him, everywhere is the same as everywhere else . . . The divisions of time and place are arbitrary and irrelevant. It is all a void, so it could not matter less what artificial categorisations are imposed on it.
. . . Memory is . . . affected by the fact that the perceiving mind is itself not quite the same from one day to the next. . . . Beckett’s rejection of naturalism in art follows logically from his scepticism about the perceiving mind. He sees it as an instrument incapable of registering accurately the reality that confronts it. . . . The intelligence is always censoring new experiences and rejecting as illogical and insignificant all the elements that do not fit with its preconceived ideas. The censoring process is necessary because reality would be intolerable for us it we had to face it as it really is. The reality we see is just a projection of our consciousness. We are habitually adapting, falsifying and faking evidence in order to adjust the human organism to the conditions of its existence.
. . . To be sure of the reality of your own existence, you need to be sure of what has happened to you. Which is impossible without an independent witness This is why Vladimir and Estragon spend so much time arguing about what happened yesterday. And if you cannot be certain about yesterday’s events, how can you be certain of today’s? Are they really happening or is it all in the mind?
. . . The need for a witness from outside is the strongest reason of all for wanting Godot to be real.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett
. . . the tree in Waiting for Godot can be seen as equivalent to both the Old Testament and the New Testament "trees". Two other references support the significance of the tree as the Cross and as the centre of life for the community of the faithful. One is from Revelation: ] "And the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations" (22:2). It would be surprising if Beckett, who appears to know the Bible so well, were not acquainted with this verse. Purgatorio, Beckett’s favourite book of the Divine Comedy, contributes the other reference, from Canto 32, lines 37-60, where the leafless tree burst into leaf and blossom after the Griffon, symbolising Christ, ties the chariot (the church), to the trunk of the tree. . . .
The theme of the Cross having thus been introduced early in the play, a few moments later Vladimir says that they are to wait "by the tree". The use of the article "the" cannot be an accident, for Beckett made his own translation of the play. This is not just any tree, but "the" tree.
They wonder on which day they are to meet Godot, and Vladimir "thinks" it is Saturday. In "Samuel Beckett’s Long Saturday", Josephine Jacobsen and William Mueller have made their case for Saturday as the day of "Waiting for Godot", the Saturday on which the shattered and grief-stricken disciples of Jesus scattered in despair , believing their Lord had been destroyed, not knowing what was to come on the morrow. But in the text of the play Estragon replies, " But what Saturday ? And is it Saturday? It is not rather Sunday? [traditionally celebrated as the day of the Resurrection] (Pause) Or Monday? (Pause) Or Friday?" At the mention of Friday, traditionally the day of the crucifixion [and the day which Beckett claimed as his birthday], Vladimir, "looking wildly about him, as though the date was inscribed in the landscape", says, "It’s not possible!" Why does he make this strange comment? Because Vladimir remembers and understands Christian tradition better than Estragon, although that is not saying very much. Estragon’s reply to this is, "Or Thursday?" Thursday traditionally is the day of the institution of the Holy Communion and of the prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the sacrament of the Holy Communion Christ is recalled into the midst of the faithful. Thus, if one assumes the day of waiting for Godot is Thursday rather than Saturday, hope is inherent in the amanuensis of Christ in the sacrament. On Thursday also the disciples fell asleep in the garden while their Lord was praying. Likewise, right after this conversation, Estragon falls asleep.
. . . some critics conclude that Beckett is only satirising religion. Yet a careful reading of Waiting for Godot will show, I believe, that the object of satire is not the waiting and longing for Godot. The objects of satire are . . . : first, sexual desire and its apparatus (through Vladimir and Estragon), then power and brutality (through Pozzo and Lucky), and finally academic pedantry (through Lucky’s speech).
The words of [German theologian] Paul Tillich in The Shaking of the Foundations (1948) are strikingly parallel to, almost a gloss on, the content of the play:The state of our whole life is estrangement from others and ourselves, because we are estranged from the Ground of our being, because we are estranged from the origin and aim of our life. And we do not know where we have come from, or where we are going. We are separated from the mystery, the depth, and the greatness of our existence. We hear the voice of that depth, but our ears are closed. We feel that something radical, total, and unconditional is demanded of us, but we rebel against it, try to escape its urgency, and will not adept its promise. We cannot escape, however. If that something is the Ground of our being, we are bound to it for all eternity, just as we are bound to ourselves and to all other life. We always remain in the power of that from which we are estranged. That fact brings us to the ultimate depth of sin; separated and yet bound, estranged and yet belonging, destroyed and yet preserved, the state which is calledDespair. Despair means that there is no escape. Despair is "the sickness unto death". But the terrible thing about the sickness of despair is that we cannot be released, not even through open or hidden suicide. For we all know that we are bound eternally and inescapably to the Ground of our being. The abyss of separation is not always visible. But it has become more visible to our generation than to the preceding generation, because of our feeling of meaninglessness, emptiness, doubt and cynicism—all expressions of despair, or our separation from the roots and meaning of our life. Sin in its most profound sense, sin as despair, abounds amongst us.
. . . in the chapter "Waiting" in the same book, [Tillich] strikingly expresses the paradox of the mystic’s waiting for God; the book also contains an extraordinary chapter titled "Born in the Grave", a phrase reminiscent of Beckett’s " They give birth astride of a grave ". Tillich says:Waiting is not despair. It is the acceptance of our not having, in the power of that which we already have.
Our time is a time of waiting; waiting is its special destiny. And every time is a time of waiting, waiting for the breaking in of eternity. . . . Time itself is waiting, waiting not for another time, but for that which is eternal.
This, I believe, is the meaning of the play.
Hélène L Baldwin Samuel Beckett's Real Silence
. . . in his "think" speech, which Pozzo suffers as part of his own initiation, Lucky offers the half-mad babbling that is the result of his own experience of the abyss, the nothingness of the void. Lucky, who embodies the dying certainties of past civilisation in Act I, seems in his muteness to embody death itself in Act II, so that Pozzo, who is tied first to the dying and then to Death itself, comes to accept the burden of his own mortality, even though he continues to despise that burden.
Unable to rest in Lucky’s stance, nor to make do with Godot, Vladimir comes to a crisis of faith at the play’s climax that Estragon experiences before and after him. Led by Pozzo as initiatory guide to the brink of the abyss, Vladimir undergoes the play’s central initiation into the sacred void, exploring as part of that experience the mysterious relationship of life to death. . . . Vladimir’s epiphany, unlike Pozzo’s, is not an angry statement but an exploration of the levels of reality in his world. . . . Vladimir questions, in Prospero fashion, the reality of his world, its truth or meaning. Of what does that world consist? A faithful waiting for Godot, blows for Estragon, friendship, death, the alleviation of suffering through habit. Placing Godot in the wings on one side, and death in the wings on the other, Vladimir’s initiation involves a vision in which he brings the two face to face. Looking at the now sleeping Estragon, whose nightmares he has refused throughout the play to hear, he concludes his epiphany with a declaration of his own profound ignorance. " At me too someone is looking , of me too someone is saying, he is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on". It is as if he has been able, through his initiatory confrontation with death, to move outside of himself and observe himself from another perspective. Unlike Pozzo, however, who can go on in the face of the unknowableness of life, Vladimir says, "I can’t go on". As surely as Oedipus comes to know the deeds he has done and the self that he is, Vladimir comes to know that he will never possess his deeds or know himself—that whether Godot or death comes, he must share the darkness that Pozzo inhabits. But the rebirth that initiation is all about and that Pozzo has experienced, eludes him.
Shortly before Vladimir’s crisis of faith, Estragon suggests he cannot go on—" But I can’t go on like this"—and he echoes himself and Vladimir toward the play’s end when he again says, " I can’t go on like this ". . . . Vladimir . . . opting for survival, like Pozzo will go on; but going on, as Pozzo does, without hope of finding greater meaning in life’s fleeting moment is not possible for Vladimir. "What they seek to complete," Michael Robinson writes of Didi and Gogo, "is the arbitrary series begun by birth, to reach that end where time is no more and where their present unreality is changed into certainty of their own identity and existence. What , in fact, they seek is to be reunited with the Self they know must exist outside time in the union of their personal infinity with that of the timeless void." Pozzo may be able to make do with the flicker of life in the timeless void, but Vladimir insists on the Self. " Tell him you saw me ", he says, almost attacking the messenger boy with his insistence on his own reality and significance.
. . . Significantly, Beckett has noted that the key word in his play is "perhaps".
Katherine H Burkman The Arrival of Godot
. . . The most important trick in the style and structure of Waiting for Godot is the old music-hall trick of protracted delay. No question can be answered and no action can be taken without a maximum of interlocution, incomprehension, and argument. You never go straight to a point if you can possibly miss it, evade it, or start a long discussion about a shortcut.
. . . There is also a great deal of vaudeville business with hats and boots and pratfalls. The bowler hats that all four characters wear belong to the tradition of Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. Vladimir has a comic walk and a comic disability that makes him rush off to pee in the wings each time he is made to laugh, and Lucky has elaborate comic business with all the things he has to carry, dropping them, picking them up and putting them down.
. . . Another important trick is the way Beckett uses interruption. Almost everything in the play gets interrupted‚ Lucky’s big speech, Estragon’s story about the Englishman in the brothel, and Vladimir interrupts his own song about dogs digging a dog a tomb. But it is a song that circles back on itself, so, as with Lucky’s speech, we welcome the interruption because we feel that otherwise it would have gone on forever.
Ronald Hayman Samuel Beckett
The relationships between the four characters are inherently fortuitous and unstable. In the state of nature, they are governed by calculations of immediate interest; in the commonwealth [Pozzo-Lucky], they are founded on the artificial creation of the sovereign. As Pozzo remarks, it is only by " chance " that he is Lucky’s master rather than vice versa. By the same token, all four are potentially masters or slaves of each other. Didi and Gogo begin by mistaking Pozzo for Godot, and there is no reason why he cannot become Godot if he and they wish it. . . . "Godot" can be anyone who is willing to play the part.
Beckett demonstrates this interchangeability in a variety of ways. He undermines the stability of character by reversal and self-contradiction. Lucky, who is mute, unleashes a torrent of words. Gogo, who cannot identify Christ at the beginning of the play, claims to have imitated him all his life. Pozzo, who prides himself on punctuality, declares he has " no notion of time ". . . . The exchange of roles between Didi and Gogo is symbolised by the furious exchange of hats. Names themselves are subversive of identity. "Pozzo: becomes Bozzo , Gozzo, Godot; "Godot" is Godin or Godet. . . . In the end, all the protagonists become Everyman.
. . . Pozzo’s repudiation of time signifies the collapse of the commonwealth, of the socially ordered sequence of chronos, of hierarchy and meaning. He is " all humanity ", a blind wanderer-king like Lear or Oedipus , helpless and stricken, yet greater naked than in his shabby pomp.
. . . Gogo, inspecting the fallen pair, addresses Pozzo as " Abel" and Lucky as "Cain". Beckett is not idle in his choice of names; Lucky has been designated as the slayer, if not of Pozzo the man, then of that artificial person and social hero, the sovereign. Yet rebellion has not severed the bond between master and man, only rendered it inefficacious. Lucky, who is free to abandon his blind master, does not do so; nor does Pozzo, though helpless, forsake command. Unlike Didi and Gogo, who can exchange roles at will, they are chained to one another until death. Rebellion cannot liberate either one, but only circumscribe them both more closely; for those who have taken up the burden of society, there is no return to the state of nature [chez the Rationalist philosophers]
Robert Zaller Waiting for Leviathan
. . . these four characters are Beckett’s equivalent of William Blake’s Four Zoas. Blake held that the perfect man maintained a harmonious balance between four functions of the psyche: Imagination, Reason, Passion and bodily Sensation, which he personified as giants named Los, Urizen, Luvah and Tharmas. Man’s Fall, and all evil, arose because these functions warred against each other; in particular Urizen tried to usurp power over the rest. In his Prophetic Books Blake gave various, and somewhat conflicting, accounts of this internal, psychological strife.
In Beckett’s play is may well be that we have a different account of the same warfare within the split psyche. Pozzo corresponds to Tharmas, the sensations; he has enslaved Lucky , who corresponds to Urizen, or thought . The tender-hearted Vladimir is Luvah (feeling) and he alternatively quarrels with and embraces the poet Estragon who represents imagination (Los).
G C Barnard Samuel Beckett: A New Approach
[in the gravedigger puts on the forceps speech ] . . . Vladimir becomes aware of a difference between two possible ways of living life. One awake. One in a state of twilight. And he even realises that he can’t go on—with what? With an existence in which the womb and the tomb seem to fit together like two hemispheres which are life apart for a brief moment to let in a ray of light. But, at this very instant, when Vladimir is about to wake up, Godot’s boy-messenger appears and destroys the process that was just about to take place in Vladimir . Godot’s function seems to be to keep his dependents unconscious. His messenger does not know anything either; . . . He even fails to recognise the tramps he had seen the day before (the French version states that it is the same boy).
. . . The unconsciousness and ambivalence of Godot, expressed in his promise to rescue the tramps and his preventing them from becoming conscious, demonstrates exactly what Jung, speaking about God, formulates in these words: " The face of God’s ‘unconsciousness’ throws a peculiar light on the doctrine of salvation. Man is not so much delivered from his sins . . . as delivered from fear of the consequences of sin . . . "
When Vladimir says: "at me, too, someone is looking . . . " he expresses a faint awareness of the sin of unconsciousness and the notion of a knowing witness. The words . . . indicate that a spontaneous image has arisen within Vladimir and that, for a short moment, he is outside the sphere of habit and conventional expectation. He is aware of an inner witness, "in store in him." But this he cannot endure ("The God that saw all, even man—that God could not but die! Man could not endure that such a witness should live." [Nietzsche, Thus Spake Zarathustra]).
The hopelessness of Vladimir’s situation, after the advent of the messenger, is as grim as that of Pozzo’s vision of life as a flash between the womb and the tomb : Vladimir’s flash of consciousness dies between his question: "What have I said?" and his relapse into the reliance upon the coming of Godot.
This episode may well explain why there is no woman in this play, that is to say no woman on the human level: the mother goddess, who is both the womb and the tomb, envelops all and everything with her dread power . In ancient Egypt this goddess was known as an upper and a lower hemisphere, not only feared but worshipped . . . Beckett, however, refrains both from differentiation and from valuation.
. . . Neumann describes the emergence of self-consciousness in adolescence as one in which "feelings of transitoriness and mortality, impotence and isolation" prevail, "in absolute contrast to the [child’s] situation of contentment and containment." Obviously, the characters in this play are exactly on the border between these two phases.
. . . Neumann, following Jung, equates the mother goddess with the unconscious and says: Western culture and religion , society and morals are mainly formed by the Judeo-Christian father-god image and the psychic structure of the individual is partly made ill by it.
. . . Today, as always, the battle of Western consciousness is fought in the spirit of the Old Testament war that Yahweh waged against the mother-goddess." . . . the compensatory trend in the unconscious of our time, speaking through Beckett, wages this same war from the opposite side, namely in favour of the latent values in the unconscious and against the obsolete and dying conventions and attitudes.
In Waiting for Godot we saw the inability of the two figures in each couple to let each other go, although the stagnating quality of their togetherness was amply expressed. The wish to control (Pozzo) and the wish to be protected (Lucky) remain inseparable. So do the impotence of consciousness (Vladimir) and the power of unconsciousness (Estragon).
Eva Metman Reflections on Samuel Beckett's Plays
. . . Even before the curtain rises, the program informs us that there will be two acts , though we do not know how the second will reflect the first. The set pits the horizontal road on the stage board against the vertical tree. The action will balance four characters falling down against their looking up at the sky.
The very names of the four main characters indicate their pairing : Pozzo and Lucky contain two syllables and eight letters each; Estragon and Vladimir contain three syllables and five letters each, but they address one another only by nicknames—Gogo and Didi, childish four-letter words composed of repeated monosyllables. Even the fifth character, the nameless boy, has a brother, . . .
Godot is as arbitrary as the God of Matthew 25?32-33: "And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand but the goats on the left." Sheep and goat become saved thief and damned thief of St Augustine’s symmetry.
Pozzo and Lucky have no nicknames and we view them formally, externally, during their intermittent presence before us. Their clothes are elaborate but dated, their relationship is repulsive, but it is not really our business. . . .
. . . And Godot has subsequently been explained as God, a diminutive god, Love, Death, Silence, Hope, de Gaulle, Pozzo, a Balzac character, a bicycle racer, Time Future, a Paris street for call-girls, a distasteful image evoked by French words containing the root god (godailler to guzzle; godenot, runt; godelureau, bumpkin; godichon, lout). Beckett told Roger Blin that the name Godot derived from French slang words for boot—godillot, godasse. A decade after Godot was produced I informed Beckett of a San Francisco mortician’s firm, Godeau Inc.
Ruby Cohn Waiting
Although there are four major characters in the play, they are used in such a way as to minimise any possibilities of story elaboration and to constitute what amounts to an "armature" or single portrait of "man in Essy". For one thing, Beckett’s people condense, like Cain and Abel, into pairs or cooperating identities, and this alone tends to subvert any conflict of competitive wills to a symbiotic tension: Vladimir and Estragon , as we say, form the complementary parts of individual man (mind/body, soul/appetite); Pozzo and Lucky form the complementary parts of the social hierarchy (master/servant, capitalist/philosopher), Pozzo’s rope being less a tether or rein than a reciprocal bond and the visible symbol of civilisation’s unfortunate continuity.
On one hand, the world represented by Pozzo and Lucky implies a concept of cause and effect, of sin and punishment, or at least of Fortune striking with some justification. The world of Vladimir and Estragon , on the other, is one in which Pride does not go before a Fall but before a vast silence. Hence the impression of an unchanging essential: of time without content, chronicity without chronology. Everything happens, as it were, at a distance and leaks through the surface of a diversionary routine which is the last refuge of the dying ego. There is only a vestige of the oppressive society in the form of thugs who administer unprovoked beatings under cover of night, and all that remains of the demanding god is a dim historical memory with barely enough gravitational pull to keep his "subjects" in a vague orbit of supplication. But the Vladimir/Estragon plot is intelligible largely as a "last bridge" in this whole burdensome history of obligation and ego-frustration.
. . . we might think of Beckett’s narrative problem in Godot as being essentially a biblical one: how to keep the Vladimir/Estragon situation from becoming a tautological bore; how, in short, to give this circularity enough linear drive to make it interesting without compromising the all-important theme that the essential doesn’t change. To this end, Pozzo and Lucky give the play a considerable narrative boost: theirs is the drama of man’s "charge" through time; they are the personifications of historical motion and thrust , of becoming, of man burdened with the baggage of a sinful past and bound for a future which will come, like the Judgement, when they least expect it. Put side by side as purely temporal rhythms, these two plots also have something of the same relationship that tragedy has to the history play : tragedy (the isolation and death of the hero) completes its action, implying that everything that is important happens one fatal time; the history play (the trials of the nation, or race) implies a fresh beginning in every ending, and assures us that what has been done will have to be done again and again.
Bert O States The Shape of Paradox: An Essay on Waiting for Godot
Circularity"In my beginning is my end. . . . In my end is my beginning."
"And to say that the end precedes the beginning/And the beginning and ending were always there/Before the beginning and after the end/And all is always now"
—T S Eliot, Four Quartets
. . . Beckett’s characters . . . must wait forever, without any prospect of ultimate salvation, condemned to "wander the last of the living in the depths of an instant without bounds". In Waiting for Godot, it is always evening, before sunset and moonrise; . . . Accompanying the temporal limbo is a physical stasis that gradually but relentlessly increases. Gogo and Didi are rooted to a single spot, a country road with a tree, . . .
Paralysed, immobilised, forced to remain stationary, Beckett’s characters must remain passive as well. Unable to act, they are capable only of a purgatorial nonaction: waiting, waiting for the end they know will never come, for the salvation that may or may not exist. . . . [they] must remain still, in constant hope of being acted upon, in eternal expectation of being fulfilled.
. . . To while away the endless hours, to make the time pass as quickly as possible, Beckett’s heroes become artists, that is, they tell stories. No longer the medium for a penetrating search into the Self, literature becomes an innocuous pastime, an existential "filler".
. . . By making waiting, in a sense, the subject of his plays, Beckett is writing about life per se, life minus the traumatic events, the emotional or spiritual crises that are usually the focus of novels or plays. Aside form this effort to reproduce the fundamental texture of life, the sheer living of it, Beckett’s plays, by concerning themselves with such integral but intangible human experiences as waiting and ending, also attempt to discover their own texture, their own theatrical form. Made conscious of what it is to be an audience, to sit in a theater and wait for an watch a play, the Beckett playgoer is also made aware of what a play actually is. Alain Robbe-Grillet, in discussing Waiting for Godot, explains the revolution purpose and effect of Beckett’s tragicomedy:"We suddenly realise, as we look at them [Didi and Gogo], 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."
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce
Although it brilliantly contains a circular, cyclical world, the real genius of Waiting for Godot is that the play itself—its form and movement—is circular, like a worn-out wheel of fortune at a deserted fairground, mysteriously turning. Indeed, the idea of refrain, or repetition, is seen in several details, and it is the focal point of the entire structure, for the "dramaturgy" of the play is cyclical. . . . It reinforces the perfect circularity of time. Nothing ever finishes, and everything begins again. The heroes of the plays . . . are condemned to pause forever in the stasis where the curtain leaves them, eternally approaching and never entering the future beyond. What they seek to complete is the arbitrary series begun by birth, to reach that end where time is no more and where their present unreality is changed into the certainty of their own identity or existence.
Barbara Reich Gluck Beckett and Joyce
Program Notes Didi/Gogo Pozzo/Lucky Beckett Influences/Resonances Staging
Act I text
Act II text