Has Beckett's Existentialism any roots in Hegel's Philosophy?

by Kenneth Knapman

When reading Beckett's Waiting for Godot it is possible to unravel the author's apparent Existentialism linguistically and structurally. A method of revealing the possible intention of the author maybe by uncovering any Hegelian dialectical negation in the text. Philosophical writers, such as Alexandre Kojeve, have attempted to enlighten students of Hegel to his Existential content. (1). Kojeve examines, as part of his interpretation of Hegel, "autonomous" existences and "dependent" existences of beings and in particular how they occur in the relationships between Mastery and Slavery. (2). Hegel's analysis of absolute knowledge breaks down the whole into the parts. (3). A key area for Kojeve's Existentialism is Hegel's portrayal of the negating process of Stoicism, Scepticism, Religion and finally through to Actual Liberation. (4). For our purposes we will try to unravel the relationship between Beckett's characters, Pozzo and Lucky, in Waiting for Godot. We will try and observe some of the process towards Absolute Consciousness.

The Master and Slave relationship is obviously present between Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo tautens the rope, cracks the whip and Lucky obeys. (If only it was as simple as that but we will examine this relation more as we go on). Pozzo indicates that he may have aristocratic connections when he cannot find his 'half-hunter' watch; "I must have left it at the manor". (5). We also have a suggestion in the text that Pozzo is a landowner. (Act 1, page 24). The interest in this relationship, from an Hegelian standpoint, is the process involved of reaching a Consciousness and more importantly the passage to Self-Consciousness. The questions Kojeve examines are how the Master achieves his position and how the Slave struggles out of his existence. (6). The positions of Master and Slave have their basis in the human 'I' of Desire as Kojeve points out:

….that is, an active I, a negating I, an I that transforms Being and creates a new being by destroying the given being. (Kojeve: page 38).

 Pozzo as Master must have recognition. The position of Master must maintain its exclusive right to satisfaction. Pozzo admits that history could have been different; "Remark that I might just as well have been in his shoes and he in mine. If chance had not willed otherwise. To each his due". (Act 1, page 32). The Hegelian view of history sees the gaining of the privileged position through the Risk involved in the life and death fight to achieve subjugation of others. Pozzo and Lucky are adversaries. Lucky must submit to Pozzo and recognise Pozzo but Lucky is not recognised. Pozzo as Master therefore transforms his being, his I, by negating the Desire of another through action (In this case Lucky), but there it ends. Only the Slave (Lucky) can realise progress. The Master can only achieve abstract and particularised Consciousness and therefore knowledge. His freedom is abstract. To become general he must be recognised by everyone. Pozzo is not recognised by everyone.

POZZO: [Terrifying voice.] I am Pozzo! [Silence.] Pozzo! [Silence.] Does that name mean nothing to you? [Silence] I say does that name mean nothing to you?

[VLADIMIR and ESTRAGON look at each other questioningly.]

[Act 1, page 23]

This extract not only indicates the Master's class position but also shows Pozzo demanding recognition. Estragon and Vladimir ridicule his name calling him 'Bozzo'. Pozzo advances threateningly according to the stage directions. This is an indicator of the perpetual warlike attitude of the Master who can only continue the same 'risk of life' posture. This attitude cannot engender historical change.

Lucky has an advantage conditioned in the fact that he Works. He carries a heavy bag, a folding stool, a picnic basket and a great coat. He places the items precisely to the order of his Master and gives Pozzo his food. Pozzo indicates that Lucky does other work when he says, 'In reality he carries like a pig. It's not his job'. (Act 1, page 31). In the beginning the slave capitulated to the Master out of fear of death. The fear now becomes changed. The Master can kill the slave but he doesn't. Pozzo knows this; 'The truth is you can't drive such creatures away. The best thing would be to kill them'. [Lucky weeps]. (Act. 1, page 32). The Slave's action in his Work transforms nature and in so doing transforms his own nature. The Master, Pozzo, cannot do without a Slave. There is a mutual dependence between Pozzo and Lucky that is advantageous to the developing consciousness of Lucky. The antithetical natures of Pozzo and Lucky must manifestly become a synthesis of Master and Slave. The process for Lucky must be the development towards Self-Consciousness. Hegel himself suggests that: 'Stubbornness is that freedom which makes itself secure in a solid singleness, and keeps within the sphere of bondage'. (Hegel: Page 244). In this context Pozzo explains why Lucky doesn't want to; 'He wants to impress me so that I'll keep him' (Act 1, page 31). This suggests that Lucky is aware of Pozzo's dependency on a Slave but perhaps Pozzo is aware of Lucky's ability to do so; '…He wants to mollify me, so that I'll give up the idea of parting with him…' (Act 1, page 31).

Through work Lucky, the Slave, creates for himself the abstract idea but it is a long way from the ideal of Freedom. Kojeve sees the process as a series of ideologies incorporating Hegel's Existentialism. Surmounting each ideological phase is long and arduous and we can appreciate how Beckett's Existentialism could be seen as stasis.

The first ideological phase is Stoicism. Kojeve describes this as the Slave trying to, '…persuade himself that he is actually free by knowing that he is free…'. (Kojeve: Page 53). Pozzo describes how the transformation from a Stoic phase takes place by showing us how previously this phase had operated:

POZZO: …Let us not speak ill of our generation, It is not any unhappier than its predecessors. [Pause.] Let us not speak well of it either. [Pause.] Let us not speak of it at all. [Pause. Judiciously.] It is true the population has increased.

(Act 1, page 33)

Pozzo has been taught this by Lucky who has gained freedom of speech. Involved in this theoretical postulate is an antithetical argument. The moribund nature of the Master Class is recorded in the shaky negation of the present generation presented as a Thesis. The Antithetical argument, that it is not 'unhappier' than previous Master Classes, cannot hold water because of its degeneration and so the Synthesis has to be to negate all and not speak of them at all. This is replaced by a new dialectical synthesis, which replaces all with the population. The increase in the population can only be the new abundance of Slaves in adverse opposition. Hegel describes this as general raising of thought. (7). The key aspect of this revelation is the freedom of speech and expression. The discussion could only go so far between Master and Slave and so Pozzo, as Master returns to the whip. '(8). Kojeve identifies this freedom with freedom of thought; '…the State is called free when one can speak freely in it; so long as this freedom is safeguarded, nothing need be changed in the State'. (Kojeve: Page 53).

A Stream of Consciousness is an ideal medium to express abstract ideas contained in the Stoic phase or existential state. Lucky's speech contains contradictory elements within it. In Hegel's terms the thoughts cannot expand and is probably 'contentless thought' (Hegel: Page 246), Nevertheless Lucky's "apathia," "athambia," and "aphasia" suggest a number of states of Self-Consciousness in the dialectical negation process. (Act 1, page 42). It indicates a transformation from an unfeeling mode, where there is no real consciousness of suffering as a Slave, to imperturbability. This state of calm is an objective or quiet mode of existence and can be linked to the state of everyday Work. The next change of state suggests a 'loss of speech' mode, a desire to cease communication or muteness after Stoicism. Man abandons Stoicism because, as a Stoic, he is bored. (Kojeve: Page 53). Lucky is willing to be seditious in the speech which has been forced out of him. The existential position requires patience and time and Lucky says that 'time will tell'. He relates the theoretical position that Mastery and Slavery will synthesise knowing that this can only come about by the Slave overcoming fear, risking his life for recognition and using force. The outcome will be to, 'blast hell to heaven'. The heaven created by the Master class is going to be set on fire. These are the 'labours left unfinished' by the unfinished negation process that the Slave must go through.

The repetition of the 'unfinished' indicates the unsatisfactory nature of the Stoic position as it simply entrenches the Slave and Lucky has, by now, abandoned this approach.

The dialectical transformation undergone by the negation of being process is condensed in the 'Essy-in-Possy' or the more precise Latin version Esse (to be) and Posse (to be able). The qualitative leap in consciousness is the progress made towards Self-Consciousness. The ability of the subjective factor, to come into alignment with the objective conditions for a revolutionary change and a new synthesis, is posed.

The break up of words and the melee at the end of Lucky's speech represent breakdown of the Stoic phase. (9). The suppression of Lucky which immediately follows, in order to silence him, is a recognition of the danger to the Master Class by moving to the next phase. (Act 1, page 44). The fact is that man can only be satisfied by action. (Kojeve: Page 54). The next phase is called Scepticism and it is as Hegel says: 'The realisation of which Stoicism is merely the notion…' (Hegel: Page 246).

In the first instances where we meet Lucky we are made aware by Pozzo of potential militancy.

POZZO: Be careful! He's wicked. [VLADIMIR and ESTRAGON turn towards POZZO.] With strangers.

(Act 1, page 23)

If we ignore the after remark about strangers, we are warned of Lucky being capable of something other than conformity.

We learn of Lucky's real capability later when he kicks Estragon violently in the shins, (Act 1, page 32). This is indeed an action, which exceeds the polemical attitude required for this phase of Self-Consciousness. The thought of the Sceptic contains infinitude, the Slave appreciate where his liberation lies in the final analysis. Hegel explains the qualitative leap in consciousness that occurs through the negation of the Stoic and achieving of the Sceptical phase:

The differences, which, in the pure thinking of self are only the abstraction of differences, become here the whole of the difference…

(Hegel: Page 247)

The particular differences, which have been viewed in isolation between the Master and the Slave, have now become a general difference or demarcation between them.

Lucky's Scepticism is probably responsible for Pozzo's attitude and emotional breakdown when he Groans and clutches his head. Pozzo says that he, '…can't bear it…any longer…the way he goes on…'(Act 1, page 34). It isn't what Lucky says, because he doesn't say much these days, it is probably what he does. Pozzo even goes so far as to say that Lucky is killing him. Lucky's actions are to wear his Master down. Vladimir's suggestion that, 'Time has stopped' (Act 1, page 36), suggests maybe that time is up for the Master Class. Pozzo wants desperately to reject this notion, 'Whatever you like, but not that'. The twilight Pozzo talks about is probably the twilight of the age, the end of the Masters and the rise of the Slaves. The wearing down of Pozzo is reflected in the fact that Lucky is half-asleep and Pozzo can only crack the whip feebly. Sleeping suggests a kind of passive resistance, (Act 1, page 36). Pozzo's action of throwing down the whip appears to be a resignation. His comment that the whip is worn out gives weight to the notion that the instruments of oppression are no longer a viable method of restraint by the Master Class. Pozzo's fear of the inevitable is brought out more when he says: '… - but behind us this veil of gentleness and peace night is charging [Vibrantly] and will burst upon us [ Snaps his fingers]…' (Act 1, page 37).

The negation of the Stoic and the establishing of the Sceptic mode of thought have led Lucky away from the boring chatter. Pozzo describes how the transformation has taken place from how he used to think; 'He even used to think prettily once…' (Act 1, page 39). Now Lucky won't dance to their tune either:

POZZO: He refused once. [Silence.] Dance, Misery! [LUCKY puts down the basket, advances towards front, turns to POZZO. LUCKY dances. He stops.]

(Act 1, page 39)

Dancing, as a metaphor for the obedience towards the Master, is shown here as indifference to the Master's whims. Lucky's actions are unco-operative and typically sceptical.

After the suppression of Lucky's speech, symbolised by the removal of his hat, Lucky falls to the ground. He stubbornly refuses to get up despite being ordered to do so. Estragon indicates that, 'He's doing it on purpose!' (Act 1, page 44). His disobedience can be observed in the moment when Pozzo actually puts the bag in Lucky's hand and he drops it immediately. Lucky's eventual taking of the bag is a realisation within the Sceptical mode of his continued actual slavery. In that context he has come to his senses. This sense of moving forwards and then backwards is the problem with this phase of Self-Consciousness. It is a feature of the negating process, which has part of the old in the new. Dialectical negation is not circular (history simply repeating itself) it is more of a spiral moving to a higher stage. Kojeve recognises that the problem for the Sceptic lies in any denial of the being of the world and of other men. (Kojeve: Page 54). We are examining Existentialism as a flux, an ever changing medium where consciousness is thoroughgoing restlessness' (Hegel: page 248). Lucky's actions are self - consciously motivated but they are based upon his own individual experience. His actions are individual and contingent. The reason why they are uncertain actions is because the Sceptical consciousness is empirical. This is why Pozzo can regain some form of control over his Slave. After Lucky's unstable behaviour Pozzo cracks his whip: '…Forward! [LUCKY totters forward.] Back! [LUCKY totters back.] Turn! [Lucky turns.] Done it! He can walk…' (Act1, page 44). Hegel explains the shortcomings of the Sceptical phase:

This form of consciousness is, therefore, the aimless fickleness and instability of going to and fro, hither and thither, from one extreme of self-same, self-consciousness to the other contingent, confused and confusing consciousness.

(Hegel: Page 249).

Each phase so far has been determinate. The limitations of consciousness are peculiar to each phase. The limitations of Stoicism is a question of content, the lack of 'the concrete filling of life' as Hegel puts it. (Hegel: Page 245). Scepticism negates the determinate existence of Stoicism but in so doing creates a 'duality'. (Hegel: Page 251). The action doesn't fit in with the words. The contradiction lies within the Slave alone. Hence Lucky's Sceptical phase is dogged by punitive actions which are even out of step with his previous theoretical positions. Hegel describes this state of mind as Unhappy Consciousness.

Another layer of meaning in the text we have looked at contains evidence of the last of the Slave's ideology, which is the Christian ideology. The contradictions within the Slave are not denied. Kojeve puts us in the existential mind of the slave:

To this end he imagines an "other world," which is "beyond" (Jenseits) the natural world of the senses. Here, below, he is a slave, and he does nothing to free himself. But he is right, for in this world everything is slavery, and the master is as much a slave here as he is.

(Kojeve: Page 55)

If we accept that the heavy load that Lucky carries is his burden as a Slave then we can accept it as a symbolic Cross.

The acceptance by Pozzo of the penance, Lucky is willing to pay for his sins, can give another meaning to has saying that Lucky is 'Wicked'. (Act 1, page 23). Pozzo as Master can accept the Religious Ideology because it is non-threatening. There is no need to fight the Master because the Slave is recognised by God and all are in the service of God. The aristocratic Master feels closer to God, in the Cosmic order of things, than the Slave. In this way we can see why Pozzo can relate others, such as Vladimir and Estragon, as being: ' . . .0f the same species as Pozzo! Made in Gods image!' (Act 1, page 24). Pozzo of course will only allow the likeness to be limited, '…even when the likeness is an imperfect one.... (Act 1, page 25). If we want to accept that Godot is God then we can see why Pozzo might be ecstatic about. Being taken for Godot. (Act I, page 24). Acceptance of God as the arbiter between classes is somewhat acknowledged by Pozzo; '… Godet... Godot… Godin... anyhow you see who I mean, who has your future in his hands...' (Act 1, page 29).

The relationship between Master and Slave and therefore between Pozzo and Lucky) is far too real and practical to maintain this position. Kojeve shows how Hegel discredits it, 'But, Hegel adds, all this too good-too simple, too easy-to be true'. (Kojeve: Page 56). It would be useful to compare where this common thinking terminates the Religious Ideology. First let's look at what Pozzo says;

POZZO: But for him all my thoughts, all my feelings, would have been of common things. [Pause. With extraordinary vehemence.] Professional worries! [Calmer.] Beauty, grace, truth of the first water, I knew were all beyond me. So I took a knook.

(Act 1, page 33)

The antithetical position, which takes a transcendental view of a harmonious and divine world based on beauty and grace, doesn't have a chance. Pozzo's motivation for material things and professional control has its economic basis in class society. Hegel sees the thinking in this state of devotion as: '…no more than the discordant clang of ringing bells. Or a cloud of warm incense, a kind of thinking in terms of music…' (Hegel: Page 257.) We can see what Hegel thinks of this metaphysical standpoint in regards to the process towards Absolute Knowledge. The synthesis for Pozzo appears to be to return to the whip. (11). Lucky also takes a cynical view.

… the dead loss per caput since the death of Bishop Berkeley being to the tune of one inch four ounce per caput approximately by and large more or less to the nearest decimal good measure round figures stark naked in the stockinged feet…

(Act 1, page 43)

The double meaning, which can be attached to 'Caput', is the cynical view of the worthless residue of the material world. The other meaning is the measurement of output per Capita as a quantifying factor for capitalist gross product per head of the population. This material world being a series of quantitative measurements in the profit and loss culture engendered by the class system. In referring to Bishop Berkeley, the Anglican Bishop, we have a mediator in direct communication with God. Hegel says that the slave, puts away '…the substance of its will, and throws on to the mediating term, or the ministering agency, its own proper freedom of decision…' (Hegel: Page 265). The Thesis for Lucky is the religion of the Bishop, which in itself is contradictory. (9). The Antithesis is the real world of Master and Slave with the Master accumulating the wealth off the back of the Slave. The Synthesis of the real world is that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer hence the 'stark naked in stockinged feet'. Which is the lot of the Slave.

Every layer of meaning within the text reveals each level of the Hegelian process of ideological negation. The Master and Slave relationship, incorporated in Beckett's Lucky and Pozzo, reflect this process as the relevant parts of the play unfold. The Stoic is the first ideological phase, which Pozzo reminds us, has taken place with Lucky. He shows how the freedom of speech was analytical and theoretical. The Stoic is Abstract and boring and has to be negated. The next phase is the Sceptical. The actions of Lucky are non-conformist as they are motivated by less Abstract but more General thinking. The Sceptic phase contains all the elements of non-co-operation, indifference and disobedience in Lucky's actions. The Sceptic phase is also unsatisfactory because there is a hiatus between theory and practice. The actions do not fit in with the words. The confused thinking leads to an Unhappy Mind that turns to Religion as a way out. Religion is no way out. Further negation always becomes necessary until the Slave faces facts and stares the future in the face. The Slave must take the fundamental contradiction head on by Risking his Life and achieving true liberation. Only by totally negating his Slavery by removing the source of his misery, i.e. the Master, can real progress be made in the final analysis.

Hegel's process of achieving absolute knowledge is a slow and arduous one. Only by seeing that there is motion through dialectical negation can we see, as Kojeve sees, that there is such a motion in the Existential. The Existentialism in Beckett's writing is often seen as stasis, of unmoving equilibrium or balance. The Hegelian Dialectic provides the reader of Beckett's plays with an alternative view, which can be vibrant and teleological.


(1) Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Assembled by Raymond Queneau, Alan Bloom (Ed), Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, New York and London. 1969. Kojeve combines Marxist and Existentialist thinking to interpret Hegel.

(2) Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Pages 8 and 9. Also Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind. Translated by J.B.Baillie. George Allen and Unwin Ltd. London and The Macmillan Company. New York. 1931. Hegel calls the Slave the Bondsman when explaining the two opposed forms of consciousness. (See Page 234).

(3) Hegel shows how the Particular (Self-Consciousness) has its basis in the General (Universal Consciousness) and that Relative Consciousness lies only in the Absolute. The process of attaining Absolute Consciousness can only be achieved through negation of the Particular in stages.

(4) Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind Stoicism: Scepticism: The Unhappy Consciousness. Pages 242-267.

(5) Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. Waiting For Godot. Faber and Faber. London and Boston. 1990. Page 45.

(6) Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Chapter Two. The Summary of the First Six Chapters of the Phenomenology of Spirit. Pages 31-70.

(7) Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind Stoicism: Scepticism: The Unhappy Consciousness. Hegel takes an important break in his description to argue the importance of the universal aspect: 'It is a freedom, which can come on the scene as a general form of the worlds spirit only in a time of universal fear and bondage, a time, too, when mental cultivation is universal, and has elevated culture to the level of thought'. - Page 245.

(8) Pozzo relates how Lucky has taught him. The relationship is therefore one sided, Lucky as Slave can be the only one to develop consciousness. The Knook that Pozzo describes is probably from the Russian Knout meaning whip. Page 33.

(9) Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind. Stoicism: Scepticism: The Unhappy Consciousness. As Beckett has referred to the melee it is worthwhile to note what Hegel has to say about it: 'Rather consciousness itself is thoroughgoing dialectical restlessness, this melee of presentations derived from sense and thought, whose differences collapse into oneness, arid whose identity is itself determinateness as contrasted with non-identity'. Page 249.

(10) George Berkeley was an Anglo-Irish Anglican Bishop, philosopher and scientist. He is best known for his Empiricist philosophy which holds that everything save the spiritual exists only insofar as it is perceived by the senses. The principal influences are Empiricism, represented by John Locke, and — ironically — Continental scepticism. Source: Encyclopaedia Britannica. Volume 2. Macropaedia. Chicago, London, Sydney, Paris, Rome, Manila, Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto. 1985. Page 133.

(11) Knook: See end of note 8.


Primary Texts:

Beckett, Samuel. The Complete Dramatic Works. Waiting For Godot. Faber and Faber. London and Boston. 1990.

Hegel, G.W.F. The Phenomenology of Mind. Translated by J.B. Baillie. George Allen and Unwin Ltd., London, and The Macmillan Company, New York. 1931.

Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. Assembled by Raymond Queneau. Alan Bloom (Ed) Basic Books, Inc. Publishers, New York and London. 1969.

Secondary Texts:

Descombe, Vincent. Modern French Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, London, New York. 1982.

Lavers, Annette. Roland Barthes: Structuralism and After. Methuen. 1982.

Lukacs, Georg. The Young Hege1. Studies in the Relations between Dialectics and Economics. Merlin Press. London. 1975.

Encyclopaedia Britannica. Volume 2. Maropaedia. Chicago, London, Sydney, Paris, Rome, Manila, Seoul, Tokyo, Toronto. 1985.


 A comment on the ambiguity in language and meaning in Waiting for Godot.

by Kenneth Knapman

Some of Beckett's plays contain structure which complements the author's apparent existentialism and stasis- Waiting for Godot has many antithetical moments in form and content which tend to balance and provide symmetry. It is possible to isolate an Hegelian dialectic specifically in the synthesising of opposites in the text. Disruptions of symmetry tend to provide ambiguity. Subtle and obvious deviations in language and meaning also provide ambiguity and give an underlying drive to the action of the play. It is possible to detect the influences of philosophers like Schopenhauer in Beckett's writing. Changes give direction and the suggestion of possible teleological solution.

The internal structure of Waiting for Godot provides a sense of equilibrium. Throughout this play there are visual blocks of text which are written with a poetic structure. Consider the form of the discussion about communication.

ESTRAGON: All the dead voices.

VLADIMIR: They make a noise like wings.
ESTRAGON: Like leaves.
VLADIMIR: Like sand.
ESTRAGON: Like leaves.


VLADIMIR: They all speak together.
ESTRAGON: Each one to itself.


VLADIMIR: Rather they whisper.
ESTRAGON: They rustle.
VLADIMIR: They murmer.
ESTRAGON: They rustle.


VLADIMIR: What do they say?
ESTRAGON: They talk about their lives.
VLADIMIR: To have lived is not enough for them.
ESTRAGON: They have to talk about it.
VLADIMIR: To be dead is not enough for them.
ESTRAGON: It is not sufficient.


VLADIMIR: They make a noise like feathers.
ESTRAGON: Like leaves.
VLADIMIR: Like ashes.
ESTRAGON: Like leaves.

[Long silence.]



The stasis of the extract lies within its poetic structure. Even though this isn't exactly a Villanelle it has similarities in repeated lines and endings.

The opposites create a tension in the dialogue. Duality of argument creates an initial ambiguity. The longer lines have a similar beat, as do the shorter lines. The silences break up the text appropriately to create regular patterns. The regular two lines 'Like leaves' at the beginning complement the two lines at the end. This repetition provides a circularity with a slight variation of position at the beginning and at the end of the frame. The dead voices which make a noise 'like wings' also suggests a regular beat of the individual wing as opposed to the collective nature of feathers. The individual versus the collective is suggested in, 'They all speak together' and the reply, 'Each one to itself'. Thesis, Antithesis and Synthesis can be detected in the argument suggesting a unity.

Leaves on the tree can be living but on the floor they are dead. The ambiguity lies between 'murmuring' and 'rustling' - leaves on a tree murmur, when the wind blows through them, but on the ground they rustle. Murmering' can suggest inactivity, complaint or even be the basis of becoming volatile. Rustling' can be movement jostling and activity. 'Murmering' suggests language and voice and 'Rustling' can be physical activity. What should happen in the living or the dead can be opposite to our expectations.

Ambiguity is part of Beckett's existentialism, it provides us with the possibility of a state of flux or plasticity, a point in the text where qualitative change is possible.

The subtle changes and oppositions can provide solution or advocate hope and resurrection. The apparent contradiction lies in the argument presented only by Vladimir that it is not enough to live or die. The synthesis is provided in a unifying view by Estragon who reinforces the need to give a voice to the dead. The dead are also the apathetic who can rise up out of stasis. The lifeless eternity of 'Sand' at the beginning can therefore become 'Ash' along with mythical possibilities of the Phoenix which can arise from its stasis of death to a new life.

The part immediately preceding the extract I have described deals with the ambiguous barrier between life and death:

VLADIMIR: You're a hard man to get on with, Gogo.
ESTRAGON: It'd be better if we parted.
VLADIMIR: You always say that, and you always come crawling back.
ESTRAGON: The best thing would be to kill me, like the other.
VLADIMIR: What other? [Pause.] What other?
ESTRAGON: Like billions of others.
VLADIMIR: [Sententious.] To every man his little cross. [He sighs.] Till he dies. [Afterthought.] And is forgotten.
ESTRAGON: In the meantime let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent.
VLADIMIR: You're right, we're inexhaustible.
ESTRAGON: It's so we won't think.
VLADIMIR: We have that excuse.
ESTRAGON: It's so we won't hear.
VLADIMIR: We have our reasons.

(Act 2. Pages 57/58)


This part of the extract immediately precedes the former extract and can be seen as a frame. It is possible to regard life and death as an ambiguity. If we want to agree that 'Nothing is without a reason' (1) , then we can argue that life contains the elements of death. Is lack of thinking or hearing, as Estragon points to, part of not living? Vladimir obscures excuses and reasons that We make. The question, perhaps, is should we think ? The motivation in life could be the Will', as Schopenhauer describes it (2), and thinking becomes a need.

Death itself is ambiguous. If suicide is futile because it is another act of the will (3) then martyrdom can be an act of the will also. Martyrdom of Jesus Christ on the cross or the individual who carries one as Vladimir says; To every man his little cross'. (Act.2 Page 58). This raises another question about the metaphysics of the will and where it comes from. It also raises a question of whether or not it remains after death. Beckett is not giving a clear answer. The references to resurrection I have made in the first extract and the ambiguity surrounding the leaves suggest an overall ambiguity in the voices' of the dead.

The frame has Estragon putting forward the proposition of his own death like the billions of others who are already dead. The ambiguity can make the audience consider the plausibility of this suggestion. It would appear that it is not possible for Didi to carry out such an action and for Gogo to accept it. It would mean breaking the general stasis and the wills of each. Even if this happened the suggestion is that death is not a solution because the dead have a will also.

The effect of ambiguity on meaning can be seen in the number of possibilities in the words, language and structure of text which can interrelate to give different meaning. The frame provides reason as well as challenging the audience to apply its own reasoning. Tension in dialogue allows for dialectical struggle between opposites and synthesis of meaning. Words as signs and signifiers can also change meanings. Dead leaves and the eternity of sand can compliment just as live leaves and sand can argue and synthesise or, live leaves and ash can compliment or dead leaves and ash can argue and synthesise. The effect can be one of stasis or motion and resolution. Each possibility can have its effect on the nature of life and death and its relationship to one another. The overall effect seems to be trying to focus on the reason of being and whether the independence of mankind can control its own destiny.



(1) Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Taken from Samuel Beckett The Complete Dramatic Works. Faber and Faber. London. Boston. 1990. Act Two. Page 58.

(2) Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy Volume Vii. Fichte to Nietzsche. Burns and Oates Ltd. London. 1963. Chapter 8. Schopenhauer (1). Page 264. Schopenhauer chooses the Wolffian formulation, Nothing is without reason The title of Schopenhaauer's dissertation is On the Fourfold Root of the Principle of Sufficient Reason. Copleston summarises Reason as primarily biological and intellect is a servant of will on page 270.

(3) Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy Volume Vii. Fichte to Nietzsche. Burns and Oates Ltd. London. 1963. Chapter 8. Schopenhauer (1). Page 267. Schopenhauer wrote his doctorate dissertation; The World as Will and Idea. Copleston summarises the term Will' as; 'Without knowledge and merely a blind incessant impulse', 'an endless striving' Pages 272 and 273. Man seeks satisfaction, happiness, but he cannot attain it. Great intellectual powers simply increase the capacity for suffering. Page 274.

(4) Grant, Eamon. Lecture. Beckett, Belief and Philosophy. UCE. 15th October 1995. Bibliography: Primary Text: Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. Taken from Samuel Beckett The Comnlete Dramatic Works. Faber and Faber. London. Boston. 1990.

Secondary Texts:

Bradby, David. Beckett's Shapes. P. Cohen. (ed). Macmillan. 1987. Taken from Joyce and Beckett A Reader. UCE School of English. 1995.

Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy Volume Vii. Fichte to Nietzsche. Burns and Qates Ltd. London. 1963. Chapter 8. Schopenhauer (1).

Fletcher, Beryl S. Fletcher, John. Smith, Barry and Bachem, Walter. A Student's Guide To the Plays Of Samuel Beckett. Faber and Faber. London and Boston. 1978.

Hesla, David. H. Beckett's Philosophy. P. Cohen. (ed). Macmillan. 1987. Taken from Joyce and Beckett, A Reader. UCE School of English. 1995.

Worton, Michael. Waiting For Godot and Endgame: Theatre as Text. Taken from The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. John Pilling (ed) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge. 1994.

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