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Time and Space in a Static World: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot, besides being considered one of the founding texts of contemporary theatre, is certainly the best-known work of Samuel Beckett. The play unfolds in two acts, but the scene is always equal to itself. In the first act we see a street and a tree, and in the second Act, the actors move within the same place.

All the characters have the same gestures, and they repeat the same words. The staticness  of Beckett’s  comedy is evidently symbolic, and it conveys the message about the futility of  life of modern men without any definite purpose. Estragon and Vladimir are two vagabonds who express at the highest level possible the contemporary human condition. Both Estragon and Vladimir have no history: in fact, they have few and fragmentary memories of them.  So they don’t seem to have a future except maybe one:  they are waiting for a man named Godot.

Estragon and Vladimir are anxiously awaiting the mysterious Godot, who should give them a hand to find a stable paid employment opportunity.  But Godot never arrives, but he says he would come certainly tomorrow.  There were a lot of critics trying to unravel the mystery of Godot, often interpreted as God, given the presence of the English word God in the name of the elusive and always absent Beckett’s character; others have seen Godot as the symbolic image of happiness always so elusive, and others more generally attempted to find other strange solutions to the problem. Beckett never explained what he considered to be the enigmatic Godot, and he has always claimed that he “did not know” who Godot was, adding perhaps truthfully that if he knew him “he would reveal the mystery in his comedy.”

In essence, a vacuum expectation seems to dominate Beckett’s play. On a street at the foot of a tree, Estragon and Vladimir called respectively GoGo and Didi, await Godot.  Day after day GoGo and Didi attended yet, and they spend their lives on the street. And so the otiose wait of Vladimir and Estragon is the symbolical image of the human condition characterized by an existential vacuum. They are condemned to exist, and their speeches sound absurd and without meaningless, full just both of platitudes and paradoxes. Their conversation is only a parody of communication, and it symbolically demonstrates the absolute solitude of man and his substantial inability to enter into communication with the others. The power of Beckett’s theatre comes mainly from the use that he made of time and space; the characters are always in a wait without projection, because time is static, and space is fixed. The characters live in a situation of powerlessness, where there is no communication but   monologues without any sense.

The Theatre of the Absurd began in France, and the main feature of these plays is the combination of absurd and illogical situations with a realistic language. They reflect the meaninglessness of men’s life and the incoherence of a world where people are unable to communicate with each other and are consequently bound to live an isolated existence. The leading figure of The theatre of the Absurd in England was surely Samuel Beckett. He was born in 1900 in Ireland, and became first know in France for his drama En attendant Godot, later staged in England as Waiting for Godot.

Notes

Samuel Beckett, En attendant Godot, Paris,  Éditions de Minuit, 1952.

 

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