Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot (1953) overview

One of the most significant works of literature of the 20th century, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a play open to all manner of readings. It is a play stripped of the superfluous, in which two men wait. They wait for someone who never arrives.

Two tramps – Vladimir and Estragon, or Didi and Gogo in the diminutive – are waiting. They’re not quite sure where they’re supposed to meet Godot. They can’t agree on much. Their dialogue rambles and wanders. There is some business with boots. They contemplate ending it all.

With a ‘terrible cry’, they are joined by Lucky, a silent, slave-like figure with a rope tied around his neck, and the strutting and imperious Pozzo. After listening in bemusement to Pozzo for some time, Vladimir eventually scolds him for the way he treats Lucky. He then dances and ‘thinks’ for their entertainment (his thinking taking the form of an ultimately nonsensical monologue). When the two depart, Vladimir and Estragon are alone again. A boy appears as a messenger from Godot: he lets them know that while his master will not come today, he may do so tomorrow.

The second act is full of echoes of the first. Vladimir and Estragon’s dialogue is similarly rambling. There is more business with boots. Vladimir sings Estragon to sleep. Pozzo and Lucky return. Pozzo is now blind and Lucky is now mute. A boy, perhaps the same boy as in Act 1, reappears and the two men, once more, consider ending it all. When it is clear that Godot will not be coming they decide to depart for the night, but neither of them moves.

Beckett subtitled the play ‘A tragicomedy in two acts’, and there is indeed a comic, vaudevillian element to Vladimir and Estragon’s double act. There is also tenderness between them; a sense of shared years, and of suffering.

Key productions of Waiting for Godot

Originally written in French as En attendant Godot, the play premiered in 1953 in Paris before opening in translation in London in 1955. Beckett himself would direct a revised version in Berlin in 1975, which is often considered as definitive, but it has been revived numerous times around the globe. In 1981 John Kani and Winston Ntshona played Didi and Gogo in a famous Baxter Theatre production in Cape Town, South Africa. In 2009 and 2013, Sir Patrick Stewart and Sir Ian McKellen played the lead roles in London and on Broadway.

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