9 January 2014

Samuel Beckett: En Attendant Godot | Waiting for Godot (1952)

Beckett wrote En attendant Godot in a relatively very short time – between 9 October 1948 and 29 January 1949 – and it was intended as a form of relaxation, and unlike his novels not viewed with anything like the same seriousness. Beckett was much bemused not only by the play's success, but also by the many interpretations that have been made of it.

Put simply, the play concerns two men (Vladimir and Estragon) waiting (although they don't know why) for a person called Godot, and they are attached to each other, talk a great deal, but apparently about nothing in particular. Their activities, such as they are, are interrupted by a dictatorial man (Pozzo) with a slave (Lucky) on a rope lead. At the end of the act a boy comes on and announces that Godot will come the following day. The same events occur in the second (and final) act, although the words are different.

Beckett gave no explanations as to the meaning of Waiting for Godot. Even if he had I hope that they'd have been severely disputed: the real meaning of a work, once written, no longer belongs to the author but to the reader. Waiting for Godot is understood by many to be about the human condition, and there are certainly many examples in the play to suggest that. There has been much attention given to the word 'Godot' itself. God? Beckett denied this, but suggested 'godillon' or 'godasse', meaning shoe, to producer Roger Blin. A French cyclist of that name has been mentioned, and then there's the story of Beckett waiting for a bus on the corner of the rue Godot de Mauroy and being approached by a prostitute, and so on.

The relationship between Pozzo and Lucky has been put in a Marxist context – the bourgeoisie versus the proletariat; the bowler-hatted men have been seen in a vaudeville light, resembling Charlie Chaplin or Laurel and Hardy, and then their conversations have been seen as a mirror of the conversations Beckett himself had with his companion Suzanne. And then we can play further with the words used, the religious imagery, the way everything returns or repeats – such as the conversation continually returning to Godot, the second act returning to the first – not far removed, perhaps, from the song about the dog in the kitchen repeating itself ad infinitum.

There are a number of common elements, even themes if that's not too strong a word to use for such a sparse (but oddly extremely rich) play: boredom, waiting, suffering, habit/repetition, religion, attachment, memory, etc.

All of the above words could easily be used biographically to relate to Beckett, although is there a danger of reading too much into what Beckett intended as a mere amusement for himself? Certainly the list misses out how funny the play is, but then do we simply laugh because we see ourselves, indeed see life, in the same miserable condition?

To me it's a play that means nothing and yet means everything at the same time: to pin a specific meaning on it would limit it in the same way that the movements of the tied Lucky are limited, or in fact in the same way that all the characters are trapped in the same timeless, eventless world.

Waiting for Godot is possibly Beckett's idea of a game, but probably not, but then it's the lack of certainty about almost anything in it which is a part of its greatness.

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