Happy Birthday Samuel Beckett!
In honour of Mr Beckett’s birthday I am reviewing one of his famous works, Waiting for Godot which it itself turned 60 this year. Premiering January 5 1953, Beckett’s play has gone on to become extremely popular, highly debated, and widely interpreted by many. I first read this in 2009 and since then I have adored it. I could read it over and over, and I could watch it being performed all day long. I do not know what it is but there is something in its absurdity that is so engaging and appealling. I loved its obscurity, I loved the fact it goes around in a circle, and I love the meaning and details and messages hidden through it. How people can find this play boring is beyond me.
“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful?” Estragon’s complaint, uttered in the first act of “Waiting for Godot”, is the playwright’s sly joke at the expense of his own play – or rather at the expense of those in the audience who expect theatre always to consist of events progressing in an apparently purposeful and logical manner towards a decisive climax. In those terms, “Waiting for Godot” – which has been famously described as a play in which “nothing happens, twice”- scarcely seems recognizable as theatre at all. As the great English critic wrote “Waiting for Godot jettisons everything by which we recognize theatre. It arrives at the custom-house, as it were, with no luggage, no passport, and nothing to declare; yet it gets through, as might a pilgrim from Mars.”
Waiting for Godot is a play, rather on the absurd side, that tells the story of two men, Vladimir and Estragon. We are introduced to these characters as waiting by a tree, for what for we know not. The pair muses the notion that there’s “Nothing to be done”, the implication that nothing is a thing that must be done, and we then go on to watch the pair do it. The cover of this play descibes it as a tragicomedy in two acts, and it is both tragic and comedic in all aspects. The comedy comes from the characters interactions, the dialogue, the mumbling, the circular conversations, the passersby – they are the comedy. And as far as I am concerned the tragedy aspects are the exact same things.
We get our first mention of Godot after Estragon says they should leave – ‘We can’t’ says Vladimir, ‘we’re waiting for Godot’. And thus the cycle begins. The waiting is filled with discussions about religion, hunger, sleeping, hat exchange, and the option of suicide – just to see what happens. The waiting is also interupted by the arrival of visitors through the play, these visitors do little to help the men in their mental assurences about their purpose, past, or Godot, and as a reader you too start to realise that perhaps like Wonderland, every one is mad here. These passerbys help to reveal slightly more about why Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for Godot, but the majority of the time they have their own interests and obscurities to contend with.
To some degree this story is hard to describe, you do have to read it to understand it completely without giving a completely plot breakdown, even then I can’t assure you’ll understand it. But it is well worth it, it gets you thinking, but you also are not entirely sure what about. It’s great. This play has been voted the most significant English language play in the 20th century and I don’t disagree. I know I am not exactly across the ins and outs of what the best of the best, most influential and socially criticising literature works are, but I know that others do, and when you read something you love, that has been acclaimed and loved for 60 years, than who am I to argue? I simply read it, and decided whether I liked it or not. Isn’t that all we can do with any story.
I know people like to think of people like Beckett and Kafka as being some sort of obscurist, high class, meaningful literature that cannot be enjoyed by everyone, but I think they are wrong. People are not so daft that they would not be able to take soemthing away from reading Beckett or Kafka. Whatever the intention and messages woven into these kinds of stories are meaningful, and are often good reflections on ironies and social behaviour, but what you take from any story is going to differ the person beside you, and even in a simple novel people are not always in touch with author intensions to the letter, yet people find their own ideas to take from it.
There are versions of this play being performed on YouTube if you care to see it played out for you, it can give the discussions and the scenes a lot more when you see them being performed. It also can have a greater impact I find. This play is certainly one that stays with you and I will admit, a small laugh escaped me when I say it referenced in a Jasper Fforde book. Good to know Mr Beckett is not being forgotten, happy birthday.