Waiting for Godot as an Absurd Play
“In a universe that is suddenly deprived of illusion and of light, man feels a stranger. His is an irremediable exile…. This divorce between man and his life, the actor and the setting, truly constitutes the feeling of absurdity.”
–Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus.
What Ionesco insists upon in the nothingness and absurdity of life, so does Samuel Becket: “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.” Absurd drama is a complete denial of age old values. It has no plot, no characterization, no logical sequence, no culmination. It questions the very meaning of existence, which is full of sound fury but signifies nothing. The term “absurd” was first used by Albert Camus in his famous work, The Myth of Sisyphus (1942). It is very clear from the very word “Absurd” that it means nonsensical, opposed to reason, something silly, foolish, senseless, ridiculous and topsy-turvy. So, a drama having a cock and bull story would be called an absurd play.
The theatre of the absurd is a phenomenon of the fifties. Becket’s Waiting for Godot reflects the absurdist position of the Post World War II human who is lost in the labyrinth of disillusionment. The glorification of life has been slept into history; humanity lost its way.
‘Nothingness’ (ex nihilo nihilfit) constitutes the major concern for Samuel Becket. According to Martin Esslin, “Nothingness is related to an empty space – no spur to look forward.”The play Waiting for Godot is only active in gestural energy: “Lets go”. Martin Esslin in his book The Theatre of the Absurd(1961) claims that, Waiting for Godot does not tell a story. It explores a static situation: “Everything is dead but the tree.” The play is based on the theme “nothing to be done”. The gestural energy of the tramps waiting for the sake of waiting ends in “They do not move.”
En-attendant-godot, the original French play and its subsequent translation in English impresses us in the manner of James Joyce’s Ulysses where the readers experience the same feeling of waiting for something to happen. In the play Estragon and Vladimir wait for Godot who can be interpreted variously as diminutive of God, Love, Hope, Death, Silence and Waiting. The different nationalities e.g. Estragon from France; Vladimir Russian; Pozzo Italian; Lucky English constitute a parameter of absurdity in the general progression of the drama. The play projects a basic nullity of human life.
The innovative formal design in Waiting for Godot contributes to the main theme of absurdity to a great extant. By all established canons of drama, a good play must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The entire play in the two acts is woven with repetition; Act II is the repetition of the Act I. In each act we were offered basically the same sequence: the tramps reunite, contrive, pass time, encounter Pozzo and Lucky, receive Godot’s disappointing message, gesturally decide to leave but physically do not move: “Nothing to be done”
Waiting for Godot depicts time as a circular reality. Time is related to the tramps’ hope and despair. We have the impression that the tramps are nothing but the instruments of killing time. Time is a “Double-headed monster of damnation and salvation.” Everything in normal human experience is subjected to tampus fugit (time flies). But time as recorded in this drama is perpetually present; no past and future: “They all change, only we can’t.”
The lack of characterization is the hallmark of any absurd drama. In Waiting for Godot, Estragon, Vladimir, Lucky, Pozzo and the non-existence Godot, do not Grow during the course of the play. They cannot be treated as proper character. Their cross-talks reflect the very idea of nothingness as they have nothing to communicate – just to be in a static position perpetually. “Here form is content and content is form.” At the end of the play we are at the same position as we were at the beginning. The trajectory of nothingness develops in between.
In an absurd drama, speech is reduced to a minimum, In the theatre of the absurd, rules are broken, conventions are flouted. As Esslin states, “If a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist of incoherent babblings”. Here the language is used just as mere game to pass time – as they have nothing to do. Most of the time, the appropriate discourse is being broken. The logicism of conversation is not been maintained.
Estragon: Well, shall we go?
Vladimir: Yes, let’s go.
(The do not move)
We may conclude in the voice of Esslin,
“It is the peculiar richness of a play like Waiting for Godot that it opens vistas on so many different perspectives. It is open to philosophical, religious and psychological interpretations, yet above all it is a poem on time, evanescence, the paradox of change and stability, necessity and absurdity”.