Vladimir and Estragon (Didi and Gogo) wait by a tree for Godot who, famously, never comes. Pozzo, driving his slave Lucky, comes.
In each Act, Lucky and Pozzo enter and join V and E for a little while. Lucky is Pozzo's slave (although it seems that he obeys Pozzo because he doesn't want Pozzo to get rid of him) and Pozzo drives him with a whip (which Lucky looks after and hands to Pozzo when ordered), kicks and a rope around his neck. In the second act Pozzo is, or pretends to be, blind but his relationship with Lucky hasn't altered.
Lucky has one speech, a nonensical stream of consciousness which lasts over two pages and reminds me of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake (Beckett was Joyce's secretary while J was writing FW).
In each Act a boy enters towards the end, after L and E have exited, and tells V and E that Godot isn't coming today but will tomorrow. The boy in the second act claims not to be the boy in the first act; the boy in the first act mentioned he had a brother who looked after the sheep while he looked after the goats (a Biblical reference?).
Mostly, V and E just talk between themselves. Their dialogue is full of broken thoughts. Beckett was brilliant at writing dialogue that mimics everyday speech and yet hints at enigmas which are never explained.
V: Oh, it's not the worst, I know.
V: To have thought.
V: But we could have done without it.
The first line is Estragon's as he gives up trying to take his boot off: Nothing to be done
and Vladimir replies: I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.
He turns to Estragon and says: There you are again
E: Am I?
Wow! Two speeches yet and we have two philosophies: carrying on in the face of futility, and the uncertainty of existence.
There are allusions to philosophy throughout. For example, when Estragon does the 'tree' Yoga pose he asks "Do you think God sees me?" as Bishop Berkeley famously wondered about a tree when there was no one around.
There are plenty of religious references. On page 3, V says: One of the thieves was saved. It's a reasonable percentage. He then goes on to question why this is the story in just one gospel. They are, of course, by a tree (the cross?) without leaves (in the second act, the next day, the tree has a few leaves, resurrection? or just spring?):
E: What is it?
V: I don't know. A willow.
E: Where are the leaves?
V: It must be dead.
E: No more weeping
Funny but essentially profound. Shortly afterwards they contemplate hanging themselves from the tree.
The Boys mind the sheep and the goats.
There is a great deal of symmetry, although it is often broken and lop-sided. One wonders if Beckett was aware of modern Physics in which symmetry appears almost everywhere but is broken on crucial occasions (for example, there is more matter than anti-matter).
The second act more or less repeats the first act. As one critic put it: "nothing happens twice". Both acts end: Well? Shall we go?; Yes, let's go, the first time spoken by E then V, the 2nd by V then E. On neither occasion do they move.
This is one of several moments in the play when the protagonists mirror one another.
V: It hurts?
E: Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
V: No one ever suffers but you. I don't count. I'd like to hear what you'd say if you had what I have.
E: It hurts?
V: Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts!
Note the central line of this exchange. Beckett does this regularly, using everyday language to tell us something without being explicit. We know that V has something that hurts. We don't know what. We are teased and tantalised. In this case we assume, from the fact that E immediately points out that V's fly is unbuttoned and the fact that V regularly has to go off to wee that V has a problem with his waterworks. But there are other teases, large and small, where we never find the answer. The largest, of course, being: who is Godot?
On one level, V and E are interchangeable but Vladimir remembers what happened yesterday and Estragon doesn't.
There is a lot of humour. A list of words of abuse they shout at each other starts with Moron and Vermin and ends with then together shouting: Critic. In Act Two, V and E pretend to be happy and E asks: What do we do now, now that we are happy? V of course replies: Wait for Godot.
I think V and E might be in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory; it certainly bears all the hallmarks of eternity!
There is a delightful routine where E inspects boots that have been found; they are his but he thinks they are not:
V: It's elementary. Someone came and took yours and left you his.
V: His were too tight for him, so he took yours.
E: But mine were too tight.
V: For you. Not for him.
Of course, when E tries the boots on they are too big for him.
And when E is trying to escape from the stage but finding all the ways blocked, V suggests that he flees into the auditorium where there is Not a soul in sight! but having surveyed it says: You won't? Well, I can understand that.
What does it all mean?
V: In this immense confusion one thing alone is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come
It is a master-class in writing dialogue. Real people never talk straightforwardly, they rarely answer one another direct, and yet dialogue has to advance the plot. The fractured dialogue with the enigmatic teases keep the reader interested. I would have liked a whole lot more but I can understand why people might start to feel bored.
May 2016; 87 pages
Books and plays written by Nobel Laureates that I have reviewed in this blog include:
- Thomas Mann (1929) Death in Venice
- Hermann Hesse (1946) Steppenwolf and Demian
- Andre Gide (1947) The Immoralist and Strait is the Gate and The Vatican Cellars
- William Faulkner (1949) Sanctuary and As I Lay Dying
- Albert Camus (1957) The Plague and The Outsider and The Myth of Sisyphus and The Fall
- John Steinbeck (1962) Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row
- Samuel Beckett (1969) "The Expelled; The Calmative; The End & First Love" and "Waiting for Godot"
- Heinrich Boll (1972) The Train was on Time
- Saul Bellow (1976) "The Victim"
- Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1982) Chronicle of a Death Foretold
- Doris Lessing (2007) The Golden Notebook
- Patrick Modiano (2014) The Black Notebook
- Kazuo Ishiguro (2017) When We Were Orphans and The Buried Giant