Why They Wait for Godot

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Author: Murray Schumach
Editors: David M. Galens and Lynn M. Spampinato
Date: 1998
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 2)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,315 words

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A drama critic for the New York Times, Schumach examines Waiting for Godot's character motivation in this article, drawing on the perceptions of the actors who appeared in the play's original Broadway run.

Now that Waiting for Godot, a two-act tract with four men, one boy and countless interpretations, has been repatriated to Europe as part of the United States drama program at the Brussels World's Fair, an international signal has gone out to extol or deride the most controversial play since World War II, of which its author, Samuel Beckett, said: “I didn't choose to write a play. It just happened that way.”

Other things that have happened since the play's stormy Paris debut in 1952—called by Jean Anouilh “as important as the premiere of Pirandello in 1923”—include a ban against any stories or advertising of the show in Spain; near-cancellation in the Netherlands averted by the furious resistance of the cast; successful runs in almost every important city of Europe. And on sophisticated Broadway, where it arrived in 1956, it created one of the most extraordinary phenomena in American show business. For, after the final curtain on many nights, the audience remained and, joined by interested literary figures and laymen, debated the play's meaning and merit. In these debates clergymen were sometimes pitted against each other on whether Godot was religious or atheistic. Its continued viability is proved by twenty productions of Godot given this year in as many states.

On the surface there is little in this plotless drama to rouse the multitudes. It seems little more than a tale about two derelicts who wait vainly, on a bleak set that features a gnarled tree, for a Mr. Godot to appear and lessen their misery. While they wait, they hold long conversations, generally in short sentences, about their physical, mental and spiritual troubles. Their anxiety is diverted and intensified by the antics of a bully and his slave, and by a boy who twice brings them the message: “Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won't come this evening, but surely tomorrow.”

Occasionally the pace of Godot is changed by comic turns, done by the two derelicts, that range from old-fashioned pratfalls to kicks. The longest speech in the play, a stream-of-consciousness outpouring, is delivered by the slave, who is otherwise mute.

That the force of arguments about Godot has not waned appreciably was shown earlier this month at its latest New York revival by the San Francisco Actor's Workshop, which has since taken the play to Brussels. At many of the performances spectators were asked to write comments on Godot. At least one-quarter of the 200-odd returns were unfavorable, another third bewildered or undecided, and the rest favorable. Those for Godot used such adjectives as stimulating, provoking, enlightening, superb, excellent, magnificent, poetic. Ranged against Godot were senseless, boring, vulgar, sacrilegious, hideous, repulsive, decadent. And even some who liked the play thought it unwise to send it to Brussels to represent the nation's regional theatre—the theatre...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420010945