Drama Stripped for Inaction: Beckett's Godot

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Author: Edith Kern
Editor: Timothy J. Sisler
Date: 2004
From: Drama Criticism(Vol. 22)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,142 words

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[(essay date winter 1954-55) In the following essay, Kern studies the characters in Waiting for Godot and contends that they are analogies for the entire human race.]

Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot was staged--with extraordinary imagination and sensitivity--by Roger Blin at the Théâtre de Babylone in 1953. Critics immediately hailed it as the masterpiece of the season, as the greatest theatrical event since the first French production of a Pirandello play. Jean Anouilh called it the "musichall sketch of Pascal's Pensées performed by the Fratellini clowns," and Dussane wrote, in Samedi-Soir, of "an almost Shakespearian clownery from which suddenly a kind of creaking poetry jumps in your face like a Jack-in the-box." In Stuttgart, Düsseldorf, Frankfort and other German cities where the original cast toured to present the play, reactions were equally fervent and favorable. The paintings of Hieronymus Bosch were invoked for comparison, and Beckett was proclaimed as the writer who had saved existentialism from "drooling." No wonder that Waiting for Godot has since been translated into English, German, Spanish, Flemish, Norwegian, Swedish, Finnish, Danish and Dutch (with Beckett himself the creator of the English version).1

Beforehand, however, a person artistically less daring, of a narrower vision and imagination and less imbued with his theatrical mission than is Roger Blin, might never have attempted to bring the play to life. For by all traditional standards Waiting for Godot is not a play. It has no action and thus completely lacks what Aristotle considered the most essential element of a successful play. Its two acts are summarized to perfection by the lament of one of the characters: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful." (p. 70)2 There is within the play no character development: "One is what one is." (p. 14) Nor is there any plot or any kind of suspense. During the play's two acts, two miserable bums converse while waiting for someone who may be called Godot and who may or may not arrive, although the latter assumption seems the more probable. In actual fact, Godot fails to come. Could there be a situation less dramatic, more inert, and less apt to arouse the interest of an audience?

Yet author and director manage to convey to the spectator a sensation of high drama, of a tragic fatality wedded to laughter and which hides behind the exuberance of slapstick. The audience is made to witness stark suffering, but a suffering unadorned with rhetoric or sublimated by high ideals, a suffering caused, rather, by the endless gnawing of physical ailments and discomfort, of cold and hunger, whose language is coarse and lowly, redeemed only by the atmosphere of human tenderness in which it finds utterance. But there is also audible and visible on the stage the anguish which grips man when he becomes aware of his aloneness amidst the vast spaces and the "immense confusion" that surround him. Wondering where they are, the two hobos decide that they are "sur un plateau ... servis sur un...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420058172