Waiting for Godot: Plot, Characters, and Style

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  • 1:04 Theater of the Absurd
  • 2:20 Act I
  • 5:30 Act II
  • 7:57 Analysis
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Farran Tabrizi
In this lesson, we'll explore Samuel Beckett's groundbreaking play, Waiting for Godot. We'll look at its main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, and hear an example of their circular, sometimes nonsensical banter. We'll also briefly discuss the play's legacy in modern theater.

Waiting for Godot

We're going to talk about Waiting for Godot. The British Royal National Theater took a poll on which English language play is the most significant of the 20th Century. Guess what they picked. They picked Waiting for Godot.

We're going to talk about why. And we're going to talk about what happens. Hint: it's not much that happens. We're also going to take it to the stage and act out some of the most circular, absurdist dialogue. (No, I don't have any friends, so I'm going to play everybody.)

We're going to take a look at how much Beckett, and this play in particular, which kind of starts it all, influences later playwrights and theater. Also, how he fits into the general Theater of the Absurd movement. Hint: it's a lot. He fits in very well.

So let's set the stage, as it were. This play is part of a movement called the Theater of the Absurd, which is what it sounds like: presenting bizarre characters and situations with usually fairly minimal sets. This is a two act play. It is largely a blank stage; there's basically just a tree and a mound of dirt.

Its minimalism is kind of a departure from more traditional theater at the time. Any kind of black box theater stuff, where it's just actors on stage and no set? That's all influenced by Beckett and some others were doing at this time.

So let's go into what happens. Like I said before, it's really not that much. We've got these two guys: Vladimir and Estragon. Their nicknames for each other are Didi and Gogo, which is cute.

They meet at a maybe-pre-appointed place by this bare tree and they're going to wait for Godot. They talk in circles about the Bible and damnation and repenting. They keep forgetting their purpose. They have to remind each other that they're waiting for Godot. They keep forgetting. They aren't even sure if it's the right spot, or if they even came here yesterday to wait. Let's take it to the stage for that.

Act I

Estragon: Charming spot. Inspiring prospects. Let's go.

Vladimir: We can't.

Estragon: Why not?

Vladimir: We're waiting for Godot.

Estragon: Ah! You're sure it was here?

Vladimir: What?

Estragon: That we were to wait.

Vladimir: He said by the tree. Do you see any others?

Estragon: What is it?

Vladimir: I don't know. A willow.

Estragon: Where are the leaves?

Vladimir: It must be dead.

Estragon: No more weeping.

Vladimir: Or perhaps it's not the season.

Estragon: Looks to me more like a bush.

Vladimir: A shrub.

Estragon: A bush.

Vladimir: A-- What are you insinuating? That we've come to the wrong place?

Estragon: He should be here.

Vladimir: He didn't say for sure he'd come.

Estragon: And if he doesn't come?

Vladimir: We'll come back tomorrow.

Estragon: And then if he doesn't come?

Vladimir: We'll come back tomorrow.

Estragon: And the day after tomorrow?

Vladimir: Possibly.

Estragon: And so on.

Vladimir: The point is -

Estragon: Until he comes.

Vladimir: You're merciless.

Estragon: We came here yesterday.

Vladimir: Ah, no. There you're mistaken.

Estragon: What did we do yesterday?

Vladimir: What did we do yesterday?

Estragon: Yes.

So you can see that it's extremely repetitive. It kind of goes around in circles. It's kind of all about banter, but it's sort of banter about nothing.

The lines like 'A bush,' 'A shrub,' 'A bush,' does it really matter whether it's a bush or a shrub? It's kind of yes and no. It's sort of analogous to their worrying about whether it's the wrong spot. It might be the wrong spot. It might be a bush; it might be a shrub.

But it doesn't really matter in the end because they're not going to do anything about it. They're not going to do anything different. It's really just talking for talking's sake.

That's sort of the general feel of the thing and of their dialogue. So we're going to keep on going with what happens. They're hanging around, talking like that. As they're waiting and bickering, this guy named Pozzo and his slave Lucky turn up. They're on their way to sell Lucky at the fair, which is kind of sad.

Vladimir and Estragon examine Lucky, who seems tired and sick. They're not that happy with Pozzo's treatment of him, particularly that he's going to sell him. Pozzo says that Lucky's going to perform for them. He can dance and he can think. He's going to perform thinking!

They watch him do both. He can't think without his hat, so they have to put his hat on. They hate his performance. They hate both his dancing and his thinking. They take his hat off his head and stomp it on the ground to make him stop. Then Pozzo and Lucky leave. It's just a little interlude with them.

Then a small boy comes onstage and he says that he's got a message for them from Mr. Godot saying that Mr. Godot won't be here today. Vladimir and Estragon ask him to tell Mr. Godot that he's seen them. Then they ask him if he's seen them.

The boy goes offstage and they say that they'll leave, but they just keep sitting. Then, it's curtain down on Act I.

Act II

Act II starts, and it's just more of the same. Although, now the bare tree has leaves on it. That's important.

Vladimir is singing a weird song about a dog and stealing bread. Estragon comes back and they resume their banter. Some things are the same, but they can't totally remember if they did this yesterday or not. But now we know that they did it yesterday. We know that they're just being weird about it.

There gets to be this sense that they're just talking to stave off nothingness. So let's take it to the stage again to illustrate that.

Estragon: In the meantime, let us try and converse calmly, since we are incapable of keeping silent.

Vladimir: You're right. We're inexhaustible.

Estragon: It's so we won't think.

Vladimir: We have that excuse.

Estragon: It's so we won't hear.

Vladimir: We have our reasons.

Estragon: All the dead voices.

Vladimir: They make a noise like wings.

Estragon: Like leaves.

Vladimir: Like sand.

Estragon: Like leaves.

Vladimir: They all speak at once.

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