Essay, Research Paper: Waiting For Godot

Theater

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“Nothing to be done,” is one of the many phrases that is repeated again and
again throughout Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Godot is an
existentialist play that reads like somewhat of a language poem. That is to say,
Beckett is not interested in the reader interpreting his words, but simply
listening to the words and viewing the actions of his perfectly mismatched
characters. Beckett uses the standard Vaudevillian style to present a play that
savors of the human condition. He repeats phrases, ideas and actions that has
his audience come away with many different ideas about who we are and how
beautiful our human existence is even in our desperation. The structure of
Waiting For Godot is determined by Beckett’s use of repetition. This is
demonstrated in the progression of dialogue and action in each of the two acts
in Godot. The first thing an audience may notice about Waiting For Godot is that
they are immediately set up for a comedy. The first two characters to appear on
stage are Vladimir and Estragon, dressed in bowler hats and boots. These
characters lend themselves to the same body types as Abbot and Costello.
Vladimir is usually cast as tall and thin and Estragon just the opposite. Each
character is involved in a comedic action from the plays beginning. Estragon is
struggling with a tightly fitting boot that he just cannot seem to take off his
foot. Vladimir is moving around bowlegged because of a bladder problem. From
this beat on the characters move through a what amounts to a comedy routine. A
day in the life of two hapless companions on a country road with a single tree.
Beckett accomplishes two things by using this style of comedy. Comedy routines
have a beginning and an ending. For Godot the routine begins at the opening of
the play and ends at the intermission. Once the routine is over, it cannot
continue. The routine must be done again. This creates the second act. The
second act, though not an exact replication, is basically the first act
repeated. The routine is put on again for the audience. The same chain of
events: Estragon sleeps in a ditch, Vladimir meets him at the tree, they are
visited by Pozzo and Lucky, and a boy comes to tell them that Godot will not be
coming but will surely be there the following day. In this way repetition
dictates the structure of the play. There is no climax in the play because the
only thing the plot builds to is the coming of Godot. However, after the first
act the audience has pretty much decided that Godot will never show up. It is
not very long into the second act before one realizes that all they are really
doing is wasting time, “Waiting for...waiting.” (50) By making the second
act another show of the same routine, Beckett instills in us a feeling of our
own waiting and daily routines. What is everyday for us but another of the same
act. Surely small things will change, but overall we seem to be living out the
same day many times over. Another effect of repetition on the structure of Godot
is the amount of characters in the play. As mentioned before, the play is set up
like a Vaudeville routine. In order to maintain the integrity of the routine,
the play must be based around these two characters. This leaves no room for
extra characters that will get in the way of the act. To allow for the
repetition of the routine to take place the cast must include only those
characters who are necessary it. The idea that the two characters are simply
passing time is evident in the dialogue. The aforementioned phrase, “Nothing
to be done,” is one example of repetition in dialogue. In the first half-dozen
pages of the play the phrase is repeated about four times. This emphasizes the
phrase so that the audience will pick up on it. It allows the audience to
realize that all these two characters have is the hope that Godot will show up.
Until the time when Godot arrives, all they can do is pass the time and wait.
The first information we learn about the characters is how Estragon was beaten
and slept in a ditch. We get the sense that this happens all the time. This is
nothing new to the characters. They are used to this routine. The flow of the
play is based around this feeling that the characters know where each day is
headed. The audience feels that the characters go through each day with the hope
that Godot will come and make things different. In at least three instances in
the play characters announce that they are leaving and remain still on the
stage. These are examples of how the units of the play are effected individually
by repetition. Again, Becket emphasizes this for a reason. This is best shown in
the following beat: Pozzo: I must go. Estragon: And your half-hunter? Pozzo: I
must have left it at the manor. Silence Estragon: Then adieu. Vladimir: Adieu.
Pozzo: Adieu. Silence. No one moves. Vladimir: Adieu. Pozzo: Adieu. Estragon:
Adieu. Silence. Pozzo: And thank you. Vladimir: Thank you. Pozzo: Not at all.
Estragon: Yes yes. Pozzo: No no. Vladimir: Yes yes. Pozzo: No no. Silence. Pozzo:
I don’t seem to be able...(long hesitation)...to depart. Estragon: Such is
life.(31) The last two pieces of the excerpt is very literal. The idea that
going someplace is doesn’t matter, because there is really nowhere to go. All
you can do is find someplace else to wait. Also repeated in the beat is the
stage direction for silence. Silence occurs in life and theater is just a
reflection of our lives. It is, in effect, a line of dialogue. Repeated silence
outlines the awkwardness of the beat. The repetition then creates the tone of
the beat. Many of the play’s beats are comprised of some type of repetition.
“All I know is that the hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain
us to beguile them with proceedings which-how shall I say-which may at first
sight seem reasonable, until they become a habit.”(52) Here Beckett has a
character state flat out what is happening in the play. The plot of the play is
based around repetition. All the pieces of their lives have become habit. When
at first they were ways to pass the days they have become repeated, and through
this repetition they have become unreasonable. The habit that controls our lives
is the same habit that fuels the characters in Godot. The same habit that makes
the structure of Godot a repetition in itself. In the first act, the goings-on
in the play may seem reasonable to the audience. Merely a way for these two
people to pass the hours of their particular day. By making the second act the
same routine, the tragic humor of their situation is revealed. Estragon and
Vladimir are stuck in this way of life. Bound to making each day more of the
same, because they can find no other way to deal with their lives then to try to
pass the time. All the ideas of the play and all the questions that are raised
are highlighted through the use of repetition. Therefore, the structure of the
play is dominated by this single characteristic of the play.
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