To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I walked into the Cort Theatre earlier this month. I knew that Waiting For Godot was a famous play, but I had never read it or studied it in school. What I did know was that Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen were the stars of this particular production, and no matter what the performance, I knew I was in for a treat.
Settling into my seat, I noticed that the set of the play was relatively barren and non-descript. The only noticeable features were a large tree stump at stage right and a leafless tree at stage left. As the lights dimmed and the audience fell silent, the two famous men appeared on the stage to an aggressive round of applause.
For those of you who haven’t seen the play, it’s set over the course of two days and for the vast majority of the time the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, simply engage in conversation. It’s not exactly clear who the men are, although they look somewhat derelict in dress and possibly homeless, and it’s unclear where they are or how long they have been there. The only context given during the entire play is that the two men are waiting for a man named Godot (pronounced God-oh).
I can imagine there have probably been hundreds of articles and books written about Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play, most of them by people who are much wiser than myself, but I found that Godot really struck a cord with me on a personal level and I wanted to share my thoughts here. I haven’t read many other reviews or analysis of the play, so it’s likely that my evaluation will serve as a bit of a Rorschach test.
There were several reoccurring themes throughout the play, but the two that stuck out to me were the theme of time and the theme of meaninglessness.
First, let’s look at the notion of time.
The play takes place over two complete days, although it’s unclear if the days are consecutive or separated by months or years. In each day, there are a handful of almost eerie repetitions, the most noticeable of which occurs at the start of the second day when the characters repeat word-for-word the same conversation that opened the first scene on the first day. Also, during both days the two main characters are visited by a large well-dressed man named Pozzo and his slave Lucky.
Pozzo and Lucky really exemplify the theme of time in the play. On the first day, Pozzo is healthy looking, boisterous, and orders Lucky around. However, on the second day, Pozzo is much older looking, completely blind and can’t walk on his own.
When Vladimir and Estragon see Pozzo and Lucky on the second day, they initially have some difficulty remembering him (another theme of the play is memory), but when they do, they are shocked to see how Pozzo has become old and blind so quickly.
This example, and several others throughout the play, references the quick passage of time and difficulty with memory. The message I took away here is that if you’re not careful, time can get away from you. If you spend all of your time waiting around, each day will bleed into the next, you will have trouble telling them apart, and before you know it you will be an old man.
The second theme that really interested me was that of meaninglessness.
Most of the play consisted of Vladimir and Estragon talking to each other – but intention was always clear: they were conversing to pass the time while they waited for Godot. Sometimes they talked about their various health issues, sometimes they talked about finding their shoes, or being lonely, but they consistently made references to the fact that their conversations were meaningless. At one point Steward (Vladamir) even turned to the audience in the middle of a conversation and announced, “This is becoming really insignificant.”
To me, the theme of meaninglessness was used to reference the universal meaning of life. These two characters talking to each other next to a tree – what difference were they making to anyone else? They were isolated. Their entire existence was totally irrelevant and all they did was wait endlessly for someone to bring meaning to them.
The two themes of time and meaninglessness really spoke to me. In my mind the combined messages mean that you can’t wait around for someone to bring meaning to your life. And if you count on someone else to tell you what you’re suppose to be doing, or how you will make a difference in the world – your days will end up blurring together and the time will pass very quickly.
So what about Godot?
In my view, there is a trick here. The characters are waiting for a man named Godot, but in actuality, Godot is death. Vladimir and Estragon think they’re waiting for someone to come into their life and change it, but in actuality the only thing coming is their own death.
To me, the overall message of the play was clear: you can’t sit around and wait for someone else to provide meaning to your life – you have to go out and find your own meaning.
If you wait for someone else to give your life meaning, in actuality you’ll just be waiting to die.