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Waiting for Godot ()

Nobel Prize Winners (1969)

    VLADIMIR: To every man his little cross.  Till he dies. And is forgotten.
            -Waiting for Godot

    The American director Alan Schneider first met the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett in 1955, after
    being hired to direct the United States premiere of ''Waiting for Godot'' in Miami. Schneider had
    come to Beckett's Paris apartment bursting with preproduction questions, especially regarding the
    identity of the title character. To Schneider's initial query, ''Who is Godot?,'' the laconic playwright
    famously replied, ''If I knew, I would have said so in the play.''

    Henceforth, Schneider was to devote most of his career to realizing Beckett's stated intentions in his
    plays. But despite his fidelity to every letter of Beckett's text, and despite the participation of such
    popular clowns as Bert Lahr and Tom Ewell, the Miami production of ''Waiting for Godot'' was a
    resounding flop. Baffled by the metaphysical reverberations of a work that had been billed as ''the
    laugh riot of two continents,'' a third of the audience left at intermission. Others lined up at the box
    office not to purchase tickets but to ask for refunds.
            -from Robert Brustein's NY Times review of The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider

To read Waiting for Godot is to bitterly envy those lucky folks who actually had the privilege of walking out and demanding their money back.  In a more just world they would have hunted down the playwright and horsewhipped him.

Here is the play in its entirety:  Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, wait by a tree for two days, expecting the imminent appearance of Godot.  Instead they are visited by a master and slave, Pozzo and Lucky, and a boy who brings them a message that Godot will soon be there. The curtain falls.  The crowd hisses.

That's it.  Godot is obviously supposed to be God (though Beckett relentless fought against others finding meaning in the work) and the play presumably demonstrates the futility of human existence: waiting around for the God who never shows.  Of course, this message is nothing new.  In fact, it is central to the story of Christ.  When he was being crucified, Jesus wailed: "Oh Lord, why hast thou forsaken me?"  It is in this moment that God/Christ came to understand man's despair and Christ then admonished: "Forgive them Lord, they know not what they do."  So 2000 years ago, it was said better in a far superior drama; why sit through this piece of crap?

One delightful irony that I found is that Beckett was adamant that production of this play--which is supposed to show the folly of existence, the impossibility of communication, etc.--follow the strict guidelines that he envisioned:

    In his autobiography, the American director Alan Schneider recalled his attendance with Samuel
    Beckett at the first run of Waiting for Godot in London in 1955. Whenever a line was
    misinterpreted or an extra piece of stage business was added, Beckett would clutch Schneider's arm
    and exclaim, in a clearly audible stage whisper, "It's ahl wrahng! He's doing it ahl wrahng!"1 That
    loud whisper still sounds in the ears of those who stage Beckett's plays now.  No other dead
    dramatist remains such a daunting admonitory presence for his directors and performers. Where
    most great playwrights were content to write the text of a play, Beckett wrote the entire theatrical
    event. He specified, not just the words, but the rhythms and tones, the sets and the lighting plots,
    and these specifications are preserved in the remarkable series of notebooks whose publication by
    Faber and Faber is now completed with S.E. Gontarski's exemplary edition of Beckett's ledgers for
    productions of his short late plays.

    Where most plays invite the active participation of actors, directors, and designers in determining
    the meaning of the work, Beckett's work demands that the meaning remains indeterminate. Where
    theater artists think of themselves as interpreters, any interpretation of a Beckett play is necessarily a
    reduction. With these plays, creative intervention seems like crass interference. The director is
    haunted by the playwright's stern ghost, frowning, clutching his arm, whispering at every deviation,
    "It's ahl wrahng!"
        -from Game Without End by Fintan O'Toole (NY Review of Books)

I mean that's just beautiful.  Life is pointless, but it's my way or the highway.  You've gotta love it.  These poor existentialists have such a hard time keeping their story straight, you can sometimes almost feel sorry for them.

I took a Humanities class in High School and absolutely loathed it (some of you may recall my discussion of Ragtime which a teacher suggested I read for the class--see Review).  This was one of the things we read and even as a callow youth of 15 or 16, I was flabbergasted at what a crock it was.  Now that I'm older, crustier and, hopefully, wiser, I have even less patience with idiocy and this play is truly idiotic.

Dorothy C. Judd writes:
Dear Orrin,

It was with GREAT interest that I read your review of Waiting for Godot. I can only hope and dream that somehow your Humanities teachers, and especially Nan Hoffman, have somehow accessed your site and are reading your  reviews.

Do you remember asking me, "Who is Godot?"  And my not too confident answer,  "I think he is supposed to be God?" On your humanities test, the question was, "Who is Godot?  and how do you know?" You wrote, "Godot is God, and I know because my mother told me."  You got an A because the teacher thought it was terrific that you discussed the play with your mother!!!!!


Orrin notes:

Hell, we discussed the fact I was failing Chemistry & I still got a D in that class


Grade: (F)


Samuel Beckett Links:

-PODCAST: Saïd Sayrafiezadeh Reads Samuel Beckett (With Deborah Treisman, April 1, 2023, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The wisdom of surrender: Samuel Beckett turned an obscure 17th-century Christian heresy into an artistic vision and an unusual personal philosophy (Andy Wimbush, 1/18/21, Aeon)
    -ESSAY: Samuel Beckett’s insane wordless post-Nobel Prize “interview” is the most Samuel Beckett thing ever. (Walker Caplan, February 25, 2021, Lit Hub)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Samuel (Barclay) Beckett (1906-1989)(kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "samuel beckett"
    -Beckett, Samuel (Guide to the Nobel Prize, Encyclopaedia Britannica)
    -FEATURED AUTHOR: Samuel Beckett (NY Times)
    -The Evergreen Archive: Feature on Samuel Beckett
    -The Nobel Prize in Literature 1969 (Official Site)
    -SAMUEL BECKETT: 1969 Nobel Laureate in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -The Beckett International Foundation
    -The Samuel Beckett Centre
    -Samuel Beckett : Apmonia
    -An Appreciation of Samuel Beckett (Erie Times-News SHOWcase)
    -CLASSIC NOTES: About Samuel Beckett (Grade Saver)
    -Samuel Beckett Endpage
    -INTERVIEWS: The Samuel Beckett Interviews
    -LINKS: The Samuel Beckett On-Line Resources and Links Page
    -Bohemian Ink : Samuel Beckett
    -Silences:  maurice blanchot, samuel beckett, edmond jabès
    -Samuel Beckett (imagi-nation)
    -Samuel Beckett (Existentialism)
    -OBIT:  Samuel Beckett Is Dead at 83; His 'Godot' Changed Theater (MEL GUSSOW, NY Times)
    -ARTICLE: October 24, 1969 Beckett Wins Nobel for Literature (JOHN M. LEE, NY Times)
    -ETEXT: Samuel Beckett  Krapp's Last Tape
    -ANNOTATED ETEXT: Waiting for Godot (Colgate U)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett  (SparkNote by Rebecca Gaines)
    -ESSAY :  Down and out with Beckett in Paris : John Montague, part of the bohemian set in 1960s Paris, describes his eccentric relationship with a reclusive Irish genius (Times of London, July 15 2001)
    -ESSAY: Samuel Beckett:  Beyond Biography  Despite two recent authorative biographies, Stephen Mitchelmore argues that Beckett's work remains an enigma (Spike)
    -ESSAY: Book Ends; BECKETT IN PARIS; PARIS (Herbert Mitgang, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: SAMUEL BECKETT: PRIVATE IN PUBLIC (Kenneth S. Brecher, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY:  Discussing Beckett, Whether It Matters or Not (GLENN COLLINS, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: A Few Drinks and a Hymn: My Farewell to Samuel Beckett (John Montague, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Now What Do I MEan by That? Interpreting Beckett (Louis Menand, Slate)
    -ESSAY: Samuel Beckett and the Theatre of the Absurd (Katharena Eiermann, The Realm of Existentialism)
    -ESSAY: Essay on Waiting for Godot by Michael Sinclair
    -ESSAY: BECKETT'S GODOT: "A bundle of broken mirrors" by Robert D. Lane
    -ESSAY: Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down: Ropes, Belts, and Cords in Waiting for Godot By Roger C. Schonfeld
    -ESSAY: Christ's Body of Evidence (Greg Tigani, Yale U)
    -ESSAY: The Concept of Time and Space in Beckett's Dramas Happy Days and Waiting for Godot
(Dong-Ho Sohn, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, Seoul, Korea)
    -ESSAY: Waiting for Godot in various modes
    -ESSAY: Samuel Beckett: Beyond Biography  (Stephen Mitchelmore, Spike)
    -REVIEW: of Waiting for Godot (BROOKS ATKINSON, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: Denis Donoghue: Play It Again, Sam, NY Review of Books
        Waiting for Godot a play by Samuel Beckett and directed by Mike Nichols
    -THEATRE REVIEW : of The Beckett Festival : Now What I Wonder Do I Mean By That : Interpreting Beckett (Louis Menand, Slate)
    -REVIEW: of SAMUEL BECKETT The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 By Samuel Beckett (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of SAMUEL BECKETT: The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 (David Gates, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE THEATRICAL NOTEBOOKS OF SAMUEL BECKETT General editor, James Knowlson (Mel Gussow, NY Times Book review)
    -REVIEW: of ELEUTHERIA A Play in Three Acts. By Samuel Beckett. Translated by Michael Brodsky (Mel Gussow, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: WORSTWARD HO By Samuel Beckett (Hugh Kenner, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: NO AUTHOR BETTER SERVED The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider. Edited by Maurice Harmon (Robert Brustein, NY Times)
    -REVIEW:  Fintan O'Toole: Game Without End, NY Review of Books
        The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett: Volume IV: The Shorter Plays
        No Author Better Served: The Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider
    -REVIEW: Nigel Dennis: Original Sin and Dog Biscuits, NY Review of Books
        Collected Works of Samuel Beckett by Samuel Beckett
    -REVIEW: Frank Kermode: Beckett Country, NY Review of Books
        How it is by Samuel Beckett
    -REVIEW: Matthew Hodgart: Saint Beckett, NY Review of Books
        Stories and Texts for Nothing by Samuel Beckett
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: "Ssh", NY Review of Books
        Cascando and Other Short Dramatic Pieces by Samuel Beckett
    -REVIEW: Christopher Ricks: Beckett First and Last, NY Review of Books
        The Lost Ones by Samuel Beckett
        More Pricks Than Kicks by Samuel Beckett
        The Shape of Chaos: An Interpretation of the Art of Samuel Beckett by David H. Hesla
    -REVIEW: John Banville: The Painful Comedy of Samuel Beckett, NY Review of Books
        Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson
        Samuel Beckett: The Last Modernist by Anthony Cronin
        The World of Samuel Beckett, 1906-1946 by Lois Gordon
        The Complete Short Prose, 1929-1989 edited by S.E. Gontarski
        Eleutheria by Samuel Beckett and translated by Michael Brodsky
        Nohow On: Company, Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho by Samuel Beckett
    -REVIEW: Michael Wood: Comedy of Ignorance, NY Review of Books
        Rockaby and Other Short Pieces by Samuel Beckett
        Company by Samuel Beckett
        Just Play: Beckett's Theater by Ruby Cohn
        Frescoes of the Skull: The Later Prose and Drama of Samuel Beckett by James Knowlson and John Pilling
        Beckett and the Voice of Species: A Study of the Prose Fiction by Eric P. Levy
    -REVIEW: SAMUEL BECKETT The Last Modernist. By Anthony Cronin (Morris Dickstein, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: DAMNED TO FAME The Life of Samuel Beckett. By James Knowlson (J. D. O'Hara, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: Richard Ellmann: The Life of Sim Botchit, NY Review of Books
        Samuel Beckett: A Biography by Deirdre Bair
    -REVIEW: of  EXILED IN PARIS Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett and Others on the Left Bank By James Campbell (CHRISTOPHER LEHMANN-HAUPT, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: EXILED IN PARIS Richard Wright, James Baldwin, Samuel Beckett, and Others on the Left Bank. By James Campbell (Deirdre Bair, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of ENTRANCES An American Director's Journey. By Alan Schneider THE MAN WHO UNDERSTOOD BECKETT (Martin Esslin, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEWS : Filming the poetry of pain : In an inspired new project, many of the world's finest actors and directors have joined forces to adapt 19 of Samuel Beckett's plays. Andrew O'Hagan reports from the first screenings in Dublin (Daily Telegraph)


Because life does.

- oj

- Sep-02-2005, 13:09


I find it interesting that:

"Here is the play in its entirety: Two tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, wait by a tree for two days, expecting the imminent appearance of Godot. Instead they are visited by a master and slave, Pozzo and Lucky, and a boy who brings them a message that Godot will soon be there. The curtain falls."

the above is all that you got out of this play. I found it to be a very interesting and intellectually stimulating read. My only problem is that I have not yet seen the play performed.

Think about this: Where does all of this dialogue (I imagine that you don't think any action took place) happen? I suggest that perhaps this is Purgatory, that our two "heroes" are waiting, hoping to go to Heaven.

I am sure, if you look online somewhere, that you can find the meaning behing Lucky's monologe that occurs directly in the middle of the play. Some people feel that this is the entirety of the meaning in the play, yet it is couched in nonsense.

good luck in your future endeavors

- greg

- Dec-16-2004, 11:27


while i disagree with your review, and agree with the point made that not much of the review addressed the play itself, I only wish to make a few points:

1) Beckett is believed to have said that the name Godot comes from the French "godillot" meaning a military boot. Beckett fought in the war and so spending long periods of time waiting for messages to arrive would have been commonplace for him. THE MORE COMMON INTERPRETATION THAT IT MIGHT MEAN "GOD" IS ALMOST CERTAINLY WRONG. Beckett apparently stated that if he had meant "God," he would have written "God".

2) the plays first performance in paris was warmly recieved and spread by word of mouth. it's failure in the u.s. may be largely due to the fact that it was advertised as a great comedy (though i'm also tempted to add that the lack of appreciation may also stem from an almost universally american trait . . . but i suppose that might be rude). It later found success, though nothing extensive, when it was later properly advertised in New York.

why i bothered writing this, i do not know. funny the things we do to fill our lives.

Sincerely, Israel

- israel

- Dec-07-2004, 00:22


this would have to be the worst book/movie review i have ever seen. it is a quality book and you should keep your mouth shut if you don't have anythink nice to say, i say get a life build a web site people would won't to go on to and scrap this piece of crap off the computer

- nathan

- Aug-19-2004, 02:55


I found the play (as read and performed) to be very interesting and stimulating. I certainly don't think it merits an F, and, aside from attacking its spare nature, you really don't give us any reason to dislike it. Furtmore, given Beckett's experiences in WWII, and with Nazism specifically, despair was certainly an appropriate emotion. Indeed, Beckett fought in the French resistance despite his despair.

- Gary

- May-09-2004, 03:54


This is a website.

- McDuff

- Oct-02-2003, 12:42


I'm not God. (Pause.) I'm akin to hope. Hope, personified. (Pause.) Be back soon.

- Godot

- May-27-2003, 22:23


Dear Orrin, Hello, My name is Graham and I'm from Liverpool in England. I'm doing an essay on Waiting For Godot at the moment for a module in literature at the University of Liverpool. I found your homepage on the play very helpfull and interesting. There is a lot of detailed information which I believe has helped me to understand the play a little better. Keep up the good work and best wishes. Graham.

- Graham J Hughes

- Apr-02-2003, 17:22