Samuel Beckett’s Play ‘Waiting For Godot As An Existential (Absurd) Play

Samuel Beckett’s Play ‘Waiting For Godot As An Existential (Absurd) Play

The term ‘Existential’ may be defined as a branch of philosophy based on the conception of the absurdity (completely unreasonableness and inappropriateness) of the universe and the consequent meaninglessness of human life and action. It emphasizes on – (i) the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile and indifferent universe and (ii) it regards human existence as inexplicable and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequence of one’s acts. Existentialism as a school of thought rose after World War II as a reaction against realism. Some writers were influenced much by this existential philosophy and gave rise to a new genre of literature, though short-lived, which is called Existential Literature. The dramas written on this philosophy is called Existential Dramas. The main Features of Existential Dramas that are traced to be common to all the dramas of this genre are- (i) the main theme is the meaninglessness and purposelessness of life in this absurd world, (ii) characters are few but types are drawn from the middle or lower class of society, (iii) free from the conventional dramatic structure and unity, (iv) there is no stage direction nor change of spots nor scene, (v) queer and incoherent linguistic device and (vi) comic and humorous in character. 

Martin Esslin has termed the Existential Plays as Absurd Plays because of their absurdity both in theme and devices. Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ is an Existential (Absurd) play. It bears all the common features of an Existential Play in full. Let us illustrate this play as an existential play as below: 

First, the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ deals with the theme of the meaninglessness of life. The two main characters: Estragon and Vladimir say at the beginning of the play- “Nothing to be done.” And throughout the play, through their speeches and actions, we hear the same message- “Nothing to be done”. They seem to be in a state of absurdity where they find themselves as meaningless and so are their action. Estragon desperately utters: 

”What’ll we do, what’ll we do?

Vladimir replies:

There is nothing we can do.”

Secondly, in the play, there is neither a specific plot nor a specific action. The play portrays no story,  no morality. It shows only the eccentricity of the troubled mind without any artificiality. Estragon, once says:

”Nothing happens, nothing comes, nobody goes, it is awful.”

Thirdly, there are few characters as Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo and Lucky. They belong to the lower class of society. Estragon and Vladimir are vagabonds. Pozzo, as his speech reveals, is a peasant and Lucky is his servant. The characters are the types of restless, eccentric humanity who have been losing their purpose in the universe. The characters are always static. Their personality and characters have got no development. Estragon says:

”Very lucky. They all change.

Only we can’t.”

Fourthly, the play ‘Waiting for Godot’ by Samuel Beckett is devoid of any conventional dramatic structure. Conventionally a play should have a beginning, middle and an end. But it has only beginning and neither middle nor end. At the beginning of the play we see that the two main characters are waiting for ‘Godot’ and this waiting continues till the end without any solution. Estragon and Vladimir talk between themselves, as:

Vladimir: No further need to worry.

Estragon: Simply waiting.

Vladimir: we’re used to it.

Fifthly, the play consists of only two Acts. Though Act II echoes the same tenet of Act I, there is no change of the scene nor of the spot. Wherever the characters go or do, they happen to remain in the same spot and in the same environment. The characters seem to be in a state of changelessness. Time passes but they remain in the same spot. 

Sixthly, the linguistic device of the play is unconventional and incoherent which may be termed as ‘queer”. The dialogues among the characters playing their role often seem to be irrelevant to their actions. For example, we can quote the following dialogues between Vladimir and Estragon:

”Vladimir: where are your books?

Estragon: I must have thrown them away. 

Vladimir: When?

Estragon: I don’t know.

Vladimir: Why?

Estragon: I don’t know why I don’t know.”  

In addition to this linguistic incoherent, the dramatist Beckett has employed mime, gestures and silence as dramatic devices.

 Seventhly, the play is comic and humorous in character. The action shown by the characters is fully humorous. There is not a singles action, pose and attitude that can be called serious or tragic. In the very opening of the play, we see that Estragon tries to take off one of his boots and temporarily gives up his effort feeling exhausted. He resumes the struggle and fails again and says: “Nothing to be done.” Then Vladimir is seen to take off his hat, peeps into it, feels about inside it, shakes it, puts on it again and says: “Nothing to be done”. Thus is the Pozzo-Lucky scene, the imitation of their actions by Estragon and Vladimir, their plan to commit suicide hanging from a tree- all are comic in character.

Thus from the above illustration, we see that the play entitled ‘Waiting for Godot’ bears all the chief features of an existential play in full and hence it may be treated as a fine specimen of an existential as well as an absurd play. 0 0 0

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