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Prepared by Michael J. Cummings..© 2008
for Godot is the English translation of En
Attendant Godot, the French title of the play.
Beckett, who could write brilliantly in both English
and French, completed the French version first, then
the English one. In pronouncing Godot, place
stress on the first syllable, but not the second.
version of the play debuted on January 5, 1953, at
the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. The
English version debuted in August 1955 at the Arts
Theatre in London. The first U.S. performance of Godot
was in January 1956 at the Coconut Grove Theater in
Miami. The first New York performance of the play
was on April 19, 1956, at the John Golden Theater.
Type of Work
for Godot is a two-act stage drama classified
as a tragicomedy. In 1965, critic Martin Eslin
coined the term theater of the absurd to
describe Godot and other plays like it. As a
result, these plays also became known as absurdist
A group of
dramatists in 1940's Paris believed life is without
apparent meaning or purpose; it is, in short,
absurd, as French playwright and novelist Albert
Camus (1913-1960) wrote in a 1942 essay, "The Myth
of Sisyphus." Paradoxically, the only certainty in
life is uncertainty, the absurdists believed. An
absurdist drama is a play that depicts life as
meaningless, senseless, uncertain. For example, an
absurdist's story generally ends up where it
started; nothing has been accomplished and nothing
gained. The characters may be uncertain of time and
place, and they are virtually the same at the end of
the play as they were at the beginning.
and Language of Absurdist Drama
language in an absurdist drama often goes nowhere.
Characters misunderstand or misinterpret one
another, frequently responding to a statement or a
question with a non sequitur or a ludicrous comment.
The dialogue sometimes resembles the give-and-take
of the classic Abbot and Costello vaudeville routine
in which the two comedians are discussing a baseball
game. A player named "Who" is on first base. Abbot
does not know the name of the player, so he asks
Costello, "Who's on first?" Costello says, "That's
right, Who is on first." Beckett opens Waiting
for Godot this way. Estragon, who has a sore
foot, is attempting to remove his boot. Though he
tugs hard, it won't come off. In frustration, he
says, "Nothing to be done." Vladimir replies, "I'm
beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life
I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be
reasonable, you haven't yet tried everything. And I
resumed the struggle." In Act II, the two men agree
that they are happy in spite of their problems. Then
"What do we
do, now that we are happy?" The absurdity
of the dialogue is the author’s way of calling
attention to the seeming absurdity of life. For Samuel
Beckett, the world wobbles on its axis, and the people
who inhabit it do not always think logically or or
Godot," Vladimir says. "Things have changed here
"And if he
when the time comes. I was saying that things have
changed here since yesterday."
the same pus from one moment to the next."
Plot Structure of Absurdist Drama
structure of a typical absurdist drama is like a
spaceship orbiting earth or a Ferris Wheel revolving
on an axle: The spaceship and the Ferris wheel
endlessly repeat their paths. If only the passengers
on the spaceship and the Ferris wheel could break
free and fly off on their own . . . but they cannot.
They are tethered to forces beyond their control.
The same is true of Vladimir and Estragon in Waiting
for Godot. They wait for Godot at the
beginning of the play, wait for Godot in the middle
of the play, and wait for Godot at the end of the
play. Godot never comes. So Vladimir and Estragon
continue to revolve—but never evolve. They are
caught in the absurdity of continuously moving but
action takes place next to a tree on a road,
beginning on the evening of one day and ending on
the evening of the next.
(Nicknamed Didi) and Estragon (Nicknamed
Gogo): Homeless down-and-outers who wait
under a tree for a mysterious person named Godot.
Estragon is an alternative name for tarragon,
an herb used to season stew, fish, chicken,
vegetables, and other foods. Estragon's nickname, Gogo,
is the French word for a person who is easy to
deceive. Vladimir is a common Russian name. A prince
of Kiev, Vladimir I (956-1015), converted to
Christianity from Paganism and introduced
A traveler with a slave on a rope leash. The name Pozzo
is similar in spelling and pronunciation to the
Italian word, pazzo. As an adjective, it
means insane, crazy, mad,
or irrational. As a noun, it means wild
man or mad dog.
Pozzo's slave. Lucky is an ironic,
paradoxical name—unless one believes that he has
worked out the means of his salvation. Like Christ,
he is scourged. And, though he bears no wounds from
a crown of thorns, he does have an open sore around
his neck. Like Christ, who carried a cross to
Calvary, he is made to bear a burden (the bag and
other paraphernalia that he carries for Pozzo).
Messenger who says he represents Godot. He appears
briefly in Act I and Act II to tell Vladimir and
Estragon that Godot has postponed his scheduled
meeting with them. In Act II, he says he is not the
same boy who delivered the message the first time.
However, in his list of characters (dramatis
personae) at the beginning of the play, Becket
mentions only one boy.
Someone for whom Vladimir and Estragon are waiting.
Supposedly, he has important information for them.
Godot does not appear on the stage.
People who beat Estragon when he is trying to
sleep—or so Estragon says. The bullies do not appear
on the stage; they could be a figment of Estragon's
By Michael J. Cummings...©
In the evening, two tramps meet
next to a tree along a country road. One of them,
Estragon, is struggling to remove a boot to soothe
a sort foot. Tugging at it, he says in
frustration, “Nothing to be done.”
Vladimir, interpreting the
statement as an opinion about life in general, says
he is beginning to accept that viewpoint but has
decided to keep struggling anyway. Then he says he
is glad to see Estragon again even though they had
been together the day before.
“I thought you were gone for ever.”
Estragon says he spent the previous night in a
nearby ditch and endured a beating from bullies who
regularly harass him.
While Estragon pulls at the boot, Vladimir removes
his hat and shakes it out, puts it back on, then
removes it again and taps at it as if to dislodge
something. He puts his hat back on just as Estragon
finally gets the boot off. Estragon turns the boot
upside down but nothing falls out. He feels inside
it, but there’s nothing. Vladimir accuses him of
blaming the boot for “the faults of his feet.”
Vladimir removes his hat again, finds nothing, and
says, “This is getting alarming.” He also
“One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable
He is referring to the two thieves crucified with
Christ. When he asks Estragon whether he has ever
read the Bible, Estragon says he remembers looking
at the color maps in it. The Dead Sea made him
thirsty. Vladimir tells him the story of the two
thieves (which bores Estragon) and wonders why only
one of the four writers of the Gospels mentions that
one of the thieves was saved.
Vladimir puts his boot back on and walks around to
test his foot.
“You’re sure it was here?” he asks.
He is referring to someone named Godot. He was
supposed to show up to answer a question they
“He didn’t say for sure he would come,” Vladimir
It turns out they don’t remember what day he was
supposed to come. Nor do they even recall what day
it is now. Although they don’t recollect what
question they asked Godot, they think it had to do
with a prayer, a supplication. While waiting for
Godot, they have nothing to do to pass the time, so
Estragon suggests that they hang themselves from the
tree. Neither wants to go first, however, and in the
end they decide stay alive because "it's safer,"
Estragon says. Besides, if Vladimir hangs himself,
Estragon will be alone.
Estragon is hungry, so Vladimir offers him a
turnip—all that he has—but Estragon finds a carrot
in his pocket and eats that instead. When they hear
a loud cry, they huddle together in fear. The
“menace” is harmless, though—a man with the loop of
a long rope around his neck. At the other end of the
rope is another man, who uses a whip to drive the
first man. The latter is carrying a bag, a folding
stool, a picnic basket, and a coat. When they ask
the man with the whip whether he is Godot, the man
says, “I present myself: Pozzo.” The other man is
his slave, Lucky. When Pozzo asks who Godot is,
Vladimir says he is a "kind of acquaintance," but
Estragon says, "Personally I wouldn't even know him
if I saw him."
Pozzo barks commands at Lucky—first for the coat,
then the stool, then the basket of food. He drinks
wine and eats chicken while Vladimir and Estragon
talk. Lucky falls asleep on his feet even though he
is standing and never puts down the bag. Vladimir
and Estragon notice that he has a sore on his neck
from the chafing of the rope. When Estragon asks
whether he may have the chicken bones that Pozzo has
tossed away after eating the meat, Pozzo says, .“They’re yours.” Pozzo
smokes a pipe.
Estragon takes up the bones
and chews on them. Pozzo then says he, too, would
like to meet Godot, noting that the more people he
meets the happier and wiser he becomes. Lucky,
meanwhile, is still holding a bag and Estragon asks
why he does not put it down. Pozzo says Lucky wants
to impress him with his hard work so that Pozzo
won’t sell him at a fair which they are going to
attend. Lucky is a burden, Pozzo explains. When
Lucky begins crying, Estragon tries to comfort him,
but Lucky kicks him in the shins, drawing blood.
Estragon and Vladimir now begin sympathizing with
Pozzo, who says:
“I can’t bear it . . . any longer . . . the way he
goes on . . . you’ve no idea . . . it’s terrible . .
. he must go . . . (he waves his arms) . . . I’m
going mad . . . . . . .”
“Will night never come?” Vladimir says.
Pozzo then launches into a short lecture about the
characteristics of the evening sky in that region of
the country, and Vladimir and Estragon commend him
for it. In return for their praise, Pozzo has Lucky
dance for them and perform an encore, the same
dance. Lucky next entertains them with a discourse
on politics and religion but keeps talking and
talking until Vladimir snatches his hat and Lucky
goes silent. Pozzo and Lucky leave. Shortly
thereafter, a boy who says he herds goats for Godot
arrives to tell Vladimir and Estragon that Godot
won’t arrive until the next day.
following day, Vladimir arrives first, then
Estragon, and they resume waiting. The tree, bare
before, now has a few leaves. Vladimir
discovers that Estragon has forgotten what happened
the day before until Vladimir reminds him. When they
talk about hearing voices—“dead voices”—Vladimir
says they sound like sand and Estragon, like leaves
rustling. Estragon tells Vladimir what the voices
“To have lived is not enough for them,” Estragon
says. “To be dead is not enough for them.”
To kill time, Vladimir asks Estragon to sing.
Estragon won’t, but he suggests they ask each other
questions. Their discussion then shifts to the tree
when Vladimir points out that it has leaves now.
Yesterday it did not.
“It must be spring,” Estragon says.
When Vladimir talks again about Pozzo and Lucky,
Estragon again forgets who they are. So Vladimir
tells him to pull up a trouser leg to see the wound
Lucky inflicted. After Estragon sees the evidence,
which is festering, he says he wants to leave. But
Vladimir says they must stay to wait for
Pozzo and Lucky approach, Lucky tethered to Pozzo as
before except that the rope is shorter. Lucky is
wearing a different hat, and Pozzo is blind. When
Pozzo bumps into Lucky, they fall and become
entangled in Lucky’s baggage and rope. Pozzo calls
for help. Estragon thinks Pozzo is Godot, but
Vladimir informs him who it is. Vladimir and
Estragon keep conversing while Pozzo keeps calling
for help. Eventually, Pozzo says he’ll pay 100
francs for help. Estragon and Vladimir keep talking
and Pozzo raises the reward to 200 francs. When
Vladimir tries to pull Pozzo up, Vladimir falls. He
tries to get up, but he too becomes entangled.
Vladimir calls for Estragon to help, promising that
he’ll agree to Estragon’s plan to leave. Estragon
suggests that they go to the Pyrenees Mountains and
Vladimir consents. Estragon tries to help but smells
“Pozzo,” Vladimir says.
Vladimir tries to get up again but fails. Finally,
Estragon, after several attempts, succeeds in
helping him up. Pozzo then frees himself, crawls
off, and collapses. Estragon and Vladimir decide to
help him. After a struggle, they get him to his
feet. Because he is blind, Pozzo does not know who
helped him. He thinks they could be robbers. Then he
asks the time of day. No one is sure. Estragon isn’t
even sure whether it is evening or dawn. However,
Vladimir decides that it is evening and informs
Pozzo. Pozzo asks for Lucky, and Estragon goes to
fetch him. Lucky is still on the ground. Estragon
kicks him several times but hurts his foot.
Meanwhile, Vladimir says he and Estragon are the
same men Pozzo met the day before. Pozzo doesn’t
remember. He calls for Lucky, who gets up and
gathers his burdens. As Pozzo and Lucky are about to
leave, Vladimir asks Pozzo to have Lucky sing. But
Pozzo says Lucky is mute.
“He can’t even groan.”
Pozzo and Lucky leave. A boy approaches and
addresses Vladimir. The boy says he is not the same
boy who talked with the men the day before, but he
does have a message from Godot—namely, that Godot
will not be coming that evening but will be coming
the next day.
Estragon, who has been sleeping, awakens and is
ready to go away. But Vladimir tells them they can’t
go far, because they must return to the tree the
next day to wait for Godot.
“And if he comes?”
“We’ll be saved,” Vladimir says. .
and Estragon are lowly bums. Their only material
possessions—besides their tattered clothes—are a
turnip and a carrot. Nevertheless, they have not
given up on life; they do not descend into
depression, pessimism, and cynicism. Even though
they frequently exchange insults, they enjoy
each other’s company and help each other. Above all,
though, they wait. They wait for Godot. They do not
know who he is or where he comes from. But they wait
just the same, apparently because he represents
and Estragon are homeless rovers attempting to find
an answer to a question all human beings face: What
is the meaning of life? Godot may have the answer
for them. So they wait. After Godot fails to appear
on the first day, they return to the tree the next
day to continue waiting. He does not come. Vladimir
and Estragon decide to leave the area. However, the
stage direction at the end of the play says, "They
do not move." Apparently, they plan to continue
their search for meaning by continuing to wait for
and Estragon depend on each other to survive.
Although they exchange insults from time to time, it
is clear that they value each other's company. One
could imagine Pozzo without Lucky—until the second
act, when the audience learns he has gone blind.
Unable to find his way, Pozzo is totally dependent
on Lucky. Lucky, of course, is tied to Pozzo—by a
rope and by fear of being abandoned.
tedious and repetitive for Vladimir and Estragon. In
the first act of the play, they meet at a tree to
wait for Godot. In the second act, they meet at the
same tree to wait for Godot. Irish critic Vivian
Mercer once wrote in a review of the play, "Nothing
for Godot contains the deadpan humor of the
down and out, the destitute, who cope by making
sport of their circumstances—and themselves. They
are like Sisyphus and Tantalus, each doomed forever
to seeking a goal that he cannot reach. But while
trying to reach their goal, Vladimir and Estragon
remain cheerful and jocular. Their hapless drollery
calls to mind the buffoonery of film comedians
Laurel and Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, and Buster
Keaton. A full appreciation of the humor requires a
close reading of the play and/or attendance at a
performance of it. .
Questions to Consider
Beckett reportedly denied that he intended any
person, thing, or idea in the play as a specific
symbol. However, the reader is free to interpret the
play—and the mind of Beckett. At the very least, the
reader or playgoer may wish to consider the
Vladimir and Estragon represent humankind as
fallen children of Adam and Eve and their original
sin? The motif of redemption occurs several times
in the play—notably, when Vladimir speaks of
Christ as the "Saviour." On the last page of the
play (in most texts), Estragon asks what will
happen if Godot comes. Vladimir answers, "We'll be
the tree intended to be a symbol of the cross on
which Christ was crucified? Keep in mind that
Vladimir and Estragon discuss the thieves
crucified with Christ.
tree is bare when Vladimir and Estragon meet near
it on the first day. However, on the second day,
author Becket says in his stage directions, it has
"four or five leaves." Do the leaves symbolize
hope? New life?
Godot represent God, as some essayists maintain?
Bear in mind that at least a dozen French words
(not counting suffixes, prefixes, and inflectional
forms) begin with the first three letters of this
name, including godasse, godelureau, goder,
godailler, godet, godiche, godichon, godichonne,
godille, godiller, godillot, godron, godronnage,
Pozzo asks who Godot is, Estragon answers,
"Personally I wouldn't even know him if I saw
him." Estragon appears to be answering truthfully.
Nevertheless, is his answer intended to mimic the
apostle Peter's answer when he was asked whether
he knew Christ?
Beckett (1906-1989), winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize
for literature, was born in Foxrock, Ireland.
After earning a degree in foreign languages at
Trinity College in Dublin, he spent two years in
France (1928-1930) and taught French at Trinity
College in 1931. He returned to France in 1937,
became a French citizen, and joined the French
Resistance during World War II. He completed his
first novel in 1945, then began writing novels and
plays in French.