Ten thoughts on Waiting For Godot

In: Guest Editorial

This month saw the 110th birthday of Samuel Beckett. Perhaps his best known work, the two act play 'Waiting For Godot', was famously described as a play in which nothing happens... twice. Lagan Press Online Editor Colin Dardis delves into that apparent nothingness.

Picture for blog story Ten thoughts on Waiting For Godot

The inspiration behind the name ‘Godot’ may have come from a little known Balzac play entitled ‘Mercodet’ or ‘The Good Businessman’. In the play, various characters await the arrival of a creditor, ‘Godeau’. There is concern that he may not arrive, and that they will have to wait until tomorrow (at least) in order to get their money. 

Another theory of the origin of Godot is that he was named after a French cyclist, the oldest racer in the Tour de France at the time. Because he was perhaps a little slower than the rest, crowds hanging about after all the action had seemingly past were said to be “waiting for Godeau”. This article expands on the theory.

Adding to the theories, multi-linguists have claimed that "Godot" comes from the Irish "go deo" which means "forever", and/or derived from the French slang for "shoe", godillot. Perhaps Godot was bringing Vladimir and Estragon better fitting footwear?

Vladimir and Estragon’s trouble with boots is perhaps foreshadowed in Watt. The novel delights in long sequences of patterns and permutations, such as the lengthy passage that begins “As for his feet, sometimes he wore on each a sock, or on the one a sock and on the other a stocking, or a boot, or a shoe, or a slipper, or a sock and a boot…” After listing various combinations of footwear between left and right, it humorously ends “And sometimes he went barefoot.”

The similarly named ‘Waiting for Lefty’ is a 1935 play by the American playwright Clifford Odets. Part of the plot concerning a character called Lefty Costello who the characters are looking for, but never arrives (spoiler alert: he is eventually shot dead offstage). The similarities however end there.

There is a theory that Pozzo and Hamm from Endgame may indeed be one and the same person. Both are blind, struggle to walk (Hamm has deteriorated and is now immobile), and both has servant characters attached to them (Lucky and Clov). If one accepts this, might it be postulated that the boy from ‘Waiting For Godot’ has possibly grown up to become Clov?

Early on in Act One, Vladimir asks “Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that?” He is referring to a line from Proverbs, ch13, v12: "Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life." The wait for Godot’s appearance is of course, literally, hope deferred. And as for the tree…

The opening stage directions of Godot state: “A Country Road. A Tree. Evening.” Much has been written on the possibly symbolism and meaning of the tree, and for each production, its design is usually a central feature. Originally, Beckett is believed to have been inspired by Caspar David Friedrich’s painting ‘Two Men Contemplating the Moon’ (1819-20) for the famous stage piece.

Another possible source for the tree is an illustration by Victor Brown for WB Yeats’s lyric “The Wicked Hawthorn Tree” in ‘A Broadside No. 2’ from Cuala Press, published in 1935. The drawing depicts a withered, forlorn tree spouting out from a rabble of rocks. Emily Atkins makes the case for the comparison in her essay ‘Study That Tree: The Iconic Stage In Purgatory And Waiting For Godot’.

A light-hearted note to end things: Sesame Street famously parodied Beckett in the sketch ‘Waiting For Elmo’. Cookie Monster introduces it as a play “so modern and so brilliant, it makes absolutely no sense to anybody.” How the producers expected the child audience to get the reference is anyone’s guess, suggesting that perhaps this one was more for the amusement of the parents. Mercifully, Grover doesn’t threaten to hang himself in the scene. You can watch it here.

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