Life is made up of routines and patterns. Every human being has their own unique system of how they carry themselves through the day. These systems are how we survive, and they tend to become part of our subconscious. But there are those who get so caught up in their own conformity that daily life becomes much more demanding than it should be. The results of this perpetual routine can cause someone to forget who they are as a person, and what they are meant to do outside of daily life. Due to the foreboding repetition of their own daily lives, the protagonists in both Hamlet and Waiting for Godot neglect their true purpose, which suggests holding back can be destructive to oneself.
In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon experience each day as it passes without any happenings and with this transition comes their demise. The pair can be described as two interchangeable characters who share the same routine. Even from the beginning of the play, Vladimir and Estragon often argue back and forth. VLADIMIR. It hurts?
ESTRAGON. Hurts? He wants to know if it hurts!
VLADIMIR. No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count.
I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have.
ESTRAGON. It hurts?
VLADIMIR. It hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! (Beckett 3). Textual repetition between the two is already a sign of something repeating in the lives of our protagonists. Following the basic structure of all stories there is conflict, and with conflict comes the desire to leave. ESTRAGON. Let’s go.
VLADIMIR. We can’t.
ESTRAGON. Why not?
VLADIMIR. We’re waiting for Godot. (Beckett 8).
The act of waiting is redefined by the two men who do it day by day. There is no evidence of whom or what Godot is, or what he means to the men. We do not see that there are any physical barriers that are preventing Vladimir and Estragon from getting up and moving on with their lives. All that matters is that everything in the finite lives of these two men depends on the arrival of this mysterious figure. A radical version of Vladimir and Estragon is seen in the characters of Pozzo and Lucky, who have a daily reappearance in the lives of Vladimir and Estragon. Pozzo is the extreme version of Vladimir, since he is the impulsive, more right-brained one. Lucky is the extreme version of Estragon, since he is the left-brained, more intellectual of the two.
However, they represent getting through life with someone else just like Estragon and Vladimir. Relating Pozzo and Lucky even more so to Vladimir and Estragon, Pozzo also has a moment of doubt as to whether or not he shall leave this place. “I don’t seem to be able… (long hesitation)… to depart.” (Beckett 50). The uncertainty of leaving anticipates the same way that Vladimir and Estragon are left waiting at the end of each act. Despite actually admitting that he can’t seem to leave, Pozzo actually does manage to leave, unlike Vladimir and Estragon who remain even as the curtain falls.
In Pozzo and Lucky there is an extreme reflection of Vladimir and Estragon, while the messenger represents false hope. He comes only to tell the pair “Mr. Godot told me to tell you he won’t come this evening but certainly to-morrow.” (Beckett 55). After learning of this, Vladimir and Estragon acknowledge that they both want to leave. The dialogue of “We’re waiting for Godot” repeats, yet the fact that “Godot” is not coming tonight is still not strong enough for them to take any direct action. Instead they are left to wait upon their fate from someone or something else to act on.
As Hamlet becomes more obsessed with avenging his father, he begins to see more of his own downfall as time passes. Seeing the ghost of his father raises Hamlet’s suspicions of the whole kingdom. Thinking that people will write it off as grief, Hamlet acts strangely, hoping that this will help him catch Cladius as the one who murdered his father. But all this acting and waiting takes up precious time that Hamlet simply does not have, especially as a prince who is not living up to all of his potential. At the same time, his lover, Ophelia, is forbidden to see him. Ophelia’s father Polonius takes notice of Hamlet’s apparent madness, and tells the king and queen “Your noble son is mad/ Mad I call it /for, to define true madness, / what is’t but to be nothing else but mad?” (II.ii.92-94). Now it is more about just Hamlet acting mad as a means of trying to catch Cladius, but his madness becomes so realistic that other people in the kingdom take notice. When Cladius later inquires Hamlet about his state of mind, he replies that he is “Excellent, i’faith/of the chameleon’s dish/ I eat the air/ promise-crammed” (III.ii.84-86). Since it is not the typical response one would give when one is asked about how they are doing, it only serves to further confirm the fear that Hamlet is going mad. These outrageous acts only push Hamlet further away from his true self.
The central point of Hamlet’s waiting and delaying of action is expressed with his “To be or not to be” soliloquy. A significant amount of time is passing, and Hamlet has thus seen the ghost of his father and knows what he must do. Yet he asks himself about suicide, and weighs the moral outcomes of living and dying. “Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer/The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,/ Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,/ And, by opposing, end them?” (HAM.III.i.58-61). Even when he considers suicide as a viable option, he questions what happens in the afterlife. If Hamlet therefore chooses to not commit suicide, is he delaying a possibly better life after he dies? He then turns to philosophy as a way to choose between killing Cladius or killing himself.
But either path he chooses won’t end or solve his misery. “And enterprises of great pith and moment/With this regard their currents turn awry,/And lose the name of action.” (HAM. III.i.87-89). With Hamlet, it is evident that despite how miserable he is, he continually ignores any sort of action that can be taken to put an end to this misery. He forgets that he is still the prince and has a significant say it what can be done. The true Hamlet and his purpose are so far gone from his mind that he contemplates things such as suicide. He waits too long for an outside action to push him forward in the right direction, instead of taking the first step himself.
In order to deal with the tasks of regular life, humans have been known to set up routines of how they believe they should go about their day. Each pattern is unique, and they nearly always consist of repetition. These systems become a part of us as we go on. But when routines become more than just something we follow and they become who a person is, life becomes a lot more difficult than it needs to be. In both Hamlet and Waiting for Godot, the protagonists become their routines, and in this they destroy themselves and lose sight of their true purpose. The product of their blindness to the outside contaminates their souls and leaves them trapped in their own destructive ways.
Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove, 1954. Print. Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York: Washington Square, 1992. Print. The New Folger Library Shakespeare.
Due to the foreboding repetition of their own daily lives, the protagonists in both Hamlet and Waiting for Godot neglect their true purpose, which suggests holding back can be destructive to oneself. In Waiting for Godot, Vladimir and Estragon experience each day as it passes without any happenings and with this transition comes their demise. As Hamlet becomes more obsessed with avenging his father, he begins to see more of his own downfall as time passes. The product of their blindness to the outside contaminates their souls and leaves them trapped in their own destructive ways.