Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot

Categories: Waiting For Godot

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot dramatizes the existential condition of mankind by staging two tramps who are trapped in the puzzling situations of waiting for someone who doesn’t come but leaves them with an assurance of coming the next day. The play challenges naturalist assumptions of drama through its cyclic structure, lack of plot progression, and characterization lacking in their purposes. The play, therefore, classifies as ‘absurdist’ in its rejection of realist conventions of drama. 

Essentially, what foregrounds the ‘absurd’ in the play is its focus on man’s feeling of isolation in a hostile world- the loss of faith in belief systems of religion and reason of the individual.

The genre of tragicomedy, however, does not make it an entirely doubtful play. To examine the tragic and comic elements of the play is to recognize how the Theatre of the Absurd; and especially Beckett, argues for acceptance of man’s condition and finding ways of coping with it.

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Samuel Beckett’s play “Waiting for the Godot” is perhaps one of the best examples of literary artwork. 

“Waiting for the Godot” is a tragicomedy in both the act 1 and act 2. It is a play of an absurd and boredom. In this essay, I would like to discuss the how Samuel Beckett used tragicomedy in his play and turns the whole play into absurd and my research paper will be argumentative on how comedy and tragic used in each act of the play. When I read the “Waiting for the Godot” it was difficult for me to say how Beckett used the tragic and comedy in the play at the same time.

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The basic definition of the tragicomedy says that anything which contains the elements of both and tragic together. It means that according to Beckett’s work in the play, it has humorous situations which make the people or reader make them smile and laugh. On the other hand, for many people, all these incidents make them saddened. 

Beckett play has many tragic moments in the whole play, but it ends on a good note with happiness. Waiting for the Godot gives the birth to the Theatre of the Absurd. Beckett’s choice of the genre of tragicomedy serves a two-fold purpose. Firstly, it is a rejection of well-defined genres of drama as the genre is not dictated by Classical precepts. Secondly, it provides room for expression of the ambivalent moods which arise from experiencing the absurd condition. If the tragic stood for the grandeur of class and action, Beckett’s protagonists are impoverished tramps struggling with everyday activities like taking off boots. Similarly, if the comic meant the play offered closure and a neat resolution, Waiting for Godot asserts that there is no closure to man’s struggle with his absurd existence. 

Yet, the play is a tragicomedy in the way it recognizes the impossibility of resolving the tragic condition man finds himself in and affirms the possibility of finding ways of negotiating with the situation. “As in Waiting for Godot, the characters come in symmetrical pairs and play a waiting game, in this case, an 'endgame' for the time of death” (Haney,2001). The feeling of being near death is ever present in the play as the tramps feel frustrated by their endless wait. 

They do not choose death, however, and while this makes them heroic, the alternative to death is what brings out the other side of tragic- the comic ways in which they pass the time. Beckett reinvents the tragicomic genre at the levels of form, structure, characterization, and theme of the play. The form of the play resembles the hybrid nature of tragicomedy as Beckett harks back to earlier forms of drama that do not find a place in the drama that dominated elite theatre. The passing-of-the-hats scene is one of the instances in which the tramps are engaged in meaningless action to pass the time. This is the essence of what Beckett wants to convey as it is the clown who is capable of accepting the tragic and going past it by virtue of his capability of bringing out the comic out of the tragic. 

The structure of the play most strongly rejects conventional standards of drama as it is cyclic and development of both plot and character is absent. It defies coherence between dialogue and action, which results from the absurd condition. This incongruence also enforces the tragicomic genre of the play. This tension manifests itself in the form of contradictions and therefore enacts the contradictory nature of tragic and comic elements being present in the play. Beckett’s treatment of breakdown of language is an example of how this tension perpetuates the tragicomic. Language, which is the “referential form”, has become an inadequate means of communication as the characters are incapable of causal coherence. Vladimir “mimics one carrying a heavy burden” because words do not convey his question about Lucky’s “burdens” to Pozzo. Estragon poses the same question in broken phrases, which literally shows how language has broken down. 

Such gestures and fragmented sentences undercut the tragic situation of man’s reliance on an inadequate mode of communication. This inadequacy is also highlighted in sentences that are not fragmented but are used deliberately to show their lack of meaning. As the tramps use pleasantries of everyday conversation to ask Pozzo to sit, it shows perfectly how conversation serves merely “to fill the emptiness”. The conversation elicits laughter, but the very meaninglessness of the conversation points to the underlying tragedy of the breakdown of communication. The characterization in the play is in the form of pairs which departs from the convention of having one character as the protagonist. Each character differs from others but also stands for a feature that is common to “all humanity”. 

“The characters in Godot lack this sort of central coherence. Like the consciousness that narrates The Unnamable, the characters in Godot have 'no purpose except to keep going” (Dubois,2011). This unique yet generic nature of characters allows Beckett to convey particularities of character as well as the sameness of human existence. While Vladimir and Estragon are suffering physically from two different things, they make the same complaint of there being “nothing to be done”, a line that resonates with readers or spectators of the play. The play also explores experiences of the absurd by the contrast among pairs. While Vladimir and Estragon are tramps stuck in one place, it is Pozzo and Lucky who are the wanderers. The coming and going of the latter pair heighten the sense of stasis that the former experience. 

Beckett plays on the expectation of the state of movement is better than stagnation, as he shows the devastation that Pozzo and Lucky are met with while the tramps are only concerned about ways of passing time. The tramps share a friendship of equals, while Pozzo and Lucky are a parody of the master-slave relationship. Their relationship is dictated by Pozzo who derives his sense of self from material possessions, Lucky being one of them. Pozzo’s tragic transformation to the amnesiac blind man in Act 2 stands for every man who is met with devastation as his faith in a coherent and meaningful world withers away. Beckett, however, does not romanticize this tragedy but instead makes it a matter of laughter. 

As Estragon laughs at Pozzo when he begins to lose his possessions, it is perhaps the playwright laughing at the realist who clings to his illusions because they keep him from facing the absurd. Whether it is laughter mingled with frustration in the case of the tramps, or the horrible comic emotion that Pozzo evokes, the tragicomic dominates the characterization and augments the general theme of recognition and acceptance of the condition of the absurd. The theme of the play is the general condition of a man who feels alienated in a hostile world and sees no purpose and meaning in life. 

The subject of the title is the theme of the play, as ‘waiting’ signifies the present continuous action of the characters, but also stands for the inaction that they experience and are tormented by. Waiting is the cause of frustration as it forces Estragon and Vladimir to face their absurd condition of waiting for Godot, whose name and purpose of their meeting they can’t remember. Their failure to remember what they want from Godot is significant, as it implies their failure to grasp what it is they want, or what they are really waiting for. This lack of meaning and coherence causes anguish which lends the play its tragic element.

Works cited

  1. Beckett, S. (1952). Waiting for Godot. Grove Press.
  2. Esslin, M. (1968). The Theatre of the Absurd. Penguin Books.
  3. Gontarski, S. E. (Ed.). (2004). The Cambridge Companion to Beckett. Cambridge University Press.
  4. Pilling, J. (2006). The Cambridge Introduction to Samuel Beckett. Cambridge University Press.
  5. Oppenheim, L. (1970). Samuel Beckett: The Comic Gamut. Bucknell University Press.
  6. Fletcher, J. (2011). The Theater of Transformation: Postmodernism in American Drama. McFarland.
  7. Haney, W. S. (2001). Beckett and the Mythology of Psychoanalysis. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press.
  8. Dubois, J. (2011). The Indiscrete Image: Infinitude and Creation of the Human. Fordham University Press.
  9. Fletcher, J. (Ed.). (2004). Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: A Reference Guide. Greenwood Publishing Group.
  10. Worth, K. (2013). Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot: A Routledge Study Guide. Routledge.
Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. (2024, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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