Review: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

FABER AND FABER, 1965/1952

‘Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it is terrible‘ was Jean Anouilh’s judgement on the first production of Waiting for Godot. But, he went on to conclude, that evening at the Babylone in 1953 was the most important première put on in Paris for forty years. Nobody to whom the names of Pozzo, Lucky, Vladimir and Estragon are familiar would now question this prescient recognition of a classic of twentieth-century European literature.

Picture an empty country road in the evening. A single tree stands by that road, a tree that will witness a complex and abstract meeting of two fellows, Vladimir and Estragon. The men, of whom we know nothing, wait for the mysterious man Godot, contemplate whether he’ll arrive this time, and whilst waiting meet two other men: the powerful Pozzo driven by another man ironically named Lucky. This is the simplified basis for the play that in itself is so abstract that even an attempt of explaining it seems limiting. Samuel Beckett is a Nobel-winning playwright and Waiting for Godot is one of his most known plays in which “nothing happens, twice”.

My previous experiences of play-reading narrow down to Shakespeare and Beckett’s fellow countryman, Oscar Wilde. While I hold Shakespeare in a class of his own, I was surprised how much Beckett’s style of writing stage directions differed from Wilde’s. What struck me the most was the detail with which Beckett described movement on stage. Because of the simplicity of the setting and the fact that “nothing happens”, the atmosphere and the themes of the play are mainly built through dialogue. However, unlike Wilde who leaves more room for the director’s imagination, Beckett has a clear vision of how the characters move on the stage and he presents that also in his stage directions. This is, indeed, very helpful for the reader, because it gave me an idea of the visual presentation, and I think that the motions also build intensity. The tension of the play rises and falls constantly making it very addicting – almost like a page-turner. However, Beckett’s use of language and metaphors also invites the reader to study the text closer.

An interesting fact about Waiting for Godot is that although it has been voted as one of the most important English-language plays, it was originally written in French and translated into English by the author. There are multiple ways of reading the play and an also ways to interpret the notably missing character Godot. The most common interpretation is that it stands for God, as there are many references to biblical texts in the play, but there are also those who believe Godot presents something completely different. The bare-boned presentation of the play invites the reader and the audience to reflect their own ideas as to what the plays is really about, which brilliantly brings out a myriad of responses.

Waiting for Godot is now one of my must-see plays and I cannot wait to read more of Beckett’s works in the near future. I have “The Trilogy” (Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable) listed on my TBR274, and after Waiting for Godot I expect nothing but greatness. If you’re into plays, Waiting for Godot is a must-read, and if you’re not, I suggest that you still give it a try. Don’t be frightened by the abstract. Embrace the absurdity, the feeling of not knowing everything, and just enjoy the ride. Better yet, go and watch it on stage.


Pozzo: (suddenly furious) Have you not done tormenting me with your accursed time! It’s abominable! When! When! One day, is that not enough for you, one day he went dumb, one day I went blind, one day we’ll go deaf, one day we were born, one day we shall die, the same day, the same second, is that not enough for you?

(Calmer.) They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.

8 thoughts on “Review: Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

  1. I absolutely loved this play (I studied it in uni last year) while many of the other students hated it, claimed it was boring, and, of course, the obvious; that ‘nothing happened’. Nice review!

  2. Is it really that surprising that Wilde and Beckett are so different. They have very different styles and were writing at very different periods. Beckett is a post modernist which is a very distinctive style and movement in literature. He is quite un Irish in his writing. His syntax and use of language bears non of the normal hallmarks of Hiberno Irish.

    • I didn’t mean to insinuate in my review that because both were Irish they should, by default, write similarly. That was not my intension at all. I guess the reason why I compare the two is because I adore both for their writing style, despite them being so very different. Had Wilde used as much stage direction and to-and-fro bouncing dialogue in his plays, I would have found it unbearable. As for the language being un-Irish, it might all derive from the fact that Beckett wrote the play originally in French?
      Thank you for your comment and for pointing out the dissimilarities!

  3. I love Waiting for Godot! It definitely divides people though. There was a production a few years back with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart – I don’t know if its available anywhere but I highly recommend it if you can get hold of a recording.

  4. I’ve studied it at university and I think there is so much to say about this play! If you can, I strongly advise you to read the French version and compare it to the English one. There are slight but meaningful differences between the two :). Endgame is also a very interesting and rich play!

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