In 1956 Vivian Mercier referred to En Attendant Godot (Waiting for Godot) as a play in which nothing happens twice. Samuel Beckett’s absurd play opened in Paris in 1953 to a less than susceptible audience. On the other hand, the dreaded performance at the San Quentin prison, in 1957, returned an overwhelmed audience with perfect understanding of whom or what Godot is.
Beckett’s play about two homeless tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, which was written just a couple of years after the end of the Second World War, withstood the test of time and might today be even more popular than before.
In the first scene of the play Vladimir and Estragon are waiting at the side of the road for Godot to arrive. Godot will be their saviour, but Godot never shows up. Beckett refused to explain the metaphor of Godot and said it is the responsibility of the audience to find their own understanding of who Godot might be. A prisoner at the San Quentin penitentiary believed Godot to be “the outside” while others saw Godot as “God”.
The frustration of waiting and the futility of the entire exercise emphasize the main theme of communication or rather the lack of communication. Vivian Mercier might have been right to say that nothing happened, but it is in fact in the nothingness that so much happens.
The devastating Second World War left many people desperate and disillusioned with life. In a world subject to change, especially such radical change as many experienced after the two world wars, it is difficult to express meaning. Communication in Waiting for Godot is actually the lack of communication or the breakdown of communication. The constant misunderstandings, the inability of the characters to remember, Lucky’s monologue with repetitive words and no punctuation marks as well as the telegraphic writing style, show the loss of communication as it was known before the wars.
The influence of the Existentialist movement (the philosophy of the time) can clearly be seen in most Absurd Theater. The Existentialist philosopher Albert Camus said life is absurd with no meaning. This philosophy forms the basis of the communication between the two tramps. Their conversations suffer from repetitive statements, forgetfulness and long silences. During these long silences the hat becomes a valuable non-verbal communication tool as well as comic relieve. The catalysts of speech are “silence” and “pause”. Horst Breuer refers to Lucky’s speech as verbal chaos. At first it might appear hap-hazardous, but it is actually carefully structured around recurrent phrases and words. The phrase “for reasons unknown” occurs frequently. It functions as a condensation of Lucky’s message to the audience – the impossibility of reasoning when causes are intelligible. The speech moves from initial exemplary articulation to its final decay that reminds of childish gibberish.
Beckett believed the world to be a mess without form. The polar opposite of this mess is believed to be art, which is form. To find a form to accommodate the mess has become the ultimate task of the artist.