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ENG 12 - Extension 1: Waiting for Godot
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Chris Power explores how Waiting for Godot resists straightforward interpretation, producing audiences as uncertain as its characters. Waiting for Godot is a play that prompts many questions, and answers none of them. As the title suggests, it is a play about waiting: two men waiting for a third, who never appears. ‘And if he comes?’ one of Beckett’s tramps asks the other near the end of the play. ‘We’ll be saved’, the other replies, although the nature of that salvation, along with so much else, remains undefined: for both characters and audience, Waiting for Godot enforces a wait for its own meaning.
Waiting for Godot has been performed in many languages and in many contexts: in prisons, in apartheid South Africa, in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and during the Siege of Sarajevo. Andrew Dickson examines the ways in which Samuel Beckett's play has resonated in different communities and political climates.
“I think therefore I am.” Though reduced now to the level of cliché, Rene Descartes’ famous maxim sums up perfectly the philosophical underpinnings of existentialist thought. Existentialism has its roots in the writings of several nineteenth and twentieth century philosophers, among them Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Søren Kierkegaard. The philosophy is by most standards a very loose conglomeration of perspectives, aesthetics, and approaches to dealing with the world and its inherent difficulties.
The wide applicabilty of so many moments imagined in this play has been from the beginning the source of its appeal as Becketťs work continues to travel from one national stage to the next. Even in its original manuscript form, inscribed in a school boy’s lined notebook and which this Irishman wrote in French, not in his native English (he complicated the matter by translating the play into English himself), En attendant Godot displays a perspective that is pan-European and everywhere internationalist.
Beckett, perhaps more than any other 20th-century author in Germany, has served as a battle-ground for critical debates between various camps. Existentialists, theologians, Marxists, and sociologists have used Beckett as a spring board for fierce discussions over such topics as nihilism, literary realism, alienation, and the state of late bourgeois society.
Eric P. Levy explores the possibility of studying “Waiting for Godot” from within, in order to learn how a unique attitude toward life, distinctly Beckettian, gains expression. Futility is the guiding principle of Vladimir and Estragon. Their goal in life is to perpetuate the reassurance of frustration. In this regard, dialogue plays a vital role: the purpose of communication is not to resolve difficulty but to inhibit the possibility of doing so.
Absurdist theatre responded to the destruction and anxieties of the 20th century by questioning the nature of reality and illusion. Andrew Dickson introduces some of the most important figures in the Theatre of the Absurd, including Eugène Ionesco, Martin Esslin and Samuel Beckett.
Professor of English, Toronto University, Nick Mount - describes performances and contexts of Waiting for Godot.