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Showing posts with label Absurd Drama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Absurd Drama. Show all posts

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

An Essay on “Theatre of the Absurd”: What is the “Theatre of the Absurd”?


The “Theatre of the Absurd” , a term coined by Hungarian-born critic Martin Esslin in his  1962 book The Theatre of the Absurd, refers to a particular type of play which first became popular during the 1950s and 1960s and which presented on stage the philosophy articulated by French philosopher Albert Camus in his 1942 essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, in which he defines the human condition as basically meaningless. Camus argued that humanity had to resign itself to recognizing that a fully satisfying rational explanation of the universe was beyond its reach; in that sense, the world must ultimately be seen as absurd.

Esslin regarded the term “Theatre of the Absurd” merely as a "device" by which he meant to bring attention to certain fundamental traits discernible in the works of a range of playwrights, who did not regard themselves as a school but who all seemed to share certain attitudes towards the predicament of the man in the universe. The playwrights loosely grouped under the label of the absurd attempt to convey their sense of bewilderment, anxiety, and wonder in the face of an inexplicable universe. According to Esslin, the five defining playwrights of the movement are Eugène Ionesco, Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Arthur Adamov, Harold Pinter, Tom Stoppard, although these writers were not always comfortable with the label and sometimes preferred to use terms such as "Anti-Theater" or "New Theater.” The Theatre of the Absurd originated in France; Jean Genet from France, Arthur Ade,mov bom in Russia, Fernando Arrabalfrom SpanishMofocco, Samuel Beckett from Dublin and Eugene Ionesco from Rumania were the leading figures.

Although the Theatre of the Absurd is often traced back to avant-garde experiments of the 1920s and 1930s, its roots, in actuality, date back much further. Absurd elements first made their appearance shortly after the rise of Greek drama. The modern  origins of the Theatre of the Absurd are rooted in the avant-garde experiments in art of the 1920s and 1930s. At the same time, it was undoubtedly strongly influenced by the traumatic experience of the horrors of the Second World War, which showed the total impermanence of any values, shook the validity of any conventions and highlighted the precariousness of human life and its fundamental meaninglessness and arbitrariness. The trauma of living from 1945 under threat of nuclear annihilation also seems to have been an important factor in the rise of the new theatre. Suddenly, one did not need to be an abstract thinker in order to be able to reflect upon absurdity: the experience of absurdity became part of the average person's daily existence.

The absurdist dramatists believe that our existence is absurd because we are born without seeking to be born, we die without seeking death. We live between birth and death trapped within our body and our reason, unable to conceive of a time in which we were not or a time in which we will not be. Thrust into life , armed with our senses ,will and reason, we feel ourselves to be potent beings. Yet our senses give the lie to our thought and our thought defies our senses. We never perceive anything completely. The absurd theatre openly rebelled against conventional theatre. It was, as Ionesco called it “anti-theatre.” It was surreal, illogical, conflictless and plotless. The dialogue often seemed to be complete gibberish. And, not surprisingly, the public’s first reaction to this new theatre was incomprehension and rejection.

Whereas traditional theatre attempts to create a photographic representation of life as we see it, the Theatre of the Absurd aims to create a ritual-like, mythological, archetypal, allegorical vision, closely related to the world of dreams. The focal point of these dreams is often man's fundamental bewilderment and confusion, stemming from the fact that he has no answers to the basic existential questions: why we are alive, why we have to die, why there is injustice and suffering. Ionesco defined the absurdist everyman as “Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots … lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.” The Theatre of the Absurd, in a sense, attempts to reestablish man’s communion with the universe.

One of the most important aspects of absurd drama is its distrust of language as a means of communication. Language, it seems to say, has become nothing but a vehicle for conventionalized, stereotyped, meaningless exchanges. Words fail to express the essence of human experience, not being able to penetrate beyond its surface. The Theatre of the Absurd constituted first and foremost an onslaught on language, showing it as a very unreliable and insufficient tool of communication. Absurd drama uses conventionalised speech, clichés, slogans and technical jargon, which it distorts, parodies and breaks down. By ridiculing conventionalised and stereotyped speech patterns, the Theatre of the Absurd tries to make people aware of the possibility of going beyond everyday speech conventions and communicating more authentically.

The action of the absurd plays is typically intended to demonstrate symbolically the ideas of the playwright and to create the dramatic temperature necessary to maintain the interest of the audience. At first glance some of their plays appear to be utterly illogical until we realize that the logic of the author’s thought is not directly expressed but rather symbolically stated in action. The absurdists are not afraid of obscurity in art since they employ it as a direct symbol of the obscurity they find in life.

The absurd plays seek to explore the spiritual loneliness, complete isolation, and anxiety of the down-and-outs of society, of those who are social failures and social outcasts.

The first and more obvious role of absurd plays is satirical when these plays criticize a society that is petty and dishonest. The theatre of the absurd presents anxiety ,despair and a sense of loss at the disappearance of solutions, illusions and purposefulness. Other features include-the life is essentialy meaningless,hence miserable;there is no hope because of the inevitable futility of man’s efforts; reality is unbearable unless relieved by dreams and illusions;man is fascinated by death which permanently replaces dreams and illusions.

Samuel Beckett, the pioneer of the absurd theatre, also contributed to the other fields of literature- poetry,Fiction and criticism. He wrote his major works in French language. Samuel Barclay Beckett was born on 13th April, 1906 at Foxrock, near Dublin. He was a brilliant student as well as an outstanding sportsman. He completed his Bachelor of Arts at the Trinity College in 1927. He stood first and won the gold medal. He was selected to represent Trinity College in an exchange programme with Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris, where he met James Joyce and becoming part of his intimate circle; Joyce became a major influence on his literary style.

During World War II, Beckett stayed in Paris-even after it had become occupied by the Germans. He joined the underground movement and fought for the resistance until 1942 when several members of his group were arrested and he was forced to flee with his French-born wife to the unoccupied zone. In 1945, after it had been liberated from the Germans, he returned to Paris and began his most prolific period as a writer. In the five years that followed, he wrote Eleutheria, Waiting for Godot, Endgame, the novels Malloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable, and Mercier et Camier, two books of short stories, and a book of criticism.

Samuel Beckett's first play, Eleutheria, mirrors his own search for freedom, revolving around a young man's efforts to cut himself loose from his family and social obligations. His first real triumph, however, came on January 5, 1953, when Waiting for Godot premiered at the Théâtre de Babylone. In spite of some expectations to the contrary, the strange little play in which "nothing happens" became an instant success, running for four hundred performances at the Théâtre de Babylone and enjoying the critical praise of dramatists as diverse as Tennessee Williams, Jean Anouilh, Thornton Wilder, and William Saroyan who remarked, "It will make it easier for me and everyone else to write freely in the theatre."

His plays are concerned with human suffering and survival, and his characters are struggling with meaninglessness and the world of the Nothing. Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969. In his writings for the theater Beckett showed influence of burlesque, vaudeville, the music hall, commedia dell'arte, and the silent-film style of such figures as Keaton and Chaplin.

Beckett is an iconoclast and an image-breaker. He has shattered conventions and pioneered a new kind of drama. His drama is avobe categories of tragedy and comedy,avobe classification of traditional divisions, avobe message and avobe entertainment. It does not teach lessons, it does not preach, it does not do any propaganda. His plays show the situations in which we all are;they expose us in our existential predicament. 

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is the most famous, and most controversial play in the  absurd tradition. The characters of the play are strange caricatures who have difficulty communicating the simplest of concepts to one another as they bide their time awaiting the arrival of Godot. The language they use is often ludicrous, and following the cyclical patter, the play seems to end in precisely the same condition it began, with no real change having occurred. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as “the play where nothing happens.” Its detractors count this a fatal flaw and often turn red in the face fomenting on its inadequacies. It is mere gibberish, they cry, eyes nearly bulging out of their head--a prank on the audience disguised as a play. The plays supporters, on the other hand, describe it is an accurate parable on the human condition in which “the more things change, the more they are the same.” Change, they argue, is only an illusion.

Eugene Ionesco

In an essay about Kafka, Eugene Ionesco says: ≪Every-thing which does not have a purpose is absurd... Cut off from his religious or metaphysical roots, man is lost, all his approach becomes reckless, useless, suffocating.≫1

Along side Beckett in the theatre genre of absurdity, is playwright Eugene Ionesco, the most introspective -and, at the same time, the most explicitplaywright of the absurd. Ionesco's main focus is on the futility of communication, so the language of his plays often reflects this by being almost completely nonsensical. He approaches the absurdity of life by making his characters comical and unable to control their own existence. Ionesco was born in Romania, but grew up in Paris with his mother. After thirteen years in Paris, he returned to Romania where he had to learn his native language. He attended the University of Bucharest, then taught high school French, then in 1936 got married. It was completely by accident that Ionesco became a playwright, while learning to speak the English language, he took the illogical phrases he found in the primer he was using and these phrases became the dialogue for The Bald Soprano, his first play. It is a little strange to think that Ionesco found his calling in playwrighting because at the time, he was known to dislike theatre because of the contradiction presented by the reality of the performers and the fiction of the stage. After The Bald Soprano, Ionesco went on to write other absurd works such as Rhinoceros in 1959, and Journeys to the Home of the Dead in 1981.

In Eugene Ionesco’s theatre we are that abandoned man who cannot escape from a threatening universe. The new structures, which are disordered, chaotic - at least apparently -with a confusing discontinuity always unpredictable, always surprising in their development, creatively destroy the old structures of a world which dozes with contentment among the meanings which it thinks that it still has. Eugene Ionesco “revolutionizes” the theatre not by new themes- which could never renew literature radically-, but by a new language, because of which even the themes of the absurd become really new, that is for the first time they acquire a real, efficient, active presence. As he admits in several metatexts, Eugene Ionesco writes his plays in a way somehow similar to the one in which a modern poet, especially one who belongs to the surrealist modality, writes his poems:”

His most brilliant absurd plays are The Chairs and The Lesson. In The Chairs, the inanimate chairs crowd out the imaginary world of the too old people. He uses empty chairs to show man’s empty existence.

HAROLD PINTER:

Although Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco are two of the most famous absurdist playwrights, Harold Pinter is also the leading English language playwright in the genre. Harold was born on 10 October 1930 in Hackney, a working-class suburb in East London. Despite his work as a poet, an actor, a director, and a writer for films, Pinter’s reputation rests squarely on his full-lenght plays. The best known of these are probably The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, No Man’s Land, and Betrayal. It is fashionable to talk of Pinter’s works in terms of comedies of menace and social comedies. This division has arisen because of what can appear to be quite a marked division between an early play ,such as The Birthday Party, and a later one such as No Man’s Land. In the early plays , the audience are made to laugh , but at the same time are threatened by a violent, hostile presence that often destroys one or more of the central characters. In the later plays there is less violence, rather more subtle comic effects and much less obscurity. Pinter, who admitted that Beckett was a major influence on his writing, portrayed such absurdist themes as the sense of rootlessness, loneliness and isolation. The similarities between Waiting for Godot and The Birthday Party and The Caretaker are also clear: the latter are comic, leave audience confused about the origins of characters and the truth of what they say, show behaviour that can appear absurd and pointless, and are open to many different interpretations.  

In his plays, Pinter never finds in necessary to explain why things occur or who anyone is, the existence within the play itself is justification enough. In general, lack of explanation is what characterizes Pinter's work, that and the interruption of outside forces upon a stable environment. What seems to set him apart though is that unlike Beckett and Ionesco, Pinter's world within the drama seems to be at least somewhat realistic.

Jean Genet

Jean Genet is, 'biogıraphically, the most spectacular author of the twentieth century'.10Be was bom İn Paris in 1910. His mother, Gabrielle Genet, was a prosı:itute;.and his father is not known. Genet
was abandoneçl by his müther to an. orphanage, then he was sent near his' peasant foster parents and was brought up by them. Genet leamt about  his real family when he go't his birth ,certificate at the age of twenty-one.  Though he started as a poet and prose writer, he  decided to turn to the theatre in 1947 and look for 'the logic of the theatre' and aehieved his greatest fame in the theatre.

His plays are coneerned with expressing his own feeling of helplessness and solitude when confronted with the despair and loneliness of man eaught in the hall of mitrors of the human eondition, inexorably trapped by an endless progression of images that are merely his own distorted reflection-lies eovering lies, fantasies battening upon fantasies, nightmares'nourished by nightmares within nightmares)?

The characters try to brüıg back the reality of the universe but they always fail, for Genet's message is that reality is unattainable for he has no control over it. The play represents 'a world of fantasy about a world of fantasy'Zl which seems absurd. Genet's The Balcony  is an example of the Theatre of the Absurd as well as the theatre as ritual. The ritual in the play is 'the regular repetition of mythical events and, as such, dosely akin to sympathetic magic'. This' is Genet's basic dilemma.  His major dramatic works include Deathwatch, The Maids, The Balcony ,The Blacks, and The Screens.

To Genet theater should present the vu1gar, the horrib1e and the obscene, through rich and rhythmic language and gestures within the framework of Black Mass., 'The greatest hero for him is the greatest crimina1, the greatest, rebel against society. He uses language as a means to communicate the spectator  the harsh facts of this cruel world and his own isolation. For Genet, theatre assumes a religious role, and turns out to be a Dionysian nightmare. He 1ived and died 1ike the hero of such a nightmaıe, a committed antagonist.

Arthur Admov

A Russian-born French playwright and translator, Adamov wrote absurdist, surrealistic dramas until 1957 and epic, realistic dramas from 1957 to 1970. He is best known for Ping-pong, the finest example of his earlier plays. He came to Paris at the age of fifteen and has lived there ever since. In Paris Adamov met surrealists and edited the surrealist journal Discontinuité.  In Arthur Adamov’s career, creative dramatic composition was to begin just after the liberation of France when he was yet under forty.  Today, the list of Arthur Adamov’s dramatic works include  La Parodie (The Parody, 1950), L'Invasion (The Invasion, 1950), La Grande et la Petite Manoeuvre (The Grand and Small Manoeuvre, 1950), Le Sens de la Marche (The Way to Go, 1953), Tous contre tous (All against all, 1953), Le Professeur Taranne (Professor Taranne, 1953),  Le Ping-Pong (Ping Pong, 1955) and  Paolo Paoli (1957).

As a maker of plays he attacks with rigor the so-called absurdities of society. Vacillations of public authority are held up to ridicule as is also the alleged futility of the established order. The world is represented as deceptive. From his early work that focused on the concerns of the individual, to his political theatre that took inspiration from Brechtian theatre theory and underscored the preoccupations of the collective, Adamov's theatre must be noted for its plasticity and experimental nature.

Edward Albee: Albee is supposed to be one of the greatest absurdist playwrights after the Second World War in American literature. By the early 1960s, Albee was widely considered to the successor of Williams and Miller. Albee was the first and perhaps the only one of his theatrical generation to move from YAM (Young American Playwright) to FAM (Famous American Playwright). Albee came up with the series of successful works like The Zoo Story; a play written in Absurdist style; The American Dream; a play that attacks on the false values which have destroyed the real values in American society ; Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, The most famous book having the theme of emptiness, and so on. 

Most of Albee’s dramas lack specific setting. Audiences never know the situation and the place where things are happening in play. This is the important feature of absurdist drama. Most of the characters presented by Albee in his works are restless and uncomfortable in their own self. The characters in Albee’s plays seem to suffer from loneliness because they cannot or will not make any connection with each other. Through such an image of the characters, it can be assumed that Albee’s view about human condition is that it is always overpowered by separateness and loneliness, which according to him may be the result of a collapse of values on the western world in general and in the United States in particular. Love is also presented in his plays but not in the way of romantic situation but in the way of lost, decay, fall and failure. Albee’s plays are full of violence both physical violence like in The Zoo Story or verbal like in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf ? Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is taken as a metaphor to the 1960s American society. The character in the drama like George and Martha are husband and wife; whose life is very much frustrated. They only argue all the time. The violence could not let them to continue their partnership. They seem to be tired of arguing. This shows the common whole American life style.

Friday, August 9, 2013

A post-modernist Reading of Waiting for Godot



Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot (1948) is an absurd play that falls into both the genre of modernism and postmodernism. Considering its publishing period and other features such as subjectivism, fragmentation, paradox, existential crisis, identity crisis etc we can see that the play more tends to belong to postmodernism than to modernism. Moreover, this play is also a leading play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of postmodernism, which was inspired by existential philosophy and its view that at the root of our being there is nothingness. In the play, two major characters Vladimir and Estragon are waiting on a country road, by a tree for Godot who never comes. Through the barren setting and meaningless waiting the play actually symbolizes the psychological barrenness of modern people that arouse after two world wars. Modern people fall in the trap of waiting, a waiting that has no solution except keeping on waiting.

Prior to our main discussion, we must know some background information and to do so we must look back to the events that takes place during the first half of the 20th century in the worlds of politics, literature, philosophy and religion. The early 20th century witnessed two World Wars. In literature it gives birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism and all these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama, as we mentioned earlier, that it is an outcome of postmodernism. In fact it is a reflection of the age. The theatre of the absurd describes a mood, a tone towards life, where man's existence is a dilemma of purposeless, meaningless, and pointless activity. It is complete denial of age-old values. It has no plot, no characterization, no logical sequence, and no culmination. Samuel Becket introduced the concept of absurdity, nothingness and meaninglessness of life in his play Waiting For Godot.

Now, let us know some basic features of post-modernism which will help us to analyze the text perfectly. Post-modernism is the term used to suggest a reaction or response to modernism in the late twentieth century. Postmodernism has opposite characteristics to traditionalism, realism. Postmodernism believes in the premise ‘irrational is real, real is irrational’. Moreover, unlike modernism, postmodernism celebrates the fragmentation instead of lamenting over it.  Postmodernism does not care ground zero in its framework though traditionalism does. There is no pre-determined rules, well-established and long-term principles. Events, activities, thoughts, manners do not exist for a long time in postmodernism. All of these issues are subjected to change unlike traditionalism. Postmodernism argues that there is no absolute truth in the universe. Characteristics of literary works in postmodernism are so broad. Rules of classical literary works are not valid in these literary works. There is no unity of time, place and action in literary works in postmodernism. Unlike Classical literary works, there is no hero. However; characters of literary works in postmodernism are from middle or low class in other words they are ordinary man. Subject of literary works are inner world, thought and problems of these ordinary people. Endings of literary works can be interpreted in many different ways. Outcome of literary works may change from person to person. On the other hand, there is a close ending in classical literary works. There is only one lesson for everyone in classical works. For example, King Oedipus by Sophocles has a close ending and same lesson for everyone. The lesson is: “obey the fate”.

With the above information, now it will be a bit easier to analyze our text Waiting For Godot . Waiting for Godot written in the second half of the 20th Century in other words in just before the postmodernism, so; there are similarities between postmodernism and the play.

At first, the play celebrates the fragmentation in all dimensions. The language, plot, character, setting, and theme are presented in a fragmented form. It is as if the play were the supreme example of the fragmentations. The difference between The Waste Land and Waiting for Godot is that the latter laments for the glory of the past which has fallen apart, but the former never laments for the past. On the other hand, the play celebrates the fragmentations.    

Another key characteristic of postmodernism is that it holds the view that what is irrational is real and what is real is irrational. The play with its bizarre characteristics turns irrationality in the very rationality, the very unreality into the reality.

To add more, characters (Vladimir, Estragon) are not from high-class but ordinary man. The play is interested in their identity problem which is an inner problem. There is no plot as well as action in Waiting for Godot. So, nothing happens in the play. There is no order also in postmodernism. It is a common characteristic in both postmodernism and Waiting for Godot.

Then, in Waiting For Godot there is no absolute truth. All things are relative here. There is one truth for everything in traditionalism. Like modernism, postmodernism also believes the view that there is no absolute truth and truth is relative. Postmodernism asserts that truth is not mirrored in human understanding of it, but is rather constructed as the mind tries to understand its own personal reality. So, facts and falsehood are interchangeable.

Waiting for Godot, as we mentioned earlier, is concern with identity problem. We do not learn anything, about two major characters Vladimir and Estragon, such as their age, their status in society, their job etc.. Though they have name, but we do not know them as they do not call their names. Vladimir calls Estragon as Gogo and Estragon calls Vladimir as Didi. Their loss of memory is also associated with their identity crisis. The characters cannot remember their past. Loss of memory loss of identity. In Act II, Pozzo appears as blind and he cannot remember that they had met Vladimir and Estragon the previous day.

Waiting for Godot is also a play in the Theatre of Absurd, a theatrical outcome of  postmodernism. Through the portrayal of characters, Beckeet asserts that at the root of our being there is nothingness. Vladimir and Estragon face existential crisis as life seems nothing to them.This frustration is expressed through the repetation of the sentence, "Nothing to be done” by Estragon. Almost all modern people after two world wars experience the same feelings. Life appears to them as absurd thing with full of pureposeless, nothingness and meaninglessness.

Thus, we can say that the play Waiting for Godot is an interesting play for a study from postmodernist perspectives. The character, setting, language, and the style of the play go with the later 20th century literary movement called postmodernism.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Theme of Nothingness in Waiting for Codot

Jean-Paul Sartre published his seminal existentialist work  Being and Nothingness in 1943 in which he asserts that at the root of our being there is nothingness. Samuel Becket, who was inspired by the existentialist philosophy of Albert Camus and Sartre in his early 20s, published his trend setting play Waiting for Godot  in 1952,( in which nothing significant happens). He also asserts in the play that nothingness is at the root of our existence, especially in the life of the modern people. 

Whereas in the tradition play we see a concentrated single action motivates the whole play, here in the case of Wating for Godot everything is fuelled by the sense of ‘nothingness’. In fact, here nothing creates everything.

Whether we look at or look into the play , the sense of nothingness determines the course of the whole play. As a playwright, Samuel Becket believes that form and content should be complementary and should not be separate from each other. Here in the play both the form and the content  are structured by  an encircling sense of nothingness. Apart from form and content every outer and inner component of the play serves complementary role to establish the idea of ‘nothingness’. Every  aspect of the play - structure ,theme, setting, character , dialogue or some other  behavioral silent activities- is motivated by one thing that is  nothingness—the nothingness of the human life. But here ‘nothingness’ points its finger toward ‘everything’ –everything that modern people face physically and psychologically after two World Wars.

       In order to understand how nothingness is able to create everything in the play Waiting For Godot we must look back to the events that took place during the first half of the 20th century in the worlds of politics, literature, philosophy and religion. The early 20th century witnessed two World Wars. In literature it gave birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism and all these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama which in fact was a reflection the age. In fact, almost all literary activities were predetermined by a sense of nothingness in the early 20th century.  The theatre of the absurd describes a mood, a tone towards life, where man's existence is a dilemma of purposeless, meaningless, and pointless activity. It is complete denial of age-old values. It has no plot, no characterization, no logical sequence, and no culmination. Samuel Becket introduced the concept of absurdity, nothingness and meaninglessness of life in his play Waiting for Godot.

The setting of the play is influenced by a mode of nothingness. A desolate country road, a ditch, and a leafless tree make up the barren, otherworldly landscape, which bears a surplus of   symbolism. The landscape is a symbol of a barren and fruitless civilization or life. There is nothing to be done and there appears to be no place better to depart. The tree, usually a symbol of life with its blossoms and fruit or its suggestion of spring, is apparently dead and lifeless. But it is also the place to which they believe this Godot has asked them to come. The setting of the play reminds us the post-war condition of the world which brought about uncertainties, despair, and new challenges to the all of mankind.

Next comes the plot. The beginning and the end of Waiting for Godot, in which "Nothing happens, nobody comes ... nobody goes, " are also determined by a sense of nothingness. The play is without the traditional, Aristotelian structure where there is a beginning, a middle and a perfect ending. Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation. On a country road , by a tree, two old tramps, Vladimir and Estrangon , are waiting. That is the opening situation at the beginning of act I. At the end of act I they are informed that Mr. Godot, with whom they believe they have an appointment , cannot come, but that he will surely come tomorrow. Act-II repeats precisely the same pattern. The same boy arrives and delivers the same message. So, the play ends exactly where it started. In this way, a sense of nothingness or purposelessness acts as a driving force in the play.

  As per as the portrayal of characters is concerned the play also uplifts the sense of nothingness. A well-made play is expected to present characters that are well-observed and convincingly motivated. But in the play we five characters who are not very recognizable human beings and don’t engage themselves in a motivated action. Two tramps, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), are waiting by a tree on a country road for Godot, whom they have never met and who may not even exist. They argue, make up, contemplate suicide, and discuss passages from the Bible. The play concludes with a famous exchange:

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.
A play is expected to entertain the audience with logically built, witty dialogue. But in this play, like any other absurd play, the dialogue seems to have degenerated into meaningless babble. ‘Nothing to be done’ are the words that are repeated frequently. The dialogues the characters exchange are meaningless banalities. They use language to feel the emptiness between them, to conceal the fact that they have 'nothing' to talk about to each other.

   In the play we come across some behavioural attitudes that are more important than dialogues as they reflect the frustration, hesitation and psychological complexities of modern people. The opening lines of play are the superb example of it. When the curtain opens we find Estragon is engaging in his another vain attempt to take off his boots. His repeated failure attempt symbolizes the meaninglessness of everyday life activities and more symbolically the meaninglessness of life itself. Throughout the play there are so many behavioural attitudes that reflect the nothingness of human life.

To conclude, in order to better understand how nothingness creates everything in the play we can compare Waiting for Godot with The Spanish Tragedy and Hamlet. In these two plays, the central motive is revenge. In fact, everything is structured by this revenge motive. But in Waiting for Godot, where there is no motivated action, the sense of nothingness play the pivotal role in determining  the every aspect of the play. So, nothingness creates everything in Waiting for Godot.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as an absurd play

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was premiered in 1953 at the Theatre de Babylone in Paris. The play is thought to initiate a theatrical tradition called absurd drama. But like any other artistic puzzles, the theatre of the absurd cannot be reduced to a single bottom line. It cannot be defined in a single word or by a particular theory. In order to understand the rise, characteristics and popularity of the absurd drama we must look back to the events that took place during the first half of the 20th century in the worlds of politics, literature, philosophy and religion. 

The early 20th century witnessed two World Wars .In literature it gave birth to two recognizable literary styles: modernism and post-modernism. In philosophy the rise of existentialism was the most important event and the world also saw the decline of men’s faith in religion. All these happenings paved the way for the theatrical tradition the absurd drama which in fact was a reflection the age. The term was coined by the critic Martin Esslin, who made it the title of a 1962 book on the subject. Esslin saw the work of these playwrights as giving artistic articulation to Albert Camus’ philosophy that life is inherently without meaning, as illustrated in his work The Myth of Sisyphus.

The group of the playwrights whose works came to be known as the absurd plays include Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionescoe, Jean Genet, Edward Albee and Harold Pinter. These writers flout all the standards by which drama has been judged for many centuries. As playwrights they share some theatrical techniques and philosophic ideas. In their plays there is no particular attention spent developing a recognizable plot, no detailed characterization, and no readily definable theme. This bizarre rejection of any recognizable pattern or development gave birth to the term Literature of the Absurd. Philosophically almost all of them share the existentialist philosophy of absurdity and nothingness.

Beckett's Waiting for Godot largely deals with the absurd tradition. The play is without any plot, character, dialogue and setting in the traditional sense.

The setting of the play creates the absurdist mood. A desolate country road, a ditch, and a leafless tree make up the barren, otherworldly landscape whose only occupants are two homeless men who bumble and shuffle in a vaudevillian manner. They are in rags, bowler hats, and apparently oversized boots--a very comic introduction to a very bizarre play.There is a surplus of symbolism and thematic suggestion in this setting. The landscape is a symbol of a barren and fruitless civilization or life. There is nothing to be done and there appears to be no place better to depart. The tree, usually a symbol of life with its blossoms and fruit or its suggestion of spring, is apparently dead and lifeless. But it is also the place to which they believe this Godot has asked them to come. This could mean Godot wants the men to feel the infertility of their life. At the same time, it could simply mean they have found the wrong tree.

The setting of the play reminds us the post-war condition of the world which brought about uncertainties, despair, and new challenges to the all of mankind. A pessimistic outlook laced with sadism and tangible violence, as a rich dividend of the aftermath of wars. It is as if the poignancy and calamities of the wars found sharp reflections in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Next comes the plot. In the traditional sense a plot should concentrate on a single motivated action and is also expected to have a beginning, a middle and a neatly tied-up ending. But it’s almost impossible to provide a conventional plot summary of Waiting for Godot, which has often been described as a play in which nothing happens. It is formless and not constructed on on any structural principles.It has no Aristotolean beginning,middle and end.It starts at an arbitrary point and seem to end just as arbitrarily. Beckett, like other dramatists working in this mode, is not trying to "tell a story." He's not offering any easily identifiable solutions to carefully observed problems; there's little by way of moralizing and no obvious "message." The pattern of the play might best be described as circular.The circularity of Waiting for Godot is highly unconventional.

As per as the portrayal of characters is concerned the play also fits into the absurd tradition. A well-made play is expected to present characters that are well-observed and convincingly motivated. But in the play we five charaters who are not very recognizable human beings and don’t engage themselves in a motivated action.Two tramps, Vladimir (Didi) and Estragon (Gogo), are waiting by a tree on a country road for Godot, whom they have never met and who may not even exist. They argue, make up, contemplate suicide, discuss passages from the Bible, and encounter Pozzo and Lucky, a master and slave. Near the end of the first act, a young boy comes with a message from Mr. Godot that he will not come today but will come tomorrow. In the second act, the action of the first act is essentially repeated, with a few changes: the tree now has leaves, Pozzo is blind and has Lucky on a shorter leash. Once again the boy comes and tells them Mr. Godot will not come today; he insists he has never met them before. The play concludes with a famous exchange:

Vladimir: Well, shall we go?
Estragon: Yes, let’s go.
They do not move.

In the raditional play is expected to entertain the audience with logically built,witty dialogue.But in this play,like any other absurd play,the dialogue seems to have degenarated into meaningless babble.The dialogues the characters exchange are meaningless banalities.They use langiage to feel the emptyness between them,to conceal the fact that they have no desire to talk to each other anything at all.

The absurd plays deal with the themes of existentialism,especially the existentialist theme of absurdity.The absurd playwrights tried to translate the contemporary existentialis philosophy into the drama. The absurd playwrights also tried to portray the distrassful condition of the humans.In Waiting for Godot the human condition is shown as a dismal and distressful state. The derelict man struggles to live or rather exist, in a hostile and uncaring world. A sense of stagnancy and bareness captivates man, and whenever he tries to assert himself, he is curbed. In Beckett's words, human life is the endurance and tolerance to "the boredom of living" "replaced by the suffering of being." These phrases speak volumes of a philosophy born out of the harsh human realities. Vladimir and Estragon are blissfully and painfully oblivious to their own condition. They go about repeating their actions every day unmindful of the monotony and captivity. They also do not activate their mind to question or brood over their own actions and the motives underlying their actions. The "compressed vacuum" in their lives is constantly disregarded. The idea that God or fate or some Supreme Being with control toys with the lives of men is startlingly clear. Every moment of every day, mankind waits for some sign from God that his suffering will end. And every day, God does not arrive.


So many times in the play, a possibility is suggested then immediately undercut by its unhappy opposite. This technique is used by Beckett to relay his theme that life is uncertain and unpredictable at its best, unfortunate and unending at its worst. To further state this theme, Estragon asserts that "There's no lack of void" in life. It is actually of little importance where they were the previous day, as everywhere everyday the same empty vacuum envelops them. Absence, emptiness, nothingness, and unresolved mysteries are central features in the play.


Thus the play Waiting for Godot contains almost all the elements of a absurd play. The play depicts the irrationalism of life in a grotesquely comic and non-consequential fashion with the element of "metaphysical alienation and tragic anguish." It was first written in French and called En attendant Godot. The author himself translated the play into English in 1954. The uniqueness of the play compelled the audiences to flock to the theaters for a spectacularly continuous four hundred performances. At the time, there were two distinct opinions about the play; some called it a hoax and others called it a masterpiece. Nevertheless, Waiting for Godot has claimed its place in literary history as a masterpiece that changed the face of twentieth century drama.

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