Waiting for Godot | Study Guide

Samuel Beckett

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Waiting for Godot | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, which premiered in 1953, is one of the most enigmatic theatrical works ever composed. Featuring an ensemble of only five characters, the play is a cornerstone of absurdist theater. The titular Godot, though heavily discussed throughout the play, never appears onstage. It is his absence that has has led audiences to interpretations of the play as everything from a Cold War commentary to a Christian allegory.

Beckett was very straightforward regarding how he wanted Waiting for Godot to be staged. The only scenery of note in the stage directions is a tree and a stone or mound on which Estragon sits. The barrenness of the set, along with the play's complicated classification as a tragicomedy, has caused scholars to study and theorize about the play. Beckett's literary and theatrical immortality was confirmed when Waiting for Godot was voted the most significant English-language play of the 20th century in a poll conducted by the British Royal National Theatre.

1. Lucky is often viewed as a Christ figure.

Beckett stated explicitly that Christian allegory was not intentional in Waiting for Godot. However, many critics view Lucky as comparable to Christ, in both how he carries the constant burden of Pozzo's bags and how he is treated like a subjugated prisoner.

2. Beckett didn't support the idea of an all-female ensemble performance of Waiting for Godot.

When questioned about his opinion of an all-female cast performing Waiting for Godot, he expressed his distaste for the idea by replying, "Women don't have prostates." This was in reference to the number of times Vladimir has to leave the stage to urinate during the play.

3. Beckett appreciated prison productions of Waiting for Godot.

Prisoners in Lüttringhausen, German, undertook the staging of the play in 1954 with input from Beckett himself. Beckett generally approved of the play being staged in the prison environment. Later when he was discussing pictures taken from a performance in 1957 at San Quentin prison in California, he stated, "I saw the roots of my play."

4. There were attempts to ban Waiting for Godot in the 1950s.

In 1950s England, strict censorship was applied to theatrical performances. The Lord Chamberlain at the time received a letter in favor of banning the play for its use of bathroom humor. The letter read, "One of the many themes running through the play is the desire of two old tramps continually to relieve themselves. Such a dramatisation of lavatory necessities is offensive and against all sense of British decency."

5. Many famous acting duos have portrayed Vladimir and Estragon.

In 1979 Geoffrey Rush and Mel Gibson—who happened to be roommates at the time—appeared in a production as Vladmir and Estragon, respectively. Steve Martin and Robin Williams appeared in the iconic roles during a 1988 performance. However, perhaps the most interesting combination took the stage in a London performance where the sketch comedy actors from Totally Tom—Tom Stourton and Tom Palmer—took the stage, "Sporting Adidas tracksuit bottoms, hoodies and five-day stubble."

6. An online adaptation of Waiting for Godot stages the play among New York's homeless population.

Entitled While Waiting for Godot, the web series is described as, "Giving backdrop to the play—and a sharp commentary on the issues of poverty and the urban homeless population." Each episode is between five and eight minutes long. In 2014 the web series won Best Cinematography at the Rome Web Awards.

7. An unauthorized sequel actually features Godot.

The "sequel," entitled Godot Arrived, was written by the Yugoslavian playwright Miodrag Bulatović in 1966. Beckett did not encourage this sequel to be composed, but he did not take any sort of action against Bulatović or openly disapprove of him writing it.

8. Beckett likely intended the name Godot to refer to feet.

Rejecting the notion that the word Godot is a play on God, Beckett noted in an interview that the character's name was derived from the French word for boot: godillot or godasse. This is a distinct possibility, since feet and boots do play a prominent role in the play, but another story claims that a man named Godot was the last competitor to pass Beckett as he was observing a bicycle race in France.

9. Lucky was originally portrayed as suffering from Parkinson's Disease.

French actor Jean Martin, who played Lucky in the premiere of Waiting for Godot, decided to play the character with the constant trembling and quivering symptomatic of Parkinson's. Martin consulted a doctor to mimic the attributes of the condition properly. Not wanting to confirm or deny anything about the characters' personal histories, Beckett refused either to approve or disapprove of the interpretation, although Beckett himself had only recently lost his mother to Parkinson's.

10. Sesame Street featured a spoof of Waiting for Godot.

Oddly, the PBS children's show parodied Beckett's play in a skit called "Waiting for Elmo" (1992). The parody appears in the show's "Monsterpiece Theater" segment, which pays homage to the adult PBS program Masterpiece Theater. In the parody, Grover and Telly Monster wait for Elmo near a tree. Fed up with the never-ending waiting, the tree abandons the characters to join the cast of the musical Okalahoma!

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