Date finished: April 20th 2017
This is the third play I’ve read this year, and also the third play I’ve ever read for pleasure. 2017 is turning out to be a rather cultured year! Based on the strength of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, which was partly inspired by Beckett’s classic, I decided to pick up the originator of a play in which nothing happens.
‘I told him that if by Godot I had meant God I would have said God, and not Godot. This seemed to disappoint him greatly.’ – Samuel Beckett
If you want a plot synopsis, that’s it. This is the play that the theatre critic Vivien Mercier famously described as a play in which “nothing happens, twice”, and that really does cover it. The two protagonists, Vladimir and Estragon, are waiting for the eponymous man to appear. A strange man called Pozzo appears with his slave, Lucky, and a boy gives them a message to say Godot would not be coming today. Then comes act two, in which rather similar events take place (if one can describe nothing as “taking place”).
Perhaps having read Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead first takes away what pleasure there is to be had from reading Waiting to Godot. This is because Stoppard does everything Beckett does better, and with a tad more meaning, which always helps. Whilst Stoppard’s play was existentially absurdist; its meaninglessness, somewhat strangely, held meaning. Beckett’s play falls more on the side of Camus-style nihilistic absurdism, where everything becomes meaningless to the point that it’s disconcerting, vaguely unpleasant in an indefinable sense. Not much happens in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern… but it’s better than nothing happening at all. It’s hard to derive much pleasure from meditations on meaninglessness.
“We’re waiting for Godot.”
That said, these plays, as with all plays, are better when performed rather than read. Certainly, a dimension is missing. But whereas the dimension missing from Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is one that I would like to see, I find it difficult to imagine that the missing dimension from Waiting for Godot could add all that much to its net meaninglessness.
“Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes. It’s awful.”
Reading from the Theatre of the Absurd, especially for a rookie reader of plays, is always going to be a risk. Waiting for Godot does what it does well, but what it does isn’t something I enjoy. Just as I found Albert Camus’ The Stranger unenjoyable at best, Waiting for Godot demands an acceptance of the absence of meaning which I just can’t swallow. It might be iconic, but it’s not for me.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead – Tom Stoppard