Waiting for Godot: What is in the Name?


by Thoithoi O’Cottage

The title of the play Waiting for Godot is very strangely uncommon in that it embodies the whole of the action(s) of the play. Then the discussion of the significance of the title of this play entails prior thorough understanding of the whole play first.

There is no plot in Waiting for Godot. With plot eliminated from it, and there being nothing to do, and nothing happening, there emerges a quality of timelessness and circularity as two lost creatures, usually played as tramps, spend their days waiting at the foot of a tree without a leaf on a low mound by the side of a country road – but without any certainty of whom they are waiting for or of whether he, or she, or it, will ever come. They are not sure of whether they know or have ever seen who or what they are waiting for, and also not sure if ever they made an appointment to meet. They only unsurely call the waited or seem to remember his/her/its name is Godot.

In Act 1, they are not sure of whether they came at the spot the previous day:

ESTRAGON:  We came here yesterday.
VLADIMIR:  Ah no, there you’re mistaken.
ESTRAGON:  What did we do yesterday?
VLADIMIR:  What did we do yesterday?
ESTRAGON: Yes.
VLADIMIR:  Why . . . (Angrily.) Nothing is certain when you’re about.
ESTRAGON: In my opinion we were here.
VLADIMIR: (looking round). You recognize the place?
ESTRAGON: I didn’t say that.
VLADIMIR: Well?
ESTRAGON: That makes no difference.
VLADIMIR: All the same . . . that tree . . . (turning towards auditorium) that bog . . .

In Act 2 also, which happens the next day, they are again not sure if they were at the same spot waiting for the never coming Godot:

ESTRAGON: I tell you we weren’t here yesterday. Another of your nightmares.
VLADIMIR: And where were we yesterday evening according to you?
ESTRAGON: How would I know? In another compartment. There’s no lack of void.
VLADIMIR: (sure of himself). Good. We weren’t here yesterday evening. Now what did we do yesterday evening?

And it is notable that at the end of Act 1, after having fruitlessly and meaninglessly waited, they propose to one another that they should go, but they do not move to go:

VLADIMIR: No, it’s not worthwhile now.

Silence.

ESTRAGON: Well, shall we go?

VLADIMIR: Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.

The same void act repeats itself at the end of Act 2:

VLADIMIR: Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, let’s go.

They do not move.

What can be assumed, but without certainty, is that Vladimir and Estragon come to the mound everyday and wait for the never coming Godot and they will also continue to do the following days, too, though they forget they did sit on the mound and wait for Godot the same way they did the previous day(s). However, we, the readers and the audience know the fact that they did come and waited for Godot there at the same spot yesterday, a strong poof of the possibility of the two amnesiac tramps’ repeating the act of waiting, making us to think that they will also come there tomorrow and wait but they will forget they were there at the same spot today. In fact, when they say they should go but do not move the curtain the curtain comes down at the end of the first act and it goes up on them waiting for the elusive Godot at the beginning of the second act hinting to come the next day, and wait for him/her/it all over again.

The entire action of the play takes place at one place, the only movement being from wings to the stage and vice versa. With there being no basic change in the situation of the protagonists, what traditionally is called plot lacks linear progression which is essential by the definition of the term.

The tramps, Vladimir and Estragon, do nothing, and there is nothing to do, too. As Estragon says in Act 1, and as phrases of the same significance spoken by both of them intersperse the play here and there very frequently,

Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!

there is nothing for them to do (Estragon’s speech ‘Nothing to be done’ opens the play), see or hear and no thought also comes to them, but for waiting, and remain endlessly waiting, a passive helpless action which can never be done actively. One can do things quickly, be it eating, walking or reading, but one cannot wait quickly, and thus the very act of waiting renders one helplessly passive making one feel the wrenching pain of time passing through the very heart of one’s life, or of not living while cast into life but of being acted upon, so keenly that one would like to escape from this empty, absurd life by committing suicide.

This act of waiting is the existential problem of life viewed as absurdly purposeless act of helplessly waiting. Whatever could the meaning of waiting in this play be, and whoever or whatever could Godot be (be it God or dog, which is never certain), it is clear that the play is about waiting, nothing happening, but just waiting, and thus the whole void, empty and absurd action(s) of this play is most completely contained by the title Waiting for Godot.

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