Waiting for Godot Introduction
In A Nutshell
There's a big reason that this play isn't called Meeting Godot or Hey, Godot's Finally Here or Godot, WTF? We've Been Waiting For You. You Could Have Texted.
That's because—spoiler, guys—Godot never shows. Godot's MIA.
So naturally the guys who have been waiting for Godot this whole time sulkily finish their brunch, leave Godot a few snappy voicemails, and post Instagrams of themselves going to the beach without Godot to make him jealous. Right?
Nope. Didi and Gogo not only wait for Godot until dark, but, when it's obvious that he's not coming, they come back the next day and wait again. And—shocker—Godot is once more a no-show. But Didi and Gogo keep on waiting.
So what is happening in Waiting For Godot? Is this play about two total doormats with weird names? Is it about unrequited love? Is it a scathing treatise on ghosting?
It's way more mind-meltingly deep than that. Waiting for Godot, published by Samuel Beckett in 1949, is a work of Absurdism that explores themes of Existentialist philosophy.
The sheer emptiness and randomness of the plot causes the audience (or reader) to wonder if anything is going to happen, and whether there is any meaning to anything in the play—or in life.
Samuel Beckett originally wrote the play in French, with the title En attendant Godot. (Two guesses what that means in French.) The work was revolutionary for what it lacked: real plot, discernible character development, and any sort of adherence to dramatic traditions. It was a hit—everyone loves a rebel—and the play became a cornerstone of "Le Théâtre de l'Absurde," or Theater of the Absurd, a dramatic body of work largely defined by the characteristic traits of Godot.
Beckett himself translated the play into English—his first language—shortly afterwards, and the play’s success continued. And boy did Beckett's hard work pay off. The amount of criticism spawned by Godot is staggering and revolves both around the play’s literary merits and its value as a philosophical work. Bonus—in 1969 Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his revolutionary contributions to drama and literature.
Why Should I Care?
We're going to preface this one with the fact that—seriously, Shmoopers—we're not spoiling for a fight. We don't want to offend you. We don't want to hurt your feelings.
But the fact of the matter is... you have way more in common with a couple of weird vagrants wearing bowler hats and sitting around waiting for a dude who never shows than you probably care to admit.
... please don't shout at us.
Sure, maybe you're not wearing a bowler. (If you are: thumbs up. Your hat game is strong.) Sure, maybe you haven't been waiting for the same diety-sounding no-show for eternity.
But dang if things don't get absurd—or even Absurd—for you, too.
See if this sounds familiar: your morning is basically the same every single weekday. You shower (washing your hair first), you brush your teeth, and you put on your pants followed by your shirt and your shoes. In fact, you rarely remember your morning routine—because it's exactly that: it's routine. It never varies.
How about this: you hate math. You hate it with the fiery passion of ten thousand suns. But in order to graduate, you need to pass a math test. So you study. And you think to yourself, "I have to do this. There is no other way. I must," without considering that there actually is an alternative... albeit an unpleasant one that involves not graduating. (Shmoop PSA: Be cool; stay in school.)
Or hey: you're at a wedding. The Chicken Dance starts playing, and you're compelled—in fact, you're led by your eccentric Aunt Ethel and Uncle Travis—to join the line of people flapping their arms like chickens. You don't want to dance... but you really have no choice. Or do you?
If any of those even vaguely ring a bell—and we know they do—then you are an Existentialist cousin to Didi and Gogo, the bowler-hatted protagonists of Waiting For Godot.
Because we've just hit on three big Existentialist tenets in our little scenarios:
1) In the words of Didi from Waiting For Godot, "Habit is a great deadener" (2.795)—which is why your morning routine has basically become as immovable as petrified wood and as forgettable as... well, as a morning routine.
2) Everyone has radical personal freedom, but with that comes radical personal responsibility. You actually do have the choice to not study and to fail math... but the consequences of your actions make it seem as though you're without a choice in the matter.
3) The world is absurd, as evidenced by the ridiculousness of the Chicken Dance and the fact that you really feel like you must participate in it.
And dang if those same Big Three Existentialist tenets don't pop up in Waiting For Godot. This is, after all, a play about Didi and Gogo, who wait every. single. day. for a guy named Godot to arrive (hence the "great deadener" bit). This is a play about guys who can't wrap their heads around the fact that they don't have to wait for Godot (they think they have no choice). And, finally, Waiting For Godot makes us uncomfortably aware about the very thin line that separates the normal (say, taking off your shoes) and the absurd (say, taking off your shoes multiple times in a row).
But the similarities don't stop there. Dive right in and wait for Godot alongside Didi and Gogo and you'll end up taking a long, hard, hilarious, absurd, ridiculous, depressing, and thought-provoking look in the mirror.