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Teaching Guide

Teaching Waiting for Godot

Spoiler alert: he never shows up.

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We considered making this teaching guide just a series of animated .gifs. After all, Waiting for Godot is a masterpiece of postmodern absurdity. Why should we have to make sense?!

But your students will want you to make sense, and you want us to make sense, so we'll put .gifs away for a few minutes to bring you all the info.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity connecting Godot to our modern-day Beckett, Jerry Seinfeld.
  • other pop culture resources starring Nathan Lane, John Goodman, and Robin Williams.
  • literary connections like Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf (not us), and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.

Repeat after us: teaching guide now; cat .gifs later.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Beckett's play never answers the question of who or what Godot really is. Is he a person? Is he God? Is he death? One way to interpret this play is to imagine that Godot represents whatever we find ourselves waiting for and that the absurdity of life is that we spend it trying to occupy ourselves while waiting for something better or more important to come along, only nothing ever does come.

Only what if Godot did show up? Who would he turn out to be? What would he say? How would this change our understanding of the play?

In this lesson, students will write a monologue for Godot, himself. Then they'll analyze how the actual presence of Godot would impact the play and its themes in order to better understand Beckett's choice to leave Godot out.

This lesson will take two to three days to complete.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Waiting for Godot

Step 1: This Godot guy is tricky, so start with a discussion about him and how he relates to the central themes of the play. Shmoop on Godot might be helpful here.

  • Who or what do you think Godot is?
  • What might Godot symbolize or represent?
  • Why doesn't he ever show up?
  • Why do the characters continue to wait for him even though he doesn't show up?
  • Do you think the characters can choose not to wait for him?
  • What are we to learn from the fact that Godot never shows up?

Step 2: Now let students work out their imaginations. Ask students to brainstorm ideas about what Godot might look like if he did show up. Is he a Father Time type character? A Christ figure? A thundercloud? Some other type of creature? Allow students to share and discuss their ideas.

Step 3: Once students have chosen the figure they think best represents Godot (a dwarf? A dragon? A talking beagle?), they will write a monologue for him. If Godot showed up at the end of the play, what would he have to say? Would he clear everything up, or leave us with more questions? Would his speech make sense, or would it be absurd yet filled with hidden meaning, kind of like Lucky's scene in Act 1? We recommend these monologues be about a page long.

Step 4: Students should accompany their monologues with a brief essay (one page or less) that explains the thinking behind their monologues and provides text evidence to support their choices.

Step 5: What's a play unit without a little performance? Set aside a day for students to present their monologues to the class. As they present, discuss how these monologues and the physical presence of Godot change the underlying themes of the play. We've just asked students to read an entire play about waiting for a guy who never shows up. Was this a useful exercise? Well, as Beckett fans we think so, but your students will likely need a little help understanding why it's necessary for Godot not to appear. Making him appear and then analyzing how that affects the play should help with this realization.

  • What is the effect of Godot appearing at the end of the play?
  • How would the other characters react to his appearance?
  • Would his arrival change their circumstances?
  • Would they continue to wait? Why or why not? Why does this matter?
  • How would the themes of the play change or be interpreted differently with the arrival of Godot? Check out Shmoop on themes for help here.
  • What is gained by the arrival of Godot? What is lost?
  • Why is it necessary for Godot not to physically arrive in the play?

Instructions for Your Students

We know what you're thinking: Why on Earth have we made you read an entire play about waiting for a guy who never shows up? It's maddening, right? The title of the play is "Waiting for Godot," all the characters talk about is waiting for Godot, the only thing they do is wait for Godot, and Godot never shows up. What gives? Who is this Godot guy anyway? Is he a person? Is he God? Is he death? And why are the characters waiting for him?

One way to interpret this play is to imagine that Godot represents whatever we find ourselves waiting for and that the absurdity of life is that we spend it trying to occupy ourselves while waiting for something better or more important to come along, only nothing ever does come.

But what if Godot did show up? Who would he turn out to be? What would he say? How would this change our understanding of the play?

In this lesson, you will write a monologue for Godot, himself. Then you'll analyze how the actual presence of Godot would impact the play and its themes in order to better understand Beckett's choice to leave Godot out.

Step 1: You've probably noticed that this Godot guy is tricky, so let's begin with a discussion about him and how he relates to the central themes of the play.

  • Who or what do you think Godot is?
  • What might Godot symbolize or represent?
  • Why doesn't he ever show up?
  • Why do the characters continue to wait for him even though he doesn't show up?
  • Do you think the characters can choose not to wait for him?
  • What are we to learn from the fact that Godot never shows up?

Step 2: Now it's time to exercise your imaginations. Brainstorm some ideas about what Godot might look like if he did show up. Is he a Father Time type character? A Christ figure? A thundercloud? Some other type of creature? Remember, Beckett is known for absurdity, but his absurdity still makes a weird kind of sense, so keep that in mind. Of course, you'll eventually need to support your choices with text evidence to show how your version of Godot could fit the play. Once you have a few ideas, we'll share and discuss what you came up with.

Step 3: Got a figure you think best represents Godot (a dwarf? A dragon? A talking beagle?)? Awesome, now it's time to write a monologue for him. If Godot showed up at the end of the play, what would he have to say? Would he clear everything up, or leave us with more questions? Would his speech make sense, or would it be absurd yet filled with hidden meaning, kind of like Lucky's scene in Act 1? Your monologue should be about a page long.

Step 4: Your monologues will be accompanied by a brief essay (one page or less) that explains the thinking behind your monologues and provides text evidence to support your choices. What evidence from the text supports the idea that if Godot showed up, this is what he would have to say?

Step 5: You know we can't let you off the hook without a little performance, right? Today you'll be presenting your monologues to the class with as much dramatic flair as you can muster. As you present, we'll discuss how these monologues and the physical presence of Godot change the underlying themes of the play.

  • What is the effect of Godot appearing at the end of the play?
  • How would the other characters react to his appearance?
  • Would his arrival change their circumstances?
  • Would they continue to wait? Why or why not? Why does this matter?
  • How would the themes of the play change or be interpreted differently with the arrival of Godot?
  • What is gained by the arrival of Godot? What is lost?
  • Why is it necessary for Godot not to physically arrive in the play?

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