Study Guide

Waiting for Godot

By Samuel Beckett

Waiting for Godot Introduction

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.

What is Waiting for Godot About and 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.

  

Waiting for Godot Resources

Movie or TV Productions

2001 Movie
A movie version of Waiting for Godot from 2001.

1991 Movie
A movie version of Waiting for Godot from 1991.

1977 TV Movie
A made-for-TV adaptation of Waiting for Godot.

1975 TV Movie
Another made-for-TV movie, but this one is in German.

1971 Movie
And yet another one, but in Swedish.

1965 Movie
A 1965 Czech version of Waiting for Godot.

1965 TV Movie
A Norwegian made-for-TV version of the play.

1961 TV Movie
Another made-for-TV movie of Waiting for Godot.

While Waiting for Godot
These folks thought Beckett needed an update for the 21st century. It's won a bunch of awards, but young Shmoopers, be warned: it's uncensored.

Videos

"Waiting for Elmo"
Monsterpiece Theater's "Waiting for Elmo," from Sesame Street.

Drama Workshop Excerpt
A 1987 San Quentin Drama Workshop excerpt on Waiting for Godot.

Lucky’s Speech
This is Lucky’s speech, and it’s fantastic.

Audio

An Audio Performance of the Play
You should definitely check this out; it’s an audio recording of the play’s performance. You can really get a sense of Waiting for Godot as a dramatic work when you hear the lines spoken instead of just reading them on a page. No joke. Just do it.

Images

Lucky and Pozzo
A picture of Lucky and Pozzo on stage.

A Comic
Punning and computers; it doesn’t get much better than this.

Playbill Cover
A Playbill cover from the first London production.

Book Cover
This s the book cover for a Turkish edition of the play.

Original Book Cover
The cover of the first English edition of Waiting for Godot.

The Author
A photo of Samuel Beckett.

Documents

The Nobel Prize
Beckett won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1969. Here’s why.

Other

Fan Site
A great fan site for Samuel Beckett.

Read Godot Online
The full online (and free!) text of Waiting for Godot, complete with pictures, which are fun to look at.