Study Guide

Waiting for Godot Religion

By Samuel Beckett

Religion

Act 1
Vladimir

VLADIMIR
(musingly) The last moment . . . (He meditates.) Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that? (1.32)

Actually, Vladimir, the line is, "Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life," and it’s a Biblical proverb. If Dido and Gogo’s hope is for Godot to show up, then this is a hope perpetually deferred since, as we know, Godot never comes. As for the tree of life, there is a tree on stage when Vladimir utters his line, but it’s not so much a tree of life as it is a dead, shrub-looking thing. So what should we make of that?

VLADIMIR
(to Lucky) How dare you! It's abominable! Such a good master! Crucify him like that! After so many years! Really! (1.476)

Vladimir now draws a comparison between Pozzo and Christ with his use of the word "crucify."

VLADIMIR
And yet . . . (pause) . . . how is it—this is not boring you I hope—how is it that of the four Evangelists only one speaks of a thief being saved. The four of them were there—or thereabouts—and only one speaks of a thief being saved. (Pause.)
[…]
VLADIMIR
One out of four. Of the other three, two don't mention any thieves at all and the third says that both of them abused him.
[…]
VLADIMIR
Then the two of them must have been damned.
ESTRAGON
And why not?
VLADIMIR
But one of the four says that one of the two was saved.
ESTRAGON
Well? They don't agree and that's all there is to it.
VLADIMIR
But all four were there. And only one speaks of a thief being saved. Why believe him rather than the others? (1.68-86)

Through Vladimir’s exchange with Estragon, Waiting for Godot argues that religion is incompatible with logic.

VLADIMIR
Did you ever read the Bible?
ESTRAGON
The Bible . . . (He reflects.) I must have taken a look at it.
VLADIMIR
Do you remember the Gospels?
ESTRAGON
I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That's where we'll go, I used to say, that's where we'll go for our honeymoon. We'll swim. We'll be happy. (1.50-3)

The heavenly image that Estragon presents here only heightens the dismal nature of his current situation.

VLADIMIR
But you can't go barefoot!
ESTRAGON
Christ did.
VLADIMIR
Christ! What has Christ got to do with it. You're not going to compare yourself to Christ!
ESTRAGON
All my life I've compared myself to him. (1.825-8)

If Waiting for Godot until now compared the suffering of the men on stage to the suffering of Christ, it is now condemning that very comparison. This is in keeping with the presentation of religion as illogical and contradictory.

VLADIMIR
Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . (he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned.
ESTRAGON
Saved from what?
VLADIMIR
Hell. (1.64-6)

Vladimir’s story is practically begging us to equate him and Estragon with the two thieves. In the Biblical tale, the two thieves are saved from Hell. But what are Estragon and Vladimir hoping to be saved from? (Note that, later in the play, Estragon declares that he is in Hell.)

Estragon

ESTRAGON
What's all this about? Abused who?
VLADIMIR
The Saviour.
ESTRAGON
Why?
VLADIMIR
Because he wouldn't save them.
ESTRAGON
From hell?
VLADIMIR
Imbecile! From death.
ESTRAGON
I thought you said hell.
VLADIMIR
From death, from death. (1.73-80)

Estragon, although he is portrayed as the simpleton of the pair, has a point: Vladimir did say "hell." What is the difference for the two thieves in the story? What is the difference for Estragon and Vladimir?

ESTRAGON
What exactly did we ask him [Godot] for?
VLADIMIR
Were you not there?
ESTRAGON
I can't have been listening.
VLADIMIR
Oh . . . Nothing very definite.
ESTRAGON
A kind of prayer.
VLADIMIR
Precisely.
ESTRAGON
A vague supplication. (1.202-8)

In case you didn’t catch the GOD inside his name, Beckett gives some hints that GODot has something to do with GOD. Case in point, this line here, where Estragon says they have offered a prayer to Godot. The problem is, they don’t seem to know exactly what they’ve prayed for. In a way, this exchange mocks religion for its inherent uncertainty.

Pozzo

POZZO
He can no longer endure my presence. I am perhaps not particularly human, but who cares? (To Vladimir.) Think twice before you do anything rash. Suppose you go now while it is still day, for there is no denying it is still day. (They all look up at the sky.) Good. (They stop looking at the sky.) What happens in that case—(he takes the pipe out of his mouth, examines it)—I'm out—(he relights his pipe)—in that case—(puff)—in that case—(puff)—what happens in that case to your appointment with this . . . Godet . . . Godot . . . Godin . . . anyhow you see who I mean, who has your future in his hands . . . (pause) . . . at least your immediate future? (1.402)

Notice how Pozzo moves from talking about his not being human to a discussion of Godot. This basically invites a comparison of the two characters as divine figures (which we also discuss in the "Characters" section).

POZZO
What was I saying?
VLADIMIR
Let's go.
ESTRAGON
But take the weight off your feet, I implore you, you'll catch your death.
POZZO
True. (He sits down. To Estragon.) What is your name?
ESTRAGON
Adam.
POZZO
(who hasn't listened) Ah yes! The night. (He raises his head.) But be a little more attentive, for pity's sake, otherwise we'll never get anywhere. (1.535-40)

A helpful hint for you from Shmoop: characters are never accidentally named "Adam." Check out "Tools of Characterization" for more on names. In the meantime, Pozzo, who acts like something of a deity, misses the religious significance.

POZZO
(halting) You are human beings none the less. (He puts on his glasses.) As far as one can see. (He takes off his glasses.) Of the same species as myself. (He bursts into an enormous laugh.) Of the same species as Pozzo! Made in God's image! (1.314)

It could be that Pozzo finds this statement so amusing because he doesn’t consider himself human; he considers himself a god.

Lucky

LUCKY
Given the existence as uttered forth in the public works of Puncher and Wattmann of a personal God quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua outside time without extension who from the heights of divine apathia divine athambia divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm […]. (1.639)

Lucky’s speech may appear to be mostly nonsense, but look at how he starts off. His mention of "a personal God" with a "white beard" is what later prompts Vladimir to ask the Boy if Godot has a white beard. We’d go on here, but it gets messy; check out "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" for more.

Act 2
Estragon

ESTRAGON
And if we dropped [Godot]? (Pause.) If we dropped him?
VLADIMIR
He'd punish us. (2.848-9)

Vladimir doesn’t know anything about Godot—what he looks like, who he is, and he even if Godot's really his name. Yet Vladimir seems undeniably certain about his fear, which means he is certain of Godot’s power, if nothing else.

ESTRAGON
To try him with other names, one after the other. It'd pass the time. And we'd be bound to hit on the right one sooner or later.
VLADIMIR
I tell you his name is Pozzo.
ESTRAGON
We'll soon see. (He reflects.) Abel! Abel!
POZZO
Help!
ESTRAGON
Got it in one!
VLADIMIR
I begin to weary of this motif.
ESTRAGON
Perhaps the other is called Cain. Cain! Cain!
POZZO
Help!
ESTRAGON
He's all humanity. (2.619-626)

OK, this passage can be confusing. We had to read it a few times. Estragon thinks that if they call Pozzo by the correct name (presumably, it isn’t "Pozzo"), he will answer them. He guesses "Abel" and is delighted to see that he got it right on his first try. When he says "Perhaps the other is called Cain," he’s talking about Lucky. Unfortunately, Pozzo also responds to the name "Cain," prompting Estragon to remark that Pozzo is all of humanity—he would therefore answer to any name.

Now for the religious stuff: in the Bible, Cain and Abel are the sons of Adam and Eve. One day, they both make sacrifices to God, but for some reason (and here’s what the play is getting at regarding the random and illogical nature of religion) God accepts one sacrifice (Abel’s) and rejects the other (Cain’s). This leads to Cain sitting Abel down and having a conversation about his feelings. No, wait, it leads to Cain killing Abel in a fit of jealousy, which in turn leads to God punishing Cain. Just note that Cain and Abel are yet another pair, much like the two thieves crucified with Jesus. Coincidence? Probably not.

Vladimir

VLADIMIR
(softly) Has he a beard, Mr. Godot?
BOY
Yes Sir.
VLADIMIR
Fair or . . . (he hesitates) . . . or black?
BOY
I think it's white, Sir.
Silence.
VLADIMIR
Christ have mercy on us! (2.823-27)

Vladimir puts two and two together here and concludes that Godot is God. This would be completely logical, except he’s basing his logic on a speech given by a ranting slave tied up on a rope, commanded to think by a tyrannical, deity-like figure, and able to do so only with the help of a bowler hat. The reason his final line in this quote is so emotional is that he fears the consequences of missing a meeting with Godot—even moreso than before.

VLADIMIR
(stopping) Your turn.
Estragon does the tree, staggers.
ESTRAGON
Do you think God sees me?
VLADIMIR
You must close your eyes.
Estragon closes his eyes, staggers worse.
ESTRAGON
(stopping, brandishing his fists, at the top of his voice.) God have pity on me!
VLADIMIR
(vexed) And me?
ESTRAGON
On me! On me! Pity! On me!
Enter Pozzo and Lucky. Pozzo is blind. Lucky burdened as before. (2.451-6)

Notice that Pozzo enters as an answer to Estragon’s plea for pity, making a mockery of Gogo’s idea of a "savior." The help sent to him is a blind tyrant and his slave, which actually isn’t so helpful. Also note that Estragon is pretending to be a tree when he asks Vladimir if God can see him; we describe the tree’s religious significance in "Symbolism, Imagery, and Allegory" if you’re interested, but the quick explanation is that tree = cross (as in, the crucifixion kind).

VLADIMIR
(He looks again at Estragon.) At me too someone is looking, of me too someone is saying, He is sleeping, he knows nothing, let him sleep on. (2.795)

As Vladimir looks at the sleeping Estragon, he remarks that someone else is watching him (Vladimir) sleep. The "someone else" is presumably God, which in this comparison puts Vladimir in a deity-like position over Estragon.