Why Read Waiting For Godot?: An Animated Case for Samuel Beckett’s Classic Absurdist Play

Iseult Gille­spie’s lat­est lit­er­a­ture themed TED-Ed les­son—Why should you read Wait­ing For Godot?—pos­es a ques­tion that’s not too dif­fi­cult to answer these days.

The mean­ing of this sur­pris­ing­ly stur­dy Absur­dist play is famous­ly open for debate.

Author Samuel Beck­ett told Roger Blin, who direct­ed and act­ed in its first pro­duc­tion at the Théâtre de Baby­lon in 1953, that all he knew for cer­tain was that the two main char­ac­ters, Vladimir and Estragon, wore bowler hats.

(Anoth­er thing he felt sure of was that they were male, and should only be brought to life by those in pos­ses­sion of a prostate gland, a spec­i­fi­ca­tion that ran­kles female the­ater artists eager to take a crack at char­ac­ters who now seem as uni­ver­sal as any in Shake­speare. The Beck­ett estate’s vig­or­ous enforce­ment of the late playwright’s wish­es is itself the sub­ject of a play, The Under­pants Godot by Dun­can Pflaster.)

A “tragi­com­e­dy in two acts,” accord­ing to Beck­ett, Wait­ing for Godot emerged dur­ing a vibrant moment for exper­i­men­tal the­ater, as play­wrights turned their backs on con­ven­tion to address the dev­as­ta­tion of WWII.

Com­e­dy got dark­er. Bore­dom, reli­gious dread, and exis­ten­tial despair were major themes.

Per­haps we are on the brink of such a peri­od our­selves?

Crit­ics, schol­ars, and direc­tors have found Godot a mean­ing­ful lens through which to con­sid­er the Cold War, the French resis­tance, England’s col­o­niza­tion of Ire­land, and var­i­ous forms of apoc­a­lyp­tic near-future.

Per­haps THAT is why we should read (and/or watch) Wait­ing for Godot.


Was I sleep­ing, while the oth­ers suf­fered? Am I sleep­ing now? Tomor­row, when I wake, or think I do, what shall I say of today? That with Estragon my friend, at this place, until the fall of night, I wait­ed for Godot? That Poz­zo passed, with his car­ri­er, and that he spoke to us? Prob­a­bly. But in all that what truth will there be? (Estragon, hav­ing strug­gled with his boots in vain, is doz­ing off again. Vladimir looks at him.) He’ll know noth­ing. He’ll tell me about the blows he received and I’ll give him a car­rot. (Pause.) Astride of a grave and a dif­fi­cult birth. Down in the hole, lin­ger­ing­ly, the grave dig­ger puts on the for­ceps. We have time to grow old. The air is full of our cries. (He lis­tens.) But habit is a great dead­en­er. (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. (Pause.) I can’t go on! (Pause.) What have I said?

Gillespie’s les­son, ani­mat­ed by Tomás Pichar­do-Espail­lat, above, includes a sup­ple­men­tal trove of resources and a quiz that edu­ca­tors can cus­tomize online.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Samuel Beck­ett Directs His Absur­dist Play Wait­ing for Godot (1985)

Hear Wait­ing for Godot, the Acclaimed 1956 Pro­duc­tion Star­ring The Wiz­ard of Oz’s Bert Lahr

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to Samuel Beck­ett, Absur­dist Play­wright, Nov­el­ist & Poet

“Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Bet­ter”: How Samuel Beck­ett Cre­at­ed the Unlike­ly Mantra That Inspires Entre­pre­neurs Today

The Books Samuel Beck­ett Read and Real­ly Liked (1941–1956)

Watch the Open­ing Cred­its of an Imag­i­nary 70s Cop Show Star­ring Samuel Beck­ett

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot pre­miered in New York City in 2017. Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Octo­ber 15 for anoth­er month­ly install­ment of her book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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