Waiting for Godot (1952) is the most famous, and arguably most accessible, play by the wildly experimental Irish-French writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). Though critics and audiences have expressed divided opinions about the play, it holds an indisputable central place in twentieth-century drama. A landmark in the so-called theater of the absurd, Beckett’s play has endured as a widely read and frequently performed work worldwide.
In Waiting for Godot, words and ideas take precedence over events – in fact, very little action transpires over the course of the play. In Act I, two men named Vladimir and Estragon, simply wait by a roadside for a mysterious person named Godot. Several odd characters pass by, and a number of strange conversations ensue. Later, a boy shows up and informs them that Godot will not be coming until the next day. Act II takes place that next day, when Vladimir and Estragon have returned to the same roadside. They continue to argue and converse and see some of the same people from the previous day, although these strangers inexplicably do not remember meeting them. Finally, the same boy arrives and announces that Godot is no longer coming. Though Vladimir and Estragon talk of leaving for home, they remain waiting by the roadside even in the play’s last moments.
Perhaps more than any other work, Waiting for Godot influenced the development of absurdist theater – a major movement in drama during the mid-twentieth century, particularly in France. Along with Eugene Ionesco (1909-1994), Jean Genet (1910-1986), and other playwrights, Beckett pushed the theatrical envelope aggressively in terms of both style and content. Absurdist plays often feature empty or minimalist sets, bizarre dialogue or monologues, and seemingly meaningless plots with many unresolved questions. Indeed, in Waiting for Godot, Beckett leaves the biggest question – who is Godot? – unanswered.