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Discuss Beckett’s Waiting for Godot as a tragicomedy.

“Waiting for Godot” as a “tragicomedy” in two acts was an absurdist play written by the playwright
Samuel Beckett first in his favoured language, French (En attendant Godot) in 1948. It was translated
in to English in 1953. When the play was first performed in the Theatre de Babylone, Paris, (1953) it
caused a lot of hostility and anxiety in the audience as they tried to figure out who Godot was. When
Alan Schneider, who was to produce the first American production of “Waiting for Godot”, asked
Beckett who or what was meant by Godot, he received the answer, “If I knew, I would have said so in
the play.” (Martin Esslin, “The Theatre of the Absurd”)

Tragicomedy is a literary genre which contains elements of both tragedy and comedy. This absurdist
piece of drama belongs to the tradition of the Theatre of the Absurd, (gained momentum at the same
time as the production of the play- after the World War II), basically expressed that human existence
had no meaning or purpose and logical constructions paved the way for illogical or irrational speech.
According to Esslin, “The Theatre of the Absurd has renounced arguing about the absurdity of the
human condition; it merely presents it in being, that is, in terms of concrete stage images.”

These “concrete stage images” include farcical scenes, crude physical humour etc. The play starts
with Estragon fiddling with his boots, taking them off and wearing them back again and again. In the
next scene, Vladimir constantly plays with his hat, taking it off and peering inside it. In another scene,
Vladimir and Estragon throw the hat to each other. These actions have been borrowed from the
tradition of the circus acts. Such actions invoke laughter from the reader, but the dialogue is also
interspersed with nonsensical words and half witted abstractions. The protagonists of the play,
Vladimir and Estragon, are tramps whose position in society is marginal. Their class position in itself
is tragic as they are a part of the lowest rung in the hierarchy of society. Having the tramps as the
protagonists there is a radical shift in who can be a protagonist. Even though nowhere in the play are
they referred to as tramps, there are allusions to the same:

Vladimir: You should have been a poet.

Estragon: I was. (Gestures towards his rags) Isn’t that obvious?

The parallels to the circus and music hall is also explicitly stated when Vladimir comments on the
“charming evening” they are having and how it is “worse than being at the theatre.” There are also
scenes in which Vladimir’s trousers fall to the floor upon loosening the cord, Estragon’s gestures to
encourage Vladimir to urinate off-stage and other such actions aid the reader into believing that
nothing of significance happens in the lives of the tramps. One of the most farcical situations the play
is when the tramps in their wait for the elusive Godot think about hanging themselves which in turn
might result in an erection. In spite of the pair having spent time together, it is not clear whether they
have a close relationship:

Estragon: I had a dream.

Vladimir: Don’t tell me.
Estragon: I dreamt that-
Vladimir: DON’T TELL ME!

But right at the beginning of the play Vladimir questioned Estragon whether the “same lot beat him.”
Vladimir also irritably informed him that “boots must be taken off everyday” when Estragon is
struggling with them. The relationship between the two is quite ambiguous. There are suggestions to
homoerotic love which a reader/audience in the 1950s would not have been entirely comfortable with.
The reader also sees the despair and illogicality which surrounds all the characters in the play. What
passes in the play are not events with a definite beginning and an end but types of situation which
repeat themselves throughout the play. There is an element of circularity as “nothing happens, nobody
comes, and nobody goes.”

The most tragic event in the play is that Godot never shows up and the tramps decide to wait “until he
comes”. The pair ceases to believe that they exist independently. (“We’re not tied”, “Don’t touch me.
Don’t question me. Don’t speak to me. Stay with me.”) It is condemnable that the pair waits without
hope and is stripped of illusions. Albert Camus in his essay “The Myth of Sisyphus” conveys the
source of our anguish is that we long for meaning conveyed by a universe that cares but discover that
it does not. This is proven in the play when Estragon suggested that the two of them should hang
themselves as they had nothing to do. Keeping in mind their class position as well, it would have been
expected that their lives had no motive and purpose. Camus suggested that Sisyphus was happy in
spite of pushing the bolder up the mountain because he had risen above his fate and considered
himself as superior to the inanimate object. Foucault said that time has its own viscosity. Vladimir and
Estragon spend their time doing nothing, constantly forgetting their train of thought ant yet they
passed their time. Time has little or no meaning in the play. The subject of the play is not Godot but
waiting, the act of waiting as an essential and characteristic aspect of the human condition. What is
tragic is that Godot is symbolic for almost anything- object, person, even death.