I’m heading into new and possibly dangerous territory here. I’m going to venture out of my SFF ghetto and talk about Literature, specifically (what is generally felt to be) one of the most important plays of the twentieth century.
I studied Waiting for Godot at college. At the time I remember thinking it was tedious but no doubt insightful. I assumed that due to my small intellect and limited life experience, I must be missing out on some of said insight. There had to be more in this apparently brilliant play than the message ‘Life’s a bitch and then you die’. I was just too dumb to see it.
Recently I had cause to see the play staged. And well staged too: if I’d seen a good production back when I had to pick out the required meat from its scrawny bones, my eighteen-year-old self might have done a better job of putting those insights into words the examiners wanted to hear.
But still …
For those who don’t know it, Waiting for Godot is about
the futility of human existence two tramps, Estragon and Vladimir, who stand around a dead tree filled with existential angst and occasionally wonder if they can be bothered to hang themselves. Two other characters turn up once per act to lighten the tedium: Pozzo and Lucky are absurd as a Dadaist circus and provide what miniscule dramatic tension the play permits. My younger self got quite excited when, towards the end of Act One, Pozzo started losing personal possessions. Had one of the tramps stolen them? Which one? Why? These questions are, of course, never answered, and the missing items are not mentioned again. In fact a number of things that happen early in the play are soon forgotten, leading my older self to conclude that existential angst has a lot in common with mild dementia.
And that’s about it. Because, y’know, life’s meaningless. Unless, of course, there is a God(ot)! But (and I’d warn about spoilers here, but spoilers imply tension, or at least plot, so that’s not a relevant warning), God(ot) never appears. No one comes along to give meaning to, well, anything.
Also, there are no female characters; the only mention of women is the beginning of a joke about a brothel-keeper (a joke which is never completed, natch). I’m sure – I hope – that greater minds than mine have considered why Beckett chose to exclude half the human race from a Great Work about the Human Condition, but speaking personally the decision to exclude the insights, experience and worldview of my gender does nothing to endear this play to me.
So why don’t the two tramps just leave their dead tree (oh wait, there is dramatic tension here, or at least mystery: in Act Two the tree has some leaves on it – but we never find out why … ok, as you were), why don’t they leave their almost dead tree in search of work? Or of something? Well, because then we wouldn’t have a play about how meaningless such searches are. There were a number of points when, as Vladimir asks, yet again, ‘What shall we do now?’ or Estragon says, inaccurately but for the umpteenth time, ‘I’m going’ when I pictured Beckett at his typewriter, thinking to himself, ‘I have to write something, I’ve got two hours to fill!’
I do get it. Really. I’m not waiting for God(ot) because I know he won’t turn up. Having realised that, even before I first read the play, I’ve filled my life with stuff which, whilst it may well be ultimately meaningless, to me at least is more interesting than standing next to a dead tree whining fearfully. In fact, my life is sufficiently full that I rather resent having to spend a whole evening devoted to watching other people do so.
Anyway, Spike Milligan was funnier, and briefer, and did it better.