Formally and thematically Waiting for Godot is both unified and opposed to itself as formal devices act as a questioning process into our and society’s accepted ideologies and metanarratives so that we are held between the two asymmetrical acts, tragedy and comedy, two pairs of characters and constantly shifting and repeating cycles of language in a dramatisation of Absurd experience as:
This divorce between man and his life, the actor and his setting, truly constitutes the feeling of Absurdity (Camus, Sisyphus)
Beckett removes pre world war two values and certainties to form an anti-logotherapy that reverses Frankl’s response to Auschwitz to create a play in which man’s search for meaning leads to ‘nothing to be done’ (Viktor Frankl, Logotheraphy).
Waiting for Godot is formally divided into asymmetric pairs, of acts and characters. The action of the play is locked into a constant series of micro-cycles where phrases and images appear repeatedly in a series of lost memories, falls, violent attacks, silences and Christian parables. This symmetry of form is broken and multiplied by variations as the play as ‘a tragicomedy in two acts’ reverses and intersects tragic vision and comic situation as the double-acts of Vladimir and Estragon and Pozzo and Lucky interact to create absurd double meanings through a twisted mirror. Estragon and Vladimir ‘play at Pozzo and Lucky’ in an absurd symmetry with Estragon’s verbal imitation of Christ at the end of Act one to show both lead nowhere as Pozzo’s seventeen cries for help are met with
No, the best would be to take advantage of Pozzo’s calling for help –
The Christian metanarrative is absurdly divorced from the character’s actions. Hung between the paired ‘acts’ of despair there is no place for love in Waiting for Godot. The metaphysical absence of God and values is embraced as Beckett declares that Christian belief is just as absurd as nihilism.
This gap between belief and action in Waiting for Godot is also present in the setting’s divorce of the physical and metaphysical. The symbolic landscape of Godot opposes theatrical naturalism to offer us an external image of interior dislocation. Godot is set between pairs to build a world where, as absurd ‘wayfarers’, Vladimir and Estragon do not walk the Taoist and Buddhist Way and the Christian via dolorosa. They absurdly wait instead of walk while the metaphysical inferences and allusions never manifest in action. The road, as a physical method of reaching a destination, is also divorced from the waiting while time – between evening and night and the ‘same time, same place’ of Act two – reverses naturalistic setting expectations, leaving us in a no-man’s land:
In a moment it is night.
The symbolic setting presents us with a vision of an absurd world to formally embody a modern and subjective denial of values and pose the question of the relation between the nowhere setting and our own interior landscape and narratives. Beckett creates not tragic heroes but ridiculous slapstick actors.
The language gap in Waiting for Godot divorces the visual vocabulary of ‘circus, pantomime and music hall’ from the literally spoken text. Words in Godot are reversed into disguises, puppet, self-enslavement and delusion even as they also operate to fulfil a tragicomic search for freedom, identity, purpose, truth and meaning. The boot and hat are as empty as each character’s unanswered questions. Lucky’s quasi-philosophical nonsense is started and ended by a thinking bowler hat only for his dumbness in Act two to oppose mime and language and question the truth of acts that only Pozzo can hear:
[Silence. They remain motionless, arms dangling, heads sunk, sagging at the knees.]
The actors are untied from the concept of ‘character’. The eight-hat exchange indicates similarity as good or bad thief, Abel or Cain, slave or master all roll upon the stage as their puppet-strings are cut by Beckett. The bond between word and act, text and onstage meaning, is cut to indicate the narrative terms and values by which society agrees to common meanings are now an absurd proposition, as
We always find something… to make us feel we exist.
Form and theme in Godot operate across the dimensions of structure, language, setting and character to construct a constant absurdist divorce through every element of the play. This absurdity is designed to reveal our own illusions, ideologies and narratives as we are left to question how our own lives relate to the onstage action.