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Essay On The Theatre Of The Absurd Game

Waiting For Godot and the Theater of the Absurd

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Who is Godot and what does he represent? These are two of the questions that Samuel Beckett allows both his characters and the audience to ponder. Many experiences in this stage production expand and narrow how these questions are viewed. The process of waiting reassures the characters in Beckett's play that they do indeed exist. One of the roles that Beckett has assigned to Godot is to be a savior of sorts. Godot helps to give the two tramps in Waiting for Godot a sense of purpose. Godot is an omnipresent character that helps to give meaning and function to the lives of two homeless men.
The main characters in Waiting for Godot are dependant upon each other for reassurance of their existence. Existentialism is defined as being grounded in existence or being able to affirm existence. Vladimir and Estragon are able to confirm their existence in the world is by the constant need to remind each other of what is happening. Estragon forgets every day what events occurred the previous day. The forgetfulness cast doubt on the actual existence of these two men. Vladimir needs to tell Estragon every day what happened the previous day; this reinforces their need for each other. Since no one else in the play remembers Vladimir and Estragon, this game of remembering is very important. When the boy and Pozzo forget meeting Vladimir and Estragon, it once again casts doubt on the actual existence of these two men. The existential philosophers like Soren Kiekegard and Jean-Paul Sartre probably influenced this existential spin by Beckett. The belief of these philosophers is that people have free will and can make, as well as follow through with their own decisions. Beckett's protagonists contradict this belief as they are always making decisions but are unable to carry them out. The two hobos constantly reaffirm their being by recalling that they are waiting for Godot.
Godot is a significant figure despite never physically being in the play. The reader finds out about him only through the conversations in the play. Despite never being physically present on stage, Godot's presence is everywhere. The whole play, including all the actions and the theme itself, is affected by the mention of Godot. Vladimir and Estragon spend the entire play waiting for this unknown being. Vladimir and Estragon are not even sure if they are at the right place or time for their meeting.

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They do not even know why they are waiting for Godot. The two homeless men never express any understanding about the reason for the meeting with the unknown man. Both the characters and the audience see Godot as a savior of some sort. He is the one who will bring salvation. He could be a Christ figure or another religious figure. Godot may also be a representation of salvation; this may or may not be a religious rescue. Godot may also be symbolic of the meaning of life that Vladimir and Estragon are searching for. . He is a reason they are still alive. Every day, Estragon wants to kill himself, but not only is there not enough rope, but there is also a hope that maybe, just maybe, Godot will appear the next day and everything will be different. Interestingly enough, Godot is also the one who keeps two friends coming back to the same spot, instead of wandering off and looking for a better place to live. Because of the endless promise that this one person will actually come, they do not leave the place. The character of Godot may be an interpretation of death since that would bring an answer to the questions that the two men are searching and waiting for. Godot is open to interpretation by all involved with Beckett's play; he could be anything from the meaning of life to a religious savior to a harbinger of death. Regardless of what an individual chooses as Godot's purpose it is the journey to the purpose that is the important part.
Vladimir and Estragon spend quite all their time waiting for Godot. This passage of time is illustrated by the changing of seasons with regards to the tree and it's leaves. Lucky and Pozzo also illustrate that some time has passed since the last meeting. The passing of time leads everyone closer to death and the closer to death one is the less chance of salvation. Beckett seems to believe that people spend too much time in their lives waiting for something or someone who may not appear. For Vladimir and Estragon, the belief is more important than the being. The two men need a firm belief in Godot more than actually meeting with him. Their belief gives them a reason to live, to keep going. In fact when Estragon thinks Godot is actually coming the two men hide; they are afraid to meet with Godot. Godot represents something that everyone is waiting for, something that will make everything all better in life. Vladimir and Estragon are continuously waiting and perhaps this wait is more important than whether or not Godot ever arrives. His appearance is not as important as a belief in him. The two friends, Estragon and Vladimir spend their lives waiting for this one person to show up, this one miracle to happen. It never does, but as Vladimir says, "It passes the time." It might appear surprising that the lives of two people can be based on the life of a third one, whom they never actually met. But in reality, they do not need him as a person. All they need is something to believe in, something to wait for. Most people spend their lives waiting for something, but they are not sure of what exactly. Vladimir and Estragon can consider themselves lucky. They know specifically what, or rather whom, they are waiting for: Godot
The actual existence of Godot is not as important as the belief in his existence. The belief is what keeps Vladimir and Estragon firmly ensconced in their being. They are sure that Godot will eventually arrive and this belief is what keeps them going every day. The wait keeps the two friends together and gives them both a path to follow. The definition of who Godot is as far as the audience is concerned remains a very personal question. Just like with Vladimir and Estragon, a person's place in life will affect who and what Godot is.

Works Cited

Beckett, Samuel. Waiting for Godot. New York: Grove Weidenfeld, 1954.



The theatre of the absurd was a short-lived yet significant theatrical movement, centred in Paris in the 1950s. Unusual in this instance was the absence of a single practitioner spearheading the form. Largely based on the philosophy of existentialism, absurdism was implemented by a small number of European playwrights. Common elements included illogical plots inhabited by characters who appeared out of harmony with their own existence. The typical playgoer had never seen anything like this on the stage before. The theatre of the absurd will be remembered in history for many things, the most significant of these being Samuel Beckett’s masterpiece Waiting for Godot, one of the great plays of the 20th century. Absurdism is commonly studied in senior high school and university drama and theatre courses. Below are the main conventions of the theatre of the absurd.

Background

  • not a conscious movement
  • exponents of the form were a disconnected group of playwrights
  • the term theatre of the absurd was first coined by scholar Martin Esslin in his 1961 text The Theatre of the Absurd
  • true absurdist playwrights are few in number: Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Jean Genet (with some scholars including Arthur Adamov).
  • other playwrights whose selected works have been labeled absurdist by others include Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Tom Stoppard, Fernando Arrabal, and Peter Weiss (though most deny the label of absurdist playwright)
  • the beginnings of absurdism lie in avant-garde experiments of the 1920s and 30s, while some argue absurdist elements exist in plays such as Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi (1896) and even in ancient Greek dramas

Theory

  • theatre of the absurd is otherwise referred to as absurdism
  • absurd originally means “out of harmony” (in a musical context) – its meaning in the theatre of the absurd is different to the everyday meaning of the word as “ridiculous”
  • absurd in the context of absurdism can mean:
    • without purpose
    • illogical
    • out of harmony
    • useless
    • devoid of reason
    • meaningless
    • hopeless
    • chaotic
    • lacking order
    • uncertain
  • lying in the background to absurdism is the notion of existentialism
  • existentialist philosophers who influenced absurdist playwrights were Frenchmen Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and Albert Camus (1913-1960) – both also playwrights themselves

Existentialism refers to a particular view of the nature of man’s existence. The existentialist believes that man starts life with nothing. His life is made up of acts; through the process of acting man becomes conscious of his original nothingness. By choosing to act, man passes into the arena of human responsibility which makes him the creator of his own existence. However, the existence inevitably ends with death. Man returns to his original state of nothingness. This existential notion eliminates the Western concept of man’s exalted nature. Life becomes meaningless and useless – a condition which is in essence “absurd”. Man’s only freedom in this condition is the exercise of his conscious mind. However, consciousness means conflict – between man’s awareness of the absurdity of his existence and his need for justification of his human action. (J. L Crawford: Acting In Person and in Style)

  • the atrocities of World War II are considered influential events to the movement, highlighting the precariousness of human existence
  • Sartre denied the existence of a God, seeing humans with no choice but to create their own standards and moral code in life (instead of accepting standards offered by the Church, the State, or society)
  • Camus’ book-length essay The Myth of Sisyphus sees Sisyphus endlessly pushing a boulder to the top of a mountain, only to see it roll to the bottom again – this futile labor is an analogy for man’s meaningless existence, a quality seen in many characters and plots of absurdist plays

For Camus, the legendary figure of Sisyphus was the prototype of an ‘absurd’ hero, condemned by the gods forever to roll a rock to the top of a mountain, only to have it roll back down again by its own weight. He represented the epitome of futile labor and pointless existence. Although Camus denied any connection with Sartre’s existentialism, the book (Sartre’s The Myth of Sisyphus) became a manifesto for the new existentialist drama, and later for the theatre of the absurd. In it, Camus asserted that it was legitimate and necessary to wonder whether life had any meaning. He described how man felt himself to be a stranger in an alien world, and believed that this divorce between man and life was properly ‘le sentiment de l’absurdite’, the feeling of absurdity. (J. L. Styan: Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 2)

Plot and Structure

  • anti-realistic, going against many of the accepted norms of conventional theatre
  • labeled by some critics as ‘anti-theatre’
  • often characterised by a deliberate absence of the cause and effect relationship between scenes
  • non-linear plot developments, sometimes cyclical – ending where they began
  • occasionally appearing as though there is no plot at all to speak of
  • deliberate lack of conflict

… a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What’s more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.

On the plot of Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot – Vivian Mercier, The Irish Times, 18 February, 1956.

Acting and Characterisation

  • both presentational and representational modes of acting
  • sometimes stereotypical
  • often an absence of character development
  • absurd characters lack the motivation found in characters of realistic dramas, highlighting their purposelessness
  • time, place and identity are frequently blurred with characters often unsure about who or where they are
  • characters are often out of harmony or out of sync with the world in which they live

Movement

  • mixture of realistic and non-realistic
  • elements of circus, vaudeville and acrobatics
  • ritualistic
  • slow
  • illogical
  • repetitive
  •   action sometimes defies logic or easy understanding
  • one extreme to the other without notice
  • often sombre and serious, then highly comical

… the absurdists, while for the most part accepting Sartre’s philosophical outlook, tended to concentrate upon the irrationality of human experience without suggesting any path beyond. By employing a succession of episodes unified merely by theme or mood instead of a cause-to-effect arrangement, they arrived at a structure parallelling the chaos which was their usual dramatic subject. The sense of absurdity was heightened by the juxtaposition of incongruous events producing seriocomic and ironic effects. (Oscar G. Brockett: History of the Theatre)

Dialogue

  • language was devalued as a communication tool (unreliable and distrusted)
  • often illogical
  • sometimes telegraphic and clipped
  • long pauses
  • clichéd
  • repetitive
  • rhythmical
  • frequent use of silence
  • monotone
  • slow dialogue sometimes accompanied by a frenzied, fast-paced monologue (extremes)

Stagecraft

  • often simple and minimalist use of stagecraft
  • barren set pieces barely denoting a location (e.g. a tree and a country road in Waiting for Godot)

Key Plays

  • Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
  • Endgame by Samuel Beckett
  • Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco
  • The Chairs by Eugene Ionesco
  • The Lesson by Eugene Ionesco
  • The Bald Prima Donna / The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco
  • Exit The King by Eugene Ionesco
  • The Balcony by Jean Genet

Other Notable Works

  • Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard
  • The Dumb Waiter by Harold Pinter
  • The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

Sources

  • Esslin, M., The Theatre of the Absurd
  • Crawford, J. L., Acting in Person and in Style
  • Styan, Jerry, L., Modern Drama in Theory and Practice 2
  • Brockett, Oscar, G., History of the Theatre (7th Ed.)
  • Theatre Database
  • Dramas 11

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