Play-Right- The Most Influential Plays of All Time: Waiting for Godot

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

“Nothing to be done” – Vladimir

In 1953, the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris premiered the brand new play by Irish novelist and short-fiction writer Samuel Beckett, named En Attendant Godot. This play, which received warm but unexcited reactions in France, would later be translated into English; cause a storm of debate and controversy on the West End; and become one of the most influential plays of all time.

The above quote is the first spoken line of the play; perfectly encapsulating what was fascinating to critics at the time, and continues to infuriate high school students today. Curtains open on two seemingly vaudevillian archetypes, complete with bedraggled clothes and bowler hats, named Vladimir and Estragon. They are waiting for a man named Godot. Neither of them know who Godot is, what he looks like, when he will be arriving, where they are meant to meet him, or even why they are waiting for him. Yet still they wait. Over the course of the play they engage with strange characters, discuss philosophy, tell stories, complain about their lives, consider suicide, take naps, urinate, and continue to wait. In a masterful display of circular logic and repetitive dialogue, Vladimir and Estragon end the play exactly where they began, with nothing gained or lost. This is Waiting for Godot.

It may not sound like much, but this exercise in staged entropy shook up the theatre establishment, being simultaneously praised and condemned. Some thought it was offensive and sacrilegious, others thought it was genius. What cannot be denied however is that Waiting for Godot has become endlessly influential, inspiring decades of imitators and becoming the priceless gemstone at the centre of the “Theatre of the Absurd” (More on that in a moment). Samuel Beckett, whether consciously or not, picked up and neatly summarized the theatrical experiments that modernist practitioners had been conducting for roughly 70 years; drawing on elements of Dadaism and Surrealism, and channelling the fractured worl