He Who Waits
December 28, 2015 Leave a comment
Five people, a fake tree, and some old boots. It’s certainly not an expensive production to put on. Nor complex: Two guys stand around waiting for someone, two other guys show up, leave, come back again, so does another. It has a beginning, middle and end only in the sense that it starts, goes on for a while and stops.
Samuel Beckett’s En Attendant Godot—known more widely by it’s English title, Waiting for Godot—broke new ground when it was first performed in 1953 at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris. Bare even by minimalist standards, it’s enigmatic nature makes it possible to find all kinds of meaning in it, and people do.
Are they waiting for God? Beckett says no. Godot is slang for “boot” (“godillot,” and should be pronounced with the accent on the first syllable). But maybe subconsciously it means God? Maybe, he admits. But he offers no more. When asked by an actor playing Pozzo for some insight into the character, Beckett said everything he knew about Pozzo—and the other characters—was in the play.
But who cares who they’re waiting for? He doesn’t come, so what difference does it make? In the end we are left with two people waiting for something, accomplishing nothing.
In the first act (of only two) the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, banter and fidget, and even discuss hanging themselves (but can’t be bothered). Their conversation goes in circles, they talk to confirm their existence, their connection with each other the only proof they have.
Because so little happens, they are unsure what day it is and have a hard time sorting it out.
Estragon: We came here yesterday.
Vladimir: Ah no, there you’re mistaken.
Estragon: What did we do yesterday?
Vladimir: What did we do yesterday?
Vladimir: Why . . . (Angrily.) Nothing is certain when you’re about.
Estragon: In my opinion we were here.
Vladimir: (looking round). You recognize the place?
Estragon: I didn’t say that.
Estragon: That makes no difference.
Here is the crux of the play: If nothing different happens, how do you distinguish one day from another? “I remember last Tuesday because I went to the zoo.” Indeed, if not by what happened, how else would I remember last Tuesday? The day has no meaning except as the day I went to the zoo. If I went to the zoo every day, how would I tell the days apart?
True, Pozzo and Lucky appear later, as does a young boy. But they all appear the next day, too. Except for a few minor details, Act II is no different than Act I. As the critic Vivian Mercier said, “…he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.”
The future is not what it used to be*
It’s fine for Vladimir and Estragon to stand around waiting (it’s a play), but in business waiting is lost time, lost money, and most importantly—in today’s fast-paced world—lost ground. Every second a business is not moving forward it is, at least in a relative sense, moving backwards.
It doesn’t matter if we’re still making 25 widgets a day (like we always have). If all we do is make 25 widgets every day then for all intents and purposes, we are standing around waiting. For what? For inspiration. For courage.
An idiot can make 25 widgets a day if it’s already known how. We must experiment, dare, create. The goal is to make better widgets, not more. Rule #3 is: If you’re doing today exactly what you did yesterday, you’re locked in the past—you will not be part of the future.
The idea that good things come to those who wait is absurd.
*Typically credited to Paul Valéry, French poet and philosopher.