Tom’s Bookshelf: This Play about Nothing is as Boring as You’d Think…but Brilliant, Too? A Review of Waiting for Godot

3/5 Stars

Critic Score: A-

Reader Score: C-

Bold, boring, and brilliant all at once. Leave it to an existentialist—is that right? Samuel Becket’s Waiting for Godot, a tragicomedy in two acts, is one of the most widely recognized plays of the 20th century. You may have read it for a class, or otherwise, you might have seen a revival of it somewhere. The show had its Paris premiere in 1953, though the play was composed nearly five years prior. In 1955, an English version went live in London.

An archetypal piece of existentialist literature at the forefront of the avant-garde, this is the type of work—and workload—that I’d much prefer reading for a class, where I can attempt to decipher its meanings in a seminar or just gather my understandings in lecture. Reading it on my own feels gross. This isn’t particularly meant to be enjoyed; it’s also meant to be seen on stage, not read in print. The comedic side of the play didn’t suit me, and the tragedy is so subtle or otherwise coded that I feel like I’m bound to not understand more than the surface of what’s being portrayed of the human condition.

Reading this on my own makes me feel lazy, too, because I know I should search online for analyses to help me out where a professor and classmates are in want, but something about that scares me, like being asked to measure the depth of a bottomless pit with a bungee cord. So much work and time when I just want to read a play. It should be simple, right? Beckett’s got another plan for his readers.

The other thing that scares me about researching is having to come to terms with heavy concepts when I’m not in the mood for them. That’s a prevalent piece of the reading experience with Godot, I’d say. If I’m lounging about at home, reading existential theory online would be dreadful. There’s such an aesthetic disjunction in this that I feel ill and whiny and bitter just considering it.

That’s why the entertainment side of Godot is lost on me. I suppose it’s my fault, reading this on my own, then blaming it for being too academically ambitious for my current taste. I know that most of the books you read can be as heavy as you make them, but at least most have the entertainment factor to keep you committed.

A slight bit of research, to contradict myself, validated my boredom (which wasn’t expected) and confusion (which definitely was) by situating them against historical reactions to the play and its intended effect.

The play certainly succeeds in evoking a unique response, and I’m happy to have fallen under the spell, though that speaks nothing on my skills. Anyway, I have a much stronger grasp on the contention of this work now, which I’ve misidentified as universally praised; that’s closer to true nowadays, maybe.

I recommend watching Nick Mount’s lecture on YouTube as an accessible and intriguing overview of the text. His lecture on To the Lighthouse proved really useful for me last year when trying to wrap my head around that novel.

Even though Waiting for Godot is quite short, it was agony to get through, as it’s true that seemingly nothing at all happens in terms of plot. People talk in circles, there’s repeated conversation and actions over and over, and many lines are incredibly enigmatic, yet sharply plain, rubbing your face in the shame of knowing you aren’t seeing the full picture. Part of the intended affect here, I believe, is strained in the experience of the play.

Beckett’s piece is not something I could hold dear to my heart. I can’t love the characters or get teary-eyed for their journeys. There’s not much feeling here at all, really. Existentialism for you.

I prefer to be riveted by stories, and this left me feeling weird: uncomfortable and bothered. That’s an important thing for theatre. A difficult thing for the consumer. I found myself waiting for Waiting for Godot to end from the moment I started. I then found myself feeling lonely and confused.

That means Beckett must have succeeded…I think. Certainly something absurd.

How’s my review system work? I give stars out of five based on the averaging of two letter grades, Critic and Reader. My Critic Score is based on writing quality, contribution to culture, ethics, consistency, plot development, characters, style, originality, and overall how well the book accomplishes its creative and intellectual goals, among other factors. On the other hand, my Reader Score is a personal reflection on how much I enjoyed the work, regardless of what makes a book “good” or “bad;” it takes into account both entertainment value and my own tastes and life experiences. B is the median of my letter grades, with As for outstanding work and Cs for generally disappointing work. D and F grades are out of the ordinary and given when my disapproval is strong.

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