“Waiting for Godot” as an Absurd Play | Absurd Theater Characteristics

Martin Esslin wrote a book titled “Theatre of the Absurd” that was published in year 1961. It dealt with the dramatists who belonged to a movement called “Absurd Theater” though it was not regular. Samuel Beckett was one of those dramatists who had largest contribution in “Absurd Theater”. His play “Waiting for Godot” also belonged to the same category and was called absurd play.

Absurd Theater:

There was no regular movement regarding theater of absurd rather it was a group of people who wrote plays without following the conventional rules. In simple words, performance of plays that were written by group of unconventional writers was called theater of absurd.

No clear definition of theater of absurd is available. However, Martin Esslin provided an informal definition of absurd plays and “absurd theater” in following words:

“If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these [plays of absurd] have no story or plot to speak of; a good play is judged by subtlety of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and finally solved, these often have neither a beginning nor an end; if a good play is to hold the mirror up to nature and portray the manners and mannerisms of the age in finely observed sketches, these seem often to be reflections of dreams and nightmares; if a good play relies on witty repartee and pointed dialogue, these often consist of incoherent babblings.”

Martin Esslin on absurd plays

Characteristics of Absurd Theater:

From the above said remarks it is crystal clear that absurd plays were entirely different from traditional plays. These remarks provide us following characteristics of absurd theater:

  • No story or plot
  • No characterization and motivation
  • Neither a proper beginning nor ending
  • Unexplained themes
  • Imitation of dreams or nightmares instead of nature
  • Useless dialogues

“Waiting for Godot” as an Absurd Play:

“Waiting for Godot” fulfills every requirement of an absurd play. It has no story, no characterization, no beginning nor any end, unexplained themes, imitation of dreams and nightmares and above all it contains useless dialogues.

No story or plot:

“Waiting for Godot” does not tell any story nor does it has a plot. The play starts with waiting and ends with it. Characters do not go anywhere. They stand still in front of audience and do nothing except passing the ball. They talk and pass the time. The play lacks action. Actions of characters are not related to plot but to themselves. Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot and audience perceive that perhaps real story of the play will start after Godot’s arrival but Godot does not appear on stage nor is he introduced to the audience. Eventually, play ends with waiting. In this ways, “Waiting for Godot” fulfills first requirement of an absurd play.

“Waiting for Godot” is Absurd Play due to Lack of Characterization :

We don’t know past of the characters. They are not introduced to the audience. We know only their names and their miserable situation. Their motifs are unclear. Although it is explicit that they are waiting for Godot yet it is not told to the audience that what purpose Godot will serve if he comes. Hence, lack of characterization proves that “Waiting of Godot” is a play of absurd theater.

No Beginning and End:

It has no beginning nor has any end. It starts with a situation and ends with it. Both the acts start and end in same way. For instance, when characters come on stage they reveal their purpose. They say they are waiting but Godot does not come and the act ends with waiting. Second act is also the copy of first act with minor differences. The play goes on and eventually ends with wait. Hence, there is no proper start of the play nor does it has a proper end. It is a journey from nothingness to nothingness as observed by an eminent critics.

It is a play in which nothing happens twice…. “Nothing happens, nobody comes … nobody goes, it’s awful!”.

Fulfillment of this requirement also proves that “Waiting for Godot” is an absurd play.

Useless Dialogues Make “Waiting for Godot” as an Absurd Play:

Most of the dialogues of this play serve no purpose. Incoherent babbling is also important ingredient of theater of absurd as mentioned by Esslin. Whole play is based on delivery of dialogues but most of them have no apparent meanings. Every dialogue is full of symbols. Every word refers something in hidden meaning but it lacks the interest of audience because it lacks action.

Dialogues create action in every play. Action looses its importance without worthy dialogues. In case of “Waiting for Godot”, no action has been presented, therefore, dialogues are boring and they are written just to pass the ball. Thus, they are meant to pass the time. Word “nothing” has been repeated numerously in the play. It actually indicates nothingness in it. Thus, dialogues of the play are nothing but incoherent babbling. “Waiting for Godot” can be called an absurd play due to this trait of absurd theater.

Unexplained Themes:

Unclear themes also make “Waiting for Godot” a play of absurd theater. Audience do not observe any obvious theme in the play. Superiority of a play is always dependent on its themes. “Waiting for Godot” has no obvious theme. If there is any, it is hidden. Moreover, it presents individualistic vision of the writer. There is an effect of alienation in the play with respect to themes.

Also read:

Themes of “Waiting for Godot” | Thematic Concept of Samuel Beckett

Imitation of Nightmares:

This play does not hold the mirror up to nature. It does not portray the manners and mannerisms of the ages. Esslin is true in his definition of theater of absurd. This play “seem[s] often to be reflection of dreams and nightmares”.

At last but not the least, “Waiting for Godot” is entirely unconventional play. Samuel Becket violated all dramatic conventions. Indeed, every ingredient of theater of absurd has been fulfilled by him. Regardless of that this play is successful. He wrote this play to break the rules of traditional dramatists. “Waiting for Godot” completes every factor of theater of absurd, therefore, it can successfully be called the play of absurd.