Waiting for Godot: Samuel Beckett's Theatre of the Absurd

Last November, I had the opportunity to view a New York City production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot. Unfamiliar with the genre of "Theatre of the Absurd," I spent the first 99% of the show trying to understand what was materializing on stage. It was not until the conclusion of the second act that I fully understood that nothing was happening, and that was the purpose of the play. Giving me an overall expression of the hopelessness of the human condition, Waiting for Godot, through plot, parallelism, characterization, and suicide to alleviate suffering, is a definitive example of "Theatre of the Absurd."

In Theatre of the Absurd, Martin Esslin defines the word 'absurd'. Originally associated with musical dissonance, the dictionary definition of 'absurd' is "out of harmony with reason or propriety; incongruous, unreasonable, illogical." In common usage, 'absurd' may mean 'ridiculous' (Theatre of the Absurd, 5). To further understand the meaning of 'absurd', Esslin sites an essay Eugene Ionesco wrote on Kafka, "Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose? Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless" (TA, 5)
Theatre of the Absurd, a great contradiction to traditional theatre, deals with themes that may seem illogical, unreasonable, useless, absurd. Esslin points out many of the discrepancies between traditional theatre and Theatre of the Absurd:
"If a good play must have a cleverly constructed story, these [plays of the Absurd] have no story of plot to speak of; if a good play is judged by subtely of characterization and motivation, these are often without recognizable characters and present the audience with almost mechanical puppets; if a good play has to have a fully explained theme, which is neatly exposed and initially 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" (TA, 3-4).
Moreover, the plays defined by the term Theatre of the Absurd generally pursue different ends than traditional theatre, therefore, it is unfair to judge them as one would judge traditional theatre (TA, 4).
"In Art," Esslin writes, "content and form are inseparable; the way an idea is expressed is an essential element in the nature of the idea itself." (Esslin, Beckett and the 'Theatre of the Absurd'" in Approaches to Teaching Beckett's Waiting for Godot, 43) Waiting for Godot has existentialist qualities, but it is not an example of purely Existentialist theatre. Unlike Existentialist theatre that simply argues about the absurdity of the human condition, the Theatre of the Absurd presents the human condition as it is, in terms of concrete stage images. One may make an analogy between Existentialist theatre and Theatre of the Absurd to the approaches of the philosopher and the poet. Like Existentialist theatre, the philosopher hypothesizes, theorizes, and comes to conclusions. Theatre of the Absurd is like the poet who, to express a given idea, paints a verbal picture (TA, 6-7).

"Waiting for Godot does not tell a story; it explores a static situation" (Esslin, TA, 25). Rather than storytelling, Beckett's writing paints a verbal picture. Esslin quotes Beckett describing the plot of Waiting for Godot: "Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful" (TA, 25).
The plot of Waiting for Godot is certainly a contradiction from traditional theatre. Two Wretched tramps wait beside a barren twig of a tree for a mysterious figure. Vladimir strongly believes that he has an appointment with this figure named Godot, who will offer them redemption and save them from boredom. Estragon has neither the wit nor the energy to contradict, although he occasionally throws in a venomous expression of skepticism that thoroughly unnerves Vladimir. Reminiscing, reflecting, and arguing about meaningless representations of their existence, they wait. In vain, they hope that Godot will give their lives purpose and significance. (Cowell, Twelve Modern Dramatists, 113-114).

Waiting for Godot implements concepts of sameness, or, parallelism to an absurd end. At the end of Act one,