Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" a Tragic Come

Essay add: 22-03-2016, 12:55   /   Views: 188
Samuel Beckett called his play a Tragic Comedy. Do you agree with this classification? If not, how would you classify this play? Do you think this play contains more elements of tragedy or comedy?

Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot’ has been known as one of the masterpieces of tragicomedy for generations through the ages. The play blatantly alternates between phases of utmost despair and pity and moments of raucous humour, taking the audience on an emotional roller coaster. Beckett was responsible for introducing the concept of ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ and its immediate popularity due to its vicissitudinous nature, which plays upon the human emotions of despair and humour simultaneously.
The entire play is pervaded by a sense of despair and tragedy. The tragic elements are seen in the circumstances of the characters, their physical disabilities, their lost sense of time and utmost futility, their doomed existence where “Nothing happens and nothing can be done,” and the empty stage. The comic elements revolve around the games the characters invent, their interactions with each other, and the vaudevillian routines.
Waiting for Godot is primarily about hope, waiting and meaning in our lives. The characters are comical and their dialogue is filled with non-sequiturs and “blather,” seeming nonsense. The movement of the plot is arbitrary: there is no identifiable beginning, middle, and end – no “Freytag’s pyramid” to help us get a grip on the plot.

The beginning of the play sets the tone of the play on a rather bleak and tragic note. We see a lone barren tree and two homeless tramps, the characters of Vladimir and Estragon, onstage. The circumstances surrounding the characters emanate an eerie feel and leave the audience feeling utterly bewildered and perplexed by the purpose of the characters.
Vladimir and Estragon are homeless tramps with no apparent purpose in life while Lucky is portrayed as a slave to Pozzo, treated no better than an animal and quite ironically considered to be the most intellectually vacuous creature; though he has a past that suggests that he could sing, think, recite, and sing. The overall image of Lucky is that of a helpless victim, akin to a tortured prisoner who despite his intelligence cannot do better in life than to be a beast of burden. A rather intriguing character is introduced in the form of a nameless boy, who is known only as “a boy,” who brings into play feelings of melancholy and pity in the audience’s heart. All these characters evolve against the backdrop of timeless boredom and futility, painting an image of despair into the minds of the audience.

Beckett introduces comedy as Vladimir and Estragon interact, with Estragon’s boots being stuck and not coming off his feet, and an exchange of ideas filled with absurd mockery is witnessed. There is talk about the Bible, and the saving of one of the two thieves being quite a ‘reasonable percentage.’ The mock sincerity with which the comment is made has a humourous effect on the audience.
Conversation regarding the classification of the tree as maybe a shrub or a bush, with underlying sexual innuendoes added to Vladimir’s bafflement over carrots and turnips sends the audience into a raging comic relief.

The eternal attitude to “Nothing to be done” conveys a feeling of helplessness and utter desperation on the part of the protagonists. Vladimir faces a problem with his bladder while Estragon struggles with his stinking feet, troubled sleep, nightmares and seems to the center of physical abuse by persons he cannot remember. The enslaved condition of Lucky presents to the audience a heart wrenching scene and his loss of speech added to Pozzo’s loss of sight causes the audience to be captured in a whirlpool of melancholy emotions. The scene depicts the constantly deteriorating state of mankind and a sense of futility engulfs the audience as all the characters continue to suffer through their physical disabilities, all hope of recovery shattered as Vladimir and Estragon contemplate suicide as a means of escaping their pointless existence. Nevertheless, once again their relentless wait for Godot keeps them clinging onto a flicker of hope and prevents them from ending what many spectators would perceive as merely pointless existence.

Uncontrollable laughter possesses the audience when Lucky’s hat is passed back and forth between Estragon and Vladimir, and to add to the mayhem their own hats are also added to this absurd version of the game “passing the parcel” and the resulting scene is insanely funny as the two keep interchanging the hats on their heads. Some of the business involving hats was adopted from a routine done by the Marx Brothers, and it may be noted that the character schema - four characters, one of whom is mute, and one of whom bears an Italian name - may have been derived from the same source.

Beckett’s characters decide to abuse each other in a rather innovative way, with rather original language, the overall effect of which is quite humorous, as they refer to each other as “abortion, morpion, crritic and curate.” The scene towards the end, which witnesses the fall of all the characters to the floor, lying there helplessly screaming to one another for assistance, is one of undeniable humour. The mishap with Estragon’s pants finding their way to his feet too throws the audience into a fit of laughter, while feeling sorry for the character.

The absolutely clueless state of the protagonists with regard to time, date and day stirs up a brew of emotions, consisting mainly of pity and commiseration. The exceptionally short-lived memory of the protagonists with regard to events, places and people they have met along with their resignation to an existence of continuous tedium arouses feelings of pathos within the spectators.

The play is fraught with interwoven elements of tragedy and comedy and truly brings out mixed emotions within the spectator, such as the scene involving Lucky and Pozzo, which is truly comic but at the same time strikes a sympathetic chord in every spectator’s chord.
Therefore, undoubtedly there are no questions regarding the nature of the play as a tragicomedy precisely because of the masterful way in which Beckett rapidly and originally alternates between despondency and amusement. The enduring popularity of this dramatic text is guaranteed due to the fact it captures the very essence of human existence itself which fluctuates between hope and aspiration and frustration and disillusionment.


‘Theatre of the Absurd’: A post-World War II dramatic trend characterized by radical theatrical innovations. In works influenced by the Theater of the absurd, nontraditional, sometimes grotesque characterizations, plots, and stage sets reveal a meaningless universe in which human values are irrelevant. Existentialist themes of estrangement, absurdity, and futility link many of the works of this movement. The principal writers of the Theater of the Absurd are Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Jean Genet, and Harold Pinter.

Vaudevillian: a performer who works in vaudeville, a stage entertainment offering a variety of short acts such as slapstick turns, song-and-dance routines, and juggling performances.

Freytag’s pyramid: a pyramid showing the structure of a five-act tragedy and is commonly used to illustrate plot movement in narrative writing, whether the form is poetry, prose or drama. It is named after its founder Gustav Freytag.

“Nothing to be done”: quoted from “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett

Marx Brothers: A family of American film comedians who flourished in the 1930s.

Article name: Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" a Tragic Come essay, research paper, dissertation