“Nothing to be done,” is one of the many phrases that is repeated again and again throughout Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot. Godot is an existentialist play that reads like somewhat of a language poem. That is to say, Beckett is not interested in the reader interpreting his words, but simply listening to the words and viewing the actions of his perfectly mismatched characters.
Beckett uses the standard Vaudevillian style to present a play that savors the human condition. He repeats phrases, ideas, and actions that have his audience come away with many different ideas about who we are and how beautiful our human existence is even in our desperation. The structure of Waiting For Godot is determined by Beckett’s use of repetition.
This is demonstrated in the progression of dialogue and action in each of the two acts in Godot. The first thing an audience may notice about Waiting For Godot is that they are immediately set up for a comedy. The first two characters to appear on stage are Vladimir and Estragon, dressed in bowler hats and boots. These characters lend themselves to the same body types as Abbot and Costello. Vladimir is usually cast as tall and thin and Estragon just the opposite. Each character is involved in a comedic action from the play’s beginning. Estragon is struggling with a tightly fitting boot that he just cannot seem to take off his foot.
Vladimir is moving around bowlegged because of a bladder problem. From this beat on the characters move through what amounts to a comedy routine. A day in the life of two hapless companions on a country road with a single tree. Beckett accomplishes two things by using this style of comedy. Comedy routines have a beginning and an ending. For Godot, the routine begins at the opening of the play and ends at the intermission. Once the routine is over, it cannot continue. The routine must be done again.
This creates the second act. The second act, though not an exact replication, is basically the first act repeated. The routine is put on again for the audience. The same chain of events: Estragon sleeps in a ditch, Vladimir meets him at the tree, they are visited by Pozzo and Lucky, and a boy comes to tell them that Godot will not be coming but will surely be there the following day. In this way, repetition dictates the structure of the play.
There is no climax in the play because the only thing the plot builds to is the coming of Godot. However, after the first act, the audience has pretty much decided that Godot will never show up. It is not very long into the second act before one realizes that all they are really doing is wasting time, “Waiting for…waiting.” (50)
By making the second act another show of the same routine, Beckett instills in us a feeling of our own waiting and daily routines. What is every day for us but another of the same act? Surely small things will change, but overall we seem to be living out the same day many times over. Another effect of repetition on the structure of Godot is the number of characters in the play. As mentioned before, the play is set up like a Vaudeville routine. In order to maintain the integrity of the routine, the play must be based around these two characters.
This leaves no room for extra characters that will get in the way of the act. To allow for the repetition of the routine to take place the cast must include only those characters who are necessary to it. The idea that the two characters are simply passing time is evident in the dialogue.
The aforementioned phrase, “Nothing to be done,” is one example of repetition in dialogue. In the first half-dozen pages of the play, the phrase is repeated about four times. This emphasizes the phrase so that the audience will pick up on it. It allows the audience to realize that all these two characters have is the hope that Godot will show up. Until the time when Godot arrives, all they can do is pass the time and wait. The first information we learn about the characters is how Estragon was beaten and slept in a ditch.
We get the sense that this happens all the time. This is nothing new to the characters. They are used to this routine. The flow of the play is based around this feeling that the characters know where each day is headed. The audience feels that the characters go through each day with the hope that Godot will come and make things different. In at least three instances in the play, characters announce that they are leaving and remain still on the stage.
These are examples of how the units of the play are affected individually by repetition. Again, Becket emphasizes this for a reason. This is best shown in the following beat: Pozzo: I must go. Estragon: And your half-hunter? Pozzo: I must have left it at the manor. Silence Estragon: Then adieu. Vladimir: Adieu. Pozzo: Adieu. Silence. No one moves. Vladimir: Adieu. Pozzo: Adieu. Estragon: Adieu. Silence. Pozzo: And thank you. Vladimir: Thank you.
Pozzo: Not at all. Estragon: Yes yes. Pozzo: No no. Vladimir: Yes yes. Pozzo: No no. Silence. Pozzo: I don’t seem to be able…(long hesitation)…to depart. Estragon: Such is life. (31) The last two pieces of the excerpt are very literal. The idea that going someplace doesn’t matter, because there is really nowhere to go. All you can do is find someplace else to wait. Also repeated in the beat is the stage direction for silence. Silence occurs in life and theater is just a reflection of our lives. It is, in effect, a line of dialogue.
Repeated silence outlines the awkwardness of the beat. The repetition then creates the tone of the beat. Many of the play’s beats are comprised of some type of repetition. “All I know is that the hours are long, under these conditions, and constrain us to beguile them with proceedings which-how shall I say-which may, at first sight, seem reasonable, until they become a habit.”(52)
Here Beckett has a character state flat out what is happening in the play. The plot of the play is based on repetition. All the pieces of their lives have become habits. When at first they were ways to pass the days they have become repeated, and through this repetition, they have become unreasonable.
The habit that controls our lives is the same habit that fuels the characters in Godot. The same habit that makes the structure of Godot a repetition in itself. In the first act, the goings-on in the play may seem reasonable to the audience. Merely a way for these two people to pass the hours of their particular day. By making the second act the same routine, the tragic humor of their situation is revealed.
Estragon and Vladimir are stuck in this way of life. Bound to make each day more of the same, because they can find no other way to deal with their lives than to try to pass the time. All the ideas of the play and all the questions that are raised are highlighted through the use of repetition. Therefore, the structure of the play is dominated by this single characteristic of the play.