Godot in Times of Coronavirus

“Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”. These are lines from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot and I think that they summarise the current times perfectly. Waiting For Godot was written in a post World War Two world where alienation and despair among people were high and existential angst was a part of life. The play embodies these characteristics and has always been popular. While I definitely enjoyed this play when I first read it, in the present times, it has achieved a whole new level of relatability (at least for me).

Published in 1953, the play centres around Vladimir and Estragon. Like the title suggests, the play is about waiting. Through the two acts, the audience sees Vladimir and Estragon wait for Godot who never arrives. The two seem to be stuck in an eternal wait and attempt to pass the time during this period. It is this waiting, and the attempt to pass the time while waiting, that evoke a certain existential angst that was common in the literature produced in the contemporary period. However, despite its dark themes, the play is a comedy. More accurately, the play is a dark comedy that often uses its sinister themes to generate amusement.

The play is filled with exchanges that make it an enjoyable read. My personal favourite being:

Vladimir: I don’t understand.

Estragon: Use your intelligence, can’t you?

[Vladimir uses his intelligence.]

Vladimir: [Finally.] I remain in the dark.

There are also much darker exchanges throughout the play however their sinister undertones are often followed by bawdy and vulgar remarks, such as:

Vladimir: … What do we do now?

Estragon: Wait

Vladimir: Yes, but while waiting.

Estragon: What about hanging ourselves?

Vladimir: Hmm. It’d give us an erection!

Estragon: [Highly excited.] An erection!

While exchanges such as these definitely amuse the audience, there are also lines that, given the lockdown and the subsequent limbo-like existence, hit a little too close. One such example is “But what Saturday? And is it Saturday? Is it not rather Sunday? (Pause.) Or Monday? (Pause.) Or Friday?”. The feeling of days blurring together and becoming indistinguishable is something that is being experienced now in a way that it never has been before and it seems that our existence is becoming increasingly Beckettian.

The constant repetition in the play as well as the questioning of the passing of time, be it through conversations or through the two acts mirroring each other, create the feeling of being caught in limbo. A limbo where Vladimir and Estragon are stuck, forced to pass the time, while they wait for Godot. Who or what is Godot is a question that is never answered. Godot remains a vague promise, a reason to pass the time. We too, like Vladimir and Estragon, are trying to pass the time while the days blur together to form a mass of confusion and uncertainty, waiting for all this to be over, waiting for our own Godot to arrive. A Godot that will help us escape this seemingly endless limbo, that will take us to times that are normal, times that are less perplex and more certain.

Thus, the endless wait for Godot as the days blur together and existence comes to revolve around performing a series of activities to pass the time is no longer just the plot of the play but appears to be the plot of our lives too. The existential angst of the play has become only too real and the questioning of the passing of time frighteningly relatable. Though written in the aftermath of the Second World War, the play perfectly reflects what life is like right now. This relatability, I believe, is just another reason to read the play and I definitely recommend it.

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3 thoughts on “Godot in Times of Coronavirus

  1. “We always find something, eh Didi, to give ourselves the impression that we exist?”
    What a lovely piece capturing life in isolation. Makes you think, with the amount of strife and growing authoritarism just like the original circumstances inspiring this play, whether that has a bearing too on our hopelessness with this situation. Not just a literal repeat of the same but intellectually the growing knowledge that we seem to repeat history instead of learning from it

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    1. Also to add, the circularity of it. A tragicomedy in two acts, Beckett calls this. And so is our lives now, the first act in the original context of the play and this the second act where we insist on pretending this is not just more of the same

      Like

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