Drama has evolved significantly. It is a genre of literature believed to originate from the Greek city of Athens. One of the epochs in the history of the development of the drama is classical drama. This is a drama typical of the Greek tragedy in which there is a dramatic and choral presentation of an action usually taken from legend or remote history, which entails incidents of a certain magnitude (Harsh, 1994). The action is, in itself, complete, and it is treated in a serious manner and is normally interpreted to exhibit some religious, moral, or political significance. While classical drama is affiliated to a number of playwrights, there are others who have endeavored to thwart the styles of classical drama. One of these playwrights is Samuel Beckett. This essay examines how Samuel Beckett, in his premier play, Waiting for Godot, thwarted the mechanics or steps of classical drama.
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One of the steps of classical drama thwarted by Beckett in this play is the notion of linear progression or the theatrical, in which a play is supposed to have a plot with a beginning, middle, and an end. However, in this play Beckett does not follow this format as required by classical drama. The play has little actions because the second act is almost a repetition of the first one, and as such, the ending of the play tends of the repetitious. The structure of the play consists of two acts, which are cyclical. The play starts with two lonely tramps that are by a roadside. They are waiting for a figure named Godot. The play begins and ends with the same premise. In essence, Estragon and Vladimir do non-sensual things in an effort tom pass time as they wait for Godot. These repetitive actions serve to reinforce the notion that human effort is futile.
As mentioned above in the paper, this play lacks a definite plot. Time is a meaningless factor in the play. The events take place in a cyclic, although indefinite manner. Vladimir and Estragon go back to the same spot every day and look forward to meet Godot. They experience almost the same events only with a few variations every time. One cannot establish for how long the characters have been doing this in the past, or for how long they will go on doing it in the future because time has no meaning in the play (Adres, 1965). The ramifications of the insignificance of time in the play are seen with the sudden turn of events in the first act in which Lucky is being taken to the market to be sold as a slave by Pozzo, who is in perfect health.
However, in the following day, Pozzo is presented as a blind man, while Lucky is dumb. Pozzo cannot remember the past, and even says that Lucky has always been mute (Webb, 1972). Going by this contradiction, Beckett succeeds in thwarting a crucial aspect of classical drama, which is the character. He abandons the conventional character development to provide figures without clear identity or distinguishing traits. The characters may even be interchangeable just like Pozzo and Lucky who appear as master and servant in the first scene, and exchange roles in the second scene. Such exchanges deprive the audience of any significant sense of character identity leaving them to make their own interpretations of them.
This is in contrast to what occurs the previous day in which Luck gave a lengthy philosophical discourse. When Vladimir Pozzo became blind, he later responds that he “woke up one fine day as blind as Fortune” (Beckett, 1954, p. 31). From this turn of events, Beckett abandons the normal notions of plot almost entirely. In essence, as the opening lines of the play point out, nothing happens. The characters take part in various activities that are not connected in any meaningful manner, and neither do their actions develop into any coherent narrative or rational sequence of events. Beckett thwarts classical mechanics of drama in which there are pre-determined forms by following the plot. As such, this play is unpredictable and is open to various interpretations; and thus, it lacks objectivism, which is celebrated in classical drama.
Another element of classical drama thwarted by Beckett in “Waiting for Godot” is setting. The setting is particularly influential in play as it helps in interpreting the meaning of the play by signifying its mood. However, in this play, Beckett uses setting in an unconventional way. Beckett’s play falls into a category of literature known as Absurd drama. An absurdist play is usually set in an unrecognizable time or place. The stage settings are usually sparse, with a lot of space that depicts the notion of emptiness linked to the lives of the characters. In “Waiting for Godot”, the stage is almost safe for a spindly tree, which is the only prop.
Just as plot, character development and setting are crucial in classical play, so is the dialogue. Dialogue helps in deciphering the traits of characters, as well as sets out themes. Absurdist dramatists like Samuel Beckett question the ability of language in conveying meaning. Absurdist dramatists thwart the conventional use of dialogue by use of artificial language that has no meaning. Many of absurdist texts contain dialogue that is apparently meaningless, but which imitates the form of philosophical discourse. One of the defining characteristics of absurdist dialogue is a contradiction between speech and action. For instance, in “Waiting for Godot”, the characters claim they are leaving the stage, but go on to stay.
Beckett’s play metamorphoses to modernism away from classical drama. As mentioned earlier is illogical, and the characters have identity problems, which is a key focus of modernism as it emphasizes on individuals. The character identity crisis is evidence in the play by the fact that some characters have lost their memory. Vladimir and Estragon cannot remember their past. As such, loss of memory of the two can be equated to loss of identity. The characters in the play are simply common men in society. Each of them has no trait that can be associated with; hence, characterization is difficult. The play reveals their identity crisis because the characters do not even call each other their stage name. For instance, Vladimir refers to Estragon as Gogo while Estragon refers to Vladimir as Didi (Beckett, 1954).
In addition, to character-identity crisis, Beckett’s play is chaotic, which makes it different from classical drama. The world of the play is one in which there is no meaningful pattern in which the characters or actions in the play follows. This is a representation chaos as the ruling force in the world. The play lacks an orderly progression of events. The tree, which is the only prop on stage, is depicted as barren one day, and yet covered with trees the following day. Vladimir and Estragon go back to the same spot the day as they wait for Godot. The characters cannot even remember what took place the previous day. In addition, night falls abruptly, and the long-awaited Godot never shows up. The play’s chaotic plot and the setting are attributed to chance in which human life is based. The meaningless of time, which renders the events in the play chaotic, is as a result of chance being the core reason for existence (Adres, 1965).
In an effort to impose pattern and meaning on their world, human beings depend on nebulous, external force for relief from their predicament. Vladimir says that when Godot comes, the two will be saved (Beckett, 1954). This is the sole thing that keeps humanity going. Therefore, in the play, Godot symbolizes an external force. This force appears to be silent and uncaring. Despite the chaotic nature of the play, Godot manages to impose a pattern of events. As evident in Vladimir’s soliloquy when he contemplated on aiding Pozzo, the main action of the play is to wait for Godot. As such, through the chaotic pattern of the play, Vladimir and Estragon attain some degree of meaning by realizing that they are waiting as Pozzo declares “…We are waiting for Godot to come” (Beckett 1954, p. 54). Godot represents an illusion of salvation in which the characters wait upon him; hence, manage to cope with a meaningless life. The play does not set it out clearly whether Godot is a real figure or imaginary. In the two acts, Vladimir and Estragon mistake Pozzo for Godot. This implies that they have never seen Godot before; hence, they cannot differentiate him from any passerby.
In conclusion, the play can be interpreted as a representation of how humanity is grounded in humanity. A world that is based on chance lacks orderly sequence; hence, time is meaningless. This is the reason why Beckett’s play can be considered as existential. Since time is meaningless, and humanity depends on time, human is then meaningless, by extension. Human beings will come up with distractions and diversions that form a pattern of dependence on nebulous external forces, by realizing this harsh reality, (Astros, 1990). These forces will offer the purpose and significance that is inherently lacking in their lives.
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