As a pretentious senior in high school, I thought I would be uber-sheik and take a girl I had a crush on to a play, Waiting for Godot, which I had read in the Comedy, Wit, and Satire English elective that I took the previous year with my favorite high school English teacher, Dr. Stone. How I got the tickets is inconsequential (okay, okay: my dad won them from the radio; my uber-sheik persona just took a big hit), but suffice to say, my crush and I were the youngest members in the crowd. Fortunately for me, my crush was also somewhat pretentious (though not nearly as much as myself), so the evening was not an entire bust.
About fifteen minutes into the show, my memory finally overpowered my hormones and I remembered what Waiting for Godot actually is: a philosophical piece, more for discussion afterwards than for immediate enjoyment. I silently berated myself; after all, how could I possibly make a move during Wait for Godot? I mean…it was WAITING FOR GODOT, for crying out loud! There is not one female role in the entire play, and the closest thing to a romantic relationship we get is between the two lead male characters, Vladimir and Estragon, who bicker, joke, hug, and so on as though they are a married couple. Oh well, no romance for me that evening, but at the very least, I retained my decidedly cool, uber-sheik persona.
Well, I guess “cool” is a subjective term.
In any event, in the years since my botched date, I have come to sincerely appreciate Godot. The play is almost literally about nothing (ahead of Seinfeld by more than a few decades) as it depicts the two men mentioned earlier just sitting (or standing, or dancing, etc.) around as they wait for a man named Godot (who, incidentally, never arrives). Other characters arrive from time to time, but that’s about it for the main action. So how has this been interpreted so many different ways?
Well, you could say it is the lack of action that speaks to us. Or perhaps it’s simply the kooky, wordy dialogue. Or maybe it’s the complex, desperate characterization. Or it could also possibly be its minimalist approach to theater. Or, to be sure, it’s a combination of all these things. Whatever it is, political, social, cultural, Freudian, Jungian, existentialist, Biblical, and even gay theorists have all written volumes about what Godot means, or if it even means anything at all, or if that even matters one way or the other. I like that about works of literature like this: you can’t pin any “meaning” down in one place (as you ostensibly can with, say, The Chronicles of Narnia). Not only does it keep you, the reader (or audience member) thinking long after the work is over, but it ensures the author some amount of immortality. It’s like James Joyce once said (and incidentally, Joyce employed Beckett as his personal secretary for a time): “I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it [Ulysses] will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”
A girl I used to work with tried to convince me that “Godot” is pronounced “God-ott.” Despite my rebuttals that Beckett had originally written the play in French–which would mean “Godot” would be pronounced with the French -ot ending as “oh”–she violently proclaimed that it was “God-ott,” which she learned from her favorite theater professor, who had supposedly heard this from Beckett himself while they shared a drink in a bar. Whatever. I guess this just goes to prove my point that just about everything in this play is open to interpretation, whether it’s the overall meaning, or the simple pronunciation of a word.
But still, it’s “God-oh.”