I recently saw, standing by a shopping centre escalator, an old man in rough tweeds peering expectantly into his hat. To this day I'm not sure whether or not he realised that this one action buried in the bustle of commercialism perfectly echoed a recurring motif in an old French play of worldwide fame.
Beckett's award-winning play first opened in Paris in 1953. It has a sum total of five characters, though the action (or lack thereof) centres on Vladimir and Estragon, who are waiting for Godot.
The bowler-hat-wearing pair have been friends for about fifty years, and their personalities appear to complement each other; Vladimir is more excitable, more active, talkative and intellectual, whereas Estragon is sturdy, grounded and forgetful. They speak sometimes to each other and sometimes simply aloud, conversing without paying attention to response or reply.
Theatre group Motley, performing Waiting for Godot literature.wikia.com
Spoiler alert: Godot never appears. The absurdist play is almost entirely dialogue, in which, as Estragon once states, 'Nothing happens. Nobody comes, nobody goes, it's awful!' This sentiment is echoed by critics; Irish critic Vivian Mercier has famously said of the play '(Beckett) ... has achieved a theoretical impossibility—a play in which nothing happens, that yet keeps audiences glued to their seats. What's more, since the second act is a subtly different reprise of the first, he has written a play in which nothing happens, twice.' So what fills the pages?
Part-way through, the pair are interrupted by the arrival of Lucky and Pozzo. Pozzo, who at first seems the dominant of the pair, controls Lucky by means of a long rope. Lucky responds with (as described by Mercier) "dog-like devotion". Having stopped a short while by the tree under which Vladimir and Estragon have been waiting, Pozzo feels duty-bound to entertain the pair, and his earnest lamentation could easily be that of a playwright to an audience; 'I have given them bones, I have talked to them about this and that, I have explained the twilight, admittedly. But is it enough, that's what tortures me, is it enough?'
I found this play to be both tragic and laugh-out-loud hilarious. There are a variety of interpretations, many of them psychologically-based, but as Beckett was tight-lipped about the meaning of the play it remains an open read, a framework upon which any number of meanings and emotions may be hung. Waiting for Godot is a must-read, even if the only thing you glean is the ability to find humour in a bowler-hat or an ill-fitting boot.