Absurdism has been extensively used in representing Estragon in Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” This type can be used by an actor to recognize the character’s role. This paper investigates how an actor should use absurdist methods and norms in representing Estragon as seen in Waiting for Godot. The use of absurdity conventions and strategies allows one to describe Estragon’s role in the play, which is to make Vladimir recall past events. Nonetheless, while some conventions and strategies can be used to determine Estragon’s position in the play, others cannot. The ensuing discussion looks at some of the issues mentioned above. It begins by first laying the ground of the matter before proceeding to summarize the critical parts of the theatrical composition. Afterward, the discussion touches on some of the outstanding absurd factors that are suitable in interpreting the role of Estragon. Finally, a review is made of those factors that would not fit such a role before summing up the discussion.
As a school of thought, absurdism states that the efforts of humanity to discover inherent meaning will eventually fail as the sheer amount of information together with the vast reality of the unknown makes absolute certainty unattainable. The concept shares many aspects with the existentialism concept. In particular, scholars consider absurdism as an unconscious movement that once existed in the past, as exponents of the approach were an incoherent group of playwrights. In truth, the number of true absurdist playwrights is limited and entails Eugene Lonesco, Samuel Beckett, and Jean Genet (together with some scholars such as Arthur Adamov (Akim 52). Most people argue that the beginning of this movement is traced back to the avant-garde experiments that were conducted in the 1920s and 30s. Others argue that the form was evident as early as in 1896 when Alfred Jarry first performed Ubu Roi. Still, others attribute the emergence of the technique as early as in the days of Greek drama (Akim 52). Often, as part of absurdism, characters are magnified in an abstract situation. Such plays are often about provoking people’s thoughts with laughter. In most cases, the composition has no beginning, middle, or end; as such, it differs largely from the conventional theatre performances. The absurdity in such plays can be termed as nonsensical, something silly, opposed to reasoning, senseless, foolish, or ridiculous. This paper looks the presentation of Estragon’s character in Waiting for Godot and argues that it has helped define his character and advance the message of incorporated in the play by Beckett.
Samuel Beckett composes Waiting for Godot. In the play, two characters Estragon and Vladimir wait for God to arrive under a tree but he never does. While waiting, the two engage in several discussions and come across three other characters. They meet Pozzo on his way to the market place to sell his slave, Lucky. For some time, Lucky entertains them by dancing and thinking out loudly in a rather long soliloquy. Afterward, they meet a boy who comes to inform them that Godot will not be coming that night, but that he will come the next day. Estragon sleeps through the meeting between Vladimir and the Messenger boy. Afterward, Vladimir and Estragon opt to leave but fail to do so as the curtains fall. In part two, the duo is seen again near the tree waiting for Godot. Again, they meet Pozzo and Lucky, but they do not appear to recognize the latter. Shortly after, the young boy comes again and informs them that Godot will not be coming. Once again, they appear not to understand nor recognize the boy even as the lad reiterates the same message he gave them the previous day. Vladimir and Estragon again decide to leave but do not move as the curtains come down, bringing the play to its end.
Factors That Can Apply As Absurdity
Illogical Actions and Reactions
The issue of irrational actions and reactions helps comprehend the role played by Estragon. In the first part of the play, Estragon replies, “Let’s go” after Vladimir insinuates that he is ready to leave (Beckett). Nonetheless, nothing happens. The response by Estragon would, in the normal circumstances, be a signal that he was ready to stand up and leave. Unfortunately, neither Vladimir not Estragon moves. This “ridiculous” conversation comes forth both as some form of comedy and as a pointer that indeed the intent of the entire conversation is simply to pass the time. According to Kitchen and Perloff (5), the objective of the two tramps as per their discussion is to pass the time by indulging themselves in senseless talks.
In another instance, Estragon says, “that’s the idea, let us contradict each other” (Beckett). This conversation is utterly meaningless and yet important to the speaker as it helps to expand their topic and extend time spent in talking. The speaker is not interested in knowing the truth of the matter of whatever they engage in their conversation probably because he is not interested in the coming to terms with the complexity of information that often underlies particular subjects. Thus, he keeps taking things for granted. For instance, he keeps insisting, “that is a great thought, let us ask each other questions” even when they do not appear to be making any progress. They end up waiting for the entire day, and nothing happens. Also, the next day comes and still nothing happens.
Also, the use of the stage in a minimalist and simple way helps shape the role of Estragon. While the play itself is set in a simple setting with only a tree and country road in the site, the characters themselves are also less extravagant with their motions. The play portrays Estragon as some lazy and dumb entity who is not interested in understanding what is going on in his immediate environment. From time to time, Vladimir has to wake him up to keep the conversation going. Moreover, in Act II, the character shows little concern for Lucky and Pozzo that he falls asleep. He also sleeps through the whole scene between the Boy Messenger and Vladimir (Beckett). Then, judging from his talk with his colleague concerning someone beating him up last night, the audience understands that the character sleeps in a trench often somewhere around where they seat. In fact, Estragon is so conservative with stage movement that he finds it difficult to take off his boots to lessen the pain on his leg choosing instead to blame the shoes for his pain. This absurdity helps shape Estragon’s character about that of Vladimir. Viewers and readers get to understand who amongst them is dumber than the other, which adds to an interesting turn of events in the progression of the play.
In the play, Estragon’s significance is shown in his purposelessness. The concept of purposelessness denotes a condition where a drama has no particular desirable ending. The events simply flow endlessly with the particular intent of the characters and the author being unknown or undefined. In the drama, Estragon’s words capture the state of futility as they wait for a man who is never coming. For instance, in part II, Estragon initiates a conversation on what they might have done the previous day. Apparently, the two do not know with certainty what transpired the last day. To make things worse, a moment later Estragon cannot even remember his original question and, regarding this matter, he is quick to say, “the questions of the past have no meaning in the present” (Beckett). It appears as if the duo have no memory of the things they engage except in the instances when Estragon reminds Vladimir of the prior events by unconsciously giving him clues. It becomes challenging for the audience that wants to know the purpose of the meeting to know with certainty the reason why the two characters seat by the tree side. Now and then, they seem to lose focus. The behavior, however, is more pronounced for the case of Estragon who keeps overlooking his actions and words. Again, this approach adds to the fact that the primary goal of the two is merely to pass the time.
Then, Estragon’s absentmindedness helps develop his level absurdity to further shape his character. As a form of absurdity, forgetfulness is most pronounced in the way that Estragon handles pieces of information. He just cannot keep pace with the flow of events around him. In particular, instances, his actions portray an individual who is devoid of proper thinking ability. For instance, he constantly wants to leave the meeting, and his colleague must drill into him that he has to stay and wait for Godot. Also, he remembers that he was assaulted, but he sees no rational significance in the beating (Beckett). This forgetfulness creates a cycle of events in the play where the audience is treated to varied but almost similar instances when the two get to revisit their actions. The absurdity portrays Estragon as an unreliable individual who would have had difficulties understanding himself in the absence of Vladimir. Through Estragon, the audience and readers get to see the significance of having Vladimir as part of the plot. In particular, the latter complements the shortcomings exhibited by the former.
Unawareness of Basic Universal Knowledge
Beyond absent-mindedness, unawareness of basic universal knowledge is also employed to portray Estragon. This fact is visible through his useless thoughts and actions. While both Estragon and Vladimir engage in thoughtless activities and ideas, the extent of thoughtlessness exhibited by the former is simply unbeatable. From the start, the character comes out as a performer who is concerned with mundane. For instance, Estragon is seen as an individual who has no understanding of the most basic knowledge such as philosophical or religious matters. For instance, Beckett portrays the individual as someone who has never heard about the two thieves were crucified with Jesus at the cross (Beckett). Moreover, he is not interested in knowing why the Gospels disagree on several issues. Instead, he is quick to expound on his flawed profundity by claiming that “the Dead Sea” in the Bible, “…that is where we will go for our honeymoon. We will be happy” (Beckett). The inability to put into context such vital matters makes it more challenging for Vladimir to keep the conversation going regarding the topic (Kitchen & Perloff 6). This description helps build Estragon’s character as someone who is uninterested in and incapable of contributing to discussions made on contemporary issues. It also helps to underlie the character of Estragon as someone who is dumb and lazy, or someone who is incapable of keeping pace with the developments happening in his environment.
Use of Meaningless Language
Moreover, Becket goes as far as imparting on the character meaningless use of language to build further on his primary characteristics and traits. In real life, language is meant to enhance communication between parties. Nonetheless, in many parts of the play, Beckett employs the use of language in a fragmented and playful manner to achieve other goals such as rhythmical sounds. In part I, after Estragon meeting Vladimir, who suggests that they have a celebration, the former says, “not now, not now.” There is no communication need or purpose that is fulfilled from the repetition of the words. What the author targets instead is the attainment of a rhythmical sound that helps to set the tempo for the conversation that ensues. Kyllesdal (8) also supports the view mentioned above but purports that it is absurd to overlook the intended meaning of a communication by the use of a repetition that appears suitable. Beckett makes ample use of such repetitions in the story. Overall, these words serve the purpose of bringing out Estragon’s character as absurd, which add to the development of his trait
The Use of Chaotic Stage Movements
The quest of building Estragon’s character goes as far as affecting his physical movement on the stage, which is mostly chaotic. That is, despite the minimal use of stage by Estragon, the few steps that he makes are mostly awkward and unintended, which creates a chaotic environment. This conduct is shown in Part I where while listening to a suspicious sound, Estragon loses his balance and almost falls, but he manages to clutch the arm of Vladimir, who staggers. The conduct on the stage can be interpreted as disorderly, which by extension adds to the absurdity of Estragon’s actions that also help to shape his role in Waiting for Godot. That is, there is no pre-planned artful use of the stage setting, as conventional drama would allow. The manner in which the characters exploit the space accessible to them on the stage is not professional according to the protocols that guide conventional theatre performance.
Finally, the author uses Estragon actions and thoughts to try delineate the audience from their traditional understanding of the world around them and in such a way that onlookers and readers are left constantly reeling in their own thoughts on what is the endgame. In particular, as the Waiting for Godot proceeds, the audience is mostly left puzzled and positively disturbed at the murkiness of the plot and illogical flow of events. For instance, while it was interesting introducing third party characters to break the monotony of events, there was no reason that made it rational for Pozzo and Lucky to come back again the second time. Thus, the plot follows a rather discretional path that can be termed as having not a particular ending, middle, or beginning (Dubois 116). Specifically, the reasoning of Estragon leaves the audience wondering how much the character is disconcerted with the reality of the matter on the ground. In particular, the audience yearns to understand more, but the characters are constrained in their performance in such a way that many questions are left unanswered. In some way, this approach also helps keep the audience in suspense regarding what might happen next. The unpredictability can find acceptance with the type of audience which is interested in technical plays where deep analysis is essential in understanding the meaning.
Conventions that Cannot Apply
In talking about how absurdity shapes the role of Estragon, several protocols and techniques cannot suffice for use. For instance, while it is true that absurdism in literature employs the use of undefined plots and play structures, these aspects cannot be relied on in discerning the unfolding character of an individual. Instead, this approach is often best employed when deliberating over matters that are crosscutting in a piece of composition such as the development of themes. Also, the question of the fluidity of time, which is also an evident factor in Waiting for Godot, cannot be used for such a purpose. The form can only be regarded as shaping the plot of the play but not the character of Estragon or of any other character. The issue is also crosscutting in the play. Thus, despite existing, it cannot be employed in portraying the trait of the characters. Moreover, the part of stage requirements regarding color, lights, spacing, music, and set designs cannot apply in this case as the performance is written and not acted. Often, the choice of the factors mentioned above in fitting with the theme of absurdity will depend on the taste of a particular director. In particular, the play is silent on some of the many ways in which the stage can be set to reflect the theme.
Absurdism as used in the Waiting for Godot helps shape the character and role of Estragon. Nevertheless, not all conventions and techniques of absurdity fit to use in understanding the trait of the character. Some features are crosscutting and hence suitable for making generalized summaries. In the case of Estragon, several absurd factors bring out his role. Such factors entail the engagement in illogical actions, undefined use of the stage, purposelessness, absent-mindedness, lack of knowledge of universal matters, the use of meaningless words, chaotic use of the stage movements, and audience alienation. The factors above support the shaping of Estragon’s trait as a dumbfounded tramp whose role is to help develop the character of Vladimir by engaging the latter in a nonsensical talk and helping the latter develop a slightly different character trait. Overall, I find the play both captivating and radical in a positive way. It helps people to go beyond the conventional understanding of the existence of man by perceiving the world from a different perspective where man is illogical and out of touch with his own existence.
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