Waiting for Godot has been described oversimply as a play “about two tramps waiting nowhere in particular for someone who never shows up.” The play, whatever it is “about,” recast the face of theater when it opened at the Théâtre de Babylone in Paris on 5 January 1953. The play soon made its way around the world and established Samuel Beckett as the most original and significant dramatist of the twentieth century.
Godot is a play of inexhaustible provocation and resonance. It defies explanation, although the ever-growing mass of commentary offers many. Some spectators, accustomed to more traditional fare, found it boring; others, confusing and, because they could not feel sure of its meaning, frustrating. But many more found it quite beautiful, this spectacle of two tramps—Beckett had visualized them as clowns—waiting endlessly for Godot, who never arrives (who is Godot? Beckett offers no clues); they sensed the indomitable will to believe, the need to press on, not to give up in the face of delay and disappointment.
The excitement is in Beckett’s mastery of language, its calculated discontinuities, its incongruous conjunctures, all brought into balance by the sure hand of a sublime magician thoroughly at home in the theater. The language is not literary but real. It marked a new direction for French theater, a clean break with the past.