“That’s one of my favourite things about Beckett. He refused to confirm or deny interpretations, which is why I think people are fascinated by him and his work. I want to do that.” – Brendan Gall
It could easily be argued that Waiting for Godot, written by infamous Irish playwright, Samuel Beckett, has led to more interpretations than any other play written in the post-World War era. Voted “the most significant play of the 20th century,” in a British National Theatre Poll, Waiting for Godot is the story in which two characters wait in vain for someone named Godot who never arrives. They eat, sleep, sing, play games, argue, swap hats, and contemplate suicide, but Godot never arrives. Since the release of the play, two questions have plagued audience members and readers alike: “Who was Godot and why didn’t he show up?” One guess seems as good as another.
- Written originally in French between October 1948 and January 1949
- The first abridged production was performed in the studio of the Club d’Essai de la Radio and was broadcast on [French] radio. Beckett did not show up but sent a note to be read out:
“I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him…Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other.”
- The English Premiere of Waiting for Godot was on August 3, 1955 at the Arts Theatre in London. The critics panned the show, and audiences walked out. The plan quickly became to shut it down after one week. However, when reviewers from The Observer and The Sunday Times attended the show on Sunday, August 7th, they gave it glowing reviews and everything changed. Suddenly Waiting for Godot was all the rage in London, and later around the world. Today, it is still produced regularly world wide.
- Waiting for Godot has undergone several different interpretations including political, biblical, Freudian, existentialist, biographical, and homoerotic, among others. Beckett tired quickly of what he considered ‘the endless misunderstanding.’ “Why people have to complicate a thing so simple I can’t make out.”¬ – Beckett
- Lüttringhausen Prison near Wuppertal in Germany, first premiering on November 29th, 1953 after an inmate obtained a copy of the first French edition and translated it himself into German. In October 1954, he wrote Beckett a letter saying, “You will be surprised to be receiving a letter about your play Waiting for Godot, from a prison where so many thieves, forgers, toughs, homos, crazy men and killers spend this bitch of a life waiting…and waiting…and waiting. Waiting for what? Godot?” This began Beckett’s longtime relationship with prisons and prisoners.
- Since Waiting for Godot first premiered, several unauthorized sequels have been written, and endless other plays, books and movies were inspired by the story, theme, dialogue and structure. A British TV show premiered in 1990 called Waiting for God, and in 1974 Ray Manzarek wrote the song He Can’t Come Today based on the play.