Comment on the title Waiting for Godot of the play written by Samuel Beckett.


Bernard Shaw

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kplhardison's profile pic

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The play Waiting for Godot was first performed in France and the original title is En Attendant Godot. Samuel Beckett's play transformed post-World War II theater by introducing a play in which nothing cohesive happens, unless two old men sitting and talking while two other old men pay disruptive and disturbing visits cohesive. This was the introduction of what came to be aptly called Theater of the Absurd.

In French the "en attendant" is from the transitive infinitive verb form "attendre" meaning "to wait." Secondary meanings of attendre are "to expect" and "to await." Defining attendre gives a broader understanding to the meaning of the original title that was translated to English as simply Waiting for Godot. To French speakers, En Attendant Godot would register as a Shakespearean-style word play in which a primary meaning suggests other deeper meanings. In this instance, to expect someone is more fraught with meaning than merely to wait for someone: the former imbues the waiting with the emotional import of expectation, whereas the latter ismerely waiting...maybe there is a task to perform; maybe you were just asked to wait with no particular attachment involved, etc. In addition, to await also conveys a sense of immediacy and anticipation, a feeling that something is imminently in store. These subtle meanings underlying the word play associated with en attendant is wholly missing in the flat "waiting" of the English translation.

On the one hand, "waiting" may add to the absurdity of the play being as it is a simple straightforward word that, in the context of the play, leads to nothing. But on the other hand, "waiting" strips the play of some of the most poignant absurdist elements. When the act of waiting calls up expectation or anticipation of something imminently in store, the old men sitting and talking about misery and suicidal thoughts carries a heavier and more absurd meaning when all they meet with is the admonition that nothing is coming and they are to wait some more.

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