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Waiting for Godot

by Samuel Beckett

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Explain how Waiting for Godot is a tragicomedy.

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Waiting for Godot presents a world which is ultimately too absurd for tragedy and in which comedy is used to fend off boredom and meaninglessness. Tragicomedy is the nearest humanity can come to tragedy in a world without structure or purpose.

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Waiting for Godot presents life as absurd, a situation which can clearly be regarded as tragic or comic, or both. Vladimir and Estragon spend both halves of the play waiting for someone who never arrives, a situation which emphasizes the meaningless nature of their lives but which never quite rises to the dignity of tragedy. They even consider hanging themselves but realize as they do so that their deaths would be absurd and contingent rather than tragic and purposeful. The two men fend off boredom with a series of comic observations, but the bleakness of the background prevents these quips from turning the play into a comedy.

It is in the story of Pozzo that the play comes closest to tragedy. In the first act, Pozzo is strong, confident, and powerful, the only character who exhibits these qualities. In the second act, some awful change has befallen him. He is blind, like Oedipus at Colonus, and has fallen from his high estate to be engulfed by absurdity like all the other characters. However, unlike the great figures of Greek tragedy, there is no structure to or reason for his fall. The play presents a world in which lack of meaning makes tragedy impossible, and tragicomedy provides the nearest approach.

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Tragicomedy contains elements of both tragedy and comedy. This means that the work features humorous situations in which an audience or reader will laugh or smile as well as others in which they will be saddened or disturbed by unfortunate situations or incidents. The tale might feature a number of tragic events but typically has a happy conclusion—usually after a series of mishaps. The characters, as well as their actions and words, are mostly exaggerated and the story incorporates jokes throughout to lighten the tone and mood.

Waiting for Godot, which is categorized as belonging in the realm of Absurd Theatre, is a good example of tragicomedy. Our two protagonists, Estragon and Vladimir, are caught up in an absurd situation: they are waiting for Godot, but they do not really know who he is or why they are waiting. They do not even know what would happen if Godot should arrive. The play explores their interactions and depicts comical situations and dialogue.

The overriding mood in the play is very similar to dark comedy. For example, Vladimir is determined not to hear Estragon’s nightmare. The latter pleads with him in vain to hear him, saying that there is nobody else to whom he may communicate his private nightmares.

It is also quite funny to witness Estragon repeatedly removing and putting on his boots and Vladimir’s hat game seems like a circus act. Their actions are quite funny when Vladimir walks about stiffly because of a prostate problem and Estragon limps around. Their comedic actions remind one of a Vaudeville play. Much of what the two men do is quite farcical, such as when Estragon encourages Vladimir to urinate off stage. Their dialogues occur like a comic paradigm throughout.

The play also features many moments of anguish and despair. Estragon, for example, is beaten daily. Both tramps experience serious medical problems and are constantly in pain and both refer to how much it hurts. Estragon's feet give him constant problems whilst Vladimir has issues with his prostrate and struggles to urinate. Both characters survive at the barest level of existence and live off carrots, radishes and turnips. Their lives are essentially miserable and they find solace in doing nothing. As Estragon remarks:
Do not let us do anything, it's safer.
This misery is accentuated not only by the fact that the men consider suicide, but also by the tragic circumstances of their fellow characters, Lucky and Pozzo. These two seem even more insignificant than our lead characters and especially Lucky's name is an ironic depiction of his true circumstances: he is to be sold by Pozzo. Furthermore, the air of impotent hopelessness which surrounds our two protagonists further accentuates the tragedy. For example, Estragon mentions: 
Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful.
The impression created by the play is one of helplessness and the boredom which human beings have to experience in life. Beckett effectively depicts the purposelessness of human life in our times. Because of this, the play is dominated by a feeling of despair, and this is in itself tragic even though farcical situations are used to suit the author’s design of a tragicomedy.
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By definition, a Tragicomedy is a play that employs a plot suitable to tragedy but ends happily like a comedy.  The action seems to be leading to a tragic catastrophe until the unexpected turn of events bring about the happy ending.

Beckett himself called this play a tragicomedy in two acts mostly because of the black humor--humor caused by something truly painful.

With Waiting for Godot, we have what's called Theatre of the Absurd.  This type of drama focuses on a view of the absurdity of the human condition by abandoning usual or rational devices.  The form is usually nonrealistic.  Two old friends are waiting by a tree for a man named Godot to come along.  We never meet Godot, but we exist as the men do--sitting, listening to their conversation about how bleak their lives are and why didn't they kill themselves years ago before things got so bad.  A boy comes to tell them Godot will not be coming, and still they sit.

Once you get over the initial boredom of the play, you realize that it is very funny.  Nothing really happens--just events they recall through conversation.  However, no one dies, either, which is usually the sign of a tragedy.

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