How far it is true that there is no action in “Waiting for Godot”?
Aristotle, while defining tragedy in poetics, said about action:-
“Without action there cannot be a tragedy there may be without character.”
The very lines of Aristotle are contradictory to “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Becket. A new technique of writing drama was introduced by the writer with additional feature of boredom. Do nothing, go nowhere and wait for something, which is mystery even today and has become bone of contention between the critics and students of literature. It is rightly said that “nothing happens, twice” in this play. A strange situation has been created by the writer, which is much difficult to explain in words. A character says to the other “shall we go?”; and the other replies “Yes, let’s go” but they do not go anywhere. Every act ends without any development in the plot. Becket did not follow the traditional technique of playwriting with exposition of characters, development in plot, reversal of fortune and final conclusion. The play ends at the same state where it started; without any improvement in the plot. With the repetition of dialogues in every act, the necessary element of plot construction has been ignored by the writer in this play. Aristotle’s views; “The plot is the first principle and, as it were the soul of a tragedy” have no value in the eyes of Samuel Becket. Time and again repetition of dialogues illustrates a motionless situation, which comes in everyone’s life, where no action is required.
Whole play of Samuel Becket can be expressed in Estragon’s dialogue, which he utters regarding his own life; “Nothing happens, nobody comes, nobody goes, it’s awful!”. Like Estragon’s life, nothing happens in the play. We see two characters come on the stage, gossip and from their dialogues, it seems that they are waiting for someone named as Godot but the thing which is embarrassing is that Godot never comes nor his identity is revealed to the readers/spectators. A boy comes and the spectators expect that it is Godot but they face disappointed after knowing that Godot will not come today. Again a cruel man comes with his slave and again we hope that perhaps one of them is Godot but once again it is revealed that none of them is Godot. The characters again decide to come back tomorrow so that again they can wait. They do not move and curtain falls. The play starts with waiting and ends with waiting. The scene does not shift from one place to another. It remains at the same place in every act with minute changes. There is no improvement in the characters nor there any development in the plot. It is because no action has been performed by any of the character and without any action, there can never be any development in the plot. Critics rightly adjudged that “There is nothing done in it; no development is to be found; and there is no beginning and no end”
No dramatist has ever risked writing a play without any action but Samuel Becket. There is no action in the play even than it is successful. The structure of the play is built with language, logic, wit and the game of passing the ball. Characters have no background to be revealed on stage. They are without any past. Moreover, if they had any past, it might also be spent in wait. There is no clarity in the play that from when Vladimir and Estragon are waiting for the person called Godot. While breaking the conventional method of writing a play, having action as key factor of drama, Samuel Beckett has created a new record. He proved that an artist is not bound to follow the rules in order to show his talent to the world. A drama without any action, may seem absurd to a lot of critics but how masterfully Samuel Becket ignored the important element of action in “Waiting for Godot” is praise worthy.
If observed minutely, we see a lot of incidents in our daily lives when we, like Valadimir and Estragon, wait for something and in that process we do nothing. Meaning thereby, no action takes place while waiting. “Waiting for Godot” is a drama about a situation, in which the primary theme is waiting. For instance, a prisoner, waiting for his emancipation, has nothing to do but to wait for his liberation. It should be cleared that “Waiting for Godot” is not about the whole life of any character, it is about a situation and that situation is called “waiting”. It is a situation, which requires no action at all. A considerable example to explain it is that; a person, who is waiting on the line for depositing money in the bank, with a token in his hand, plays games on his mobile phone; although, he is doing an action (playing games) but it has no value. He is in waiting, that is the reason he is playing games otherwise, he is not going to do it. Thus, the situation of waiting is actionless and “Waiting for Godot” is the expression of that situation; it is the only reason there is no action in the play.
By and large, it is admitted fact that Samuel Becket has written a drama, which has no action at all. There is no incident in the play; no story; no conventional plot; no reversal of fortune and above all no action but still the play is extra ordinarily successful. The play is an experience of a specific situation. It is also necessary to be remembered that a dramatic action does not mean something like removing a hat or shoe, wandering here and there etc. In a dramatic action, there are plenty of conflicts, tensions, suspense, uncertainties and fears in the scene. Without any action, there is only movement of the character and it is not considered dramatic action of the any play. Nevertheless, it is definitely true that there is no action in “Waiting for Godot”.