'A voice that I felt was speaking in the clearest and most accurate terms
about what it meant to be human and in the world'
by Rick Lopez
Beckett was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1969, an event which caused him only embarrassment. Always the recluse, he fled in secret to a small vilage in Tunisia in order to avoid the publicity. When reporters finally tracked him down, Beckett agreed to see them only if they promised not to ask questions. One of the cameramen, obviously sensitive to Beckett's need for privacy, whispered an apology as he took his picture. "That's all right," said Beckett, "I understand."
It was his only public response to the award.
Waiting for Godot, Beckett's most famous work, premiered in Paris in 1953, and the theater was changed forever, its limits and conventions dashed to bits. What audiences found on their innocent night out was a set consisting simply of a scruffy, barren little tree beside an equally barren country road. And there they were, Vladimir and Estragon, a pair of destitutes from the fringes of vaudeville, patiently, and not so patiently, waiting for Godot. And how long will they wait? Why, as long as it takes; until he comes; or until the end, if he doesn't come; or forever. And so it goes, this classic of twentieth-century theater, a tragicomedy in two acts, during which nothing changes, nothing happens (twice), time passes, and Godot never comes.
Godot's brilliance, seen immediately by some, and missed completely by most, lies in its not being about anything. It was something: a situation, simply put and simply presented, of a state we all find ourselves in with great regularity. We wait in line, we wait for our paychecks, we wait for dinner, we wait for our ships to come in, for Friday, for the mail, for a phone call... it's one of our common endeavors.
Another is to "look for sense where possibly there is none" (Play, 1963), heaping meaning upon the meaningless-- and this was another aspect of the play's importance, and of Beckett's work in general: It is so open-ended that we must abandon our habitual need for meaning. And yet audiences rush out to make their myriad decisions on what it all signifies, and the decisions are legion. The most common, and a fitting example of opposites applying for no other reason than that we require it, were the positions that either Godot was God, and Vladimir and Estragon brave Christians waiting for his return; or that Godot was a God who would never come because he didn't exist-- both equally wrong. This think-yourself-to-death confusion on Godot's identity irritated Beckett to no end: "If I knew, I would have said so..." Beckett felt that a classically captive audience of a production at San Quentin Prison understood waiting, and hence the play, perfectly.
"Look Jean, this play is simple! So simple a child could read every word of it. How can you not understand such language!"
--Actor Lucien Raimbourg, answering actor Jean Martin's "What's it mean?" at rehearsals for the premiere of Waiting for Godot (1953)