Language, Action And Time In Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot

2218 words - 9 pages

Language, Action and Time in Waiting for Godot

Twenty-two hundred years before the emergence of the Theater of the Absurd, the Greek philosopher Artistotle stumbled upon one of the themes developed in Samuel Beckett's play Waiting for Godot; that is, that Thought (Dianoia) is expressed through Diction and that Thought (Theoria) is in itself a form of Action (Energeia). Intellectual action is thus measured equally in comparison to physical action. Over the centuries, theories regarding thought, action and language have evolved considerably, but certain underlying themes in Beckett's unconventional work can trace their origins back to Aristotle's original concepts concerning drama, namely the relationships between language, thought and the action involved in contemplation.

Aristotle proposes that Thought and Diction imitate Action. In Beckett's Waiting for Godot, it is possible to see a similar pattern (that when taken a step further is no longer linear but circular), in which Language permits the existence of Thought which in turn becomes vicarious Action. (Ironically, this whole process which is portrayed by Beckett on-stage is equivalent to the art of theater itself which, manifested through language, permits the audience offstage, whose witnessing of a play replaces imagining it, to undergo the same process in acting vicariously through the characters.) The first and more interesting part of the process is best illustrated by the ending of both acts when Vladimir, and then Estragon, says "Yes, let's go" and the stage directions indicate "They do not move". It suffices simply to say and subsequently to think of leaving, for there is no more meaning in the vicarious action than in its actual physical manifestation.

Further evidence of the theory of the irrelevance of physical action in relation to vicarious action is present throughout the play, and strongly established by the repetition of the opening line: "Nothing to be done." There is nothing worth doing because, in existential theory, man's life is meaningless; therefore, while passing the time until death, the easiest course of action is thought or vicarious action rather than actually physically doing anything. This idea is reiterated by Estragon who later says "No use struggling" to which Vladimir replies "The essential doesn't change." Vladimir has concluded that life is not just a case of making the appropriate effort because no matter how much he has tried before it made no difference.

To struggle being thus useless, the two hobos choose to live out their lives in thought rather than action because it is the best way to prove to themselves that they do indeed exist at all. This existence confirming thought is only created through language because without words it is impossible to describe those abstract concepts which allow man to theorize existence. Without language, it is impossible to even think "I exist" because there are no words or frame of reference with...

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