Part of Beckett’s the introduction to an early version reads I don’t know who Godot is. I don’t even know (above all don’t know) if he exists. And I don’t know if they believe in him or not – those two who are waiting for him. The other two who pass by towards the end of each of the two acts, that must be to break up the monotony. All I knew I showed. It’s not much, but it’s enough for me, by a wide margin. I’ll even say that I would have been satisfied with less. As for wanting to find in all that a broader, loftier meaning to carry away from the performance, along with the program and the Eskimo pie, I cannot see the point of it. But it must be possible … Estragon, Vladimir, Pozzo, Lucky, their time and their space, I was able to know them a little, but far from the need to understand. Maybe they owe you explanations. Let them supply it. Without me. They and I are through with each other.
Not surprisingly, it was reported that some of the audience on that first night– perhaps as much as half of it – walked out before the second act, such was their incomprehension. The play has for all that has justifiably gone on to be considered one of the great plays of the last century.
ACT I (extract)
A country road. A tree.
Estragon, sitting on a low mound, is trying to take off his boot. He pulls at it with both hands, panting. # He gives up, exhausted, rests, tries again. As before. Enter Vladimir. ESTRAGON: (giving up again). Nothing to be done. VLADIMIR: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods, musing on the struggle. Turning to Estragon.) So there you are again. ESTRAGON: Am I? VLADIMIR: I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever. ESTRAGON: Me too. VLADIMIR: Together again at last! We’ll have to celebrate this. But how? (He reflects.) Get up till I embrace you. ESTRAGON: (irritably). Not now, not now. VLADIMIR: (hurt, coldly). May one inquire where His Highness spent the night? ESTRAGON: In a ditch. VLADIMIR: (admiringly). A ditch! Where? ESTRAGON: (without gesture). Over there. VLADIMIR: And they didn’t beat you? ESTRAGON: Beat me? Certainly they beat me. VLADIMIR: The same lot as usual? ESTRAGON: The same? I don’t know. VLADIMIR: When I think of it . . . all these years . . . but for me . . . where would you be . . . (Decisively.) You’d be nothing more than a little heap of bones at the present minute, no doubt about it. ESTRAGON: And what of it? VLADIMIR: (gloomily). It’s too much for one man. (Pause. Cheerfully.) On the other hand what’s the good of losing heart now, that’s what I say. We should have thought of it a million years ago, in the nineties. ESTRAGON: Ah stop blathering and help me off with this bloody thing. VLADIMIR: Hand in hand from the top of the Eiffel Tower, among the first. We were respectable in those days. Now it’s too late. They wouldn’t even let us up. (Estragon tears at his boot.) What are you doing? ESTRAGON: Taking off my boot. Did that never happen to you? VLADIMIR: Boots must be taken off every day, I’m tired telling you that. Why don’t you listen to me? ESTRAGON: (feebly). Help me! VLADIMIR: It hurts? ESTRAGON: (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! VLADIMIR: (angrily). No one ever suffers but you. I don’t count. I’d like to hear what you’d say if you had what I have. ESTRAGON: It hurts? VLADIMIR: (angrily). Hurts! He wants to know if it hurts! ESTRAGON: (pointing). You might button it all the same. VLADIMIR: (stooping). True. (He buttons his fly.) Never neglect the little things of life. ESTRAGON: What do you expect, you always wait till the last moment. VLADIMIR: (musingly). The last moment . . . (He meditates.) Hope deferred maketh the something sick, who said that? ESTRAGON: Why don’t you help me? VLADIMIR: Sometimes I feel it coming all the same. Then I go all queer. (He takes off his hat, peers inside it, feels about inside it, shakes it, puts it on again.) How shall I say? Relieved and at the same time . . . (he searches for the word) . . . appalled. (With emphasis.) AP-PALLED. (He takes off his hat again, peers inside it.) Funny. (He knocks on the crown as though to dislodge a foreign body, peers into it again, puts it on again.) Nothing to be done. (Estragon with a supreme effort succeeds in pulling off his boot. He peers inside it, feels about inside it, turns it upside down, shakes it, looks on the ground to see if anything has fallen out, finds nothing, feels inside it again, staring sightlessly before him.) Well? ESTRAGON: Nothing. VLADIMIR: Show me. ESTRAGON: There’s nothing to show. VLADIMIR: Try and put it on again. ESTRAGON: (examining his foot). I’ll air it for a bit. VLADIMIR: There’s man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet. (He takes off his hat again, peers inside it, feels about inside it, knocks on the crown, blows into it, puts it on again.) This is getting alarming. (Silence. Vladimir deep in thought, Estragon pulling at his toes.) One of the thieves was saved. (Pause.) It’s a reasonable percentage. (Pause.) Gogo. ESTRAGON: What? VLADIMIR: Suppose we repented. ESTRAGON: Repented what? VLADIMIR: Oh . . . (He reflects.) We wouldn’t have to go into the details. ESTRAGON: Our being born? Vladimir breaks into a hearty laugh which he immediately stifles, his hand pressed to his pubis, his face contorted. VLADIMIR: One daren’t even laugh any more. ESTRAGON: Dreadful privation. VLADIMIR: Merely smile. (He smiles suddenly from ear to ear, keeps smiling, ceases as suddenly.) It’s not the same thing. Nothing to be done. (Pause.) Gogo. ESTRAGON: (irritably). What is it? VLADIMIR: Did you ever read the Bible? ESTRAGON: The Bible . . . (He reflects.) I must have taken a look at it. VLADIMIR: Do you remember the Gospels? ESTRAGON: I remember the maps of the Holy Land. Coloured they were. Very pretty. The Dead Sea was pale blue. The very look of it made me thirsty. That’s where we’ll go, I used to say, that’s where we’ll go for our honeymoon. We’ll swim. We’ll be happy. VLADIMIR: You should have been a poet. ESTRAGON: I was. (Gesture towards his rags.) Isn’t that obvious? Silence. VLADIMIR: Where was I . . . How’s your foot? ESTRAGON: Swelling visibly. VLADIMIR: Ah yes, the two thieves. Do you remember the story? ESTRAGON: No. VLADIMIR: Shall I tell it to you? ESTRAGON: No. VLADIMIR: It’ll pass the time. (Pause.) Two thieves, crucified at the same time as our Saviour. One— ESTRAGON: Our what? VLADIMIR: Our Saviour. Two thieves. One is supposed to have been saved and the other . . . (he searches for the contrary of saved) . . . damned. ESTRAGON: Saved from what? VLADIMIR: Hell.