“Waiting for Godot” with religious interpretations
“Waiting for Godot” with religious interpretations : Samuel Beckett is a famous Irish dramatist and novelist. “Waiting for Godot” is his master piece. The play is one of the classic works of theatre of absurd. It is multilayered drama which has many interpretations. Let’s study “Waiting for Godot” with religious interpretations.
“Waiting for Godot” with religious interpretations
The play seems absurd but with a deep religious meaning. Though the play commonly interpreted within the context of the theatre of absurd, existentialist literature, it is also Christian allegory and also interpreted with religious interpretations.
The play has very strong evidences of theory of existentialism, but still, it can be related with many other religious interpretations. Like, Christian myth of two thieves, waiting for second coming of Jesus Christ, Hindu philosophy and its ‘Avatar’ and other interpretations.
Christian mythical interpretations:
When someone asked about the theme of “Waiting for Godot”, Beckett is reported to have referred to the sentence in the writings of St. Augustine,
“Do not despair: one of the thieves was saved. Do not presume: one of the thieves was damned.”
The theme of the two thieves on the cross, the theme of the uncertainty of the hope of the salvation and the chance bestowal of divine grace, does indeed pervade the whole play. Two characters Vladimir and Estragon are shown as tramps or thieves. At the beginning, Vladimir refers this,
“One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable percentage.”
And in the act 1, he refers this several times. Even Vladimir is shown talking about repentance. He several times says to Estragon to wait for Mr. Godot and when Estragon asks the reason, he says, Mr. Godot, otherwise punish them!
Beckett, though, wrote these dialogues quite funny and in light mood, it has strong meanings.
“Vladimir: One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable percentage. Go go Estragon: What?
Vladimir: suppose we repented.
Estragon: Repented what? Vladimir: Oh…we wouldn’t have to go into the details. Estragon: Our being born?”
It means Vladimir has faith in the myth and he is craving for salvation. He wants to be one of the thieves, who saved.
In the second act, while passing the time, they are thinking and talking about dead voices, it also seems that they are thinking about their past acts and evaluating their own deeds. Vladimir and Estragon talk incessantly because they want to hear the ‘dead voices’ which explore the mysteries of being and the self to the limits of anguish and suffering.
There is another Christian myth described in the dialogues between the boy and Vladimir. The boy, who looks after the goats is not beaten but, his brother who looks after Mr. Godot’s ships is beaten. This incident refers to myth of two sons of Adam Cain and Abel. There too the Lord’s grace fell on one rather than other without any rational explanation.
Here Godot also acts contrary/similarly to Jesus Christ. It can be interpreted as God’s punishment or nature of giving punishments. And Vladimir also gives reason to Estragon that if they don’t wait for Mr. Godot, he will punish them.
The act of waiting and Vladimir’s dialogue to boy, “Tell him that you saw me” seems that he is waiting for damnation. Even the thought of repentance is also present in the play.
Thus, the play has very strong effect of Christian ideas of salvation, repentance including its myths.
Biblical elements in “Waiting for Godot”:
As it has many Christian ideas, it is also related with many biblical elements and symbols. At the beginning of the play, Vladimir asks Estragon, have he read the Bible or not. Throughout the play, biblical, Christian elements are very much presented with the symbols.
The background image of ‘Tree’ has multiple meanings, and religious interpretation see as it is an image of cross where Jesus Christ was crucified. Their waiting also reflects the basic biblical idea of Christ’s returns on the Doomsday.
This play has strong religious connections, as it is also known as religious allegory. As William Mueller observed,
“The human predicament described in Beckett’s first play is that of man living on the Saturday after the Friday of the crucifixion, and not really knowing if all hope is dead or if the next day will bring the life which has been promised.”
Godot and Second coming:
One popular interpretation of waiting for Godot is the second coming aspect. One meaning of Mr. Godot is none other but ‘God’ and there are many clues and evidences in the play which symbolically says, that Mr. Godot is a symbol for God.
Religious interpretation posits Vladimir and Estragon as humanity waiting for the elusive return of a saviour. This interpretation makes pozzo into the pope and Lucky into the faithful. Another evidence is the title itself; the name ‘Godot’ also proves it. The name suggests ‘God’-OT it must have some significance. And it must be interpreted religious way. It is also seen in the dialogues between Vladimir and the boy.
“Vladimir: (softly) has he a beard, Mr. Godot?
Boy: yes, sir. Vladimir: fair or … (he hesitates)… or black?
Boy: I think It’s white, sir.”
The personality, Beckett describes is much related with image of Christian God. This description clearly shows that Mr. Godot means God.
Other dialogues between Vladimir and Estragon describe characteristics of Mr. Godot. Let’s evaluate these dialogues.
“Estragon: And if we dropped him? (Pause) If we dropped him?
Vladimir: He’d punish us. Estragon: And if he comes? Vladimir: We’ll be saved.”
It means Mr. Godot will give punishment if they leave and Mr. Godot is saviour also, they will be rewarded, if they wait. As it is already described, the tree symbolises cross where Christ was crucified and they are waiting there.
Throughout the play, the mute character Godot symbolises God, as we are waiting for God – a saviour from our sorrows and sufferings. This uncertain, second coming of God is well presented, who, when, where – questions about God and Godot both are unanswered in reality as well in the play.
“Waiting for Godot” with Hindu philosophy and ideas:
In Hindu religion, there is also an idea of an ‘Avatar’ for whom people are waiting. Though the play has not much connection with Hindu religious ideas, it can be interpreted and connected with some philosophical and spiritual ideas as the play is multi-layered.
The concept of ‘Nothingness’ can be interpreted with Hindu philosophy, According to it, the world and everything, every action is ‘Maya’ has no meaning but only ‘illusion’. Other interpretation of Hindu philosophy says, ‘karma’, the act must be done. The dialogue of Vladimir,
“Let us do something while we have the chance….Let us make the most of it, before it is too late!”
This ‘performative’ potency suggests the finally achieved actions means ‘karma’.
There are several other interpretations of Hindu philosophy and spirituality can be possible. The idea of hope as waiting (without dying) is also a Hindu philosophic idea. Though it has no connection with Hindu ideas, it is worthy to be studied with many interpretations.
Religious dilemma in “Waiting for Godot”:
The play is mostly interpreted as an Existential play. There are many elements which favour existentialism more than even religious interpretations.
But to promote existentialist views and ideas, and to present religious ideas’ irrationality, Beckett presents religious dilemma, counter arguments against religion. It becomes very strong, interesting point of discussion and debate in the play.
The famous myth of two thieves used in the play, is deconstructed by the writer. When Vladimir says, “One of the thieves was saved. It’s a reasonable percentage.” Later he enlarges on this subject. He asks why only one of the thieves is supposed to have been saved and other damned?
He raises questions why only one of four Evangelists speaks of a thief being saved, not other three. So, it cannot be hundred percent true! He intelligently points out that, it is curious fact that everybody seems to believe that one witness. This deconstructing point can be seen in Vladimir’s and Estragon’s dialogues.
Estragon: Who believes him? Vladimir: Everybody. It’s the only version they know. Estragon: people are bloody ignorant apes.
Estragon speaks, criticizes human mentality, whose attitude has been one of scepticism throughout the play.
Beckett, very intentionally, created these two characters- Estragon and Vladimir. Among them Vladimir is shown more intelligent, craving for salvation, moral, religious, and thinker than Estragon.
Estragon seems dumb, irreligious, sleeping-not thoughtful, only craving for necessary things for body but not interested in spiritual thinking.
Two ideas about existentialism and spiritual/religious waiting clashes in the play. When Vladimir says to repent, Estragon asks for reason. Two concept of religious and atheist are put together with these two characters.
Throughout the play, Vladimir is thinking about repentance, salvation, God, Bible and many other religious things. He, very hopefully, waiting for Mr. Godot to come and to be saved. But Estragon is very forgetful, he forgets everything, he has no concern with these religious thoughts.
Uncertainty of God or Mr. Godot is also questioned in the play. Both characters are waiting and passing time without doing anything, but Mr. Godot does not come. It can also be interpreted that, “Nothing to be done” while waiting for god and human being become passive while waiting.
As an existentialist idea, they want to die, and wait for another day with hope. It is quite confusing, they both have hope for God or Godot to come but they find hopelessness or meaningless to wait, so they die.
The play has idea of existentialism as well as religious. And throughout the play, this dilemma goes on. Perhaps, it shows Beckett’s own dilemma as he is atheist.
It is strongly believed that the play has ideas of existentialism. But event to support existentialism, writer shows religious ideas. And he also tries to deconstruct it. Consciously or unconsciously, writer presents many Christian myths and Biblical images.
As biography suggests, Beckett knows about all the Christian philosophical, spiritual ideas from childhood. So, the play has many Christian values like repentance, craving for salvation, faith in God, fear of God and hope for to be saved, and ‘coming of Mr. Godot’. Even Vladimir’s character is full with Christian values like he feeds and helps Estragon as true friend, he wants to help Pozzo and has desire to be saved.
As it is discussed earlier, “Waiting for Godot” has many Biblical, Christian symbols; one of the interpretations of the play is as ‘religious allegory’. But as the play has many interpretations and deep layers, it cannot be final and only interpretation.
“Waiting for Godot” shows the genius of Beckett and has very strong literariness that reader can interpret many meanings out of this small play.
Read it also: Popular Culture Vs Elite Culture