“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now? Your gambols? Your songs? Your flashes of merriment, that were wont to set the table on a roar?”
Waiting for Godot, the play in which ‘nothing happens – twice’ is now recognised as a major influence on post war drama. ‘It was about two tramps waiting nowhere in particular for someone who never shows up.’ The two tramps (Vladimir and Estragon) are waiting for someone called ‘Godot’ although they are vague as to why, who he is, and whether he will come. To occupy the time they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide – anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay”. Author Samuel Beckett refused to explain the piece, but the wait can be seen as a metaphor for life, and our need to give it meaning and purpose.
When Peter Hall had staged the British premiere in 1955, the play’s avoidance of a clear linear plot, or any attempt at realism, caused consternation among the critics. While a few recognised its brilliance, many saw no literary merit in the form of the piece. ‘His work … holds the stage most wittily, but is it a play?’ said one. Audiences were also divided, and ‘Godot’ became a hot topic in the media. Now the play is recognised as probably the single most influential work of the 20th century, which inspired future writers such as Harold Pinter, Joe Orton, Edward Bond and Tom Stoppard to name a few.