A while back, I had posted about a performance of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame that I ‘d seen at the Arden Theater in Philadelphia. In it, I quoted my favorite lines from the play:
HAMM: (letting go his toque) What’s he doing?
(Clov raises lid of Nagg’s bin, stoops, look into it. Pause.)
CLOV: He’s crying. (He closes lid, straightens up.)
HAMM: Then he’s living.
The character Hamm has made the immediate inference that if his father is crying, then he is alive. And we, by extension, apply it to the human condition. I remembered this line–and the act of crying– this week when teaching Waiting for Godot. (Actually, the crying seemed more appropriate than ever for someone trying to teach Godot to 18-year old boys during their last week of school when the temperatures are in the mid-70s and the sun is bright! Hah!)
Early in the play, Estragon and Vladimir point out the tree where they are supposed to wait for Godot. (It is the only piece of scenery. The scene description reads simply: A country road. A tree. )
Estragon: [desparingly] Ah! [pause] You’re sure it was here?
Estragon: That we were to wait.
Vladimir: He said by the tree. [They look at the tree.] Do you see any others?
Estragon: What is it?
Vladimir: I don’t know. A willow.
Estragon: Where are the leaves?
Vladimir: It must be dead.
Estragon: No more weeping.
This is the exact inverse of the lines from Endgame. In Endgame, the syllogism is that if you are crying then you are alive. In Waiting for Godot, the syllogism is that if you are dead, then there is no more crying. More or less the same thing.
Later on, as Vladimir and Estragon rebuke Pozzo for his treatment of his slave/servant, Lucky, there is more conversation about crying:
Estragon: He’s crying!
Pozzo: Old dogs have more dignity! [He proffers his handkerchief to Estragon.] Comfort him, since you pity him. [Estragon hesitates.] Come on. [Estragon takes the handkerchief.] Wipe away his tears, he’ll feel less forsaken.
Vladimir: Here give it to me, I’ll do it.
[Estragon refuses to give the handkerchief. Childish gestures.]
Pozzo: Make haste before he stops. [Estragon approaches Lucky and makes to wipe his eyes. Lucky kicks him violently in the shin. Estragon drops the handkerchief, recoils, staggers about the stage, howling with pain.] Hanky!
[Lucky puts down bag and basket, picks up handkerchief and gives it to Pozzo, goes back to his place, picks up bag and basket.]
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
What are we to make of that? What is the significance of Lucky’s crying? Of Estragon and Vladimir’s desire to comfort him? Of Lucky’s lashing out at his comforter? And of his immediate subservience to his persecutor.
There is, of course, much more going on here, but the small emphasis on tears should be noted. Earlier Beckett had equated crying with living. Are we simply to be reminded that Lucky is a living, human being, and leave it at that? (We knew that anyway.)
Or perhaps we are to examine the difficult symbiosis between the comforter and the comforted? The helper and the helped? The cry of pain and those who hear and those who refuse to hear?
What is our responsibility to those who are “crying”? To those who are inconsolable? Good questions, all. And ones that we should take the time to think about every so often.
2 thoughts on “Waiting for Godot: Crying in Beckett”
Don’t despair in your teaching! I was 18, it was warm, and the sun was bright when I first read Godot. The paucity of words and the puzzle of their meanings hooked me. 65 years later, I’m still reading French.
Good man! The effort is worth it. Thanks for reading.