Dramatic Structure in Waiting for Godot
No logical exposition or resolution can be drawn from Waiting for Godot because the play has an essentially circular and repetitive structure. In a traditional play there is a linear development – the characters are introduced, there is a statement of the problem, the characters are developed, and the play then rises to a climax, and draws a conclusion. In the plays of the Theater of the Absurd, the structure is often exactly the opposite.
The time and setting are the same in both the acts of Waiting for Godot. Each act begins early in the morning, just as the tramps are awakening, and both acts close with the moon having risen. The action takes place in exactly the same landscape — a lonely, isolated road with one single tree. We are never told where this road is located. Thus, from Act I to Act II, there is no difference in either the setting or in the time and, thus, instead of a progression of time within an identifiable setting, we have a repetition in the second act of the same things that we saw and heard in the first act.
The actions are chronically repetitive. Vladimir and Estragon emphasize repeatedly that they are there to wait for Godot; that nothing is happening. In addition, the subject of eating, involving carrots, radishes, and turnips, becomes a central image, and the tramps' involvement with hats, their multiple insults, and their reconciling embraces — these and many other matters are found repeatedly.
With the arrival of Pozzo and Lucky in each act, we notice that even though their physical appearance has theoretically changed, outwardly they seem the same; they are still tied together on an endless journey to an unknown place to rendezvous with a nameless person.
Likewise, the Boy Messenger, while theoretically different, brings the exact same message: Mr. Godot will not come today, but he will surely come tomorrow.
There are many other actions that are repeated in both acts. At the beginning of each act, for example, several identical concerns should be noted. Among these is the emphasis on Estragon's boots. Vladimir, when first noticing Estragon, uses virtually the same words: "So there you are again" in Act I and "There you are again" in Act II. At the beginning of both acts, the first discussion concerns a beating that Estragon received just prior to their meeting. At the beginning of both acts, Vladimir and Estragon emphasize repeatedly that they are there to wait for Godot. In the endings of both acts, Vladimir and Estragon discuss the possibility of hanging themselves, and in both endings they decide to bring some good strong rope with them the next day so that they can indeed hang themselves. In addition, both acts end with the same words, voiced differently.
The use of repetition, however, is unique in its own way. For example, Pozzo, having eaten his meal and lit his pipe, says with evident satisfaction: “Ah! That’s better”. Two pages later Estragon makes precisely the same comment, having just gnawed the remaining flesh off Pozzo’s discarded chicken bones. But the circumstances, though similar, are not identical. The repetition of the words is therefore an ironical device for pointing a contrast.
Another feature of the play’s structure is reflected in the contrasted characterisation. Estragon’s name is composed of the same number of letters as Vladimir’s name; the same applies to Pozzo and Lucky. Hence they find themselves associated, and have been joined in a complex sadomasochistic relationship for many years. But their natures obviously come into conflict: Vladimir is the neurotic intellectual type, Estragon the placid intuitive type; Pozzo is the bullying extrovert, Lucky the timid introvert. The characters, in fact, like the occurrences, are held in uneasy equilibrium within the play.
Finally, and most importantiy, there are the larger concepts: first, the suffering of the tramps; second, their attempts, however futile, to pass time; third, their attempts to part, and, ultimately, their incessant waiting for Godot — all these make the two acts clearly repetitive, circular in structure, and the fact that these repetitions are so obvious in the play is Beckett's manner of breaking away from the traditional play and of asserting the uniqueness of his own circular structure. The substance of Waiting for Godot is waiting, waiting amid uncertainty. To wait and to make the audience share the waiting, and to bring out the quality of the waiting—this is not to be done with a plot in the conventional sense. Beckett fills the time with beautifully symmetrical structures.