Interpreting Waiting for Godot

The interpretations of Waiting for Godot might be far distant from Beckett's intentions, yet such interpretations are nevertheless intriguing. Some of the most interesting works of interpretation arise by way of theories that seemingly deviate entirely from the artist's objective.
09/02/2014 06:59 am ET Updated Nov 02, 2014

The great and diverse claims about Waiting for Godot's hidden meaning - including a Cold War allegory, an indictment of monotheism and a strangely homoerotic reading - have proven almost conspiratorial in their obsession. It strikes me, however, that based on the few statements that the notoriously reticent Samuel Beckett made concerning his tragicomedy, that it may indeed contain no such hidden depth. That's not to say that Beckett's play has no depth, but rather to suggest that readers are too preoccupied, if you will, with looking under the stone to notice the attraction of the stone itself. Or, better still, readers have failed to consider that the attraction of the stone is in its invitation to be lifted.

Beckett once wrote to a friend: 'I told Ralph Richardson that if by Godot I had meant God, I would have said God and not Godot. This seemed to disappoint him greatly.' Indeed, I'm sure that most readers would have been disappointed by Beckett's reaction, or lack of reaction, to their theories. Beckett may have been befuddled by the constant attempts to seep through the surface of Waiting for Godot, yet he nonetheless supported such attempts. When Colin Duckworth suggested that Beckett's protagonists exist in Dante's purgatory, Beckett responded: 'Quite alien to me, but you're welcome.'

The interpretations of Waiting for Godot might be far distant from Beckett's intentions, yet such interpretations are nevertheless intriguing. Some of the most interesting works of interpretation arise by way of theories that seemingly deviate entirely from the artist's objective. If you visit an art gallery and eavesdrop on unsuspecting critics - I wholeheartedly suggest that you do so - you're bound to hear an interpretation so outlandish that it couldn't possibly conform to the artist's purpose. The same act of interpretation naturally exists at every level of culture. A critic might, for example, interpret Bob the Builder as the glorification of the morality of the working classes. This, to my knowledge, isn't what the creators of Bob the Builder intended, yet if one was to promulgate such a theory in its entirety, I would be verily intrigued. I'd also be slightly worried - considering this individual's ardent scholarly approach to children's television - but intrigued nonetheless.

Waiting for Godot has been approached in so many different ways and through so many different fields - the psychoanalytical, the philosophical, the historical, the sexual and so on. This speaks volumes about the depth of the work despite the fact that, in this writer's opinion, it has no hidden depth.

I, personally, think that Waiting for Godot is about the human condition - in a sense, taken on face value - and I can't quite accept any of the abstruse allegorical or philosophical interpretations. Yet I'm intrigued by these interpretations and, having recently reread Waiting for Godot, I thoroughly enjoyed noticing the lines in the play in which these theorists found inspiration. One can pick up on the obvious theological allusions, the potential Freudian themes and even the occasional autobiographical elements in one hour-long sitting. Waiting for Godot's brilliance is that, nearly sixty years after its publication, readers and nascent theorists return to the stone and can't resist lifting.