Waiting for Godot follows two days in the lives of a pair of men who divert themselves while they wait expectantly and unsuccessfully for someone named Godot to arrive. They claim him as an acquaintance but in fact hardly know him, admitting that they would not recognize him were they to see him. To occupy themselves, they eat, sleep, converse, argue, sing, play games, exercise, swap hats, and contemplate suicide — anything “to hold the terrible silence at bay”.
The play opens with the character Estragon struggling to remove his boot from his foot. Estragon eventually gives up, muttering, “Nothing to be done.” His friend Vladimir takes up the thought and muses on it, the implication being that nothing is a thing that has to be done and this pair is going to have to spend the rest of the play doing it. When Estragon finally succeeds in removing his boot, he looks and feels inside but finds nothing. Just prior to this, Vladimir peers into his hat. The motif recurs throughout the play.
The pair discusses repentance, particularly in relation to the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus, and the fact that only one of the Four Evangelists mentions that one of them was saved. This is the first of numerous Biblical references in the play, which may be linked to its putative central theme of the search for and reconciliation with God, as well as salvation: “We’re saved!” they cry on more than one occasion when they feel that Godot may be near.
Presently, Vladimir expresses his frustration with Estragon’s limited conversational skills: “Come on, Gogo, return the ball, can’t you, once in a while?”. Estragon struggles in this regard throughout the play, and Vladimir generally takes the lead in their dialogue and encounters with others. Vladimir is at times hostile towards his companion, but in general they are close, frequently embracing and supporting one another.
Estragon peers out into the audience and comments on the bleakness of his surroundings. He wants to depart but is told that they cannot because they must wait for Godot. The pair cannot agree, however, on whether or not they are in the right place or that this is the arranged day for their meeting with Godot; indeed, they are not even sure what day it is. Throughout the play, experienced time is attenuated, fractured or eerily non-existent. The only thing that they are fairly sure about is that they are to meet at a tree: there is one nearby.
Estragon dozes off, but Vladimir is not interested in hearing about his dream after rousing him. Estragon wants to hear an old joke about a brothel, which Vladimir starts but cannot finish, as he is suddenly compelled to rush off and urinate. He does not finish the story when he returns, asking Estragon instead what else they might do to pass the time. Estragon suggests that they hang themselves, but they quickly abandon the idea when it seems that they might not both die: this would leave one of them alone, an intolerable notion. They decide to do nothing: “It’s safer,” explains Estragon, before asking what Godot is going to do for them when he arrives. For once it is Vladimir who struggles to remember: “Oh … nothing very definite,” is the best that he can manage.
When Estragon declares that he is hungry, Vladimir provides a carrot, most of which, and without much relish, the former eats. The diversion ends as it began, Estragon announcing that they still have nothing to do.
Their waiting is interrupted by the passing through of Pozzo and his heavily-laden slave Lucky. “A terrible cry” from the wings heralds the initial entrance of Lucky, who has a rope tied around his neck. He crosses half the stage before his master appears holding the other end. Pozzo barks orders at his slave and frequently calls him a “pig”, but is civil towards the other two. They mistake him at first for Godot and clearly do not recognize him for the self-proclaimed personage he is. This irks him, but, while maintaining that the land that they are on is his, he acknowledges that “[t]he road is free to all”.
Deciding to rest for a while, Pozzo enjoys a pre-packed meal of chicken and wine. Finished, he casts the bones aside, and Estragon jumps at the chance to ask for them, much to Vladimir’s embarrassment, but is told that they belong to the carrier. He must first, therefore, ask Lucky if he wants them. Estragon tries, but Lucky only hangs his head, refusing to answer. Taking this as a “no”, Estragon claims the bones.
Vladimir takes Pozzo to task regarding his mistreatment of his slave, but his protestations are ignored. When the original pairing tries to find out why Lucky does not put down his load (at least not unless his master is prevailing on him to do something else), Pozzo explains that Lucky is attempting to mollify him to prevent him from selling him. At this, Lucky begins to cry. Pozzo provides a handkerchief, but, when Estragon tries to wipe his tears away, Lucky kicks him in the shins.
Before he leaves, Pozzo asks if he can do anything for the pair in exchange for the consort that they have accorded him. Estragon tries to ask for some money, but Vladimir cuts him short, explaining that they are not beggars. They nevertheless accept an offer to have Lucky dance and think.
The dance is clumsy and shuffling, and everyone is disappointed. Lucky’s “think”, induced by Vladimir’s putting his hat on his head, is a lengthy and disjointed verbal stream of consciousness. The soliloquy begins relatively coherently but quickly dissolves into logorrhoea and only ends when Vladimir rips off Lucky’s hat.
The soliloquy is full of classical references, as well as words that are distorted versions of ordinary words, slang and vulgar speech — “Belcher” as “belch”, “Fartov” as “fart”, “Testew” as “testes”, “Cunard” as the French ‘conard’ (‘idiot’ or ‘prat’), “possy” as “pussy” and “Feckham” as “fuck him”. Most of these words, although crude, describe normal human functions, which in some ways bring the discourse “down to earth”. They also, however, represent or indicate a disordered and disintegrating mind, one perhaps disturbed by too much waiting.
Some other unusual words include “apathia”, which is synonymous with “apathy”; “aphasia”, the loss of ability to understand or to express speech owing to brain damage; and “athambia”, the meaning of which has been subject to debate, but which may be broadly interpreted, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, as “imperturbability”. The implication may be that God is unfeeling, unseeing and inattentive. Also repeated is the word “quaquaqua”, which may simply be meaningless sound, but which is similar to “quaquaversal”, which means “pointing in every direction”, appropriate to Lucky’s roundabout discourse.
Broadly speaking, Lucky’s speech falls into four gambits: “the first describes an impersonal and callous God, the second asserts that man ‘wastes and pines’, the third mourns an inhospitable earth and the last attempts to draw the threads of the speech together by claiming that man diminishes in a world that does not nurture him.” It may be summarized as follows:
[A]cknowledging the existence of a personal God, one who exists outside time and who loves us dearly and who suffers with those who are plunged into torment, it is established beyond all doubt that man for reasons unknown, has left his labours, abandoned, unfinished.
Once Lucky has been revived, Pozzo has him pack up his things and, together, they leave. At the end of the act (and its successor), a boy arrives, purporting to be a messenger sent from Godot, to advise the pair that he will not be coming that “evening but surely tomorrow.” During Vladimir’s interrogation of the boy, he asks if he came the day before, making it apparent that the two men have been waiting for an indefinite period and will likely continue to wait ad infinitum. After the boy departs, they decide to leave but make no attempt to do so, an action repeated in Act II, as the curtain is drawn.
 Act II
Act II opens with Vladimir singing a round about a dog which serves to illustrate the cyclical nature of the play’s universe, and also points toward the play’s debt to the carnivalesque, music hall traditions, and vaudeville comedy (this is only one of a number of canine references and allusions in the play). There is a bit of realization on Vladimir’s part that the world they are trapped in evinces convoluted progression (or lack thereof) of time. He begins to see that although there is notional evidence of linear progression, basically he is living the same day over and over. Eugene Webb writes of Vladimir’s song that  “Time in the song is not a linear sequence, but an endlessly reiterated moment, the content of which is only one eternal event: death.”
Once again Estragon maintains he spent the night in a ditch and was beaten – by “ten of them” this time – though once again he shows no sign of injury. Vladimir tries to talk to him about what appears to be a seasonal change in the tree and the proceedings of the day before, but he has only a vague recollection. Vladimir tries to get Estragon to remember Pozzo and Lucky but all he can call to mind are the bones and getting kicked. Vladimir realizes here an opportunity to produce tangible evidence of the previous day’s events. With some difficulty he gets Estragon to show him his leg. There is a wound which is beginning to fester. It is then Vladimir notices that Estragon is not wearing any boots.
He discovers the pair of boots, which Estragon insists are not his. Nevertheless, when he tries them on they fit. There being no carrots left, Vladimir offers Estragon the choice between a turnip and a radish. He opts for the radish but it is black and he hands it back. He decides to try and sleep again and adopts the same fetal position as the previous day. Vladimir sings him a lullaby.
Vladimir notices Lucky’s hat, and he decides to try it on. This leads to a frenetic hat swapping scene (which was mimicked by Harold Pinter in The Caretaker). They play at imitating Pozzo and Lucky, but Estragon can barely remember having met them and simply does what Vladimir asks. They fire insults at each other and then make up. After that, they attempt some physical jerks which don’t work out well, and even attempt a single yoga position, which fails miserably.
Pozzo and Lucky then arrive, with Pozzo now blind and insisting that Lucky is dumb. The rope is now much shorter and Lucky – who has acquired a new hat – leads Pozzo, rather than being driven by him. Pozzo has lost all notion of time, and assures them he cannot remember meeting them the day before, and that he does not expect to remember the current day’s events when they are over.
They fall in a heap at one point. Estragon sees an opportunity to extort more food or to exact revenge on Lucky for kicking him. The issue is debated at length. Pozzo offers them money but Vladimir sees more worth in their entertainment value since they are compelled to wait to see if Godot arrives anyway. Eventually though, they all find their way onto their feet.
Whereas the Pozzo in Act I is a windbag, since he has become blind he appears to have gained some insight. His parting words – which Vladimir expands upon later – eloquently encapsulate the brevity of human existence: “They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it’s night once more.”
Lucky and Pozzo depart. The same boy returns to inform them not to expect Godot today, but he would arrive the next day. The two again consider suicide but their rope, Estragon’s belt, breaks in two when they tug on it. Estragon’s trousers fall down, but he doesn’t notice till Vladimir tells him to pull them up. They resolve to bring a more suitable piece and hang themselves the next day, if Godot fails to arrive.
Again, they agree to leave but neither of them make any move to go.
# ^ Berlin, N., “Traffic of our stage: Why Waiting for Godot?” in The Massachusetts Review, Autumn 1999
# ^ Ackerley, C. J. and Gontarski, S. E., (Eds.) The Faber Companion to Samuel Beckett (London: Faber and Faber, 2006), p. 620.
# ^ Ackerley and Gontarski 2006, p. 172.
# ^ The Times, 31 December 1964. Quoted in Knowlson, J., Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p. 57.
# ^ Beckett objected strongly to the sentence being rendered: “Nothing Doing”. (Knowlson, J., Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett (London: Bloomsbury, 1996), p. 567)
# ^ The character Pozzo, however, prominently wears and takes note of a watch that he is wearing.
# ^ a b Beckett 1988, p. 18.
# ^ Beckett 1988, p. 21.
# ^ Beckett 1988, p. 23.
# ^ Roger Blin, who acted in and directed the premier of Waiting for Godot, teasingly described Lucky to Jean Martin (who played him) as “a one-line part”. (Cohn, R., From Desire to Godot (London: Calder Publications; New York: Riverrun Press, 1998), p. 151)