Silence: A Dramatic Persona in Becket’s Waiting for Godot

May 16, 2019 by Essay Writer

Waiting for Godot is a play characterized under the genre of The Theatre of the Absurd, where communication is said to collapse and thus the dialogue consists of meaningless phrases only. The silence produced as a consequence serves as a confession to the failure to communicate. Paul Foster in his work Becket and zen: Dilemma in Samuel Becket’s novels, raises the question “Is Waiting for Godot simply an exercise full of words and pompous pauses which does not want to express more than waiting as such?” The question is certainly appropriate in this context. Silence is an important stage direction in Waiting for Godot, present throughout the play. It is like a dramatic persona present in the bare stage along with Vladimir and Estragon. Silence renders a lyrical quality to the conversations between Vladimir and Estragon. The following extract is a perfect example of how Becket designs poetic stanzas with his ‘silences’- VLADIMIR: They make a noise like wings. ESTRAGON: Like leaves. VLADIMIR: Like sand. ESTRAGON: Like leaves. Silence. VLADIMIR: They all speak at once. ESTRAGON: Each one to itself. Silence. VLADIMIR: Rather they whisper. ESTRAGON: They rustle. VLADIMIR: They murmur.ESTRAGON: They rustle.Silence. VLADIMIR: What do they say? ESTRAGON: They talk about their lives.VLADIMIR: To have lived is not enough for them. ESTRAGON: They have to talk about it. VLADIMIR: To be dead is not enough for them. ESTRAGON: It is not sufficient. Silence. VLADIMIR: They make a noise like feathers. ESTRAGON: Like leaves. VLADIMIR: Likes ashes. ESTRAGON: Like leaves.Long silence.VLADIMIR: Say something! ESTRAGON: I’m trying. Long silence. Becket’s use of poetic language helps to define the limitations of communication by representing, through poetry, the confinement of the firm arrangement of reiteration and sound, which ultimately lessen the speech to silence. Apart from the lyrical nature of the language, the silences serve as a break in the language, thus enhancing the lyrical appearance of the dialogues into stanzas.Becket finds his sources for his plays from day to day life, music, paintings, and other forms of art. According to Mozart, “Music is not in the notes, but in the silence between the notes”. Great artists like Mozart and Becket can decipher the value of silence and employ them in their art. In music, silence makes way for the next note. In Becket’s play, use of silence admits the natural occurrence of silence in everyday speech. Instead of using verbal fillers, Becket substitutes them with silence to place a greater emphasis on the importance of what is not being said. The periods of silence in Waiting for Godot are moments in which the dialogues realize the ineffectiveness of words and are condensed to a total absence of language. The absence of language is contrasted to Lucky’s nonsensical monologue. Lucky remains silent in the beginning of the play. However, towards the end of Act I his huge monologue as an act of ‘thinking’ is ironical. Thinking is an act we pursue silently. But Lucky thinks out loud, and when his speech ends, Vladimir, Estragon and Pozzo are seen trying to stop him from going any further. Perhaps then, the justification for Lucky’s being kept silent is introduced through the reactions of the characters when he does gain opportunity to speak. Lucky’s monologue is a grotesque manifestation of the absurdness of human life, which his audience does not want to witness. Silence has other functions in the play as well. We observe a ‘minute of silence’ as a symbol of mourning. Waiting for Godot seems to be mourning for mankind with its frequent use of silence. It questions the overall existence of man in the play. The use of silence in the drama functions in a way silence works in real life – it is a condition to find oneself, it is the purest form of existence, it is crippling and also alienating.Becket makes use of silence in this way very strongly. The tramps recognize their abjections through silence.Becket’s use of silence finds its parallel in the musical compositions of John Cage and the paintings of Robert Rauschenberg, which were characterized by a similar employment of apparent silence in their works. Silence works on multiple levels in the play. It is an aporia, it is an interruption, and it is a negation as well as affirmation. Silence gives a new meaning of language in the play. The fresh purpose of language is not to express something but rather not to remain silent. Becket uses the silences to manipulate not only the construction of the dialogue but also the way in which the audience is to interpret the drama.

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