Analysis of verbal interactionin Waiting For Godot [Archives:2004/701/Education]

January 8 2004

By Ms. Shefali Bakshi
Faculty of Education,
Hodeidah University

Discourse is a term that is used to study units that are larger than the basic unit of grammar, the sentence. Therefore, discourse, studies spoken speech within the context of verbal communication. (Herman: 2000; 1) mentions that dialogue, as discourse is interactive and interactional. “It is a mode of speech exchange among participants, speech in relation to another's speech and not merely the verbal expression of one character of actor's 'part'.” “Dialogue, therefore includes not only I but we. One may notice that dialogue and discourse may differ from one context to another. “Dialogues in courtroom differ from those in classrooms; social chitchat differs from parliamentary debates. All are, nevertheless, dual or multispeech forms ” (Herman: 2000; 3).
The past studies of the language of drama did not take into account dramatic dialogue as discourse. (Herman: 2000; 3) mentions, “the thrust of the argument has generally been to safeguard the separation of dramatic dialogue from conversation in order to preserve the latter's literary quality. The relation between the two forms has been examined contrastively, as between two essences, literary and non-literary. Little attention, therefore, has been paid to connections between them, although conversation and dramatic speech share areas or commonality in being speech exchange systems, which set them apart from poetic genre like the ode are the lyric or the narrator's language in the novel”.
Thus the use of the language in drama is different from the use of language in poetry, fiction, and prose. In one sense, the use of language in drama is closer to natural speech than any other genre in literature. There are human characters in drama, who enter into spoken discourse as do people in normal life. However, in normal day-to-day life the speaker and the listener are either alone or are heard by a small number of people who might also take part in spoken discourse. On the other hand, the characters in drama are heard by the audience and thus the audience is part of the dramatic discourse.
Therefore, it is important that we understand how dramatic discourse is developed and exploited by the playwright.
Hymes (1972) developed the concept of communicative Competence which means it is not enough to be able to produce grammatically correct sentences but it is important that one is able to produce appropriate sentence, understanding the social context, the role of participant, the information they share and the function of the interaction.
Hymes (1972) suggested that hierarchy of units called speech situation, speech event, and speech act would be useful and his suggestions have been widely accepted. The three units are in vested hierarchy in the sense that speech acts are part of the speech events which in turn are part of the speech situation. (The speech situation is the context within which sociolonguistic communication occurs). For example, a trial, an auction, a party, a train ride or a class in a school. A speech even begins with the same general purposes of communication, the same general topic and involving the same participants.
The speech act is generally coterminous with a single interactional function such as a statement, a request or command and may be either verbal or non-verbal.
Now let us have an illustration from Beckett's Waiting for Godot. The speech event will be analysed in terms of the steps presented by Saville – Troike (1982) and Hatch (1992).
The play opens with Estragon's remark:
(a) Estragon: (giving up again) Nothing to be done. [opening]
(b) Vladimir: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I'm beginning to come round that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't yet tried every thing. And I resumed the struggle. (He broods meeting on the struggle. (Turning to Estragon).
(c) So there you are again. [criticism]
(d) Estragon: Am I?
[rhetorical question] [disapproval]
(e)Vladimir: I'm glad to see you back I thought you were gone forever. [appeasing]
(f) Estragon: Me too.
[supports his view of courtesy]
(g) Vladimir: Together again at last! We'll have to celebrate this. But how?
(he reflects.)
Get up till I embrace you. [pre-closing]
(h) Estragon: (irritably) Not now, Not now. [closing]
Going by the structure of the speech event one might say, the opening and the topic of the statement is the statement by Estragon.
(a) Nothing to be done. In (b) Vladimir supports the opening topic (a) by Estragon, but in (c) he shifts to act of criticism. Estragon in (d) very cleverly uses a rhetorical question to express his disapproval of Vladimir's criticism in (c). Vladimir realizes that Estragon has been irritated by his criticism in (e) and therefore shifts to the act of appeasing Estragon in (c). Estragon in return supports Vladimir's view with a short and curt Me too in (f). Vladimir in (g) continues appeasing and even tries to embrace him. Thus (g) is obviously a pre)closing to his speech event. Estragon has been irritated and therefore he abruptly closes the speech event with Not now, not now in (h).

Special Features Of Speech Events
1. The Question – Answer Technique
In Waiting For Godot a number of speech events are built on speech acts which are in the form of wh- questions; for example.
Pozzo: (clutching on to Lucky who staggers). What is it? Who is it?
(Lucky falls drops every thing and brings down Pozzo with him. They lie helpless among the scattered baggage).
Estragon: Is it Godot?
Vladimir: At last! (He goes towards the heap). Reinforcements at last!
Pozzo: Help!
Estragon: Is it Godot?
Vladimir: We were beginning to weaken. Now we're sure to see the evening out.
Pozzo: Help!
Estragon: Do you hear him?
Vladimir: We are no longer alone, waiting for the night, waiting for Godot, waiting for waiting. All evening we have struggled, unassisted. Now it's over. It's already tomorrow.
Pozzo: Help!
Vladimir: Time flows again already. The sun will set, the moon will rise, and we away from here.
Pozzo: Pity!
Vladimir: Poor Pozzo.
Estragon: I know it was him.
Vladimir: Who?
Estragon: Godot.
Vladimir: But it's not Godot.
Estragon: It's not Godot.
Vladimir: It's not Godot.
Estragon: Then who is it?
Vladimir: It's Pozzo.
Pozzo: Here! Here! Help me up!
Vladimir: He can't get up.
Estragon: Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We 're waiting for Godot.

Again we would notice that the speech event quoted above begins with a wh-question what is it? By Pozzo and is reinforced by Estragon: Is it Godot? And further Estragon repeats it by saying Is it Godot? Do you hear him? In this particular speech event these questions perform a very important function. The answers to these questions are not expophorically available. None has seen Godot, not has heard Godot, none knows how he looks exactly. Therefore here these questions perform an important function in the speech event. In a normal speech event a normal question is followed by an answer but it is interesting that this speech event violates the normal technique of question answers for the development of a speech event. Most of the questions about Godot remain unanswered. For example:

Estragon: Is it Godot?
Vladimir: At last! Reinforcement at last!
By indulging in this technique Beckett wants to work on the subconscious level of the reader/audience. It may look 'absurd' that some of the questions remain unanswered but a deeper understanding analysis of such speech events could tell us that life in general has many events of which we have no knowledge and control.

2. Violation of the Structure of Speech Events
There is violation of the structure of speech events as mentioned by Saville- Troike (1982) and Hatch (1992).
There are several speech events in this play, which violate the structure appropriate to them. For example, 'After you' is always used as a social etiquette when one indicates another person to enter a building, a room etc. first. This is only a notion of social courtesy and respect to another person. It will negate the social etiquette if it is needed for something, which is negative.
Estragon: Let's hang ourselves immediately!
Vladimir: From a bough? (They go towards the tree.) I wouldn't trust it.
Estragon: We can always try.
Vladimir: Go ahead.
Estragon: After you.
Vladimir: No, no, you first.
Estragon: Why me?
Vladimir: You're lighter than me.
Estragon: Just so!

There are two violations of the structure of speech events here. After you is used for an act of hanging which is not part of social manners or etiquettes? Once a person uses after you it has to be followed by either thank you or the person spoken to performing the act. But Estragon asks Why me? By doing this both Estragon and Vladimir act as clowns in a circus. This leads to a farcical style and comic form peculiar to itself. “And it is this comic method which has made theatre of absurd more widely acceptable ” (Styan: 1981; 127)
The violation of the structure of the speech events is not only restricted to using a speech act which doesn't fit in the speech event as described in the example above, but the structure of speech event is also violated to create a new speech event which does not fit in social fabric of English speaking society. For example:
Vladimir: You must be happy, too, deep down, if you only knew it.
Estragon: Happy about what?
Vladimir: To be back with me again.
Estragon: Would you say so?
Vladimir: Say you are, even if it's not true.
Estragon: What am I to say?
Vladimir: Say, I am happy.
Estragon: I am happy.
Vladimir: So I am.
Estragon: So am I.
Vladimir: We are happy.
Estragon: We are happy. (Silence) What do we do now, now that we are happy?
Vladimir: Wait for Godot. (Estragon groans. Silence.) Things have changed since yesterday.
Estragon: And if he doesn't come?
Vladimir: (After a moment of bewilderment). We'll see when the time comes. (Pause) I was saying that things have changed here since yesterday.
Estragon: Everything oozes
Vladimir: Look at the tree.

This speech event begins with Vladimir's You must be happy, Estragon doesn't say yes and to Vladimir's statement To be back with me again, Estragon uses a rhetorical question Would you say so? thereby not accepting Vladimir's statement and Vladimir says Say you are even if it is not true and like clowns both Estragon and Vladimir repeat I am happy.. So am I, We are happy. Now they need to close the speech event and therefore Estragon mentions What do we do now, that we are happy. Vladimir replies Wait for Godot followed by an abrupt shift in the speech event. This creation of a new structure of speech event plays an important role in the development of the play. This speech event is useless and therefore reflects the purposelessness of life. First Estragon and Vladimir are not happy but through this artificial creation of the speech event they want to create a conscious happy situation which actually does not exist and what do they do in this conscious artificial happy situation, Wait for Godot. Therefore Beckett consciously and with a purpose has created such speech events.
This creation of artificial speech event is sometimes related to use of a grammatical structure which is grammatically correct but may be uncommon. In the first speech event described, Vladimir says Get up till I embrace you and Estragon replies not now, not now. There are two violations by Vladimir here, (a) Embracing is a non-verbal social act, one never invites or requests another person for an act of embracing, it is a natural spontaneous non-verbal act. (b) Assuming that in an artificial speech event one wanted to make a verbal request for embracing another person one would not use an imperative sentence which is a command or an order but one would use a yes-no question and probably one may even frame a question in such a way so that the request is not turned down.
Hatch (1992; 156) mentions that “one way to avoid the possibility that the invitation will be turned down is to preface it with a permission, request..” . Therefore even in a hypothetical speech event Vladimir could have used “would you mind if I embrace you?” and Estragon would have no choice but to accept this request. By using an imperative structure for a non-verbal event Beckett has been successful to bring out the real character of Vladimir and Estragon. Probably Laurel and Hardy would do this but a normal human being would not. The use of a verbal speech for a non-verbal act is a reflection of '”absurdity”. This indicates that a person like Vladimir is not sure of his relationship with Estragon. This almost amounts to a situation where one character asks another character “Can I shake my hand with you?” This can only lead to a humorous situation or the failing of verbal communication, as it is no related to the action following it.
Another example of the violation of the speech event comes at the end of both the acts. Act I ends with Estragon saying Well, shall we go? And Vladimir replies yes, let's go. But Beckett stage direction mentions that they do not move. Act II ends with Vladimir and Estragon swapping the question and answer. Any interrogative sentence beginning with shall is a suggestion. Quirk et al (1985; 230) mention that “the use of shall in such sentences is for making suggestions about shared activities.” The use of “shall we” includes reference to the addressee. In this case the suggestions of the speaker in Act I and II is accepted by the addressee and as per the normal rules of the speech event one would expect both the characters to move but Beckett mentions that they don not move. This immobility on the part of Vladimir and Estragon is an indication of static situation in which the characters of Waiting for Godot have been entrapped. And therefore Godot is perhaps the new social order for which they are waiting.

3. Repetition of a Speech Event.
There is a speech event which is repeated six times in the play.
Estragon: Let's go.
Vladimir: We can't go.
Estragon: Why not?
Vladimir: We are waiting for Godot.
Estragon: Ah!

This exchange reflects Estragon's feelings of impatience and boredom while waiting for Godot. Beckett has very carefully repeated this exchange six time to reflect that Estragon and Vladimir want to get out of this situation but they are not able to do so. This is the dilemma of the modern man, particularly in the metropolis. The original French play En Attendant Godot was published in 1952. Bair (1978) mentions that “the first page of the French manuscript bears the date 9 Octobre 1948 and the last 29 Janvier 1949”. These were the years of post war Europe; obviously Beckett must have been affected by the destruction during the Second World War and particularly by the occupation of France by Nazi German during this period. One of the reasons for the outbreak of II World war was industrialization of Germany and so after the II World was, several European countries particularly France were on the way to industrialization. Metropolitan cities were coming up, and people were moving from rural to urban areas. The old social order even in the West European countries was changing. Estragon and Vladimir are part of this social change. This was the period of transition. In the sixties we would have the cult of love babies, hippies, and eighties and nineties would be the period of drug addiction etc. Therefore the period from 1945 to 1960 was the period of transition from the old social order to a new social structure in the Western world. Estragon and Vladimir are bored and depressed with this social order. Godot is the new social order for which the whole society is waiting and therefore repeating the same speech event is a device that Beckett uses to reinforce the dilemma of the modern man.
There are a number of other speeches, which are repeated. For example:
Vladimir: They make a noise like wings.
Estragon: Like leaves.
Vladimir: Like sand.
Estragon: Like leaves.
Vladimir: They make a noise like feathers.
Estragon: Like leaves
Vladimir: Like ashes.
Estragon: Like leaves.
Long silence
Pozzo: (normal voice) No matter! What was I saying?
(He ponders) Wait. (Ponders). Well now isn't that (He raises his head) Help me!
Estragon: Wait!
Vladimir: Wait!
Pozzo: Wait.

In some cases the repetition may not be of the same utterance of similar nature.
Vladimir: We would do our exercises.
Estragon: Our movements.
Vladimir: Our elevations
Estragon: Our relaxations
Vladimir: Our elongations
Estragon: Our relaxations
Vladimir: To warm us up.
Estragon: To calm us down.
Vladimir: Off we go.

The main focus of these repetitions is to show that at the subconscious level all the characters have the same thinking. Secondly, Beckett is able to reinforce his point through repetitions. Interestingly these repetitions are either followed by silence or by Burkett's stage direction leading to non-verbal action on the part of the characters. Also in a way these repetitions have rhythm and are probably the dramatic device that Beckett wanted to create in Waiting for Godot. Styan (1981:127) mentions, “Under circumstances of appalling repetition and similarity and little difference stands out vividly At its best, such drama achieves a kind of poetry and rhythm in comic form and farcical style peculiar to itself, and it is this comic method which has made theatre of the absurd more widely acceptable
Thus the sense of closure and nullity is reinforced further by the play's repetitive rhythm. Act II is a repetition of Act I. In each act, one is offered basically the same sequence the tramps reunite, wait, contrive ways of passing time, encounter Pozzo and Lucky, receive Godot's disappointing message, contemplate suicide, decide to leave and do not move. Thus the speech used by participants can itself provide the means for sequencing some part of an interaction through the use of repetition. As dramatic strategy, repetition in a stretch o dialogue is particularly fruitful given the range of possible uses to which it could be put. The poetic and aesthetic aspects of device are perhaps the strongest witness to its value an in Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

We find that the concepts of speech event and speech act are useful in understanding the development of discourse in drama. The question-answer technique, violation of the structure of speech events and repetition are a few devices of dramatic discourse discussed in this paper. Thus in one sense dramatic discourse is like the language used in day-to-day conversation. In another sense, it is different as it uses techniques that are different from the conversational discourse in normal life. However, it is clear that modern playwrights like Beckett has used the same techniques for dramatic discourse. How each playwright moulds these techniques gives him a distinct style of his own.

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