Dr. Fidel Fajardo-Acosta's

World Literature Website

| HOME | INDEX | CONTACT INFO |
 

HOME

INTRO TO LIT

AUTHORS & WORKS

GLOSSARY

TIMELINE

INDEX

CONTACT INFO

CREDITS

 

 

Time

Premiered, in French, in 1957, at London's Royal Court Theatre.

Language & Form

One-act play for four characters. Original in French, entitled Fin de partie; translated into English by Beckett himself.

Synopsis

The setting for Endgame is a bare, partially underground room, serving as shelter for the four characters: Hamm the master, Clov his servant, and Hamm's father and mother, Nagg and Nell (who live in garbage cans). Hamm is in a wheelchair and makes Clov move him around the room, fetch objects, and look out the window for signs of life. Outside all seems dead and nothing happens. Inside, the characters pass the time mortifying each other and toying with fears and illusions of a possible change, all along sensing the inevitability of their end.

Main Issues

  • The idea of the "endgame" is taken from the game of chess where the concept designates the last, and entirely predictable, stage of a game.

  • The play portrays a universe which is nearing its end but which could continue repeating itself; the end which all seem to be moving toward is both certain and elusive.

  • Setting and situation suggests an underground bomb shelter, possibly after the occurrence of a nuclear holocaust.

  • Existentialist themes: awareness of absurdity and meaninglessness of the human condition but also attempts to construct meaning through language and imagination.

  • Literary allusions to Eliot's Waste Land, Shakespeare's Tempest, Dante's Inferno: sense of eternal torment, characters doomed to restage and repeat their crime, which can be viewed as their "life"; repetition is not only a technique in Beckett, but also a theme.

  • Meaninglessness and absoluteness of time; past, present, and future seem to mean nothing and everything; the play represents a cyclic pattern of repetition and also an unavoidable linear progression toward nothingness.

  • Endgame is "rather difficult and elliptic, mostly depending on the power of the text to claw." (Alan Schneider)

Study Questions

What's the setting of the play? Who are the characters? Why are they here? What is their physical and emotional condition? What kinds of disabilities afflict them? Are those disabilities significant, by themselves, in relation to each other? What are the characters waiting for? What has happened outside?

Who is Hamm? Given the play's reference to a game of chess, is Hamm conceived of as a king? If he is, what is the role of Clov? What kind of a person is Hamm? From his behavior and assertions, what can be inferred about his character, his activities, his business, his social and economic status? Is he likeable? Do we sympathize or feel sorry for him or his situation? What does he own? How does he relate to his property? How does he see himself? How does he see others? How does he relate to Clov? How does he relate to his parents, Nagg and Nell? What do we know about his past and former actions? How do those actions determine and/or influence his present situation?

Why does Hamm repeatedly say, "Me to play"? Play what? With toys? In other senses of the word "play"? Does he see himself as an actor or performer in a play? Why does he want to tell a story? What story is it? Does he see himself as a sort of writer/storyteller? Does he consider himself an artist? What does he create? For what reasons? What may Beckett be satirizing by means of Hamm's thoughts of himself as an artist? Is such an understanding of himself accurate? Why or why not?

What is the nature of the relationship between Hamm and Clov? What may that represent? Is their relationship based on reciprocal friendship or the exercise of power? What are the implications of that relationship and how may it be connected to the current situation of the characters? How did the two meet each other? What were the circumstances of the beginning of their association? Why doesn't Clov just leave? What holds him back? What about the relationship between Nagg and Nell? Do they love each other? Why are they still (sort of) together? What is the significance of the characters being bound in pairs? How does that relate to Berkeley's postulate, "to be is to be perceived"? What do the characters want or derive from each other?

Why does Hamm order Clov to inspect the outside world through the window? Looking out of the window through a telescope, Clove reports what he sees: "Zero … zero … and zero." What is the symbolic meaning of Clove's vision? How about a "corpsed" external world, waves like lead, and grey light from pole to pole? What does Beckett suggest through what Clov reports to Hamm? Does this change at all through the course of the play?

Why do Nagg and Nell live in garbage cans? What is that supposed to represent or suggest? What is the meaning of the references to the crashing of their "tandem" and losing of their "shanks"? Is it significant that this happened "in the Ardennes … on the road to Sedan"? (both sites related to 19th and 20th century battles and warfare). What happened to them? How is the condition of the characters in the story related to human history (past and future)?

At the outset of the play, why does Clov say "Finished, it's finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished"? Is it finished or not? What? How are his words an echo of biblical language or situations? Who, in the Bible, says, "it's finished"? What are the implications of those parallels? Are there any other biblical allusions in the play? How is Beckett addressing or employing biblical stories? For what purpose? When Hamm states that God doesn't exist, why does Clov reply, "not yet"? Does this suggest some form of hope? What is its source? Is Clov a prophet of sorts?

What is the meaning of the characters' names? If Hamm may be associated with "hammer," and Nagg, Nell, and Clov with "nail" (German Nägel, Italian nello, Latin clavus), what may Beckett be suggesting? Is this a sort of crucifixion? Who is being crucified by whom?

What does Beckett intend by having Hamm say, "Get out of here and love one another! Lick your neighbor as yourself." How do you think Hamm sees Jesus's teaching, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 19:19)? Why did he refuse to help others who needed help (corn, bread, oil, etc.)? What was the justification of his refusal? Is Hamm capable of love?

How is the story of Clov as a child and of his father bringing him to Hamm significant in the play? How is it connected to other stories of Hamm's dealings with others, Mother Pegg, "all those I might have helped"? What is Hamm forced to face at the end of his life? What is the meaning of his physical blindness and the handkerchief with which he covers his face?

Why does Hamm call his father "accursed progenitor" and "accursed fornicator"? Is Hamm cursing human reproduction? Why? Why does the idea of life continuing or beginning again bring terror and fear to Hamm?

What is the meaning of time when everything is "the same as usual"? Does time really pass in this world? What may be the meaning of the suggestion of changelessness or endless repetition? How are the tragedies of a violent human history and an oppressive social order explained by the images and situation of the play? Can this be compared to the ideas of George Santayana and those offered by T. S. Eliot in The Waste Land? Is everything really stagnant and unchanging in the universe depicted by Beckett? Are there any signals of positive change, of forces affirming or resurrecting life? What may those be?

At the end of the play, what does the emergence of the little boy stand for? Is he really out there or is he just Clov's invention? If Clov is making up the whole thing, what role or function is he assuming? Does this create any ironies or reversals in connection to Hamm's own attempts at storytelling? What is Hamm's reaction to Clov's report? Is the boy in any way related to the situation of Clov? His past? His present? His future? What sorts of associations does the figure of the small boy create?

Does Clov leave the stage at the end? Why does he remain standing in the doorway, dressed to leave? What is the greatest fear that all the characters share in this play? How is that significant to the overall message of the play?

Is Endgame truly an "absurd" play or does it have an underlying meaning beyond the assertion of the meaninglessness and arbitratriness of the human condition? What may that meaning be?

Links

to come

 

Dr. Fajardo-Acosta gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Jung-Joon Ihm in the creation of this page

 

© 2001, 2002 by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, all rights reserved

 

This page designed and maintained by Fidel Fajardo-Acosta, © 2001