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Endgame
Samuel Beckett
'Endgame is a one-act play with four characters. It was originally written in French as Fin de partie. As was his custom, Beckett translated it into English. Published in '57, it's one of his most important works. Its protagonists are Hamm, an aged blind master who cannot stand, & his servant Clov, who cannot sit. They exist in a tiny house by the sea, though dialog suggests there's nothing left outside—no sea, no sun, no clouds. Mutually dependent, they've fought for years & continue to do so. Clov always wants to leave but seems unable. Also present are Hamm's legless parents Nagg & Nell, who live in rubbish bins upstage & initially request food or argue inanely. The English title is taken from chess when there are few pieces left. The French title applies to games besides chess, Beckett lamenting there's no English equivalent. Beckett was an avid player. Hamm's struggle to accept the end compares to the refusal of novices to admit defeat. Harold Bloom considers Hamm to allude to Hamlet: 'its time it ended...& yet I hesitate, I hesitate to...to end.' He contends this is an intertext with the 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, in which doubt prevents action. Endgame is devoid of action, in Beckett's typical absurdist style. Possibly Hamm also relates to ham actor & Ham, son of Noah, while Clov is a truncated version of Clown, as well as suggesting cloven hoof & glove--a distant echo of hand & glove. Nagg suggests nagging & the German nagen, to gnaw, while Nell recalls Dickens' Little Nell. (Theodor Adorno Trying to Understand Endgame). Equally Hamm could be short for Hammer & Clov be clove (etymologically nail), hammer & nail representing one aspect of their relationship. In this light, Nagg & Nell, taken together, may suggest the German Nagel, nail. Ruby Cohn, in Back to Beckett, writes that "Beckett's favorite line in the play is Hamm's deduction from Clov's observation that Nagg is crying: 'Then he's living.' But in Berlin he felt that the most important sentence is Nell's 'Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.' & he directed his play to show the fun of unhappiness." The play's implication is that the characters are static. Each day contains the actions & reactions of that before, until each event has a ritualistic quality. It's made clear through the text that the characters have a past--Nagg & Nell conjure up memories of tandem rides in the Ardennes. There's no indication they've futures. Even the death of Nell, which occurs towards the end, is greeted without surprise. The isolated setting & constant references to lost aspects of civilisation, have led many to suggest the play is post-nuclear. Beckett denied this.'
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