Endgame | Critical Review by Robert Hatch

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Endgame.
This section contains 607 words
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Critical Review by Robert Hatch

Use your head, can't you, use your head, you're on earth, there's no cure for that!

There is no bottom to the nihilism of Samuel Beckett, but each time, as he is going down forever, he finds a flicker of wit and kicks on for another few strokes. For a poet, total renunciation is probably impossible—he is forced to believe in his own poetry and from that he can rebuild a universe.

So Endgame (Cherry Lane) is not really the end; it merely approaches the end as the parallel lines approach infinity. However, it is much further along than Waiting for Godot: it looks as though we might be extinguished at any minute—not with a bang and not with a whimper, but stuttering importantly like a rundown clock. The past ("accursed progenitor") is refuse. Ancient father and mother, they stand in ash cans on the stumps of their legs, having lost their shanks "in the Ardennes" … "on the road to Sedan"; which may suggest where and when Beckett thinks the end officially began. The lord of the present is blind and paralyzed, enthroned in his filth, sardonic and mawkish with the worn-out poses of an eternity of posing. The slave is truculent and spavined, but still slaving—out of habit, and perhaps because it is the only activity left on earth. It is something to be able to get around, however painfully.

There has been a disaster (at least we are now deep in a "shelter"), or perhaps it is just cosmic fatigue—the tides no longer flow, nothing moves, nothing grows, there is no sunlight "out there." Or was that a child, flashing just past the edge of the window? Impossible, absurd, ha ha! And yet if it were so, we could give up this silly game, this word play, this humiliating crawl to infinity. We could die without committing the treason of extermination. Beckett will not quite give up the hope he does not have:

HAMM. The bastard! [God, that is] He doesn't exist!

CLOV. Not yet.

"This is not much fun," says Hamm the master, and compared to Waiting for Godot it really isn't. The mad dialogue still rings like china, and shocks of wicked laughter still spill out of the surrounding gibberish:

CLOV. Do you believe in the life to come?

HAMM. Mine has always been that.

But when two of your four characters are stuck in ash cans (with the tops on a good part of the time) and a third is confined to a throne on casters, you must rely for action on the comings and goings of the one remaining on his feet (just barely on his feet). This degenerates fairly soon into a sorry pendulum of busyness…. Endgame is in one act and runs for about ninety minutes, but it seems a long evening.

The new parable lacks the playfulness, the lovable naughtiness of its predecessor. That was not all Bert Lahr's doing—Beckett kicked up his own heels. Now it is so much later in the day that defiance and gaiety are almost used up—the effect is powerful enough, but there is less theatre to it. And more poetry, perhaps. The characteristic staccato lines clash against one another like cymbals, the voices within voices are like the supporting and echoing choirs in an orchestra. It is the song of final dissolution by a minstrel-prophet with the logic of death in his mind and the conviction of life forever in his blood. The great drama of Beckett is always his inability to subdue himself.

Robert Hatch, in a review of "Endgame," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 186, No. 7, February 15, 1958, pp. 145-46.

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This section contains 607 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Robert Hatch