Endgame | Critical Essay by Kristin Morrison

This literature criticism consists of approximately 19 pages of analysis & critique of Endgame.
This section contains 5,528 words
(approx. 19 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Essay by Kristin Morrison

After the little canters of Waiting for Godot, Beckett composed a substantial "chronicle" for Endgame, providing one of the best examples of extended narrative as an essential part of drama: the presence of story is unmistakable here, both to the audience and to characters within the play. Hamm refers by name to his "chronicle" and is self-conscious in his narration of it, aware of himself assuming the role of historian, aware of himself adopting a special voice and manner setting off these words from his other speech. His chronicle itself has to do both with origins and with ends; it "accounts for" an entire world by presenting critical events and interpreting their meaning. Hamm is the Moses of a garden desolate, the Polidore Virgile of a wrecked kingdom. He records bereft existence, a modern inversion of "providential history." The whole point of Endgame lies in the interrelationship between this chronicle, this value-laden record of past events, and the words and actions which make up the dramatic present of the play. The play ends when the narrative ends.

The chronicle is presented at length in two different versions at two different times. The occasions for recital of the story, the interruptions and editorial changes all suggest the extent to which this narrative is emotionally and philosophically important to Hamm, a way to give "meaning" to his life, a way to justify his behavior. First reference to the story occurs about halfway through the play, after Hamm and Clov have attempted various other diversions to make their existence bearable. Hamm's announcement "It's time for my story" is much like Winnie's in Happy Days; there is a sense that the best distraction has been saved till last. The story—Hamm corrects the word to "chronicle"—is one which Clov states "you've been telling yourself all your days." It has an ongoing continuity suggested by Hamm's comments "where was I?" and "No, I've done that bit." It gets Hamm through difficult moments and leads him to that final moment when "time is over, reckoning closed and story ended."

Basically, this chronicle has to do with a man and his son, the son starving, the man petitioning Hamm for aid. As is usual throughout Beckett's work, the account contains a number of clear scriptural references, three of which epitomize Christian belief: the time is Christmas Eve (when life and light are born into the world), the boon sought is bread (the divine gift that sustains life), the child has been deep in sleep for three days (prototype of death and resurrection). The bare event itself has many counter-parts in Biblical stories where a parent intercedes on behalf of a dying child (or in some cases, a master tries to save a beloved servant). In most of these stories the passionate commitment of the parent is shown by his or her traveling a distance and being undeterred by difficulties (whether awe of the prophet from whom aid is sought, rebuke of his or her efforts, or the premature arrival of death itself). The story of Jairus's daughter and the story of the centurion and his servant are well known versions. In John, the event involves a solicitous father, not put off by rebuke, and a dying son:

And there was a certain nobleman, whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus was come out of Judea into Galilee, he went unto him, and besought him that he would come down, and heal his son: for he was at the point of death. Then said Jesus unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe. The nobleman saith unto him, Sir, come down ere my child die. Jesus saith unto him, Go thy way; thy son liveth. And the man believed the word that Jesus had spoken unto him, and he went his way. And as he was now going down, his servants met him, and told him, saying, Thy son liveth. Then inquired he of them the hour when he began to amend. And they said unto him, Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at the same hour, in which Jesus said unto him, Thy son liveth: and himself believed, and his whole house.

                                        [John 4:46-53]

In the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath, there is the added element of imminent starvation, both food and life being restored to the woman and her son by the man of God in response to the widow's prayers. But as is also the case in Beckett's other work, these remote biblical allusions suggest ironic contrast: Hamm questions the suppliant father's belief that "there's manna in heaven still for imbeciles like you." There is "no cure" for being on this earth, no providential bread in this wilderness; the great faith of this father does not move Hamm's "divinity" to provide miraculous sustenance. On the contrary, Hamm tempts the man to betray his role as father, to abandon his own beneficence. Such a twist to the prototypical stories suggests what is central in Hamm's own bitter disappointment about his own existence.

One of the clues to the importance of this malevolent twist comes from the fact that Hamm interrupts his narrative before getting to his "punch line":

Well to make it short I finally offered to take him into my service. He had touched a chord. And then I imagined already that I wasn't much longer for this world.

(He laughs. Pause.)

Well?

(Pause)

Well? Here if you were careful you might die a nice natural death, in peace and comfort.

(Pause)

Well?

(Pause)

In the end he asked me would I consent to take in the child as well—if he were still alive.

(Pause)

It was the moment I was waiting for.

(Pause)

Would I consent to take in the child …

(Pause)

I can see him still, down on his knees, his hands flat on the ground, glaring at me with his mad eyes, in defiance of my wishes.

(Pause, Normal tone.)

I'll soon have finished with this story.

(Pause)

Unless I bring in other characters.

(Pause)

But where would I find them?

(Pause)

Where would I look for them?

(Pause. He whistles. Enter Clov.)

Let us pray to God.

He rationalizes that he will soon have finished his story, implying that he does not want to get to the end too quickly and thus needs to stop for a while. But what he turns to when he stops reveals indirectly what there was in the narrative itself that he needed to avoid. Apparently out of the blue he says, "Let us pray" (that "oremus" of sacred liturgy which introduces commentary on the "lesson" or scriptural narrative just recited) and the prayer he gets Nagg and Clov to participate in results in an important assertion ("Our Father which art—") and an even more important judgment: "The bastard! He doesn't exist!"

Here is the source of Hamm's desolation: there is no father to care for him, no heavenly father, no earthly father to hear his cries and to provide solace. "The bastard! He doesn't exist!" serves as commentary both on traditional prayer and also on the story Hamm was just telling. The cause of all this desolation is Hamm's relationship with Nagg; the effect of it all is seen in Hamm's relationship with Clov and other "creatures." In order to understand the painful significance of the content of Hamm's chronicle, it is necessary to look carefully at both his experíence as son and his experience as father.

First, Hamm's own experience as son. His hatred for Nagg ("Accursed progenitor!") is revealed early in the play and is connected with hatred for his own existence: "Why did you engender me?" is not a question so much as an expression of resentment. Hamm's lament about existence, the desire to end, has its root in his first experience of existence, his infancy and childhood. If he curses the ideal father, "that bastard" who doesn't exist, it is due to neglect from his actual father; the passage that establishes this fact comes immediately after the prayer sequence, as Nagg complains about being wakened unnecessarily:

Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace.

(Pause)

I was asleep, as happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn't indispensable, you didn't really need to have me listen to you.

(Pause)

I hope the day will come when you'll really need to have me listen to you, and need to hear my voice, any voice.

(Pause)

Yes, I hope I'll live till then, to hear you calling me like when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark, and I was your only hope.

This passage connects several important elements in Endgame: Hamm's childhood fear, the dark, his father's neglect, the need to call out, the need to have a listener. The story Hamm tells now—the prayer sequence and this subsequent passage are only an interruption of that chronicle, which will eventually resume—is simply an adult version of his childhood cry. Then, and now, he does need someone to listen to him, and then, as now, his "only hope," his father, fails him by refusal. Later in the play, as an introduction to his final, terminal soliloquy, Hamm repeats a number of these elements in a passage similar to Nagg's. After thinking of fearful events, of being deserted by a father, "all kinds of fantasies," Hamm says: "Then babble, babble, words, like the solitary child who turns himself into children, two, three, so as to be together, and whisper together, in the dark."

The adult, as well as the child, finds remedy for desertion in storytelling: the babbles, the whispers, the pretense that others are there make the dark not so lonely, so frightening. This passage of Hamm's, like the earlier one of Nagg's, comes immediately after Hamm has speculated about the ending of the story he has been telling. If he ends his story, he will indeed be alone in the dark, a solitary child abandoned, no father to listen and comfort. And, as is the case with all of Beckett's use of narrative, it is not the mere fact of storytelling that is important, but the very content of the story itself is crucial, allowing the character simultaneously to reveal and conceal himself. Hamm's chronicle does not serve as mere distraction; it betrays his deepest fear and need, as his final brief reference to it reveals in the important last minutes of the play.

But before discussing that ending, it is necessary to examine Hamm's own experience as "father" and note how that correlates with his experience as son. Fatherhood is, in Hamm's case, a metaphor for power, a power he exercises in three ways. First, like a biological father, Hamm has given a specific son his chance in life; he says to Clov, "I was a father to you," "my house a home for you." Second, he has supplanted his own father; now he is the one to dispense pap, to promise and withhold sugarplums; now he controls Nagg, not vice versa, and in that process he duplicates Nagg's own earlier treatment of him; for example, he objects to Nagg's keeping him awake now by storytelling just as earlier Nagg had objected to having his own sleep interrupted by Hamm's infant cry. But Hamm's third and greatest assertion of power is established by his references to himself as divine, the ultimate and most powerful of fatherhoods.

Hamm is an ineffectual god of a "corpsed" world, parodying the traditional role of divinity in a number of ways. He is master-generator whose will is carried out by a servantson. He is right at the center of his world but also, through that son, visits the perimeters, beyond which is hell, that "other hell" since as a god manqué his own paradise is itself infernal. Both he and Clov use the regal or Trinitarian plural on one occasion. Enthroned at the center of his world, he trains his blindness on the earth and "sees"—through his son, Clov—"a multitude … in transports … of joy." [In a footnote, Morrison states: "This biblical-sounding phrase is not a direct quotation, but it has the resonance of many passages in Revelation (see, for example, 19:1-8). This association is particularly ironic since Revelation is permeated with the refrain 'behold, I come quickly.'"] Since Clov's telescope is turned toward the auditorium when he makes this grim little biblical joke, the audience, too, is included in that gray lifeless world outside of Hamm's room. That world is dead because Hamm has failed as savior: "All those I might have helped. (Pause) Helped! (Pause) Saved." Throughout the play Hamm manifests a desire to have creatures pray to him; he likes to have his dog "gazing" at him, "asking," "begging," "imploring" him. But whether it be a bone for the dog, bread and crumpets for the starving multitudes, or meaning for the audience, Hamm does not provide any manna in this wilderness, any light in this darkness. He implies, in fact, that the desolation of the earth is due to his own absence from it: "I was never there…. Absent, always. It all happened without me."

Thus in Hamm traditional divine attributes—benevolence, omnipotence, ubiquity, omniscience—are all inverted. Toward the end of the play Beckett introduces a biblical allusion that illustrates how deadly Hamm's pseudo-divinity is. Despite Hamm's protestation that he does not himself know what has happened or whether it matters, Clov challenges Hamm's feigned innocence: "When old Mother Pegg asked you for oil for her lamp and you told her to get out to hell, you knew what was happening then, no? (Pause) You know what she died of, Mother Pegg? Of darkness." This passage with its oil lamp and outer darkness contains clear reference to the New Testament parable about the wise and foolish virgins:

Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him. Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out. But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves. And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not. Watch therefore; for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh. [Matthew 25:1-13]. In a footnote, the critic suggests that the reader "see also the parable of the marriage feast, which ends with lines associating darkness and damnation; 'Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen'; Matthew 22:1-14."]

Parables are literary forms (stories) used to teach a lesson. Beckett picks up the images and basic message of this particular well-known parable and inverts it for his own purposes. Hamm is thus the god who damns by withholding or being unable to provide the means which make life possible, whether it be bread in the wilderness or light in the darkness. After facing this revelation about himself (which clearly rankles, because the phrase "Of darkness!" interrupts Hamm's speculations about his own death a few minutes later), Hamm moves on to what he calls his "last soliloquy," that moment which will end Hamm, end the play, and reveal how very significant his chronicle really is.

As son, Hamm was mistreated and abandoned, and as father, he has mistreated and failed his own creation. His chronicle is an attempt to offset the pain of these two basic related experiences.

The chronicle deals with the paternal benevolence Hamm never experienced, a father's selfless efforts to try to save a starving son. As he recounts this chronicle, Hamm uses three voices: his special narrating voice to tell the story, the father's voice as quoted by the narrating voice, and his own voice to comment on the other two. The narrating voice describes the scene and most of the action: "The man came crawling towards me, on his belly. Pale, wonderfully pale and thin, he seemed on the point of—" And then his own voice ("normal tone," Beckett calls it) comments: "No, I've done that bit." After describing at length the harshness of this Christmas day, the narrating voice gets to the main issue, narrating, commenting, and quoting:

It was then he took the plunge. It's my little one, he said. Tsstss, a little one, that's bad. My little boy, he said, as if the sex mattered. Where did he come from? He named the hole. A good half-day, on horse. What are you insinuating? That the place is still inhabited? No no, not a soul, except himself and the child—assuming he existed. Good. I enquired about the situation at Kov, beyond the gulf. Not a sinner. Good. And you expect me to believe you have left your little one back there, all alone, and alive into the bargain? Come now!

The narration continues in this manner to recount the man's plea for bread for his child, the narrator's scorn and anger, his denial that "there's manna in heaven still" or that there is any resurrection (the earth will not awake in spring nor will one deep in sleep for three days arise), and concludes with a temptation: "I finally offered to take him into my service." At this point Hamm interrupts his narrative, worrying that his story will soon end, forcing Nagg and Clov to join in prayer, tormenting Nagg about the sugarplum, and finally talking with Clov about the dog and Clov's leaving. Then he resumes the story. This entire interruption reveals why he stops the story where he does and why he resumes it when he does. The temptation directed toward the fictional father is a crucial one: here is a man, himself starving (or so Hamm's description suggests), who seems to care more for his son than for himself. Rather than face the pain which the spectacle of such benevolence inflicts on Hamm—he so much wishes he had had that kind of love as a child—he turns away from narration in order to berate those fathers who failed him (Our Father and Nagg) and to dominate those who stand as his "sons" (the dog and Clov). [In a footnote, the critic adds: "The similar servile role for these two is further suggested by Beckett's production notes for Endspiel (1967): 'Clov's pose when trying to make dog stand. Parallel backs.'"] Then, having vented his hostility in two directions, against both fathers and sons, he is able to resume narration only to break off again at the same point: "Before accepting [the proffered job] he asks if he may have his little boy with him." Hamm seems not to be able to move the narrative beyond this point. what if the man does indeed care for the child's welfare more than for his own? What if he refuses the narrator's offer of help if it does not include his son? How can Hamm face such altruism?

In both his narrative and his "normal" speculations, Hamm argues against benevolence and altruism by suggesting that earthly existence is an incurable disease. In his narrating voice he says to the suppliant father, "Use your head, can't you, use your head, you're on earth, there's no cure for that!" and repeats the line word for word later, in his "normal tone" as he speculates about all those he might have saved. But this repeated violent outburst is not followed, as it is in the chronicle, by a return to innocuous description of the weather; instead it continues, parodying the chief injunction of the New Testament: "Get out of here and love one another! Lick your neighbor as yourself!" Hamm himself has refused the starving multitude bread (and crumpets); it is a small matter for his fictive narrator to deny one small boy life.

Throughout Endgame, Hamm has been talking about ending, bringing all life to a halt, his own as well. In the final moments of the play there is the suggestion such a winding down to absolute zero does occur. And one of the elements that makes cessation possible is final desertion among fathers and sons: "I'll have called my father and I'll have called my … (he hesitates) … my son." If they are gone, he will again be a solitary child alone in the dark, telling himself stories. And when the story ends, Hamm will end. In the last few moments of the play, his "last soliloquy," when Nagg and Clov are silent and Hamm thinks they are both irrevocably gone, Hamm finishes his story and "gives up." The last words of his story reveal the real nature of his hatred and desolation. He picks up the narrative now at its critical point, where he had abandoned it twice before—"If he could have his child with him…."—and he continues to comment:

It was the moment I was waiting for.

(Pause)

You don't want to abandon him? You want him to bloom while you are withering? Be there to solace your last million last moments?

(Pause)

He doesn't realize, all he knows is hunger, and cold, and death to crown it all. But you! You ought to know what the earth is like, nowadays. Oh I put him before his responsibilities!

(Pause, Normal tone.)

Well, there we are, there I am, that's enough.

"That's enough" of the story because Hamm has finally stated what is particularly offensive to him in this altruistic father-son relationship. The narrator's apparent argument—life on earth is so bad that a father's real responsibility is to avoid sustaining his son's existence—is really only a mask for the narrator's true feelings of resentment. The words "bloom" and "wither" betray the narrator's real motive, Hamm's real feelings. The corollary of a son's life is the father's death. By the natural order of human development, as the one grows into prime, the other passes beyond it, and the only term of that beyond is death. Hamm resents the fact that he will degenerate while another flourishes; thus his determination that there be no more potential procreators in this world, no fleas nor small boys from which humanity might start all over again. His is the resentment of age toward youth, compounded by his own personal sense of never having had the solace he needed, not in childhood and not now in his old age. So he berates the father in his story, presuming to lay bare that father's true motive, to prove it not altruistic but selfish: "Be there to solace your last million last moments?" But this accusation that the father only wants to help the son so that the son will help him has no foundation in the narrative as Hamm recounts it; this is pure projection at the most critical moment of the story. Hamm is the one unsolaced.

This story has allowed Hamm to reveal his deep sense of not having been cared for (his own father moved him out of earshot and certainly did nothing so beneficent as try to save his life at the expense of his own) and his deep resentment that such care could ever exist for anyone else: the father in his story must surely be a fake altruist, as the narrator's arguments about responsibility are supposed to prove. [In a footnote, the critic adds: "In Avant fin de partie, there is a story about a mother and a son, in which the son expresses great care for the mother; he alone knows her well enough to realize that her disappearance is a serious matter; he alone knows where she is to be found ('Cherchez, cherchez, elle est dans le coin'); and he alone nearly perishes from shock when her battered body is finally discovered, like a sponge, every bone broken, every fracture open. Somehow, she survives and after fifteen years in casts and on a bland diet, actually recovers, nursed by her watchful son. A sense of terrible disaster and abiding loss permeates the story (years later the narrator keeps repeating not the lines about recovery but the lines 'cherchez-la dans le coin, je la connias,' as if that moment of fear were perpetually present to him). These emotional elements are much like those in Hamm's chronicle, but the reversed roles and the alternate parent are significant differences. As Beckett finally chose to formulate the play, mothers are negligible and fathers are of central importance; and the son's pain comes not from loss of the parent (by death) but from loss of the parent's care (which results in the child's death)."] At the same time, the story has allowed him to disguise this revelation as fiction: he is not saying anything about him and Nagg; he is only making up events and details to pass the time. And yet this story is also a reckoning, a way to account for his life and himself. He is able to give up, to end, to die only when "time is over, reckoning closed and story ended." These words introduce that final moment of his narrative, which has just been discussed. He can terminate that narrative only after he has reached the stage in it when he can say, however colloquially, "there I am"; only then is the story "enough." He has recounted his deepest feelings of neglect, resentment, and hatred (felt as a child and reenacted in reversed roles as an adult), but in doing this he has also disguised and protected himself. He has never had to say "I" except as a supposedly fictional narrator.

The final seconds of the play dramatize what the story has also revealed. Thinking he has already lost both father and son, Hamm continues to divest himself of the things that give him solace—he throws away the dog, he throws away the whistle, he repeats the announcement "Discard." Only one possession remains, his handkerchief, and his word for it betrays with concentrated irony everything that the chronicle has revealed. "Old stancher!" he says, "You … remain." At the beginning and at the end of the play, Hamm's first and last words contain this rather unusual term, "old stancher." Its immediate meaning is available to the audience without a dictionary, but in its etymology it carries a grim pun that establishes once more how bereft Hamm feels.

The Oxford English Dictionary lists several meanings of the basic term "stanch:" to stop the flow of water, the flow of blood; to stop a leak, to make something watertight; to quench, repress, extinguish (thirst, appetite, hatred, anger); to weary. And under the noun form "stancher" ("One who or that which stanches"), two examples are particularly apt: "This is the first and chiefest Bloud stencher" and "Friendship, stancher of our wounds and sorrows." The two most familiar modern uses of this word correspond to these two earlier literary examples. The audience does not need a dictionary in hand because it certainly knows the clichés "a staunch friend" and "to stanch a wound." "Friend," "wound," love and death: Beckett makes capital of these two apparently distant associations contained in Hamm's exclamation, "Old stancher! (Pause) You … remain."

Literally this stancher is the "large blood-stained handkerchief" which covers Hamm's face when the play opens and which he replaces when the play ends. It stops the flow of blood, and thus is a true and loyal friend. It literally stands by him when all else fails and must be discarded. The irony of this reference and its associations comes from the fact that "blood" itself has failed Hamm, blood relationships. Fathers and sons, sources of life and sustenance during both infancy and old age, have not been loyal and true. Fathers and sons seem, in fact, to cause "wounds and sorrows," not to bind them up. There is no young boy (as in the chronicle) to solace Hamm's "last million last moments." He is left with just a bloody rag of extinction, himself and his story ended.

In addition to this extensive use of a single narrative, Endgame also contains shorter narrative forms of the kind … seen in Waiting for Godot: the joke and the anecdote. When Hamm begins his brief recital "I once knew a madman," he is ostensibly recounting an event he actually experienced, as distinct from his chronicle, which is presented in its form and context as first-person narrative fiction. This anecdote is brief, moving, self-contained, recounted once and not referred to again:

I once knew a madman who thought the end of the world had come. He was a painter—and engraver. I had a great fondness for him. I used to go and see him, in the asylum. I'd take him by the hand and drag him to the window. Look! There! All that rising corn! And there! Look! The sails of the herring fleet! All that loveliness!

(Pause)

He'd snatch away his hand and go back into his corner. Appalled. All he had seen was ashes.

(Pause)

He alone had been spared.

(Pause)

Forgotten.

(Pause)

It appears the case is … was not so … so unusual.

This flash of memory into Hamm's mind makes perfect sense in context: he and Clov have been talking about the desolation all around them, the unburied dead who once were bonny "like a flower of the field"; they both are present in a room which, like that asylum, imprisons them, opening out, through windows, on the world outside. It is not unusual that the wreck of this present world should remind Hamm of that painter in the past who only perceived ashes and devastation. What is important about the memory in this context is that it shows the madman to have been a prophet. Even Hamm, in those days, saw the rising corn, the herring fleet, "all that loveliness" of fecund, nourishing nature. The painter seemed then to be insane, but he is proved, by the passage and development of time, to have been visionary—not mentally crippled, but swift. Hamm's hesitating concession, "the case is … was not so … so unusual" betrays both how pained he is by the loss of that golden world (that corn which would have fed some child, if there were beneficence) and also his awareness (kept down, like Lear's early realizations) that the madman indeed spoke true, that apparent madness was in fact real sanity.

Much critical commentary on Endgame has associated the play with postnuclear destruction. It is interesting in this regard to compare Hamm's anecdote of the mad painter with Alain Resnais's film Hiroshima Mon Amour, where scenes of lovemaking are counterpointed with memory flashes of maimed and burned bodies. Or, for that matter, to go back in time to the medieval and renaissance tradition of memento mori with its countless woodcut emblems showing the beautiful woman (to take only one example) gazing into her mirror which reflects the skeleton she will become. This apocalyptic vision, to see the ashes of "all that loveliness" even while it still flourishes is, apparently, as Hamm reluctantly realizes, "not so unusual." His reply to Clov's observation that "There are so many terrible things" has an interesting double meaning to it: "No, no, there are not so many now" seems a denial if the focus is on "now" and also a confirmation of the devastation if the focus is on "many."

Nagg and Nell's amusement over similar devastations serves as "subplot parallel" to Hamm's anecdote and chronicle. Nagg and Nell laugh heartily remembering "When we crashed on our tandem and lost our shanks," and Nagg's favorite joke about the tailor puts into comic relief the miserable state of that world, that botched creation, in which such horrors regularly occur. This "engagement joke" so tickled Nell that she capsized the canoe on Lake Como where Nagg first told it to her. "By rights we should have been drowned" does not, of course, testify to an odd kindness on the part of the cosmos but rather to that continuing misfortune which has plagued Hamm's life. With no Nagg, no Nell, no marriage, no engendering, Hamm would not have found himself where he is now, surrounded by ashes and the memories and stories by which he both looks at his misery and tries to evade it.

Kristin Morrison, "Canters and Chronicles," in her Canters and Chronicles: The Use of Narrative in the Plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter, The University of Chicago Press, 1983, pp. 9-151.

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