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Interview by Jack MacGowran with Richard Toscan
Toscan: What about Endgame, in which you played Clov?
[MacGowran]: Endgame presented different problems [from Waiting for Godot]. The world upon which Clov looked, through the window, was a world devoid of anything, any human living being. So perhaps this could be taken as a futuristic play, an example of genocidal factors, of races that have been killed off. The world upon which Clov looks is more a moon-scape than an earthly vision. That's why Endgame is the harshest of the plays and the most tragic. There's less laughter to be found in Endgame than any other play—except for little moments like when Clov discovers he's got a flea or the dummy dog with the leg and sex missing.
The reason Clov doesn't leave at the end is because Hamm puts a doubt into his mind whether he does see life outside or not. If he did see life outside, Clov would escape, and Hamm wouldn't worry because he would take in the new life to help him. I have part of the original manuscript of this scene; it's much longer than the English translation and Clov talks at great length about what he's seeing outside. But Beckett wanted to leave a doubt about the existence of human life and he cut that sequence out, so as to make Clov less sure of going. Hamm says, "I don't need you any more." Clov doesn't like the fact that he's not needed—he must be needed. That is why he never leaves.
Is that Beckett's attitude toward it—that Clov will not leave?
Yes. Clov will not go because he cannot face what's outside without anybody. He's achieved one thing: He will not answer the whistle any more. But he's still dependent upon Hamm no matter what happens.
Did you discuss Endgame in some detail with Beckett?
Oh yes. Actually, the best Endgame we ever played was directed by Beckett in Paris in 1964. I got Patrick Magee to play Hamm, and I played Clov, and we got two very good character players to play the dustbin people. Beckett came over and spent six weeks directing it. He didn't go on the program as director, because there was a young director who let Beckett take over. Beckett is a marvelous director of his own work, but he's a strict disciplinarian. The play ran for nine weeks in Paris, then for two seasons at the Aldwych Theatre in London and was still playing to packed houses when we closed it.
What was Beckett's interpretation of the play as he approached it from the point of view of a director?
Interdependency—that man must depend upon his fellow-man in some way no matter how awful; a love-hate relationship between Hamm and Clov that exists right through the play.
So he put the major emphasis on their relationship, rather than the "something" that's taking its course outside?
Yes. Harold Pinter came to see it one night. He dashed around afterward—he's an honest man, Pinter, and a very good playwright influenced by Beckett's work. He said to me and Pat Magee, "You know, it's not what you were saying to each other, it's what was happening in between that gave me tickles up my spine." So you see, the relationship was working. This is what Sam made sure would happen—that the relationship he wanted between Hamm and Clov was taking place. Clov takes an insane delight in saying, "There's no more painkiller," and when he wheels Hamm to the center, he doesn't wheel him to the center. Clov is constantly not doing what Hamm wants him to do. Hamm knows he's not in the center; he has a sixth sense for knowing. He places a terrible curse on Clov when he says, "One day you'll be blind like me … except that you won't have anyone with you." This hurts Clov; this worries him a lot. So they hurt each other mentally. They're mentally both very damaged people anyway.
Did Beckett ever talk about what it was that has decimated the population and left only Hamm and Clov?
Ihab Hassan on the Symbolic Dramas of Endgame:
Endgame, I believe, may be seen as two symbolic dramas in one: an internal and an external action. The internal drama is simply that of human consciousness. The mind, the human personality, can be a closed system like chess; it can be ruled by habit and immutable laws; it may contain only one mobile impulse, Clov, ruled by a fixed authority, Hamm. And it may therefore be condemned to endless repetitions. But Clov also looks outwards, and the womb or skull-shaped room, designed originally for the play by Roger Blin, has two small windows that may be reached by a ladder—Clov has shrunk with time—and from which the emptiness of earth and sea and sky may be glimpsed. The play is therefore not entirely solipsistic. Its action may be viewed, externally, as a phase in human history, time and events preceding that phase, a slow-motion apocalypse to come after, as indeed the numerous references to the Revelation of St. John the Divine suggest. These two symbolic facets of Endgame meet: the exhaustion of history and the exhaustion of consciousness are in the end both symptoms of the exhaustion of being. This is the central intuition of the play crudely stated.
Ihab Hassan, in his The Literature of Silence: Henry Miller and Samuel Beckett, Alfred A. Knopf, 1967.
No, never. It's some vision—there is a visionary in Beckett. The seeds of Endgame were in fact in Lucky's speech—"In the great deeps, the great cold on sea, on land and in the air"—referring to the return of the world to its former state of a ball of fire or the glacial age that will get rid of all the population and perhaps, by sheer luck, two people will remain. Lucky also says, "In the year of their Lord six hundred and something…." Beckett can't remember the actual date, but he read it somewhere, and it was nearest to a glacial age the earth ever got in mankind's time.
Though there is the suggestion in Endgame that the flea might be the first chain in the development of a new race of humans.
That's right, and it's so awful that they want to kill it quickly before it starts, because the same thing will happen again.
In Hamm's story, he refers to the baby who was brought to him by the man who came crawling….
I played it as if Clov was the person who was brought there by the man, so that the story is not really fiction at all. It's a retelling of those early years, which Clov may or may not remember because he has been there so long.
What was Beckett's attitude toward Hamm's parents, who were in the dustbins?
I think he feels that's the way most of us, in later life, treat our own parents—we put them into homes and we give them the minimum kind of treatment to keep them alive for as long as we can. The human race generally does that to an aging parent and this was his conception of how stark it could be—putting them into dustbins and giving them a biscuit or a biscuit and a half a day, anything to keep them going just for a while.
I gather then that Beckett would dismiss the critical approach to Endgame that says it takes place in the mind of one man and the parents in the dustbins symbolize subconscious repression.
He would reject that idea completely. People may think that because the play makes it possible to think that way. But I know for a fact that that's not Beckett's idea of what's happening….
Many of Beckett's characters like Krapp and Vladimir have physical problems….
They all have some physical problem or another. For instance, Hamm is blind and unable to move, while Clov cannot sit down. This is not just imagination. There are people in the world, Beckett has discovered, who do suffer from these kinds of things, and yet they're related, they're married to each other—in a love-hate relationship, maybe.
When Beckett gave up teaching French at Trinity College, Dublin, he left suddenly, because, as he said to me, he felt he was teaching something he knew nothing about. That decision was the birth of a writer. He came to London and took a job as an attendant in a mental home for a year. That influenced him very much—I know that Murphy, his first novel, came out of his experiences as a mental attendant. And, then, he has seen many people who were handicapped severely in some way. When he was young, there was a war pensioners' hospital very close to where he was born. He saw them regularly every day—they were in various stages of physical disability. I am sure these experiences have influenced the fact that his characters are largely damaged people.
Beckett has said to me often, "People must think I had a very unhappy childhood, but I hadn't really. I had a very good childhood, and a very normal childhood as childhoods go. But I was more aware of unhappiness around me"—not in his own home, but just in people—"than happiness." So the sensitive chords in Beckett's nature were attuned to the unhappiness in humankind rather than the happiness.
In Endgame and several of the other plays there are references to the fact that a play is going on. Does he do that deliberately as a kind of theatrical device?
Yes, he does. Pozzo [from Waiting for Godot] said, "Where are we? It isn't by any chance the place known as the Board?" The "board" is the stage, so that conveys that they know it's a play that's going on. He wants to make the audience feel that it's a play that's taking place and not what really is happening.
When you work with Beckett, does he treat the plays that he has written first in French and then translated into English as equivalent plays, that is, does he make references back to the French text as being different from the English version?
Yes, he does. There was a point in Endgame that worried me. When Clov realizes that he's had a little victory over Hamm, he starts humming, and Hamm, if you recall, says "Don't sing," and Clov says, "One hasn't the right to sing anymore." Hamm says, "No," and Clov says, "Then how can it end?" I said to Beckett, "I'm really not quite sure what that means." He said, "Well, that was a difficulty in translation I had. When I wrote it in French, there is a French proverb which is well known, 'Everything ends with a song,' and I could not translate that proverb, which is particularly French, into English unless I did it that way." You see, it was more readily understood in French, Clov intimating that this is the end of their relationship.
Jack MacGowran and Richard Toscan, in an interview in On Beckett: Essays and Criticism, edited by S. E. Gontarski, Grove Press, 1986, pp. 213-25.
This section contains 1,832 words
(approx. 7 pages at 300 words per page)