Endgame | Critical Review by Harold Clurman

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Endgame.
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Critical Review by Harold Clurman

Samuel Beckett's Endgame is a Mystery of final things: as death, the end of an age. Being altogether modern, it is also a comedy. We do not weep in the theater nowadays over futility, protracted dreariness or doom: we laugh.

"Endgame" is a technical term signifying the last stage in playing a hand, the position of the important card having been generally known, and the play being determined accordingly; or the point in the game when the forces (in chess or checkers) have been greatly reduced.

The central image of the piece is that of Hamm, a blind man, paralyzed, shut off in a bare, gray room with his legless parents who remain immobilized in two dustbins. His condition does not change from first to last. Hamm has an alter ego, Clov, who might be likened to an enslaved son. There is much scurrying about on Clov's part but little action; the earth and sea outside have nothing on the horizon: all is still, inert, "corpsed." At the end of Clov's long submission to his "father" and master, Hamm, he appears to be on the verge of escape. Is there hope of resurrection in this? Probably not, but we cannot be sure. Hamm "gives up," with a weary finality: "Old endgame lost of old, play and lose and have done with losing."

I append further citations to convey the tone of what is essentially a dramatic poem. Hamm asks Clov, "Have you not had enough?" "Of what?" Clov asks. The answer is, "Of this—this—thing." He refers no doubt to the burden of life. Clov is always seen in movement, obeying Hamm's senseless orders. "I can't sit," he cries out, to which Hamm responds with, "And I can't stand…. Every man his specialty." "What's happening?" Hamm wants to know. Clov's reply is, "Something is taking its course." Hamm wonders, "We're not beginning to mean something?" "Mean something!" Clov mocks, "You and I mean something…. Oh, that's good." Hamm speculates for a moment, "Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn't he be able to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough…. To think perhaps it won't all have been for nothing!" Clov asks the supreme question, "Do you believe in the life to come?" and receives the superb answer, "Mine was always that." This is the special humor, the Beckett "joke," which makes his work seem like a scenario for a farce. Clov asks, "What is there to keep us here?" Hamm answers, "The dialogue."

The cream of the jest is the story told by the male dustbin occupant about a man who brought cloth to a tailor to have trousers made. The tailor takes an unconscionable time to finish the job. The customer, at the end of his patience, explodes, "In six days, do you hear me, six days God made the World! And you are not bloody well capable of making me a pair of trousers in three months!" The tailor retorts, "But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look at the world and look at my trousers."

When I saw Endgame in Paris in 1957 I thought it "at times impressive and drab, at other times snarling through a grin…. Its writing has humor, tang and obliquely lyric dialogue." But I thought it lacked the tenderness which alleviated the restlessness of Waiting for Godot. Since then, I have seen it directed by Alan Schneider, André Greogry and now by Joseph Chaikin in the present production at M.T.C. Each of these productions had different characteristics and merits, but none of the quiet and numb ache of the first one which, though in French, had something of the wonderful lostness and melody of Jack MacGowran's eminently Irish reading of the Beckett anthology we heard some years ago at the Public Theater.

I am reminded now of what Aaron Copland once said on receiving a complete recording of Anton Webern's compositions. He admired Webern, considered him a seminal figure in modern music, a highly significant artist, but found that he had no special urge to return to repeated hearings of his work. Perhaps because I have seen Endgame four times I feel the same way about it. I do not feel quite this way about Waiting for Godot. But it may be that I have grown weary of weariness, the standstill of pained bewilderment—now become a prevalent posture—even though I cannot help being in awe of the genius of Beckett's methods of expressing it….

In writing about Beckett I cannot help but contrast him in certain respects with Pinter: the first is the progenitor of the second.

The abstractions in Beckett's writing may make understanding it difficult, but its mood is always emotionally persuasive. Though Pinter may be obscure or elusive in some of his detail, his work on the whole is more "realistic": he is of his time and place and always unmistakably English. Pinter is wed to his ambiguity, as if to divulge precisely what he means would be simple-minded, almost vulgar.

Harold Clurman, in a review of "Endgame," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 230, No. 6, February 16, 1980, pp. 187-88.

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This section contains 855 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Harold Clurman
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