Samuel Beckett’s plays are immersed in a post- apocalyptic, grey light that reveals only a barren landscape with a few stray survivors who are waiting for the end of everything. Endgame, like Beckett’s other plays, is situated in a minimalist setting which retains only a few disparate elements of the complex universe as we know it.
The world of Endgame is one dominated by absence and emptiness, marked by the characters’ allusion to the gradual disappearance of things. Despite the apocalyptic setting however, the activity of the world goes on uninterruptedly.
Beckett’s characters are trapped in what seems an infinite postponing of the ultimate ending that would erase the mock simulation of existence that still persists. Although the end of the world seems to have already occurred, a form of life still drags on without any apparent closure or resolution. The essence of Endgame therefore lies in this lack of closure in an already dead universe. As the title of the play foretells, the text focuses on the “final game” of existence. This game is incredibly reduced, with only four human characters on the stage and very few other elements.
Nevertheless, the game seems to be endless and the characters that play it are forced to continue despite their weariness. The game is nothing else than life itself, in its infinite but monotonous flux. The endless repetitions that mark the gestures and the speech of the characters are a representation of the game pattern. The pauses which often interrupt the slow motion of the act appear to be pauses that occur before a movement in the game. Critic Jeevan Kumar observes that the game in Beckett’s play is a metaphor that reflects life itself.
In his view moreover, the game represented in the play is very similar to a game of chess, but which is characterized by absolute irrationality: “For Beckett, a game of chess reflects life itself… But the game of life, unlike a game of chess, is quite irrational. Man is a being tossed in the absurd universe like a piece on the chess board, and his fate is as dubious as that of a chessman. ”(Kumar 545) Thus, Beckett makes recourse to the chess representation in order to portray life in its absurdity and illogicality.
As in a game of chess, the characters are forced either to move only in a certain way or to be completely motionless. Hamm is unable to stand up and is confined to his wheelchair, without suffering from an actual physical disability. His obsession with being at the very center of the room is also significant as it hints to a fixed position on the board. This may also allude to man’s place in the universe and his relationship to nature. By contrast, Clov, Hamm’s servant, is unable to sit down. Hamm’s old parents are legless and live ‘bottled-up’ in two ashbins.
Position and movement are very important in Beckett’s plays, as they emphasize the human beings’ lack of freedom. Life is seen as an entrapping and absurd game, which seems to offer no escape and no relief. The beginning of the play is already an ending, as Clov announces the approach of a finish: “Clov: Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished. ”(Beckett 3) significantly, what Clov announces is only the beginning of the end, a state where these two extremities meet but where there is no actual conclusion.
As Hamm remarks later in the play, the end and the beginning are coincide, but, paradoxically, nothing begins and nothing ends while everything continues: “Hamm: The end is in the beginning and yet you go on. ” (Beckett 78) It is this absurd waiting and continuation that is at the core of Beckett’s plays. Life is both a scene of nothingness and one of infinity, and it is this duality that drives the characters in Beckett to desperation. One recurrent phrase in the play sums up this idea.
The simple fact of existing on earth is immutable and incurable: “Use your head, can’t you, use your head, you’re on earth, there’s no cure for that! ”(Beckett 78) Endgame therefore transmits the sense of absurdity and desperation in life. The endless repetitions and recurrent images serve to represent life like a game in which the players are trapped. The roles that Clov and Hamm play, common for most of Beckett’s works, are also significant. The two characters are bound by a curious relationship of dependency which seems unjustified.
They are tied to their own roles and positions in the game, which cannot be violated. The game lacks a conclusion and therefore its meaning can never be settled. Life is a game where the human beings seem to wait for life to finally become life. The meaning of life is deferred until its actual ending, and therefore life cannot be lived as an actual existence but only as endless waiting: “Moment upon moment, pattering down, like the millet grains of…(he hesitates) …that old Greek, and all life long you wait for that to mount up to a life.
”(Beckett 80) William S. Haney notes that this liminal world that Beckett describes, where we confront both the ending and the fullness of life is a fusion between absence and plenitude: “In alluding to the end of the world and all of its content–objects, time, nature, food, colors, fleas, rats, weather, laughter, kisses, sun, sound, God, and so on–but infinitely deferring this end, Endgame suggests the possibility of experiencing a fusion of fullness and emptiness.
”(Haney 48) Beckett therefore pinpoints in Endgame the essence of life itself, which is not a flow of events but rather a fusion among many contradictions. Endgame is therefore a representation of life itself as endless waiting of a finish or a conclusion. Through images of cyclic movement and repetition, the play emphasizes the idea of life as an endless game. Despite the minimalist setting, the atmosphere of the play is one that fuses absence with fullness. There are very few things remaining, and yet the scene seems populated.
Nothing actually happens and everything seems to draw to an end and yet there is no closure, as the last word of the play is the verb ‘to remain: “You…remain. ”(Beckett 96) Thus, Endgame portrays life as an infinite and absurd game of waiting, which claws man into its void. Works Cited: Beckett, Samuel. Endgame. New York: Grove Press, 1959. Haney, William S. , II. “Beckett out of his mind: the theatre of the absurd. ” Studies in the Literary Imagination. 34. 2 (2001): 39-55. Kumar, K. Jeevan. “The chess metaphor in Samuel Beckett’s ‘Endgame. ‘. ” Modern Drama. 40. 4 (1997): 540-553.
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