Endgame: The Playwright Completes Himself

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Author: Sidney Homan
Editor: David A. Galens
Date: 2003
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 18. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,757 words

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A common practice in the theater is to cover the set once the play is over so that it will be the same set, "virginal" if you will, at the next performance, not changed by the dust and dirt that make their way into the playhouse. Endgame opens with the figurative "birth" of its playwright as the servant Clov "goes to Hamm, removes sheet covering him, folds it over his arms." To use the technical term from the Elizabethan stage, Hamm is "discovered," though for a time he is stationary while Clov holds the stage. Hamm's lot, the playwright's lot--and the very condition about which Shakespeare complains in his Sonnets--is to express everything, to prostitute inner emotions before an audience.

Some critics have seen in Clov's opening lines, "Finished, it's nearly finished, it must be nearly finished," echoes of the creation story, though the lines themselves are ambiguous: is the creation (Hamm?) nearly finished and therefore soon to blossom in its own right? Or is the world about to end, "finished?" Clov then departs for the kitchen, his own orderly offstage world ("Nice dimensions, nice proportions").

On Clov's departure, Hamm himself completes the discovery, first yawning under the handkerchief that covers his head and then removing it to reveal a "Very red face. Black glasses." Hamm's opening line, "Me," may suggest a tremendous ego, though, as we will see, an ego quite appropriate if we think of him as the play's lead actor, its ham or Hamlet, or perhaps the playwright himself, the creative force behind the stage world. A second yawn introduces the next suggestive line, actually a continuation of "Me": "to play." We might take the word play either as a verb--meaning "now I will play"--or as a noun, a compression of "to the play": Hamm will now get to his play. We have heard the phrase before in Beckett: Malone speaks of "play" and the Unnamable directs "Worm to play." If, to echo Hamm himself, we would allow "every man his speciality," then I believe that Hamm's speciality creation itself, however bleak the created world of this play may seem.


Hamm's creation here seems to be an internal one, that inner world peopled by the imagination of a blind man. Whereas Clov is concerned with the external, with the one physical setting itself--he speculates that "There's nowhere else"--Hamm's concern is that of "Text 2": "Perhaps we're in a head." Deprived of a sense of perspective by his blindness, he can only think of man and, more specifically, of himself as the macrocosm. Appropriately, his speculation is that there is "no one else." For Hamm the external world is the illusion, in the most negative sense of that word: "Outside of here it's death."

At the start Hamm is asleep, his power of creation dormant. He may well be dreaming, for several times during the play he makes reference to the pleasures of this state. As in the medieval dream vision, he moves, after Clov's...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420050202