Son of Oedipus

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Editor: David A. Galens
Date: 2003
From: Drama for Students(Vol. 18. )
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 2,458 words

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Endgame is constructed in more or less clearly defined sections which are 'played without a break'; the sections being frequently marked off by pauses but never by an interval as significant as that between the movements in a piece of music. Hamm and Clov correspond constructionally less to the 'characters' in a traditional play than to musical instruments. Their special characteristics are not used in the development of a plot, but to carry as it were pitch and timbre, to give off matching or dissonant tones and colours. If we think of Hamm and Clov in the first instance as, for example, 'cello and violin instead of as two people that we might see walking the streets; if we think of Nell and Nagg as, say, a pair of flutes; we are already closer to understanding the construction of the play. This can be summarized as follows: short solo prologues for Clov and Hamm lead into an extended duo for both which is joined briefly by Nagg. Then comes a duo for Nagg and Nell, with occasional interjections from Hamm and a solo passage for Nagg. A second long duo for Hamm and Clov, including two solo flourishes for Hamm, is broken by a short recitative for Hamm and Nagg before Hamm embarks on his central cadenza. A short trio for Hamm, Nagg and Clov ends with Nagg's second and last solo passage. At this point, with Hamm's stolen words 'Our revels now are ended', the play seems to embark on its finale, a duo for Hamm and Clov, punctuated by a solo passage for each and finishing with an epilogue for Hamm. Endgame can only be enjoyed, understood in the emotional sense, through its presentation, which is as complex, as many-layered and multiple, as its theme is simple and single.

Within these main sections of the play scraps of material are introduced which are sometimes stated simply in a single line, sometimes tossed from one character-instrument to another over several lines of dialogue between two pauses, but which almost always recur throughout the play. The second sentence of Clov's solo prologue is: 'Grain upon grain, one by one, and one day, suddenly, there's a heap, a little heap, the impossible heap.' This material only recurs directly once more, when it is given to Hamm, in his solo passage during the finale: '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.' The identity of the old Greek--Beckett himself only remembers him to be one of the pre-Socratic philosophers, but not Zeno--is less germane than the fact that his image re-echoes across thirty-odd pages of the text and between Hamm and Clov, with perhaps half-heard reminders at other points in the play: during the first duo when Hamm asks Clov 'Did your seeds come up?' and in Hamm's cadenza (his 'story'), 'Corn, yes, I have corn, it's...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420050203