Endgame by Samuel Beckett We have our second play of the semester, but this one is different. Beckett was different. As you’ll see in your introduction, he was Irish, but he lived in France and was very influenced by living in France, and he was also impacted, like most everyone else during the time, by the catastrophe of World War II. In World War I, 10 million people died and it was thought to be the war to end all wars. In World War II, 56 million people died, and the war reached over several continents. It was, not surprisingly, a very pessimistic time, and the art of the mid-century reflects this. Beckett wrote in French, though it was his second language. Why? He wrote in French because, and those of you who have taken another language know this, because his vocabulary was smaller and more direct in his second language, and Beckett was trying to strip down language to its bare minimum. Beckett’s theatre is known at Minimalist Theatre. For not only the language, but also for the bare stage, minimal characters, and the stark, desolate themes. You have to remember that this is a play, and it is written with a stage production in mind. And it is written under the impact of a massive war, and the threat of nuclear holocaust very real in the minds of the modern world. Watch a few clips of the play here: Endgame, clip 1 Endgame, clip 2 Endgame, clip 3 Beckett’s world is the world of last things – stark, bare, gray – in which life is reduced to mere waiting and game-playing. It is a world that leans towards silence. Endgame has some central themes: desolation, the dead world outside, the dead world inside, restriction of both space and time, the notion that life cannot be won, the master/slave relationship. In Endgame, characters are aware of themselves as characters in some type of “game.” When the curtain rises, it is as if the characters are just waking up, preparing themselves for another day, seemingly the same day over and over and over again. The furniture is covered in sheets, suggesting storage and the covering of the dead. Motions are ritualistic, dialogue is ritualistic. Concerning dialogue, notice all the word play. There appears to be no future and the past is foggy, at best. The characters live in the hell of an eternal present, but outside is the “other hell.” The waves of the sea are like “lead,” the sun is “zero,” there is “no more nature.” Even a suggestion of life outside terrifies the characters. Discussion questions: 1. The stage is symbolic. It has been interpreted many ways: as the inside of a skull, a last refuge after a unnamed catastrophe (such as a nuclear holocaust), as a metaphor for the twilight of civilization, purgatory, or simply man’s consciousness. After reading and watching some clips, how you do you interpret the stage setting? 2. Why do you think the stage setting is without any particular interpretation? Let’s face it: this is a non-traditional play. Beckett’s refusal to assign a definite meaning or setting sometimes confuses, but it should be taken as an opportunity to use your imagination. Just as we recognize the terrifying sense of no exit, we should play along with the characters and interpret these metaphors and symbols for ourselves. Discussion questions: 1. Why do you think the play is called Endgame? 2. What is the relationship between Hamm and Clov? The slave/master relationship seems to be a theme. But how do these two exist with one another? 3. Who are Nagg and Nell? How do you interpret them? What role do they seem to play in this game? 4. In what ways does Endgame suggest the ending of things? In what ways does it suggest a possible beginning? This doesn’t necessarily have to be the end of the world. Regeneration is a part of life. And one more thing to consider: art often suggest things about life, about men and women. What does this play seem to suggest about human beings and the lives they lead?