‘Finished, it’s finished, nearly finished, it must be nearly finished.’ This is how the game begins. Nearly, Beckett says, is one of the key words in his texts. It is nearly finished, it is nearly all a game, poetry, not a view of the world but a parody of one. ‘Go to the extremes, then laughter will come’ is the poetic approach his work employs to make an aesthetic success out of failure. Beckett called what he was writing in May 1956 ‘shockingly cruel’, compared to which his play Waiting for Godot was ‘pure joy’. In Endgame there is no more waiting, neither for Godot nor for God: ‘The bastard!! He doesn’t exist’, says Hamm; ‘Not yet’, Clov replies. The disaster has already happened, Noah and his sons have survived, one of them is called Ham. ‘If only the Almighty hadn’t been so fond of Noah’, is Beckett’s comment. What remains is a game about endings, clown-like, comic, with a taste for slapstick, yet decisively ‘driven by the forceful power of the text’, according to its author. The plot takes place in the language. The figures of the play are searching for effects and monitoring them. They are very aware that they are acting, that they are part of a piece of theatre.
Four characters: Nell, the mother, Nagg, the father, Hamm, their son – and Clov. Possibly the classic servant, possibly Hamm’s son, in any event someone who has experienced nothing other than now and who has to tell himself, ‘the earth is extinguished, though I never saw it lit’. He is robbed of both past and future. His present is his history with Hamm. Even the words he uses are not his. Clov dreams of something of his own, it is a dream of leaving.
The characters are defective: Nell and Nagg without legs, Hamm blind and lamed, Clov unable to sit down. The play itself is designed to be perfect: ‘No, there are no coincidences in Endgame, everything is built on analogies and repetitions’, according to Beckett the director. The whole thing is a battle; for love, for contact, power, for one’s own biography, the language too. Not a single moment of weakness is forgiven, everyone is always on the lookout, wary, always trying to find a hole in the defences, to land a punch. The aim of the game is to depart. Nell and Nagg disappear, she staring deeply into the void, he cursing his son. Hamm and Clov release each other without really separating.
An end and a game. The end of everything, of nature, action, desire and ultimately speech, and the game playing with the possibilities of deluding oneself, not only oneself but the others too. Who and what is meaningful? And when? In the end, nothing is certain, perhaps there is just a madman – like Hamm speaks of in the play – looking and painting, images of the end of the world as he sees it.
Beckett laughs at the finite nature of life, at the cycle of beginning and end and at the never-ending quality of fiction: ‘Then I went back into the house and wrote, It is midnight. The rain is beating on the windows. It was not midnight. It was not raining.’ This is how the novel Molloy ends; Endgame ends the way it began with the actor covering his face with a handkerchief. ‘We’re getting on.’ – Nearly.
(Translation: David Tushingham)