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Endgame | Study Guide

Samuel Beckett

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Course Hero, "Endgame Study Guide," June 29, 2017, accessed April 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Endgame/.

Endgame | Hamm and Clov Remain | Summary

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Summary

The interaction between Hamm and Clov is almost completely fractured. Clov fumbles with the telescope as he looks out the windows, and Hamm retreats even further into his role as an actor: "I'm warming up for my last soliloquy," he proclaims. When Clov finally looks out the window and says he has seen a small boy, Hamm and Clov are both nonplussed. Clov intends to go investigate but is quickly dissuaded by Hamm.

Hamm announces he does not need Clov anymore, and Clov begins making plans to leave, yet again. As he wrestles with his final decision, he uses Hamm's theatrical language against him. "This is what we call making an exit," Clov says. He leaves, only to return in traveling clothes. Clov stands silently, eyes on Hamm until the end of the play. Hamm thinks he is alone and begins to play one last time: "Since that's the way we're playing it ... let's play it that way ... and speak no more about it." Hamm delivers his final lines, spreads his handkerchief over his face, and remains silent, seated in his chair.

Analysis

As the action of the play grinds on, Hamm and Clov, as people and as actors, are desperate to stop. Clov begs, "Let's stop playing!" Hamm says with resignation: "Then let it end!" The endless stretch of moments has been painful to endure, but equally painful is the realization that once time is gone, it is gone forever. When there is no more time, there is only death. The motif of the chess endgame resonates strongly, as only two pieces, Hamm and Clov, remain on the board. The outcome, however, is still unclear. Will Hamm, the king, finally be left alone, defeated, and facing certain death? Or will a stalemate, in which nothing ends but nothing moves forward, doom the characters to a living death?

The theatrical overtones of the play are also in full view. Hamm is determined to act until the end, angry at Clov for not recognizing an aside, relishing the approach of his last soliloquy, concerned an underplot is developing. The one theatrical moment denied to Hamm, trapped in his seat, is the dramatic exit. Clov has suffered under Hamm's tyranny, but Clov is allowed to escape the stage.

The tableau before the final curtain is the mirror image of the scene which opened the play. Hamm sits in his chair, his face covered with his handkerchief. Clov stands with his eyes fixed on Hamm. The action of the play has been torturous—for characters, actors, audience—and the struggle for meaning ultimately unsuccessful. Will it all begin again the next day?

Beckett leaves his audience with this uncomfortable, even unbearable, question.

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