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Endgame (play): Wikis


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Written by Samuel Beckett
Date premiered 3 April 1957 (1957-04-03)
Place premiered Royal Court Theatre, London
Original language French
Genre Minimalism Existentialism

Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is a one-act play with four characters. It was originally written in French, entitled Fin de partie; as was his custom, Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, opening on 3 April 1957. It is commonly considered, along with such works as Waiting for Godot, to be among Beckett's most important works.



The protagonists of the play are Hamm, an aged master who is blind and not able to stand up, and his servant Clov, who cannot sit down. They exist in a tiny house by the sea, although the dialogue suggests that there is nothing left outside—no sea, no sun, no clouds. The two characters, mutually dependent, have been fighting for years and continue to do so as the play progresses. Clov always wants to leave but never seems to be able. Also present are Hamm's legless parents Nagg and Nell, who live in rubbish bins downstage and initially request food or argue inanely.


The English title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left. (The French title can be applied to games besides chess, and Beckett lamented the fact that there was no precise English equivalent). Beckett himself was known to be an avid chess player.

The literary critic Harold Bloom considers Hamm to be an allusion to Hamlet and finds an intertext (transumptive litotes) within Hamm's line:

''s time it ended...and yet I hesitate, I hesitate end.'

Bloom contends this is an intertext with Hamlet's famous 'To be or not to be' soliloquy, in which doubt prevents Hamlet from taking decisive action, and Endgame is a play devoid of action, in Beckett's typical absurdist style.

It has also been suggested that Hamm also relates to ham actor and Ham, son of Noah, while Clov is a truncated version of Clown, as well as suggesting cloven hoof (of the devil) and glove (a distant echo of hand and glove, perhaps). Nagg suggests nagging and the German nagen (to gnaw), while Nell recalls Dickens' Little Nell. (Theodor Adorno Trying to Understand Endgame). Equally Hamm could be short for Hammer and Clov be clove (etymologically nail[1]), hammer and nail representing one aspect of their relationship. In this light, Nagg and Nell, taken together, may suggest the German Nagel (nail); vague references in the text to Hamm's neighbor, Mother Pegg, are also relevant.

Ruby Cohn, in her book Back to Beckett, writes that "Beckett's favorite line in the play is Hamm's deduction from Clov's observation that Nagg is crying: 'Then he's living.' But in Berlin he felt that the most important sentence is Nell's 'Nothing is funnier than unhappiness.' And he directed his play to show the fun of unhappiness."

The implication in the play is that the characters live in an unchanging, static state. Each day contains the actions and reactions of the day before, until each event takes on an almost ritualistic quality. It is made clear, through the text, that the characters have a past (most notably through Nagg and Nell who conjure up memories of tandem rides in the Ardennes). However, there is no indication that they may have a future. Even the death of Nell, which occurs towards the end of the play, is greeted with a lack of surprise. The isolated setting, the diseased characters, and the constant references to aspects of civilization that no longer exist, have led many to suggest the play is post-nuclear. However, Beckett always denied this.

External links


  • Adorno, Theodor W. Trying to Understand Endgame [1961], The New German Critique, no. 26, (Spring-Summer 1982) pp.119-150. In The Adorno Reader ed. Brian O'Connor. Blackwell Publishers. 2000.
  • Cohn, Ruby. Back to Beckett. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1973.

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