Study Guide

Endgame Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd

By Samuel Beckett

Philosophical Viewpoints: The Absurd

Clov goes and stands under window left. Stiff, staggering walk. He looks up at window left. He turns and looks at window right. He goes and stands under window right. He looks up at window right. He turns and looks at window left. He goes out, comes back immediately with a small step-ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, draws back curtain. He gets down, takes six steps (for example) towards window right, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window right, goes back for ladder, gets up on it, draws back curtain. He gets down, takes three steps towards window left, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window left, gets up on it, looks out of window. Brief laugh. He gets down, takes one step towards window right, goes back for ladder, carries it over and sets it down under window right, gets up on it, looks out of window. Brief laugh. (1.Opening Stage Directions)

How does this comic opening affect your attitude toward the play? What do you make of the predictable nature of Clov's forgetfulness? Why does Clov laugh?

NAGG
Me pap!
HAMM
Accursed progenitor!
NAGG
Me pap! (1.77-79)

Why is this line funny? Is it Hamm's choice of words or the general sentiment? In what ways does absurdity mask honesty? In what ways is there no way to understand honesty except as absurdity?

CLOV(sadly)
No one that ever lived ever thought so crooked as we. (1.110)

Is there something about the post-apocalyptic situation that makes Clov and Hamm's absurd behavior more understandable? How does their behavior show how much their thought has been perverted? What things that seem absurd to us might seem perfectly sane to them?

NELL(without lowering her voice)
Nothing is funnier than unhappiness, I grant you that. But—
NAGG(shocked)
Oh!
NELL
Yes, yes, it's the most comical thing in the world. And we laugh, we laugh, with a will, in the beginning. But it's always the same thing. Yes, it's like a funny story we have heard too often, we still find it funny, but we don't laugh any more. (1.194-196)

What is funny about unhappiness? Who has a right to laugh at the unhappy? Do you need to understand what they are going through in order to laugh at them? What happens when the characters are too exhausted to laugh but the audience still does?


CLOV
Things are livening up.
(He gets up on ladder, raises the telescope, lets it fall.)
I did it on purpose.
(He gets down, picks up the telescope, turns it on auditorium.)
I see…a multitude…in transports…of joy.
(Pause.)
That's what I call a magnifier. (1.298)

How does Clov's joke suggest that the audience is somehow implicit in their situation? Imagine yourself as an audience member: how does it make you feel to have Clov judging your general attitude?

CLOV(anguished, scratching himself)
I have a flea!
HAMM
A flea! Are there still fleas?
CLOV
On me there's one.
(Scratching.)
Unless it's a crablouse.
HAMM(very perturbed)
But humanity might start from there all over again! Catch him, for the love of God! I'll go and get the powder.
(Exit Clov.)
HAMM
A flea! This is awful. What a day!
(Enter Clov with sprinkling-tin.)
CLOV
I'm back again, with the insecticide.
HAMM
Let him have it.
(Clov loosens the top of his trousers, pulls it forward and shakes powder into the aperture. He stoops, looks, waits, starts, frenziedly shakes more powder, stoops, looks, waits.) (1.346-353)

This is pretty much the most action we get in the entire play. Do Hamm and Clov seem happier here than at almost any other point in the play? As an audience member, is it easier to sympathize with the two of them here or when they are complaining about how miserable their situation is?

CLOV
What about a pee?
HAMM
I'm having it.
CLOV
Ah that's the spirit, that's the spirit. (1.360-362)

In what ways do bodily functions become a source of hope and entertainment in the play? Is Clov being sincere when he cheers Hamm on or does it seem as if he is half-joking?

HAMM(gloomily)
Then it's a day like any other day.
CLOV
As long as it lasts.
(Pause.)
All life long the same inanities. (1.479-480)

Do Hamm and Clov choose to suffer the same inanities or do they not have a choice? Is there a different way that they could view their situation or not? Is there a possibility of change?

HAMM
Crawling on his belly, whining for bread for his brat. He's offered a job as gardener. Before—
(Clov bursts out laughing.)
What is there so funny about that?
CLOV
A job as a gardener!
HAMM
Is that what tickles you?
CLOV
It must be that.
HAMM
It wouldn't be the bread?
CLOV
Or the brat.
(Pause.)
HAMM
The whole thing is comical, I grant you that. What about having a good guffaw the two of us together?
CLOV(after reflection)
I couldn't guffaw today. (1.600-607)

How does this scene reveal that Clov has a better sense of humor than Hamm? What is it about absurdity that Hamm just doesn't get? Could this be part of the reason Hamm keeps Clov around – that Clov reminds him how to lighten up?

CLOV
Christ, she's under water!
(He looks.)
How can that be?
(He pokes forward his head, his hand above his eyes.)
It hasn't rained.
(He wipes the pane, looks. Pause.)
Ah what a fool I am! I'm on the wrong side! (1.719)

In what ways does Clov's foolishness create a moment of escape for him? Why is this one of the more genuine moments in the play? Is there any surprise left in this world that does not come from foolishness and irony?