Study Guide

Endgame Suffering

By Samuel Beckett

Suffering

HAMM
Can there be misery—
(he yawns)
—loftier than mine? No doubt. Formerly. But now?
(Pause.)
My father?
(Pause.)
My mother?
(Pause.)
My…dog?
(Pause.)
Oh I am willing to believe they suffer as much as such creatures can suffer. But does that mean their sufferings equal mine? No doubt. (1.2)

What do you make of Hamm's word choice: "loftier"? Is there any dignity in his suffering? Does he take pride in it? Why is he competing to see if the others might be suffering more than he does?

HAMM
I've made you suffer too much.
(Pause.)
Haven't I?
CLOV
It's not that
HAMM(shocked)
I haven't made you suffer too much?
CLOV
Yes!
HAMM(relieved)
Ah you gave me a fright! (1.46-50)

Why is Hamm concerned about how much he has made Clov suffer? What might be the reason that Clov wants to leave Hamm if it is not that he has made him suffer? Does Hamm seem to think that suffering is somehow ennobling?

NAGG
Are you crying again?
NELL
I was trying. (1.210-211)

How does this moment foreshadow Nell's death? Consider the moment later in the play when Nagg stops crying after Nell's death. Is this a lack of compassion or a sign that he too will die before too long?

HAMM
Something dripping in my head, ever since the fontanelles.
(Stifled hilarity of Nagg.)
Splash, splash, always on the same spot.
(Pause.)
Perhaps it's a little vein.
(Pause.)
A little artery.

What does this thing dripping in Hamm's head have to do with his suffering? Might it be his inability to stop thinking? When one is in situations of extreme pain, how is the inability to cease thinking a form of torment?

NAGG
Whom did you call when you were a tiny boy, and were frightened, in the dark? Your mother? No. Me. We let you cry. Then we moved you out of earshot, so that we might sleep in peace.
(Pause.)
I was asleep, as happy as a king, and you woke me up to have me listen to you. It wasn't indispensable, you didn't really need to have me listen to you. (1.561)

How can you explain Nagg and Nell's cruelty to Hamm? In what ways does it account for and justify his current behavior? Did it, in a way, help to prepare him for a life of suffering?

HAMM(letting go his toque)
What's he doing?
(Clov raises lid of Nagg's bin, stoops, looks into it. Pause.)
CLOV
He's crying.
(He closes the lid, straightens up.
HAMM
Then he's living. (1.629-630)

What do you make of the fact that Hamm measures life by one's ability to cry? How is the ability to suffer linked with the ability to live? Contrast this with the fact Nell was incapable of crying shortly before he died.

HAMM
Did you ever have an instant of happiness?
CLOV
Not to my knowledge. (1.630-631)

Is unhappiness the same as suffering? Do we think that Clov is being honest or simply extrapolating from the present back into the past? Can present experience change whether or not you were happy in the past?

HAMM
Is it not time for my painkiller?
CLOV
Yes.
HAMM
Ah! At last! Give it to me! Quick!
(Pause.)
CLOV
There's no more pain-killer.
(Pause.)
HAMM (appalled)
Good…!
(Pause.)
No more pain-killers!
CLOV
No more pain-killer. You'll never get any more pain-killer. (1.698-703)

Why didn't Clov tell Hamm this earlier? Though Hamm is proud of his suffering, how is Clov responsible for it? In what ways is Clov also a tyrant? How can Hamm ask for painkiller when he thinks that his suffering is so exalted?

CLOV(as before)
I say to myself—sometimes, Clov, you must learn to suffer better than that if you want them to weary of punishing you—one day. I say to myself—sometimes, Clov, you must be there better than that if you want them to let you go—one day. But I feel too old, and too far, to form new habits. Good, it'll never end, I'll never go. (1.794)

Who is the "they" that Clov is speaking of? Why does he think that he must "suffer better" in order to be set free? Is the fact that he speaks in generalities another sign of his inability to come to terms with his immediate situation?

HAMM
You don't want to abandon him? You want him to bloom while you are withering? Be there to solace your last million last moments?
(Pause.)
He doesn't realize, all he knows is hunger, and cold, and death to crown it all. But you! You ought to know what the earth is like, nowadays. Oh I put him before his responsibilities! (1.799)

If existence is suffering then is bringing a child into the world an act of tyranny? What does Hamm suggest the father knows that his young son would not? Why might Clov's father still have brought him to Hamm? Would it have been better if he did not?