One of the clearest themes in Endgame, that of play, branches into two metaphors. To live is to play a game; it is also to play a role. Hamm’s first words. “Me—to play,” twice echoed later, suggest both. Specifically, the game is chess, “endgame” being the point at which victory for one player or stalemate must occur. As in William Shakespeare’s As You Like It (pr. c. 1599-1600), all the world’s a stage, but Samuel Beckett has contracted the world into a bare room, with only four players remaining for the final act.
A series of exchanges between Hamm and Clov near the curtain show Hamm as both ham actor and Hamlet. “Let’s stop playing!” exclaims Clov; Hamm responds, “Never!” Hamm seems to anticipate Clov’s sighting of the boy during his final inspection of the landscape and mutters, “Not an underplot, I trust.” Clov, about to leave, says, “This is what we call making an exit.” Hamm accepts Clov’s defection: “Since that’s the way we’re playing it . . . let’s play it that way,” and then continues (in the manner of Hamlet’s final “The rest is silence”), “and speak no more about it . . . speak no more.” On occasion, Hamm also suggests Prospero and Clov suggests Caliban the sullen but obedient servant. At one point, Hamm quotes Prospero: “Our revels now are ended.”
Hamm’s final words, however, point to an even more pervasive thematic concern with Christ’s crucifixion. Holding his handkerchief, he concludes: “Old stancher! . . . You . . . remain.” A number of critics have associated...
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