Endgame Critical Overview
by Samuel Beckett

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Critical Overview

(Drama for Students)

When Endgame opened in 1957, Beckett described the event as ‘‘rather grim, like playing to mahogany, or rather teak.’’ Indeed, most critics found the play bewildering or they disliked it. Kenneth Tynan in the Observer said that Beckett’s new play made it ‘‘clear that his purpose is neither to move nor to help us. For him, man is a pygmy who connives at his own inevitable degradation.’’ Marc Bernard in Nouvelles litteraires said that he constantly had the impression that he was listening to a medieval fantasy or comic poem in which allegorical characters, fake scholasticism, and Aristotelian reasoning were made into a mixture in which metaphysics suddenly took on a farcical tone. He considered Hamm ‘‘the intellectual, paralysed, blind as talkative as a fourteenth century doctor. He is waited upon by the Common Man, half way between man and beast’’ who ‘‘has been given a simian appearance: long, dangling arms, curved spine. The intellectual’s father and mother are stuffed into two dustbins; from time to time a lid is lifted and one of the parents begins to talk.’’ T. C. Worsley in the Listener said of Waiting for Godot, ‘‘Mr. Beckett’s neurosis and mine were for quite long stretches on the same theme; in Endgame they never tangled. He has, in Endgame, . . . expanded not the public but the private images. He has concentrated not on what is common between his audiences and him but on what is private in himself.’’

When Endgame was produced on Broadway in 1980, directed by Jopseh Chaikin and starring Daniel Setzer as Hamm and Michael Gross as Clov, it had become considered a classic. Mel Gussow, wrote in the New York Times that ‘‘Mr. Chaikin and Mr. Setzer never forget the play’s portent, but neither do they shortchange its mordant humor. The director approaches Endgame as a gem to be played, as a piece to be performed. Mr. Chaikin is an experimental artist who is scrupulous when dealing with classics.’’ He concludes, ‘‘the play is profound. The acting is prodigious.’’