The Play

(Comprehensive Guide to Drama)

In the center of a dimly lighted, bare interior, Hamm sits in an armchair, covered by a sheet. Two ashbins, similarly covered, stand at front left. Clov walks stiffly to the back wall and looks at two small windows, high up left and right; then, with the aid of a stepladder, he looks out of both. He removes the sheet from the ashbins, looks into one, and finally uncovers Hamm, laughing briefly after each of these activities.

Hamm, in a dressing gown and apparently asleep, has several objects about his person, the most striking of which is a large, bloodstained handkerchief over his face. He awakes and removes the handkerchief to disclose a red face and dark glasses. It is soon apparent that his is unable either to walk or to see. He and Clov, whose principal duty is attending to Hamm’s needs, engage in short, clipped dialogue about the weather, their health, food, and the possibility of Clov’s leaving Hamm’s service. At one point Hamm asks, “Why don’t you kill me?” The response is, “I don’t know the combination of the cupboard.” Shortly thereafter Hamm observes laconically, “Outside of here it’s death.”

Soon the lid of one of the ashbins stirs and reveals, under a nightcap, the head of Hamm’s father Nagg, who demands “pap,” is given a biscuit, and then is pushed back beneath his lid. Clov and Hamm dispute inconclusively about the possibility of nature’s having forgotten them. Clov has planted some seeds but doubts that they will germinate. Nagg’s head reappears; he wakes his wife in the next bin, and they try to kiss, but their heads will not quite reach each other. Their conversation oscillates between reminiscences and the needs of the moment, such as the state of the sand in the bottom of their bins.

Nagg laughs at the muttering of Hamm but is shocked when the disapproving Nell nevertheless concedes that unhappiness is amusing. Nagg insists on telling an elaborate joke about a tailor, a story that for her has paled from repetition. It concerns a customer’s irritation at the tailor’s inability to finish a pair of trousers for him in less than three months. After the customer points out that God made the whole world in six days, the tailor responds:

But my dear Sir, my dear Sir, look—(disdainful gesture, disgustedly)—-at the world-—(pause)and look—

(The entire section is 1038 words.)