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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—(loving gesture, proudly)————at my TROUSERS!

Hamm, characteristically scornful of his parents, orders Clov to close their lids again, and Clov pushes Hamm about the circumference of the room. At the end of his ride, Hamm insists on being “roughly” (by which he clearly means “exactly”) in the center. Then he orders Clov to point a telescope out the window and report on conditions. Clov also turns it on the audience and observes “a multitude . . . in transports . . . of joy.”

Soon Clov suspects a flea on his person, and Hamm urges him to catch it; otherwise “humanity might start from there all over again.” They argue further about Clov’s leaving, which Hamm seems simultaneously to desire and discourage. Hamm orders his “dog”—a toy, three-legged and sexless, Clov’s work—brought to him. Then he demands that Nagg be wakened to hear a story. In it, a man comes to the narrator on Christmas Eve to beg bread for his little boy. Nagg, who admits that he refused to minister to Hamm when he was small and afraid of the dark, does not want to be bothered by Hamm’s stories; he is interested only in sugar plums, now no longer available. After Nagg again retires, Hamm continues with his story. Offered a job as gardener, the man asks if he may have his little boy with him, at which point Hamm stops, for he has gotten no further with his composition.

Hamm has Clov check again on Nagg and Nell; Clov reports, in a matter-of-fact way, that Nell is dead, Nagg alive but crying. Hamm asks to be pushed near a window so he can feel sunlight on his face and hear the waves, but he only thinks that he can feel the sun, and he hears the...

(The entire section is 3,545 words.)