The Purgatory of
Life Before Death
So far my experience with what is called the Theatre of the Absurd has been very limited and not particularly enchanting. Therefore it was daring of me to pick of all things a play by the 1969 winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, Samuel Beckett (1906-1989), for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2015 on Books and Chocolate for which I signed up with my main book blog Edith’s Miscellany. I must admit that reading his famous Endgame from 1957 hasn’t been a mere pleasure for me. As a matter of fact, absurdity not only confuses me as much as ever, but it also annoys me terribly although in general I like the symbolic and thought-provoking.
Quite expectedly, the play left me at a loss at first. Not being a chess player, I didn’t even grasp the title’s reference to the final moves of a game that in fact is already decided. For the rest, the story took a while to sink in and to allow me to see some of its hidden meaning. The scene, as the author meant it to be, is scarce and bleak from beginning to end consisting only of an almost empty room with two windows on the back wall that are so high up that it requires a ladder to look out. In an in-depth analysis of the play I read that it’s an assertion to the human skull, but reading the book it didn’t occur to me although it might be rather obvious when seen on stage. In the room there are two ashbins and, on a chair in its exact centre, sits Hamm as if he were just a piece of furniture, not one of the protagonists. Apart from Hamm only three characters ever appear on stage, namely the other protagonist called Cloy and Hamm’s ancient parents Nagg and Nell “living” each in an ashbin where they sleep and nibble a biscuit occasionally. The world of all four is one without hope nor meaning. All they ever “do” is wait for death to bring them the long yearned for salvation. The play focuses on the relationship of Hamm and Cloy which is one of mutual dependence. Blind and paralysed Hamm clearly represents the thinking and inventive mind that is helpless without the five senses and muscle control of which Cloy is an allegory since he is the one who can perceive the outside world and move about in it. Nonetheless, Cloy depends on Hamm because without his key he has no access to food and is doomed to starve. Nagg and Nell, on the other hand, stand for the memory of the past that many of us tend to treat like rubbish. Their role in the play is secondary, though, because they only appear when Hamm calls for them.
There isn’t much of a real plot in Endgame because the play revolves around the characters whose actions are often repetitive and – absurd. Surely, it’s a play that needs to be read and seen on stage, but I’m not much of a theatre-goer. Writing this review, however, helped me to understand the idea behind the play and to appreciate its complex symbolism. It’s clearly a work of genius… and therefore not easily accessible.
Original post on Lagraziana's Kalliopeion: