The Farce of the Absurd, The Play of the Surfaces: Beckett's Endgame

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  1. How does Endgame represent an expression of the theatre of the absurd?
  2. What does Beckett accomplish through the repetition of the language of "the end"?
  3. How does the play imploy parody of Christian language?
  4. Is it more productive to view Beckett as a modernist or post-modernist?
  5. How should the comedy of Endgame be evaluated?

I. Theatre of the Absurd (Definitions)

absurd: "a term applied to the sense that human beings, cut off from their roots, live in meaningless isolation in an alien universe.  Based on a form of existentialism that views human beings as moving from the nothingness from which they came to the nothingness in which they will end through an existence marked by anguish and absurdity.  They live in a world in which there is no way to establish a significant relationship between themselves and their environment"

theater of the absurd: A kind of drama that presents a view of the absurdity of the human condition by the abandoning of usual or rational devices and by the use of nonrealisitic form.  Conceived in perplexity and spiritual anguish, the theatre of the absurd portrays not a series of connected incidents telling a story but a pattern of images presenting people as bewildered beings in an incomprehensible universe."

"black" humor: the use of the morbid and the absurd for darkly comic purposes in modern literature.  The term refers as much to the tone of anger and bitterness as it does to the grotesque and morbid situations, which often deal with suffering, anxiety, and death."

[All the above are taken from Harmon and Holman, A Handbook to Literature 7th ed.]

II. The Language of the End/Finish

Click here to look at the passages from Beckett's play dealing with "the end" or "the finish".  What is the effect of reading these?  What do they suggest about Beckett's use of repetition and despair?

III. The Parody of Christian Language

Click here to look at some of the passages from Beckett's play that are parodies of Christian language.  Along with these one should consider the language of "It is finished" and 'the end" from above, the general profane references to God and Christ muttered by the characters, the meaning of Hamm as a biblical name, the general use of light and darkness, and the purpose of the small boy that Clov sees and who enables him to leave Hamm.

IV. Modernist or Post-modernist?

The (dis)connection between modernism and post-modernism can also be seen not as two discrete movements, but as two poles of an experience.  Where on the continuum is Beckett's Endgame most productively placed?



romanticism/ symbolism surrealism/ dadaism
form/ function anti-form/ disjunction
purpose play
design chance
hierarchy anarchy
mastery/ logos exhaustion/ silence
art object/ finished process/ happening
creation deconstruction
presence absence
centering dispersal
root/depth surface/ rhizome
interpretation (mis)reading
grand narrative/universal local history only
erotic androgynous
origin and cause indeterminacy


V. Evaluating Beckett's Comedy

What models of comedy, humor, and dramatic performance that we have studied this semester best help explain the effect and results of Beckett's play?  Consider the following:

Harris' view of realism and performance
Langer's view of difficulties and the rhythm of "felt life"
Morreall's claims for the ethics of comedy
Niebuhr's view of laughter and bitterness
Roberts' stress on disassociation and incongruity
Wood's argument that comedy can give way to nihilism
Vos' schema of Victim, Victor, Victim-Victor

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding