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HAMM, CLOY, AND DRAMATIC METHOD IN ENDGAME ONE WAY IN WHICH A PLAY HOLDS THE ATTENTION of an audience for the duration of its performance is by presenting an action which may be formulated as a question: Who killed Laius? How will Hamlet revenge his father? Endgame has a plot at least to the extent that it holds its audience with an uncertainty, one which is continuously reiterated from the stage: Will Clov leave Hamm? At the end, when the final tableau shows Clov standing there, with umbrella, raincoat, and bag, unable to stay and unable to go, the question remains unresolved . Nevertheless, any discussion of Endgame, including one which proposes to consider the play's dramatic method, should begin with this question, or rather with the relationship between Hamm and Clov from which it arises. And since Clov is for the most part a passive victim, a pawn dominated by Hamm's active mastery, it is with Hamm that we should start. In order to get even as far as the play will let us towards understanding why Hamm keeps Clov (assuming that he could in fact let him go), we must try to see what Hamm is like. He is like a king, with Clov as his servant, for he refers to "my house,"l "my service," and even, echoing Shakespeare's Richard III, to "my kingdom." On one occasion he uses the royal plural to Clov, "You can't leave us." In a former time he had real power, or so he claims, when Clov, as he reminds him, "inspected my paupers." Now his realm has shrunk almost to nothing and he is left with Clov, Nagg, and Nell as his courtiers. His relationship with Clov is like that between Pozzo and Lucky in Godot, and its quality is well conveyed by Lionel Abel's suggestion that it is an analogue of the relationship between the young Beckett and the old, blind, Joyce. Hamm treats Nagg and Nell as further objects for gratuitous affiiction-"Bottle him!" Hamm seems to be a tyrant, who lives to enjoy the exercise of his power over others. But it is at this point that the difficulties begin, for to say that Hamm enjoys exercising power is to attribute a familiar form of psychological motivation to him-and it is hard to be sure he has the capacity for this. Together with its many other connotations, Hamm 1 Samuel Beckett, Endgame, A Play in One Act followed by Act without Words, A Mime for One Player, trans. by the author (New York, 1958). 424 1968 Endgame 425 is the name for an actor, for one who creates an identity which has only an imaginary existence. And the tone of what Hamm says is frequently consistent with that of an assumed identity, one deliberately acted out. So he deals with the requests of his servants: CLOY: He wants a sugar-plum. HAMM: He'll get a sugar-plum. Hamm's reply is such a fulsome expression of largesse and arrogant condescension that it seems merely a verbal gesture. Nagg does not get his sugar-plum, but what we might take to be Hamm's intentional malice cannot properly be distinguished from a pretence of highhanded magnificence which is part of the role he plays. Hamm orders Clov to screw down the lids of the ashbins on Nagg and Nell, and then comments on himself, "My anger subsides, I'd like to pee." It is this continuous self-consciousness in Hamm's words and tone of voice which inhibits us from ascribing his cruelty to an impulse beyond the need for rhetorical coherence in the role he plays. Hamm appears to suffer, but with this there is the same doubt as with his cruelty. While introducing himself, Hamm proclaims his agony: Can there be misery-eke yawns)-loftier than mine? No doubt. Formerly. But now? His expression of "loftier misery" is laden with echoes of Oedipus the King and of Christ as presented in Herbert's poem, Th>e Sacrifice, with the famous refrain, "Was ever grief like to mine?" The salt of genuine affliction dissolves among these overtones into a self-conscious rhetoric...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5286
Print ISSN
0026-7694
Pages
pp. 424-433
Launched on MUSE
2013-07-03
Open Access
No
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