Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Notes For April 3rd, 2018

This Day In Literary History

On April 3rd, 1957, Endgame, the classic play by the legendary Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, premiered in London. Although Beckett was an Irishman, he had written Endgame and other works in French.

Beckett had become hugely famous for his classic avant garde play Waiting For Godot, which had been written four years earlier, in 1953. Endgame would prove to be just as avant garde, if not more so.

Endgame is a four-character play. The cast includes Hamm, a blind man who is unable to stand. His servant, Clov, is unable to sit. Nagg and Nell are Hamm's parents. They have no legs and live in adjacent garbage cans.

All four characters live by the sea, but the dialogue implies that there is actually no sea at all - or clouds or sun, for that matter. Hamm and Clov, trapped in a mutually dependent relationship, bicker endlessly.

Clov always wants to leave, but for some reason, is unable to. Meanwhile, Hamm's legless parents Nagg and Nell spend their time asking for food and getting into inane arguments. The dialogue suggests that the characters had a past, but have no future.

A major theme of the play is the hell of repetition - how humans keep repeating their mistakes and bad habits, never learning from the past to create a better future, and instead becoming devoted to pointless traditions and rituals.

When Samuel Beckett's play Waiting For Godot premiered in Paris, it created an international sensation. But Endgame was so avant garde that no company in France was willing to take a chance on producing it.

The Royal Court Theatre in London contacted Beckett with an offer to produce Endgame, and he agreed to travel to England. However, he was very skeptical about the Theatre company's abilities after they'd botched the premiere of Waiting For Godot.

To assure that Endgame would be produced properly, Beckett made sure to include precise stage and acting directions in his script:

HAMM     What's happening?

CLOV      Something is taking its course. (Pause)

HAMM     Clov!

CLOV      (Impatiently) What is it?

HAMM     We're not beginning to... to... mean something?

CLOV      Mean something! You and I, mean something! 
(Brief laugh)
Ah, that's a good one!

HAMM      I wonder.
Imagine if a rational being came back to earth, wouldn't he be liable to get ideas into his head if he observed us long enough.
(Voice of rational being)
Ah, good, now I see what it is, yes, now I understand what they're at!
(Clov starts, drops the telescope and begins to scratch his belly with both hands)
(Normal voice)
And without going so far as that, we ourselves...
(with emotion)
... we ourselves... at certain moments...
To think perhaps it won't all have been for nothing!

CLOV     (anguished, scratching himself) I have a flea!...

Working with the Theatre's producer and director was once again agony for Beckett. The reviews for the French language production of Endgame weren't good. Still, the playwright agreed to come to London again in eighteen months for the English language premiere of Endgame.

The English language premiere's reviews weren't any better. Critic Kenneth Tynan's famous bad review of Endgame took the form of a parody of the play:

Foreground figure a blind and lordly cripple with superficial mannerisms... Sawn-off parents in bins, stage right, and shuffling servant all over the stage...

Slamm        Is that all the review he's getting?
Seck          That's all the play he's written.
Slamm       But a genius. Could you do as much?
Seck          Not as much. But as little.

Despite the inability of critics to understand Endgame, it would go on to become one of Samuel Beckett's most celebrated plays and is still staged to this day.

Quote Of The Day

"Art has nothing to do with clarity, does not dabble in the clear, and does not make clear." - Samuel Beckett

Vanguard Video

Today's video features a complete performance of Samuel Beckett's classic play Endgame, starring Michael Gambon and David Thewlis. Enjoy!

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