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Susan’s Formal Post on Samuel Beckett’s Endgame

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HAMM: “It was a glorious bright day, I remember, fifty by the heliometer, but already the sun was sinking down into the… down among the dead.

(Normal voice.)

Nicely put, that.

(Narrative tone.)

Come on now, come on, present your petition and let me resume my labors.

(Pause. Normal tone.)

There’s English for you. Ah well…”

This quotation from Samuel Beckett’s play Endgame is part of one of the stories that is told by Hamm, a blind man confined to an armchair with wheels.   Although he is not a very optimistic character, Hamm takes delight in telling stories.  He uses different voices for different characters and interrupts his own story to compliment and/or comment on his storytelling techniques.  In this quotation, Hamm is complimenting himself for his choice of language as he tells the story.  This is indicated by the directions in parentheses that let the reader (or actor) know when Hamm is narrating the story and when he is speaking in his “normal voice”.

I found this instance to be an example that supports Ato Quayson’s idea that in Beckett’s work “the comedic disposition of his disabled characters is used to deflect attention from the pain and anguish that are involved in carrying physical impairments” (35).  In the above quotation, Beckett gives his disabled character, Hamm, a chance to draw the audience away from focusing solely on his disabilities.  Instead, we see Hamm as a man who impresses himself with his storytelling abilities.

Quayson contrasts Beckett’s use of deflection with works in which “disability takes on a pantomime character and is meant to generate laughter” (35).  He says that this occurs in comedies and gives the example of a man with failing hearing who “is given to hilarious malapropisms” (35).  Although, Endgame is not exactly a comedy, I found there to be at least one instance where Hamm’s blindness is poked fun of, possibly to the point of provoking laughter.  This occurs when Hamm demands Clov to bring him his dog and then wants to know if it can stand.  The stage directions let us know that the dog only has three legs and that “Clov holds up the dog in a standing position” so Hamm, who is blind, can reach down and touch it when it is “standing”.  The stage directions also tell us that Hamm “proudly” asks if the dog is looking at him “as if he were asking me to take him for a walk”.  Hamm firmly requests the dog to be left where it is and of course, as soon as Clov lets go of it, “the dog falls on its side”.  This is an instance where Beckett does not try to deflect attention away from a Hamm’s lack of sight.  Instead, he does the opposite.

Although Beckett does deflect attention from Hamm’s disability, I believe that, in Endgame, he also purposefully draws attention to a character’s disability in a mocking, negative way.  However, I also believe that if Beckett were to stick completely with one method it would make for a less interesting and less complex play.

Here are youtube videos of the two instances I refer to:  the quote I chose is at 2:29 in the first video and the 3-legged dog is right at the beginning of the second video (although in this version Clov doesn’t actually hold the dog up on the floor like the stage directions say to).

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/R0rbFlQr4AA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/mLiq51_n9OE" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Written by Susan

October 3rd, 2010 at 8:27 pm