2009 Shimer College production of Endgame
|Written by||Samuel Beckett|
|Date premiered||3 April 1957|
|Place premiered||Royal Court Theatre, London|
Endgame, by Samuel Beckett, is a one-act play with four characters, written in a style associated with the Theatre of the Absurd. It was originally written in French (entitled Fin de partie); as was his custom, Beckett himself translated it into English. The play was first performed in a French-language production at the Royal Court Theatre in London, opening on 3 April 1957. It is commonly considered, along with such works as Waiting for Godot, to be among Beckett's most important works.
- Hamm - unable to stand and blind
- Clov - servant of Hamm; unable to sit.
- Nagg - Hamm's father; has no legs and lives in a dustbin.
- Nell - Hamm's mother; has no legs and lives in a dustbin next to Nagg.
The English title is taken from the last part of a chess game, when there are very few pieces left (the French title applies to games besides chess and Beckett lamented the fact that there was no precise English equivalent); Beckett himself was an avid chess player.
It has also been suggested that Hamm relates to "ham actor" and Ham, son of Noah, while Clov is a truncated version of "clown," as well as suggesting cloven hoof (of the devil) and glove (a distant echo of hand and glove, perhaps). Nagg suggests nagging and the German nagen (to gnaw), while Nell recalls Dickens' Little Nell. Equally Hamm could be short for Hammer and Clov be "clove", hammer and nail representing one aspect of their relationship. In this light, Nagg and Nell, taken together, may suggest the German Nagel (nail) or Nell being a reference to the death knell to signify her death; vague references in the text to Hamm's neighbour, Mother Pegg, are also relevant. In the Paris Review article "Exorcising Beckett", Lawrence Shainberg claims that according to Beckett the characters' names signify the following: Hamm for Hammer, Clov for clou (the French for nail), Nagg for nagel (the German for nail), and Nell because of its resemblance to the death knell of the deceased.
The main character, Hamm, behaves badly, in a manner seemingly guaranteed to ensure that no audience member would like him or care about what happened to him. He succeeds. At the end, he is alone in an apparently depopulated world, his parents Nell and Nagg dead on stage in their garbage bins, and abandoned by his long-suffering servant, Clov. He is doomed to starve to death. He had shown no emotion when Nell died and Nagg, in mourning, cried before dying, presumably of a broken heart.
The play was premiered on 3 April 1957 at the Royal Court Theatre, London, directed by Roger Blin, who also played Hamm; Jean Martin was Clov, Georges Adet was Nagg and Christine Tsingos was Nell. In the early 1960s, an English language production produced by Philippe Staib and, directed by Beckett himself with Patrick MacGee and Jack MacGowran was staged at the Studio des Champs-Elysees, Paris. Other early productions were those at the Cherry Lane Theatre, New York, 28 January 1958, directed by Alan Schneider with Lester Rawlins as Hamm and Alvin Epstein together with Gerald Hiken playing Clov; and at the Royal Court directed by George Devine who also played Hamm, with Jack MacGowran as Clov.
After the Paris production, Beckett himself directed two other productions of the play: at the Schiller Theater Werkstatt, Berlin, 26 September 1967, with Ernst Schröder as Hamm and Horst Bollmann as Clov; and at the Riverside Studios, London, May 1980 with Rick Cluchey as Hamm and Bud Thorpe as Clov.
In 1984, JoAnne Akalaitis directed the play at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The production featured music from Philip Glass and was set in a derelict subway tunnel. Grove Press, the owner of Beckett's work, took legal action against the theatre. The issue was settled out of court through the agreement of an insert into the program, part of which was written by Beckett himself:
Any production of Endgame which ignores my stage directions is completely unacceptable to me. My play requires an empty room and two small windows. The American Repertory Theater production which dismisses my directions is a complete parody of the play as conceived by me. Anybody who cares for the work couldn't fail to be disgusted by this.
In 2005, Tony Roberts starred as Hamm in a revival directed by Charlotte Moore at the Irish Repertory Theater in New York City with Alvin Epstein as Nagg, Adam Heller as Clov and Kathryn Grody as Nell.
In 2008 there was a brief revival staged at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that starred John Turturro as Hamm, Max Casella as Clov, Alvin Epstein as Nagg and Elaine Stritch as Nell. Though originally planned to be directed by Sam Mendes, this did not come to fruition and Andrei Belgrader was instead hired.
The British theatre company Complicite staged the play in London's West End with Mark Rylance as Hamm and Simon McBurney (who also directed the production) as Clov. The production also featured Tom Hickey as Nagg and Miriam Margolyes as Nell. The production opened on 2 October 2009 at the Duchess Theatre. Tim Hatley designed the set.
In 2015, two of Australia's major state theatre companies will stage the play. For Sydney Theatre Company, Andrew Upton will direct the production, featuring Hugo Weaving as Hamm  and for Melbourne Theatre Company, Colin Friels will star in a production directed by Sam Strong and designed by visual artist Callum Morton. 
- See Theodor Adorno's "Trying to Understand Endgame."
- Etymologically nail
- Shainburg, Lawrence. "Exorcising Beckett." The Paris Review: Playwrights at Work. New York: Modern Library, 2000. Pp. 50-86
- Gontarski, S.E. (1992), The Theatrical Notebooks of Samuel Beckett, Volume II: Endgame, London: Faber and Faber, pp. xxvii–xxviii, ISBN 0-571-14544-2
- 2009 McCarthy pp.102
- Isherwood, Charles (25 February 2005). "A Sugarplum Vision Becomes a Taunting Specter". The New York Times.
- From the programme to the production.
- Adorno, Theodor W. 1961. "Trying to Understand Endgame." The New German Critique 26 (Spring-Summer 1982): 119-150. Rpt. in The Adorno Reader. Ed. Brian O'Connor. London: Blackwell, 2000. 319-352. ISBN 0-631-21077-6.
- Cavell, Stanley. "Ending the Waiting Game: A Reading of Beckett's Endgame." Must we mean what we say? Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969. 115-162.
- Cohn, Ruby. 1973. Back to Beckett. Princeton: Princeton UP. ISBN 0-691-06256-0.
- McCarthy, Sean. 2009. "Giving Sam a Second Life: Beckett's Plays in the Age of Convergent Media." Texas Studies in Literature and Language.