Tragedy and Silence in Beckett’s Endgame and

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Barney Jeffries

Calamity and Silence in Beckett’sEndgameand Bond’sLear

Neither Samuel Beckett’sEndgamenor Edward Bond’sLearare described by their writers as calamities, and it seems improbable that Aristotle would recognize them as such. Nevertheless, both authors draw self-consciously on elements of classical calamity – though with different aesthetic and moral purposes, and with strikingly different consequences. In this essay, I will discourse the ways in which Beckett and Bond have adapted the theoretical account of classical calamity, as outlined by Aristotle, to reinvent the genre for the modern epoch. At the same clip, I want to research the subject of silence. This is a cardinal thought in both dramas, but it is interpreted really otherwise by the two authors in their diverse tragic strategies.

Thankss in no little portion to Beckett and Bond, tragicomedy has been the dominant theatrical genre of the last half-century – so much so that it has become an about nonmeaningful catch-all term to depict any drama which combines sad and amusing elements. However, bothLearandEndgamecan decently be described as tragicomedies, as recent productions make clear. A reappraisal of the resurgence ofLearat the Sheffield Crucible provinces: ‘If Shakespeare’s Lear blurred the line between high calamity and black comedy so Edward Bond removes that line completely’ ( Highfield, 2005 ) . Meanwhile, the programme notes for the Oslo Shakespeare Company’sEndgameadvise: ‘The danger any production of Beckett faces is seeking to maneuver the right class between the Scylla of taking him excessively earnestly and the Charybdis of non taking him earnestly enough’ ( Oslo Shakespeare Company, 2004 ) .

This ambiguity is compactly summed up by Nell inEndgame: ‘Nothing is funnier than unhappiness’ ( p.101 ) . In fact, the characters inEndgameremark on the ludicrous nature of their unhappy being: ‘Why this travesty, twenty-four hours after twenty-four hours? ’ asks Nell ( p.99 ) after the pathetic dumb show of her and Nagg’s effort to snog, and her words are echoed a few proceedingss subsequently by Clov ( p.107 ) . To underscore the point, Beckett introduces many minutes of ludicrous action ( which are much more evident in a phase production than on the page ) . Clov’s attempts to kill a flea by pouring insecticide pulverization down his pants ( p.108 ) is a peculiarly elated illustration.

For Aristotle, this would be the lowest signifier of comedy. Harmonizing to his definitions: ‘Comedy purposes at stand foring work forces as worse…than in existent life’ ( Cooper ed. , 1997 ) . Beckett decidedly does this: it is difficult to conceive of characters depicted in a worse province than Nagg and Nell, human waste confined to a ashcan. Hamm himself is about as grotesque, a ill, blind and unpleasant adult male confined to a wheelchair. Yet he is good cognizant of his function as a tragic hero: ‘Can at that place be misery loftier than mine? ’ he asks in about his first words ( p.93 ) . ‘No uncertainty. Once. But now? ’ The elevated tragic heroes of Aristotle’s age are no more: Beckett makes us see the calamity of adult male in his most debauched province. He subsequently mocks the conventions of classical calamity: ‘Did you ne’er hear an aside? ’ ; ‘I’m warming up for my concluding soliloquy.’ ; ‘More complications! Not an underplot, I trust.’ ( p.130 ) . Such conventions provide a significance and an order which is conspicuously missing in Beckett’s absurd existence.

Hamm’s sightlessness evokes the greatest of classical tragic heroes, Oedipus ( while at the same time making comedy through this apposition ) . This is a quality which Bond’s Lear besides portions. In Shakespeare’s version, it is Gloucester who is blinded. Chemical bond alterations this in order to concentrate the calamity on Lear himself. Lear’s stature as a tragic hero in the classical mold is more straightforward than Hamm’s: he is a male monarch, and the agonies he undergoes are of a magnitude which Aristotle would recognize. Indeed, the character of King Lear is already steadfastly established as a tragic hero from Shakespeare’s version, nevertheless much Bond may go from this.

Bond’s drama depends upon many of the indispensable elements of calamity as outlined by Aristotle: the ‘Reversal of Fortune’ ( at the beginning of the drama Lear is a king telling the edifice of the wall ; at the terminal he is with the provincials seeking to rupture it down ) , ‘Recognition… a alteration from ignorance to knowledge’ ( ‘I knew nil, saw nil, learnt nothing’ ( p.74 ) Lear realises, while his sightlessness, like Oedipus’ , gives him penetration ) , the ‘Scene of Suffering’ ( excessively legion to advert in what remains one of the most violent dramas of all time written ) .

Yet Bond undercuts these tragic minutes every bit explicitly as Beckett does. The greatest ‘Scene of Suffering’ – the blinding of Lear – is besides played as a monstrous piece of comedy. The Fourth Prisoner, with his scientific device for taking human orbs ‘based on a reconnoitering plaything I had as a boy’ ( p.77 ) , recalls the popular literary type of the mad professor, or the quack physician common incommedia del arte.Bond’s method here, nevertheless, is derived non from Beckett but from Bertholt Brecht. It is an disaffection device, designed to forestall our emotional designation with the character and alternatively do us see and measure the state of affairs from a degage position.

The psychotherapeutic emotions of commiseration and fright which, harmonizing to Aristotle, calamity should arouse is antithetical to Bond’s intent. He does non desire us to sympathize with his characters’ enduring on a personal degree ( although, as with Brecht, the power of his composing frequently makes this ineluctable ) but to understand and react to the societal and political constructions which have caused them. Paradoxically, commiseration is the emotion which Lear claims is critical: ‘You take excessively much commiseration out of me, if there’s no commiseration I shall decease of this heartache, ’ ( p.80 ) , ‘Our lives are awkward and delicate and we have merely one thing to maintain us sane: commiseration, and the adult male without commiseration is mad’ ( p.98 ) . ( ‘You merely understand self-pity, ’ Cordelia instantly counters, coercing us to re-evaluate what Lear has merely said. )

Beckett, by contrast, does ask for us to experience tragic commiseration for his characters. ‘Did anyone of all time have commiseration on me? ’ ( p.130 ) , Hamm asks. On one degree, this is asked testily and self-pityingly. Yet it is besides an entreaty to the audience, non to look down on and laugh at him and his agonies, but to place with him as we would with the hero of a classical calamity. After all, Beckett sees Hamm and his fellow characters’ state of affairs as a representation of the kernel of all human being: as Aristotle explains, ‘pity is aroused by unmerited bad luck, fright by the bad luck of a adult male like ourselves’ ( Cooper ed. , 1997 )

However,Endgameoffers none of the solaces which classical calamity provides. For Aristotle, calamity consists of action which must hold a beginning, a center and an terminal. If nil else, hence, the terminal of the drama brings us a sense of alleviation because the characters’ trials are eventually over ( or, in the instance of Bond’s epic theater, because we have learnt something ) . Edward Bond, who is a blatant critic of Beckett, complains: ‘This is non the instance with the theater of the absurd. Here, life has been deprived of significance: there is a beginning and an terminal, but no middle’ ( Bond, 2000 ) . In factEndgame, like much of Beckett’s work, is one long stoping which ne’er rather comes. Its rubric, taken from cheat, describes the concluding phases of a game which are wholly predictable, and hence meaningless.

In this instance, the game continues in an endless deadlock. Beckett denies his characters, and the audience, the comfort of a decision. ‘Have you non had enough? ’ ( p.94 ) , ‘Do you non believe this has gone on long plenty? ’ ( p.114 ) Hamm asks Clov. Each clip Clov instinctively replies ‘Yes! ’ . For Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell, even decease would be preferred to a continuance of their current state of affairs. When Hamm threatens to give him nil more to eat, Clov seems happy with the chance of hungering to decease. Hamm rapidly comes up with a crueller menace: ‘I’ll give you merely plenty to maintain you from dying’ ( p.95 ) . Although Nell appears to be dead by the terminal of the drama, this can non be seen as any kind of closing. Opportunities are they thought she was dead yesterday as good – it would be difficult to state anyhow.

What the characters inEndgamelong for is the ultimate release of calamity: silence. This demand is intensified because the sense of sight has already been taken away – Hamm is blind, while Clov can see nil out of the window, even with the assistance of a telescope. ‘Nearly finished. There’ll be no more speech.’ , says Hamm ( p.116 ) . Clov dreams of ‘A universe where all would be soundless and still’ ( p.120 ) . ‘Speak no more, ’ ( p.133 ) are among Hamm’s last words.

This brings to mind the dreamless slumber wished for by one of literature’s greatest tragic heroes: Hamlet. His celebrated last words, ‘The remainder is silence, ’ are by and large taken to be valedictory. However, there is another side to this: merely before he dies, Hamlet tells Horatio to: ‘absent thee from felicitousness awhile / And in this rough universe draw thy breath in hurting / To state my story’ ( Jenkins ed. , 1982 ) . Silence is non adequate: person must be able to explicate what has happened and why, otherwise nil will be learnt.

This is Edward Bond’s place. For Bond, silence in an instrument of the oppressor. This is seen diagrammatically in the instance of Warrington, who has his lingua cut out, and his custodies broken for good step, to halt him stating the truth. Bodice and Fontanelle order the confined Dukes of Cornwall and North to stay soundless, striping them of any opportunity to support themselves: ‘Be silent! Not one word! There’s nil to explicate. My undercover agents have learnt more about you than you know yourselves’ ( p.61 ) . Cordelia’s ground forces uses the same methods: she has a captive shooting because ‘He’d talk to anyone who caught him’ ( p.58 ) .

As inEndgame, the thought of silence is intensified inLearby the subject of sightlessness. Tellingly, Lear’s foremost reaction to his blinding is an audile 1: ‘Aaahhh! The boom in my head’ ( p.78 ) . ‘You hear really good when you’re blind, ’ remarks the Ghost ( p.96 ) , and Lear agrees. In his sightlessness, Lear learns to hear what his scruples is stating him. Others shut this out, as Lear himself used to. Cordelia complains that, ‘If you listened to everything your scruples told you you’d travel mad’ ( p.97 ) . But at this point of the drama, Lear is saner than he has of all time been. Once once more, the oppressive powers are recommending silence in order to submerge out the truth.

Lear, nevertheless, refuses to ‘live in nice quietness’ ( p.92 ) , as the governments tell him a adult male of his age should. ‘I can’t be silent’ ( p.81 ) , he vows. By Act III, ‘hundreds of people’ come to hear him prophesy the truth. Significantly, the parable we hear him tell trades with the same subject. First, the adult male tries to work the bird’s beautiful singing for his ain personal addition: ‘Now I sing so attractively I shall be rich and famous’ ( p.89 ) . But he finds that the bird can merely moan and shout because he has put it in a coop. Subsequently, when the birds are distributing the truth by singing ‘The king’s a fool’ all over the wood, the male monarch mutilates the first bird ‘as a warning to all the other birds’ ( merely as Lear has the worker killed to put an illustration in the play’s opening scene ) . After this, ‘The forest was soundless. And merely as the bird had the man’s voice the adult male now had the bird’s hurting. He ran round mutely beckoning his caput and stomping his pess, and he was locked up for the remainder of his life in a cage’ ( p.89 ) . Silence is non, as in Beckett, a release from life’s calamity, but a signifier of anguish.

There is non, hence, any katharsis in Lear’s decease. The spectacle of a frail old adult male uselessly choping off at the wall whose building he one time ordered seems every bit ineffectual as anything in Beckett. For Bond, nevertheless, authors like Beckett of the theater of the absurd ‘are trapped in the degeneracy of our clip and have no rational position of the hereafter or of anything else’ ( 1978 ) . Chemical bond sees his theater as first and foremost a theater of reason. This is a quality it portions with ancient Grecian calamity. Chemical bond writes: ‘Greek creative persons wrote about work forces and society every bit objectively as they could: that is, they wrote rationally’ ( 1978, p.x ) . Aristotle himself states that there must be a ‘necessary or likely connection’ between the events of calamity ( Cooper ed. , 1997 ) .

Chemical bond insists that his vision is non pessimistic:

‘It might look to [ the play’s audience ] that the truth is ever land for pessimism when it is discovered, but one shortly comes to see it as an chance. Then you don’t hold to travel on making things that ne’er work in the hope that they might one twenty-four hours – because now you know why theycan’t’ ( 1978, p.11 ) .

This comes from Bond’s foreword toLear, but ironically it could besides function as an reading ofEndgame. Like Vladimir and Estragon inWaiting for Godot, the characters inEndgame‘go on making things that ne’er work in the hope that they might one day’ – a hope which is shown to be a conceited one. However, Beckett does non wholly shut off the chance for alteration: it is possible ( depending on the histrion or the reader’s reading ) to conceive of that, one twenty-four hours, Clov will go forth and Vladimir will halt waiting. Indeed, the text is equivocal plenty to propose that Clov could go forth on this juncture.

Even if this does non go on, it is incorrect to presume that Beckett’s message is a entirely pessimistic 1. His characters may non larn, but we the audience are non obliged to portion their black decisions. We go off from the theater with the cognition that ‘doing things that ne’er work in the hope that they might one day’ is unpointed – the same truth that Bond’sLearTeachs, although presented in a really different manner.

Chemical bond is a didactic author: he wants to explicate how and why things work ( or neglect to work ) . Beckett has no such purposes: he gives us an image of how things are, and leaves us to construe it as we will. In many ways, the two authors appear to be diametrically opposed: we have seen this in the graduated table and construction of their dramas, in the manner they evoke or deny the audience’s emotions and empathy, and particularly in the manner that they treat the thought of silence. The ways in which they have rewritten Aristotle’s tragic rulebook are, as we would anticipate, really different. Yet in pulling upon the expression of classical calamity, both Beckett and Bond have created dramas which remain extremely powerful, seeking and vitally relevant.

Plants Cited

Aristotle, ( 1997 ) , ‘Poetics’ , in: Cooper, D. ( erectile dysfunction ) ,Aestheticss – The Authoritative Readings, Blackwell, Oxford

Beckett, S ( 1986 ) ,The Complete Dramatic Works, Faber and Faber, London

Chemical bond, E ( 1978 ) ,Plaies: Two, Methuen, London

Chemical bond, E ( 2000 ) ,L’Energie du pots, Editions Climats, Paris, cited by Laboutierre, D ( 2000 ) , Programme notes forLear, available hypertext transfer protocol: // ( Accessed: 2005, March 30 )

Highfield, J ( 2005 ) , Review of Bond’sLear,The Phase, available: hypertext transfer protocol: // ( Accessed: 2005, March 30 )

Jenkins, H ( erectile dysfunction ) ( 1982 ) ,The Arden Shakspere: Hamlet, Methuen, London

Oslo Shakespeare Company ( 2004 ) , Programme notes forEndgame, available: hypertext transfer protocol: // ( Accessed: 2005, March 30 )

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