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About Me:18-year-old sixth form student, studying English Literature, History and Government and Politics. My articles will broadly cover topics from the current affairs of politics to reviews of books and albums, as well as adding my own creative pieces, whether it be short fiction or general opinion.
It has been well documented that Samuel Beckett had a keen interest in chess. According to Ackerley and Gontarski he ‘built up a collection of chess books and studied the chess column in Le Monde.' However, it is clear that this was not an isolated interest of Beckett’s but something that is diffused throughout his work. This is most obviously shown in his novel Murphy, where he describes the entirety of a chess game – but it is in Endgame where the form and rules governing chess inform both the aesthetic and the structure of the play. As Derek Alsop notes, chess is a ‘closed, perfect, abstract system that is theoretically finite but practically inexhaustible,’ and that the ‘endgame is… the longest phase in chess: sometimes interminably so.’ This article will illustrate how the inexhaustibility of a game of chess finds its correlation in Endgame with regards to how Beckett refuses to allow a satisfactory overarching meaning within his play, and how this translates to constructing the audience/stage dynamic as one of two players exchanging moves. Firstly, it will highlight the wealth of connotative potential within the play which teases towards meaning but nevertheless results in ambiguity or nonsense. Secondly, focus will be directed at Beckett’s use of staging and how its sparsity creates a chess-like aesthetic, as well as allowing for a projected meaning from the audience.
Perhaps the most salient way of playing chess is to move pre-emptively; to anticipate your opponent’s next move before you make yours. This anticipatory means of playing is reflected in the dynamic between the play and the audience within Endgame. As Fletcher and Spurling highlight, ‘the events on the stage and the interpretation given them by those on the stage are subject at every moment to re-interpretation by the audience, so that the performance advances by a continuous series of readjustments.’ The initial ‘move’, as it were, from Beckett is the latent connotative potential within the names he gives his characters. Hamm calls to mind Noah’s son, a ‘ham-actor’, as well as Shakespeare’s Hamlet. This has been picked up by numerous critics, but, as Stanley Cavell points out, ‘no interpretation… details the textual evidence for these relations or shows how the play’s meaning opens with them,’ and it is because their connotative potential is rendered anomalous to, or eventually frustrated by, the following action within the play.
Image Credits: chessity.com