Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Theatre of the Absurd
Beckett was one of the lynchpins behind the French theatrical movement called the Theatre of the Absurd. The Absurdists took a page from Existentialist philosophy, believing that life was absurd, beyond human rationality, meaningless, a sentiment to which Endgame subscribes, with its conception of circularity and non-meaning. Beckett's own brand of Absurdism melds tragedy and comedy in new ways; Winnie gives a good definition of his tragicomedy when she says, "Nothing is funnier than unhappiness" (Beckett believes this was the most important line of the play). Self-conscious form in the theater was another feature of Absurdism, and there's no shortage in Endgame, from Clov's turning the telescope on the audience to Hamm's showy references to his own acting. But Beckett's self-consciousness is not merely for laughs. Just as the characters cannot escape the room or themselves, trapped in self-conscious cages, neither can the audience escape their lives for a night of theatrical diversion.
The "endgame" of chess is the series of moves at the end of the game, one whose outcome is usually decided before the formality of the endgame occurs. Beckett was a chess player and, in Endgame, parallels the chess conceit to the endgame of life, in which death is the inevitable outcome. The characters—or players—enact repetitive rituals that are part of their endgame. Like a losing player who strains through the final moves even though his demise is imminent, the characters make routines out of their lives and do whatever it takes to get through one more day, even though the game has lost whatever appeal it may have once had. Beckett constructs the chess motif with movements on stage. Hamm, who sometimes utters the cryptic line, "Me to play," is the King, the most powerful and yet the most vulnerable piece on the board. His movement is restricted, and he relies on Clov for protection in the center. Clov might be...