Anca Popescu (University of California- Davis)
Samuel Beckett’s Endgame – An Open Space
The source of my paper is a personal experience with teaching Eugen Ionesco’s The Bold Soprano to undergraduate students and the comparison I subsequently drew between students’ reaction, when faced with an absurd play -“absurd” as in Martin Esslin’s coined syntagm, “the theater of the absurd”- and the welcome that another absurd play, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, enjoyed from prisoners of San Quentin Penitentiary. What is it that makes students’ experience of absurd theater different from prisoners’? How can one resolve the paradox that Beckett’s plays have been considered elitist by literary critics, yet Waiting for Godot was a success with prisoners in a penitentiary? Does the essence of Becket’s play reside in this very paradox? Does the answer to the question of whether or not Becket’s play is modern, reside herein?
Starting from these questions, my paper focuses on the staging in Beckett’s Endgame, which I analyze with a view to arguing that Beckett’s play is modern in the sense of reflecting the archetypal consciousness of humanity, independently of time and space. This quality is characteristic of such works as Shakespeare’s and accounts for their persistence. It is my claim that Beckett’s putting forth the universal, archetypal, human consciousness is achieved, primarily, through a process of shifting of the focus from the characters and their discourse to the spectators. Thus, Beckett’s play outlasts all theories or trends.
A detailed analyses of the staging in Endgame, leads me to assert that Beckett’s play encompasses three spatial dimensions: the stage, the outside world and the world of the spectators. The stage is similar to a cell; it stays, in a holistic view, for the whole, outside universe and its walls are permeable, that is, subject to a flow of entrances and exists, both literal -as suggested by the staging and by Clov’s trajectory throughout the play and figurative -as suggested by the use of intertextuality and of varied linguistic means. Unlike, for example, Sartre’s No Exit, Beckett’s play does not present the spectators with a confined space, as most critics have asserted, but with a flexible, all comprehensive one. Due to this quality, both the outside world and that of the spectators are summoned upon the stage and merged. The result is a shift of focus from characters and their discourse to spectators. Hence, with Beckett, modernity resides in the focus on, what one could call -from a structuralist point of view- a signifier whose signified -the spectators- keeps changing.
This study leads me to conclude that Beckett’s Endgame displays a reflexive quality which grants it everlasting modernity. It outlasts the modern, post-modern and post-colonial theories. The modernity of the play lies in the spectators’ perceiving the content and focus of the play as being precisely themselves, in their most dignified aspect -their archetypal human consciousness.