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Agnieszka Tworek (Yale University)
Behind Endgame’s Cell Gate: Beckett and Prison

In the Francophone theater of the second half of the twentieth century, which welcomed prison as one of its newly privileged topoï, Beckett’s Endgame figures as one of the first plays which brutally visualizes the carceral universe. Beckett stands in contrast to Genet, Gatti or Arrabal, whose works, haunted by an investigation of cell blocks, unearth the horror of incarcerated people, the misery of captivity, and the dreadful institution of prisons before the public eye. Beckett’s Endgame, rather, suggests jail in a very troubling, if more subtle, way. Analyzing the spatial framework of this play and the distressing interactions between its heroes who are kept under mutual surveillance, this paper will show how, without naming it explicitly, Endgame, from the beginning to the very end, evokes prison architecture, its cruelty, and its daily routine.

Endgame’s quartet of characters vegetate in a non-domesticated, outlying environment, and instead of possessing their living space, they are possessed by it. The relationship between characters is much weaker than the interaction between each hero and his or her surrounding space. Like a prison space, this bare interior that shelters them exercises power over its inhabitants, and as in prison existence almost everything in this play is centered around the past, with old words repeated, memories recycled, lives recirculated.

The traditional theatrical hic et nunc must continuously compete with the “there and then” which invade the existence of Hamm, Clov, Nagg, and Nell, whose blurred identities oscillate between that of a victim and that of a torturer. The atmosphere of imprisonment is not only rendered through the extensive stage directions but also verbalized on a linguistic level in the lines uttered by characters themselves.

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