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Endgame Theme of Language and Communication

One of the most quoted lines in Endgame is when Clov asks Hamm what there is at Hamm's house
to keep him from leaving. Hamm responds, "The dialogue" (1.582). Dialogue in the play is the way
that the characters keep up their hope, the way that they keep from giving up. Hamm is the one who
most often pushes the language along; at times, he chides Clov for not keeping up with him. The
result of this situation is that the language they use is not quite natural. It is theatrical; the characters
are speaking because they feel that they must speak, not just because they feel like it. They are
performing, not just for us, but for themselves, reminding themselves that they are still alive and
capable of continuing.
Questions About Language and Communication
1. How is the refusal to stop speaking tied in with the character's endurance Hamm's in
2. Where is the tension between dialogue and monologue in the play? Why is it that even the selfcentered Hamm prefers dialogue with Clov to having a long monologue by himself?
3. How is the cruelty between the characters in the play tied to a breakdown in communication
between them?
Chew on This
Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devils advocate.

The reason that the characters treat others so poorly is that their short staccato dialogue
leaves no room for compassion. Their dialogue is not genuine interaction; it is simply
convenient, as a way of keeping themselves alive.

Language has taken on a sensory quality for Hamm, who can't see or move. He is as reliant
on language as most people are on vision, and the reason that he forces Clov to keep
speaking with him is to remind him that there is such a thing as an outside world.


Quote #1
Nature has forgotten us.
There's no more nature.
No more nature! You exaggerate.
In the vicinity. (1.103-106)
Throughout the play, characters slightly exaggerate the horrible nature of their situation. What is it
that makes people given to making such sweeping statements? What do these characters have to
gain from increased accuracy?
Quote #2

"Dreadfully sorry, come back in a fortnight, I've made a balls of the fly." Good, at a pinch, a smart
fly is a stiff proposition.
(Pause. Normal voice.)
I never told it worse.
(Pause. Gloomy.)
I tell this story worse and worse. (1.228)
Why is Nagg so concerned with the manner that he tells the story? What does he have to
gain from telling it well? Does his self-commentary contaminate the joke or make it even
Quote #3
All is what?
What all is? In a word? Is what you want to know? Just a moment.
(He turns the telescope on the without, look, lowers the telescope, turns toward Hamm.)
Well? Content? (1.303-304)
Why would Hamm want him to sum everything all up in a word? Don't they have all the
time in the world? What is gained from a one-word description versus one that goes on and
on? Why might Clov choose the word "corpsed?" What are some other words he might have
Quote #4
Did you get him?
Looks like it.
(He drops the tin and adjust his trousers.)
Unless he's laying doggo.
Laying! Lying you mean. Unless he's lying doggo.
Ah? One says lying? One doesn't say laying?
Use your head, can't you. If he was laying we'd be bitched. (1.355-359)
What is the difference in the word choice here? What particular meaning of "laying" is it
that so concerns Hamm? Does Clov using the wrong word actually effect their situation? Are
there other points where linguistic accuracy is key to their going on?
HW> Find out at least two more quotes on this theme in Endgame, and formulate a reflection or
question for your classmates as in the examples.