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Tragedy and Silence in Beckett's Endgame and Bond's Lear

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  • Essay length: 3421 words
  • Submitted: 20/06/2006
University Degree King Lear

An extract from this essay...

Tragedy and Silence in Beckett's Endgame and Bond's Lear

Neither Samuel Beckett's Endgame nor Edward Bond's Lear are described by their authors as tragedies, and it seems unlikely that Aristotle would recognise them as such. Nevertheless, both writers draw self-consciously on elements of classical tragedy - though with different aesthetic and moral intentions, and with strikingly different results. In this essay, I will discuss the ways in which Beckett and Bond have adapted the model of classical tragedy, as outlined by Aristotle, to reinvent the genre for the modern era. At the same time, I want to explore the theme of silence. This is a key idea in both plays, but it is interpreted very differently by the two writers in their diverse tragic schemes.

Thanks in no small part to Beckett and Bond, tragicomedy has been the dominant theatrical genre of the last half-century - so much so that it has become an almost meaningless catch-all term to describe any play which combines sad and funny elements. However, both Lear and Endgame can properly be described as tragicomedies, as recent productions make clear. A review of the revival of Lear at the Sheffield Crucible states: 'If Shakespeare's Lear blurred the line between high tragedy and black comedy then Edward Bond removes that line completely' (Highfield, 2005). Meanwhile, the programme notes for the Oslo Shakespeare Company's Endgame advise: 'The danger any production of Beckett faces is trying to steer the correct course between the Scylla of taking him too seriously and the Charybdis of not taking him seriously enough' (Oslo Shakespeare Company, 2004).

This ambiguity is succinctly summed up by Nell in Endgame: 'Nothing is funnier than unhappiness' (p.101). In fact, the characters in Endgame comment on the farcical nature of their unhappy existence: 'Why this farce, day after day?' asks Nell (p.99) after the pitiful pantomime of her and Nagg's attempt to kiss, and her words are echoed a few minutes later by Clov (p.107). To underline the point, Beckett introduces many moments of farcical action (which are much more apparent in a stage production than on the page). Clov's attempts to kill a flea by pouring insecticide powder down his trousers (p.108) are

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