Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

TENSIONS OF THE IN-BETWEEN: Rhythm, Tonelessness and Lyricism in Fin De partie/Endgame

Academic journal article Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

TENSIONS OF THE IN-BETWEEN: Rhythm, Tonelessness and Lyricism in Fin De partie/Endgame

Article excerpt

This paper is a stylistic and genetic analysis of Fin de partie/Endgame envisaged through the paradigm of rhythm, seen as a key to the dramatic tension of the play. While rewriting his play into English, Beckett searched for the "music" he had in mind since the first drafts of the play. If the 'tonelessness' that characterizes Fin de partie impacted upon its rewriting into English, edging the English closer to the French, it is also Beckett's French which is already redolent with specific English rhythms and stress patterns, a fact attested to by an unpublished interview with actor Jean Martin.

"A cantata for two voices"

In this paper, we would like to envisage the issue of rhythm as a key to the dramatic tension in Fin de partie/Endgame. In 1977 Beckett said: "[Fin de partie] will never be the way I hear it. It's a cantata for two voices."1 It is once again a musical lexis that is brought into play by Beckett, in this case to express his dissatisfaction with the English version of his play, which was written relatively quickly:2 "I find [Fin de partie] dreadful in English, all the sharpness gone, and the rhythms" (Letter to Thomas MacGreevy, 3 July 1957; qtd. in Knowlson 1996,438).

If the "two voices" Beckett could hear - but not quite render it would seem - in his play are obviously those of Hamm and Clov, one can also discern in them the two languages in which Beckett wrote. If Beckett's music in Endgame and Fin de partie often appears to be a peculiar mixture of English and French, this is the music of Beckett's idiosyncratic language. This "Beckettien," as Ludovic Janvier liked to call it, abides neither by the strict rules of French conventional style and punctuation, nor by those of English: "Le beckettien" is "ce tiers langage neuf [. . .] qui sert et brise à la fois, l'un par l'autre, l'anglais et le français" ("Beckettian" is "this novel third language [...] which reciprocally serves and shatters both English and French"; Janvier, 47) .3 In fact it seems as though Beckett were seeking to achieve in his play a very specific rhythm, a rhythm without tone yet still full of sharp lyrical outbursts, a rhythm which, as we shall see, relies on this deconstruction of the conventions and trends of the two languages in which he wrote.

A Music between Two Languages

In the mid-fifties, when Beckett was painstakingly working on what was to become Fin départie, his bilingual writing process was already well established. English is already present in Fin de partie in several ways. At the allusive level, its intertext is bilingual: if Hamm's last monologue is inspired by Baudelaire's sonnet "Recueillement," his famous quip "Mon royaume pour un boueux" (38) is overtly Shakespearian. But this mixture of French and English influences is even stronger at the linguistic level. The following stychomythian exchange is redolent with a playful mixture of French and English:

HAMM. - C'est moi qui t'ai servi de père.

CLOV. - Oui. [...] C'est toi qui m'a servi de cela.

HAMM. - Ma maison qui t'a servi de home.

CLOV. - Oui. [. . .] Ceci m'a servi de cela.

HAMM (fièrement). - Sans moi (geste vers soi), pas de père. Sans Hamm (geste circulaire), pas de home.


HAMM: It was I was a father to you.

CLOV: Yes. [. . .] You were that to me.

HAMM: My house a home for you.

CLOV: Yes. [. . .] This was that for me.

HAMM: [Proudly]. But for me [gesture towards himself] no father. But for Hamm [gesture towards surroundings] no home.


Language becomes mechanical in Hamm's speech, one word triggering another: the alliteration in "ma maison" and "Hamm" leads to "home," an English word used in French and meaning a "home or refuge for children." Beckett plays with the ironic allusion to the human condition, thanks to the near homophony "home'V'homme." What also strikes a French ear - especially that of someone used to tracking translation mistakes in undergraduate English to French translations - is the use of the pronouns cela and ceci when referring to a previous phrase or sentence. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.