AN IMPORTANT NEWLY-DISCOVERED TYPESCRIPT VERSION OF THE PLAY MANY CRITICS CONSIDER TO BE BECKETT'S MASTERPIECE.
Fin de partie (or, as it became in the translated English version, Endgame) was Beckett's second published play and is now considered by many critics, including Harold Bloom, to be the author's masterpiece, superior even to Godot: ``[Beckett]'s masterpiece is undoubtedly Endgame'' (Bloom, The Western Canon).
Beckett himself, many years after its composition, admitted his preference for it and in rehearsal discussions with Roger Blin and Jean Martin he pointed to the link with Godot: ``You must realise that Hamm and Clov are Didi [Vladimir] and Gogo [Estragon] at a later date, at the end of their lives''. He went on to add ``actually they are Suzanne [Deschevaux-Dumesnil, Beckett's companion] and me''. In an interview in 1973 Beckett's favourite actor Jack MacGowran, who played Clov in the English production (and who had been a memorable Lucky in Godot) stated that the seeds of the play came from Lucky's speech ``in the great deeps, the great cold on sea, on land, and in the air'' referring to ``the return of the world to its former state of a ball of fire, or the glacial age which will get rid of the population, and perhaps, by sheer luck, two people will remain...''.
Central to the play is the idea of the chess game. During the 1967 production Beckett told the actor playing Hamm ``Hamm is a king in the chess game lost from the start. From the start he knows he is making loud senseless moves...He is only trying to delay the inevitable end. Each of his gestures is one of the last useless moves which puts off the end. He's a bad player...'', and he emphasised the link with chess to friends who had mistakenly translated Fin de partie as `End of the Game': ``no'' he stated, ``it is Endgame, as in chess'' (see Deirdre Bair, Beckett).
Beckett was struggling with the play which was to become Fin de partie in late 1955 and early 1956. He began work on it in December 1955, and before long had got the gist of a first act. By April 1956 he described the play, then in two acts, to Alan Schneider (in terms reminiscent of Hamm's dog) as ``a three-legged giraffe...it leaves me in doubt whether to take a leg off or add one on''. In June 1956 it was reduced to one act, and rehearsals began in October, the text finally being published in January 1957. He described it as ``rather difficult and elliptical, mostly depending on the power of the text to claw, more inhuman than Godot''. The four characters are referred to variously as A (or Guillaume), B (or James), P (Pépé or Walther) and M (or Mémé), who only at a much later stage become respectively Hamm, Clov, Nagg and Nell.
The known versions of Fin de partie are recorded by S.E. Gontarski in chapter three of The Intent of Undoing in Samuel Beckett's Dramatic Texts (Bloomington, 1985). The precise dating of each version during the course of 1956 is difficult, but Gontarski is able to establish a fairly certain order of composition. Ohio State University Library has the most important holdings, with two autograph manuscripts and three typescripts. The second of these manuscripts is the `Sotheby's notebook', previously offered at Sotheby's in 1973 and 1985. This is the complete text and the latest manuscript version known to survive, and in it Beckett reduces the play from a two-act to a one-act structure. The first and earlier manuscript is of Act I only, and appears to be the other half of the manuscript held by Trinity College Dublin (Act II only). Of the Ohio typescripts the first two (TS 1, 67 leaves, and TS2, a much condensed version, 36 leaves) contain the play in its original two-act form; the th