Noah, Not I, and Beckett's "Incomprehensibly Sublime"


In lieu of an abstract, the first paragraph of the essay follows:

No matter how abstract and reduced they become, Beckett's earlier works for the stage retain an unmistakable context of symbolism and poetic suggestion.1 In the flood of criticism swiftly engulfing Endgame, for example, one of the few non-negotiable interpretations would see the play as in one way or another alluding to the flood itself. And not just to one of your ordinary run-of-the-mill, Mill-on-the-Floss floods. A cast of characters sporting the name of Noah's son Ham is not likely to be metamorphosed from Ovid's Deucalion and Pyrrha, those wondrous mortals surviving the wrath of Jupiter when, angered at the crimes of mankind against the gods, against their fellow man, even against Nature herself, he called a council of his peers on Mt. Olympus and announced his intention of destroying the race of Man. The allusion in Endgame is, in fact, strictly to the Flood with the quintessential capital F. So much so that in an early version of the piece Beckett has Clov read to Hamm specifically about the biblical holocaust.2 Details from Genesis proliferate. As God tells Noah the exact dimensions for the ark-the length three hundred cubits, the breadth fifty cubits, the height thirty cubits-Clov is similarly devoted to a kitchen of the "nice dimensions, nice proportions" of "ten feet by ten feet by ten feet." And as Noah follows God's guidance in fashioning a window ("A window shalt thou make in the ark, and in a cubit shalt thou finish it above"), the set for Endgame strategically locates two windows upward, which Clov can reach by climbing a ladder. But in Endgame the world appears to have reached a deadend, unless we take for certain the possibility that the little boy Clov says he sees outside the window is something more positive than another deceptive pawn he plays quite self-consciously with Hamm. When Patrick Magee asked about Hamm's response to Clov's sighting of the small boy in the London production of 1964, Beckett replied: "Anxiety, Pat. There should be nothing out there. There must be nothing out there...I'm explaining it badly. He wants Clov to see what he's going out into, but if there is something out there alive, it is not as he supposed, and that would be terrible."3

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.