In the play Endgame by Samuel Beckett, Hamm asks Clov what color the sky is outside, and doesn’t hear him repeating the word “gray” until he whispers it:

  Then what is it?
CLOV (looking):
  (Lowering the telescope, turning towards Hamm, louder.)
  (Pause. Still louder.)
  (Pause. He gets down, approaches Hamm from behind, whispers in his ear.)
HAMM (starting):
  Gray! Did I hear you say gray?

Obviously, Hamm is partially deaf, but from an artistic intention point of view, what function did Samuel Beckett have in mind for including these lines / this moment? How did he justify it and why did he want it in the play? Why does it contribute beneficially to the play?

  • This is a classic bit of comic business: one character doesn't respond to another, no matter how loud he shouts, but then is startled by (or hears perfectly well) something spoken quietly. Mar 3, 2022 at 8:53
  • I guess it could have a slapstick interpretation but it doesn’t seem like it in the midst of that moment in the play. There are other slapstick moments though, like the line “If I could kill him, I’d die happy!”. I’m pretty sure it’s part of Beckett’s attempt at alienating the audience, at making a play that is at parts terribly written and difficult to sit through. But I wonder if he made his choices systematically as opposed to randomly. Luckily, we can probably look at his directing notes to get a clue at what he had in mind.
    – Julius H.
    Mar 3, 2022 at 10:09

1 Answer 1


What's important here isn't Hamm's difficulty in hearing, it's the repetition of the word grey: the deafness is merely a plot device to bring it to the fore.

Greyness is an important motif in the play, which is essentially a deconstruction of the human condition as one of eternal misery. The stage directions suggest the actors be illuminated with "grey" light. Traditionally, black is associated with death and white with birth, therefore Beckett wants us to associate grey with the period in between: life. Of course, we also associate grey with gloom and decay, which is very much how Beckett wants the audience to view the human condition.

Repetition is used here, as elsewhere in the play, to highlight the cyclical nature of this condition. There are repetitions of Hamm knocking on a wall and Nagg on a bin, and of Clov taking steps. A sequence of events to get the windows open is also repeated several times during the play. This repetition evokes tedium, perhaps the most common misery of life, and suggests there is no end to this suffering and no sense, because there is no point at which the repetition concludes and can be scrutinised for meaning.

So this brief exchange is very effective at intertwining and highlighting these two major aspects of the play. That said, Hamm's deafness also ties into the themes of the play: decay and suffering. All the characters are sick and ill in some manner.


  • Brater, Enoch. “BECKETT’S SHADES OF THE COLOR GRAY.” Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd’hui, vol. 21, Brill, 2009, pp. 103–16
  • That’s a pretty good answer, but if you know of any firsthand or secondhand sources on Beckett’s views on this passage, I’d appreciate it. Thanks very much
    – Julius H.
    Mar 2, 2022 at 14:43

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