Dramatic Texts of Samuel Beckett
203M039 N. I.
One of the features of Beckett's plays is that they often contain the nature of metadrama in which the subject of the drama is the act of storytelling of itself. For example, dramatis personae in his experimental radio plays act like a writer during his creation of his works. A protagonist usually represents the writer's view of life and emotional, intellectual and unconscious response to the world. Beckett's plays, however, are written on the subject of the writer's creational act in the quest for an ultimate text. Moreover, Beckett seems to doubt a writer's absolute authority in the process of writing. The quest and skepticism characterize Beckett's postmodern attitude toward the text. He attempts to deconstruct not only text but also a writer's creational act. In the radio drama Cascando (1963), for example, a narrator named Voice struggles to create the ultimate story ("the right story") and to obtain the final "rest" by creating "the right story." The narrator, however, fails to capture "the right one" and decides to restart. Characters in Beckett's plays attempt to complete their speeches, whereas their stories should never be accomplished. This leads us to identify the characters as a writer who is in the throes of creating texts. The characters who have persistent desire for the ultimate story seem to be derived from Beckett's ego in the process of creation.
In this thesis, I intend to examine various forms of Beckett's metadramas. In the first section I deal with Footfalls to analyze the original image of a being in the womb with a reference to Freudian and Jungian psychology. In the second section I intend to discuss his experimental radio dramas, focusing on the author's awareness of linguistic issue and the characters derived from his ego in the creational process. In the third section I intend to discuss the double structure which originates from the reading act by two personae, Reader and Listener, in Ohio Impromptu.
Beckett claimed many times that he had clear memories in the womb. He said, "I remember feeling trapped, of being imprisoned and unable to escape, of crying to be let out but no one could hear, no one was listening." The voice for help in the womb as a prototype of a Beckettian character seems to be developed into various narrators in Beckett's plays: May and her mother in Footfalls, Voice in Cascando, and Reader in Ohio Impromptu. The quest for the essence of language is a theme common to the three plays I examined mainly in this thesis. In Footfalls May and Mother cling to "it", which seems to be described as "the right story" in Cascando. "It" and "the right story" appear to be the supreme goal of their storytelling, which means the condition that a text is perfectly assimilated into a life. These are a kind of postmodern metadrama, where Beckett depicts the process of creating stories.
However, dramatis personae in these plays never accomplish the goal; therefore, their attempts to attain the difficult task are colored by the light of religious feelings. The "cries" for help seem to penetrate Beckett's plays. However, the religious feelings are regarded as a structure to sustain their never-ending act of storytelling as Vladimir and Estragon have to wait for Godot endlessly.
Beckett's attempt to capture the process of creation of a text requires the dramatic structure of endless repetitions. In Footfalls May and Mother seem to be one and the same person who is an eternal being. They get fainter and fainter toward the end of the play. However, they never stop their storytelling. The characteristic of the play seems to be their endless storytelling against the background of their alternation of generations. In Cascando the three characters appear to be alter egos of the author. They try to obtain "the right story" and get into the repetition to attain it. In the Woburn story in the play Voice attempts to capture the wandering protagonist, who embodies "the right story." Voice comes near to catch him but fails to do it. The capture of Woburn is postponed endlessly. The endless repetition in Beckett's plays can be seen as a quest for the true text where a character gropes for his true "self."
In Beckett's plays the "otherness" plays the essential part as a listener. However, it is described in an intricate way. The "someone" as the "otherness" is intertwined with the protagonist's self. The casting looks like a symptom of depersonalization. It is more likely the means to depict the working of the writer's consciousness in his creational process. To describe the creational process is the leitmotif of Beckett's plays. His plays appear to be essentially metadramas.
Ohio Impromptu is a "reading" play. The subject of the play is not the storytelling to accomplish "the right story" but the reading-act for the interpretation of one's own life. The quest for the protagonist's true self is described as Listener and Reader's struggle to interpret the text of "the sad tale", that is to say, their own "life." The two dimensions in the play bear a close resemblance. However, the similarity stresses the difference between the events in the text and the events on the stage, that is, the differences between the signifier and the signified. The struggle to attain "the right story" by Voice and Opener in Cascando is structured into the mirror-image of Ohio Impromptu. The differences should have been resolved in "the profound of mind." However, two personae (or a persona) sit petrified without a word in the end of the play. The "last attempt to obtain relief" is postponed. What Beckett intends to reveal by the differences seems to be the essence of language, that is, "Nothingness" in Beckett own word in "German Letter of 1937." Does Beckett obtain his supreme goal of attaining the essence of language, as he states in the letter, by boring "one hole after another in it"? The goal appears to the fusion of language and life. He seems to make up the goal by the endless repetitions of his dramatis personae's storytelling and reading of a story as Vladimir confesses, "habit is a great deadener."