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A process of reduction: Feminine voices and bodies in Samuel Beckett's late drama

Marzia Caporale, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Women in Beckett's theater make a relatively late appearance as protagonists compared to their males counterparts. Winnie in Oh les beaux jours (1960) is the first example of a female character who dominates the scenic space. While filling the stage with her voice, Winnie struggles with the loss of her body. The stories of all Beckettian women speak of such a loss: body and language are reduced to pieces and signify by absence rather than by presence. In the late theater, the body which is not seen and the words which are not spoken become the most essential signifying units of the performance. ^ In the midst of a crisis which affects all aspects of theatrical representation, the characters retain the fundamental marks of their identity and their gender remains well-defined. A small but significant group of Beckett's plays brings up the issue of mother and daughter relations and of (failed) motherhood. The failure of the mother is part of a broader discourse on theater semiotics and on life in general. These women cannot exist as complete characters as they are either voices without bodies or bodies without voices. Similarly, they cannot be mothers (or daughters) in the real world where that role can only lead to more death and pain. For once, Beckett's traditionally non-mimetic vision of theater finds a correspondence outside the stage. ^ Finally, when dealing with gender-related issues in the theater, the question arises of how the staging of a play by a female director differs from that of a male director and how it would alter Beckett's original vision of his work. This topic is especially relevant with plays such as Oh les beaux jours, in which the protagonist is a woman. Some examples of mise en scène will show that directorial freedom does not mean sacrificing the intentions of the author and that the addition of a feminine point of view (the director's) can add new insight to the text. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Romance|Theater|Literature, English

Recommended Citation

Caporale, Marzia, "A process of reduction: Feminine voices and bodies in Samuel Beckett's late drama" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3159536.