Article Title

Visual Field in Beckett's Late Plays


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

Samuel Beckett, we know, is an author deeply interested in the visual arts. A frequenter of museums, "more at home in the company of painters than that of writers," he has revealed this passion through a wealth of textual allusions.1 But Beckett's temperament is more profoundly visual than the study of influence might suggest, his investigation of the visual image more original and direct. To appreciate this directness, we look to the plays, for the theater's dual status as literary and visual medium allows Beckett to counterpoint his exploration of language with a parallel study of vision, as it is actualized within the theatrical mise-en-scéne. Few dramatists have assumed such control over - the theatrical image, the arrangement of its elements and the articulation of its form. The minimalist stage specifications of Waiting for Godot ("A country road. A tree." [p. 6a])2 relinquish much to the discretion of director and designer, but with Endgame Beckett appropriated a supervision of stage image that he has retained throughout his dramatic career and exercised with a painter's sensitivity to visual composition.3 Framed in tableau, the opening set of this play represents a performance field conceived with pictorial precision: its contours boldly rectangular, with walls, door, symmetrical windows, and reversed picture; its frontal plane laterally weighted by the trash bins and the stationary figure of Clov, both flanking the centric chair covered with an old sheet. Coherent in its spatial conception, the set of Endgame opposes two visual principles: on one hand, a geometric strictness of line and plane, arranged with an almost chessboard regularity of grid; and, on the other hand, the entropic scatteredness of object (toque, rug, toy dog, gaff), the muting grey light, and the bent shapelessness of human form. As Clov and Hamm traverse this stage space in straight lines and right angles, they define themselves within the compositional tensions of their visual world.

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