Article Title

"Now Keep Out of the Way, Whitelaw": Self-Expression, Agency, and Directorial Control in W.B. Yeats's and Samuel Beckett's Theatre


Hannah Simpson


W. B. Yeats and Samuel Beckett both demanded an extreme degree of control over the direction of their own plays. In particular, they frequently exerted a seemingly tyrannical control over their actors' smallest gestures and modulations of voice. However, held in tension with their apparent subjugation of their actors' artistic agency and capacity for self-expression is the manner in which both men privileged particular individual performers as retaining a unique ability to produce their dramatic vision 'correctly'.

Focusing on Michio Ito’s 1916 performance in Yeats’s At the Hawk’s Well and Billie Whitelaw’s 1973 performance in the Beckett-directed Not I, this paper questions to what degree such directorial control demanded a total surrender of artistic agency from their performers by decreasing their capacity for individualized self-expression. These two performances offer particularly productive grounds for examination, since the content of the texts themselves engage with the idea of control in ways that complement and extend an analysis of Beckett's and Yeats's practices in directing their performance.

Included in the discussion of the respective ways in which Ito and Whitelaw resisted or surrendered to directorial control is the question of how we can most productively understand the relationship between 'control' and 'agency' in a theatrical context. By throwing new light on Yeats's and Beckett's vision and moulding of their own drama, we illuminate both practical questions of how a theatrical director might must productively construct his relation to the performer, and more theoretical ideas of control and agency in the theatrical context.

Comparative Drama is carried by JSTOR and Project MUSE.