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Samuel Beckett's Interest in Form: Structural Patterning in Play ROSEMARY POUNTNEY • THE FORM EXPRESSES THE CONTENT in the work of Samuel Beckett - and it is precisely this fusion of content with form that he approved in the writing of Proustl and Joyce.2 "It is the shape that matters," Beckett once said, expressing enthusiasm over the proportion of a sentence of St. Augustine's,3 a sentence he has echoed in Waiting/or Godot.4 At the end of his article on Joyce5 Beckett considers in some detail the patterning in Joyce and Dante, comparing Dante's conical view of purgatory with Joyce's spherical one. Since Play, the most perfectly patterned of Beckett's plays, also takes the purgatorial theme and makes use ofboth motifs, this comparison is ofespecial interest. Beckett interprets Joyce as depicting the "vicious circle of humanity," Dante a spiral implying culmination. There is an implicit parallel between the Joycean concept and Vico's division of human history , in the Scienza Nuova, into recurring cycles followed by a ricorso or return. Vico's ricorso may also be seen in relation to Play, where the text is repeated once in its entirety and is beginning for a third time as the play ends. But there is a deliberate fading of voice and light in the repeat - and it seems likely that although Beckett's original intention was to make the play cyclic, he found a linear effect more dramatically . . ImpressIve. Before looking at the play in detail one further purgatorial concept, that of Yeats, may be taken into consideration. Not least in his interest in the Japanese Noh play, Beckett may be seen to have certain affinities 237 238 ROSEMARY POUNTNEY with Yeats. Yeats used the spare stylised form of the Noh play, its dialogue counterpointed by linked opening, centr~l and closing choruses, in his later and most successful plays, such as The Cat and The Moon. Beckett echoes the technique almost exactly in Play, where the three voices all speak together at certain points before emerging singly, induced by the light. From ideas gained in his wide reading of philosophers from Plato to Swedenborg, Yeats in A Vision formed the view that after death the human spirit dreamed back through its life.6 Gradually the skein of life was unwound until a state of innocence was reached - after which the spirit was either given a new life, or, if it were fortunate, freed from the necessity of"becoming" and allowed to remain at rest in the intuitive centre of the world, or anima mundi. In The Only Jealousy ofEmer we see the Goddess Fand offering to free Cuchulain from the burden of future incarnations , ifhe will only enter the state ofeternity by following her. Yeats stressed the fact that if the life has contained some unresolved emotional "Knot," the spirit is forced to stay at that point until the knot is untied and it can continue the process ofpurification. This is the situation in his Purgatory and The Dreaming ofthe Bones - where the spirits are trapped and compelled to relive their unhappy experience, like a record stuck in a groove. This also is the starting point for Beckett's Play, where voices issue from three human heads surmounting three urns centrally placed onstage. Although nowhere specifically stated, the implication is that these voices are reliving an emotional experience likely to have taken place immediately before death, since each moves from thoughts of the experience to a consideration of his changed state of being. When elicited by a probing lightbeam which moves from urn to urn, each voice intones a monologue apparently into a vacuum. But although the occupant ofeach urn is unaware of the presence of the other two, the audience gradually becomes aware that all three voices have been involved in the same emotional situation. This is achieved by a process of echo and counterpoint, so that one voice may repeat a phrase or apparently answer a question asked by another. The earlier statement is thus extended and the whole picture is built upfragmentarily, in the manner ofCubist art. As if to emphasize this point, the entire play is then repeated, so that...


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pp. 237-244
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