Sound Matters in Beckett

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It is hard to think of another writer whose characters talk so incessantly about talking and yearn so vocally and vociferously for silence as do Samuel Beckett’s fictive people. Like their author, they are acutely aware that the voice that pours out words will never part the dark, since ‘nothing is sayable’ (Beckett, qtd. in Juliet, 39). Therefore, if meaning is not the promised or hoped-for end, what better way to show the penury of language than to foreground how the voice sounds rather than what it says. Although there has been a proliferation of sound studies in numerous fields, they have tended to overlook Beckett’s writing, despite the fact that he is, as this essay argues, the consummate creator of sound, whose finely-tuned ear and sense of musicality allow him to use alliterative repetitions of phonemes, tempos, rhythms, cadences, echoes, and noises to create works in which aurality ultimately becomes as powerfully evocative on the stage as on the page, ear often usurping eye in the sensory hierarchy. Discussing his works in relation to central theories of sound theorists, particularly Don Ihde, the essay traces Beckett’s concern with sound, from his earliest fiction ‘Assumption’ to his later plays, particularly Not I, as well as his directorial work, to make the case that, as Beckett famously acknowledged, ‘My work is a matter of fundamental sounds’ (Harmon, 24), and that in all his writing sound matters.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThemes in Theatre
PublisherBrill Rodopi
Number of pages17
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NameThemes in Theatre
ISSN (Print)1871-8736


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