The body in parts
: rethinking agency in Samuel Beckett’s theatre

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


It is a paradox noted by S. E. Gontarski among others, that Beckett on the one hand revels in the materiality, the ‘concreteness’ of the body in performance, whilst at the same time continually working to undermine and subvert it.1 In doing so, as Gontarski implies, Beckett problematises traditional notions of the autonomous ‘individual’ as the seat of subjectivity, of the actor’s body as the centre of theatrical representation, and of character as a unifying principle within a narrative which exists in an analogous relation to reality. I examine these tendencies in terms of what I call 'the body in parts', in relation to a range of theoretical reference points including the aesthetics of puppetry (with reference to Kleist’s ‘On the Marionette Theatre’ among other sources) and the post-phenomenological philosophy of Jean-Luc Nancy. My analysis is divided into four chapters, each of which takes a specific body part, eye, hand, ear, and mouth, as a point of entry, drawing on Beckett’s own critical and theoretical writings in order to re-think the question of subjectivity in his work, and re-position agency beyond the boundaries of the integrated, self-present human body.
Date of Award1 Jul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorPatrick Ffrench (Supervisor) & Johanna Malt (Supervisor)

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