• Electra Georgiades

Student thesis: Phd


The present thesis examines the interrelation between the dynamics of human company and the psychoanalytic concept of witnessing in Samuel Beckett's major post-war drama. The analysis provided concentrates primarily on 'Waiting for Godot' (1952), 'Endgame' (1957), and 'Happy Days' (1962) and situates these plays within a post-war framework, while examining their stylistic qualities and thematic concerns within the context of trauma studies. To trace and expose the overwhelming presence of trauma in the plays, I focus on the treatment of form and content and expand on existing critical readings by proposing that both form and content simultaneously internalise the symptoms, the rhythms and the processes of traumatic memory and experience. Demonstrating that the theatrical performance is adequately suited to represent and give embodied form to trauma, I then discuss the viability and significance of approaching Beckett's post-war trilogy as testimonial drama. Testimonial drama, I argue, embodies the symptoms of trauma both thematically and structurally, and effectively manages to testify to its historical context through the act of being performed in front of an audience, in front of a human witness. By acknowledging the physical presence of the audience, the theatrical performance manages to create the witness to its struggle to testify, as the Beckett stage mutates into a key site of interaction between trauma, theatre and history. Focusing then on the condition of memory, language and the body, I suggest that they constitute three primary sites for the manifestation of unprocessed traumatic experience and question agency, subjectivity and the availability of choice in the aftermath of massive historical trauma. This discussion is followed by the assessment of the nature, purpose and value of human company in the traumatic aftermath. Human company, I argue, is fundamentally related to past trauma. It is decisively shaped by the collapse of social structures, the loss of communality and the absence of witnessing, emerging as a compelling human need that is compulsively longed for, sought out and maintained while reducing individual identity to role-play. A product of a deeply traumatic history, human company also surfaces as a means of resistance to historical horrors as the human other serves as a vital source of solace, support and communality, while providing with his or her physical presence the much-needed human witness to one's existence.A key trope of Beckett's post-war drama, human company foregrounds the status of the trilogy as a profound artistic and ethical response to the horrors of the Second World War, as the need for the human other as a witness - exposed both thematically and structurally - opens up the possibility for witnessing and testimony to take place in the aftermath of a historical period which precluded its own witnessing.
Date of Award31 Dec 2015
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorLiam Harte (Supervisor) & John Mcauliffe (Supervisor)

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