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Beckett’s Theater of Punishment

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Act without Words I as Panopticon

image of Samuel Beckett Today / Aujourd'hui

This essay argues that Michel Foucault’s study of the modern penal system in Discipline and Punish allows us to better understand dynamics of torture, surveillance, and imprisonment in Beckett’s Act Without Words I . Where Foucault genealogically traces the aim of a new penal structure arising out of a modern desire to reform the soul, we find Act Without Words I destabilizing a typical arbiter-prisoner relationship. Correspondences and dissimilarities between the architecture of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon that Foucault discusses and the text of Act Without Words I afford further insights into the ritual of punishment we observe in this play. The very structure of the stage space comes to serve as a mechanism to accentuate elements of punishment and public torture for purposes of pure, unremitting spectacle.

Affiliations: 1: Doctoral Student, Comparative Literature, Louisiana State University, USA


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