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For a Better Plumbing System: Literary Allusions to King Lear Appearing in Beckett’s Later Works

  • Journal of Modern English Drama
  • Abbr : JMBARD
  • 2022, 35(1), pp.53-82
  • Publisher : 한국현대영미드라마학회
  • Research Area : Humanities > English Language and Literature > English Literature > Contemporary English Drama
  • Received : March 15, 2022
  • Accepted : April 11, 2022
  • Published : April 30, 2022

Lee, Jooyeup 1

1부산대학교

Accredited

ABSTRACT

This paper tries to understand the nature of Beckett’s literary allusion by way of analyzing the literary allusions to King Lear appearing in his later English texts. King Lear and Beckett’s works bear similarities in terms of the theme of the failure of divine reward, the experiment in human misery and sufferings and the element of the grotesque pantomime. As a frame of reference for our study, there are three major case studies on Beckett’s literary allusions respectively undertaken by Gontarski, Knowlson and Caselli, which respectively shed light on the echoes in the mythical patterns, the generality of quotation and its sensory embodiment and the self-reflective and ironical intertextuality. As this paper analyzes Ill Seen Ill Said, Worstward Ho and Endgame as the three representative cases of Beckett’s literary allusion to King Lear, Ill Seen Ill Said’s quotation of “vile jelly” is, firstly, found to create profound thematic echoes between the fruitless efforts of its camera-eye and those of Gloucester in King Lear. In terms of the general quotation and its sensory embodiment, the text echoes the senility dramatized in King Lear by materializing the frailty of the one frail remaining eye and the abject body of the old woman. The case of ironical intertextuality in the work is performed in the way in which, the better one understands King Lear, the better one can understands the work in allusion to it itself, as a subtle device in the text bringing about the inversion between origin and product. Worstward Ho sets Edgar’s line “the worst is not so long as we can say ‘This is the worst’” as a very important preoccupation as well as the most important thematic thread in the work. Endgame illustrates similarities to, and influences from, King Lear in its ethos and pathos. Peter Brook’s iconic 1962 production King Lear so effectively witnessed to and exploited those similarities as to alter the general interpretation as well as the critical opinion of the Shakespearean original. As Beckett himself explained, these literary allusions are like “bits of pipe” that he carefully and meticulously chose for a better working literary construction.

Citation status

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