What lies beneath Beckett's half-buried women?

Authorised biographer James Knowlson speculates on the inspiration for Winnie in Happy Days
Mary Ewald and Seanjohn Walsh in Samuel Beckett's Happy Days. Photo: Lindsay Smith
From James Knowlson (The Guardian):
Samuel Beckett was a passionate lover of art and a friend of many painters and sculptors. He loved Dutch and Flemish painting in particular – and art almost certainly inspired some of his most memorable theatrical images. Even his earliest plays, such as Waiting for Godot or Endgame, recall the old masters: the character Lucky in Godot may well remind you of a Brueghel grotesque; Estragon and Vladimir's physical antics echo scenes in Adriaen Brouwer's paintings ("Dear, dear Brouwer", Beckett called him); Hamm in Endgame appears to share genes with some portraits by Rembrandt, staring out at the viewer – Jacob Trip in his armchair, perhaps.

As for Beckett's late miniature works – recently revived by the Royal Court with a tour de force performance by Lisa Dwan – they recall the images of more modern artists: Edvard Munch's The Scream (Footfalls and Not I), Whistler's Mother (Rockaby), even Salvador DalĂ­'s famous artworks featuring lips and a mouth (again Not I). Add to these startling images Beckett's pared-down yet so often poetic text, and some thoroughly modern angst, and the playwright emerges as the true theatrical innovator he undoubtedly was, but one who also belonged, as he himself claimed, to a rich literary and artistic European continuum. But what of the central image of the woman in his 1960 play Happy Days, buried up to her waist in act one and to her neck in act two – where did that come from? And how does Beckett use it? [Read More]

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