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Not I

mouth ray life third

a play by Samuel Beckett, first performed in 1973, a 20-minute monologue, highly unorthodox in form and character. All the audience sees are spotlit lips, whose owner is identified only as Mouth. She delivers what at first seems to be a wild, incoherent babble, but on closer inspection turns out to be a muddled account, told throughout in the third person, of a long, sad, and lonely life, surely her own. She was born in a ‘godforsaken hole’, left with a strong sense of sin and guilt by the religious who ran the orphanage where she was raised, and seems to have done little as an adult but tramp the countryside, occasionally visit shops and, on one occasion, be taken to court for an unspecified offence. Mostly she is silent, but once or twice a year gets an urge to ‘tell’: which presumably explains the ‘steady stream’ of ‘mad stuff’ that now culminates in her confused memories of a quasi-mystical experience she had in a field, involving a moving ray of moon-like light. Five times she interrupts the verbal flow with a cry of ‘what? who? no! she!’ The significance of this is uncertain, but may be that, though pushed into a new articulacy by the ray, she still thinks of herself as an object and cannot acknowledge that it is she, not someone else, who has lived this empty, loveless life. Equally debatable is the purpose of an ‘Auditor’, a cowled figure who listens silently, his arms rising and falling in ‘a gesture of helpless compassion’ in reaction to what Beckett's stage directions call Mouth's ‘vehement refusal to relinquish third person’.

[back] Notes Towards the Definition of Culture - (1948), New English Weekly, Prospect for Christendom, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture

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