30:161 Twentieth Century Literature
“Catastrophe” by Samuel Beckett is a play about the staging of a play; the dress rehearsal for the final scene of the play. There are 4 characters in the short play: the Director (D), the female Assistant (A), the Protagonist (P) and Luke (L), an electrician who is in charge of the lighting but does not come on stage.
“Catastrophe” begins with the Protagonist in a black gown and black hat, hands clenched in the pockets with his feet showing at the bottom of the gown. The Assistant and Luke have arranged the man previously as they have seen fit. The Director then arrives, and his demeanor is irritable and impatient.
The Assistant is dressed in all white which suggests she is of upper class, but she has no power. This is demonstrated when the Director wrestles control from her and moulds the man to his own personal vision. He begins by removing the black gown and black hat, leaving the Protagonist shivering in his grey pyjamas. The hands are unclenched, joined (the only suggestion that the Director heeds from the Assistant), and raised to breast height. His head is pushed down, and the Director has the Assistant bare his neck, legs, shins and knees. He is raised so that his feet can be seen by the audience and the Director has the light fade to illuminate the Protagonist’s head only. At one point the Director leaves the stage and the Assistant sits in his chair, but immediately jumps up and wipes it, as if to protect her from contamination before reseating. This helps show the audience her relationship with the Director. She was after all the one to dress him warmly and she mentions twice that he is shivering. Not only does she have no power, but she is in some ways just another victim rather than a collaborator.
Finally, the Director has the Protagonist how he wants, and he has them go through the scene once more before he leaves. He is happy with the scene and imagines the...
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