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Beckett and Sheep

Beckett and Sheep
Beckett and Sheep
Beckett’s statement is a perplexing one, and serves, in part, as a warning to the reader and the critic not to get too carried away in their interpretation of symbols, which may well not be intended as symbols. At the same time there is a comic element to this cautionary note, for how can the reader possibly know what was intended as a symbol and what wasn’t. Beckett often brings sheep into his work, and sheep are redolent with symbolism, in religion, in mythology, in astrology, in the arts: literature, poetry, music and drama, and in popular culture. Whether the symbolic significance of sheep in Beckett is intended or not, it is hard to escape from their cultural associations which are so strongly embedded in the mind of a reader.
People are commonly referred to as sheep in a negative way, when they are considered as easily led and not very clever. On the other hand the epithet ‘black sheep’ suggests an outsider: a person who has chosen to act in a way that does not fit in with herd. This, however, is also used in a negative way to suggest a person who has gone to the bad. Intriguingly, sheep are not stupid, and it has been discovered that sheep can recognize individual human faces, and the faces of other sheep, and remember them, and even recognize emotions in faces, both of humans and sheep.
Beckett was of course well aware of the cultural associations sheep have acquired. In many early religions sheep, especially rams, are linked to the gods; in many religions, even to this day, they are ritually sacrificed. The Christian religion uses sheep and shepherd symbolism in varied and at times conflicting ways: sheep are sacrificial victims, members of the ‘flock’ who follow Christian teachings faithfully, and Christ is the ‘Lamb’ or ‘Good Shepherd’ who guards his flock. The paper will be exploring the presence of sheep in Beckett’s work, and will be making some suggestions as to their significance, symbolic or otherwise, considering how they can be seen to be versatile and shifting, working both with and against cultural associations.
Campbell, Julie
8651d768-dd71-4b4e-8c19-98f32b53c1d5
Campbell, Julie
8651d768-dd71-4b4e-8c19-98f32b53c1d5

Campbell, Julie (2010) Beckett and Sheep. In, The Beckett Bestiary.

Record type: Book Section

Abstract

Beckett’s statement is a perplexing one, and serves, in part, as a warning to the reader and the critic not to get too carried away in their interpretation of symbols, which may well not be intended as symbols. At the same time there is a comic element to this cautionary note, for how can the reader possibly know what was intended as a symbol and what wasn’t. Beckett often brings sheep into his work, and sheep are redolent with symbolism, in religion, in mythology, in astrology, in the arts: literature, poetry, music and drama, and in popular culture. Whether the symbolic significance of sheep in Beckett is intended or not, it is hard to escape from their cultural associations which are so strongly embedded in the mind of a reader.
People are commonly referred to as sheep in a negative way, when they are considered as easily led and not very clever. On the other hand the epithet ‘black sheep’ suggests an outsider: a person who has chosen to act in a way that does not fit in with herd. This, however, is also used in a negative way to suggest a person who has gone to the bad. Intriguingly, sheep are not stupid, and it has been discovered that sheep can recognize individual human faces, and the faces of other sheep, and remember them, and even recognize emotions in faces, both of humans and sheep.
Beckett was of course well aware of the cultural associations sheep have acquired. In many early religions sheep, especially rams, are linked to the gods; in many religions, even to this day, they are ritually sacrificed. The Christian religion uses sheep and shepherd symbolism in varied and at times conflicting ways: sheep are sacrificial victims, members of the ‘flock’ who follow Christian teachings faithfully, and Christ is the ‘Lamb’ or ‘Good Shepherd’ who guards his flock. The paper will be exploring the presence of sheep in Beckett’s work, and will be making some suggestions as to their significance, symbolic or otherwise, considering how they can be seen to be versatile and shifting, working both with and against cultural associations.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 2010

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 152927
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/152927
PURE UUID: 7e8ca0e7-1d11-4039-aa05-37eb28903bc3

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Date deposited: 20 May 2010 09:22
Last modified: 18 Jul 2017 12:52

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Contributors

Author: Julie Campbell

University divisions

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