Failed collaboration and queer love in Yeats’s The Cat and the Moon and Beckett’s Rough for Theatre I

Alexandra Poulain


Beckett’s Rough for Theatre I, first written in French in the late 1950s, picks up the theme of Yeats’s The Cat and the Moon—itself based on earlier material, including Synge’s The Well of the Saints. Staging mutually dependent disabled bodies and charting the elaboration of joint poetic vision, both plays also paradoxically focus on the dramaturgical and poetic potential of collaborative failure. While Yeats insisted that his play should be read allegorically as a dramatisation of the journey towards Unity of Being, this paper attempts to take it at face value, alongside Beckett’s sequel, reading them both as dramas of (failed) collaboration between disabled, mutually complementary bodies. More specifically, it argues that despite Yeats’s best effort to allegorise the grotesque bodies on the stage into abstract principles of Body and Soul, something in his play refuses to be subsumed into allegory and resists the play’s drive towards unity. This resistant “something” has to do with the queer (in every sense) version of love which is being played out on the stage, and it is precisely this queer, sadomasochistic, unproductive love, and the jouissance it procures, uncomfortably, for two disabled characters, which becomes the central theme of Beckett’s play. Further, the paper suggests that this motif of queer love doubles as a paradigm for an alternative form of literary collaboration, one which is not geared towards the actual production of a finished marketable product such as a book or a play, but rather towards the shared creation and immediate enjoyment of stories invented and performed in a space removed from, yet marginal to, the sphere of modern capitalistic exchange.


Literature; Yeats; Queer

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