The Concept of "Self" in Some Plays by Ibsen, Strindberg, Beckett, Osborne, and Pinter
Centring on Peer Gynt's onion as a symbol of modern man's "dissolved" self, this thesis is a study of the changing concept of "self" and its effect on the development of dramatic technique from Ibsen's Brand and Peer Gynt, through Strindberg's "dream plays, " to the plays of the three most influential post-war British playwrights, Beckett, Osborne, and Pinter. The aim of this comparative study is not to "prove" direct influence, but to demonstrate affinities and to trace the continuing process of the "dissolving self" from Brand's monumental concept of man as a being essentially divine, to Beckett's tramps picturing themselves as worms in a God-forsaken universe, and from Peer Gynt's uncentred onion self, which still adds up to a tremendous personality, to Pinter's "classic female figure" who is divested of personality as well as of self. The philosophical dissolution of man's essential Godgiven self and the redefinition of the human personality in existentialist terms as simply the sum of one's actions, habits, or roles, has its corollary in dramatic technique, of which the most radical example is Strindberg's A Dream Play, where the Dreamer's self is projected on stage, not as one indelible personality, which is still the case in Peer Gynt, but as a motley gallery of "dream characters, " each representing one aspect of the Dreamer's (the poet's) discontinuous self. Beckett's Krapp, spooling back the tapes of his former selves in search of his quintessential "I" and discovering that the "self" is merely a string of discarded habits; Osborne's Archie Rice playing for time against the inevitable annihilation of his inauthentic comedian's mask by "the man with the hook"; and Pinter's stupefied Stanley Webber being "crowned" by his persecutors with a bowler hat, the symbol of conformity, and hence of non-identity, are all modern counterparts of Peer Gynt, the "Emperor of Self. "
- Theses