'Writing by Numbers: The Music of the Mind in Samuel Beckett's Pas'

Gerald Macklin

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    This paper considers Samuel Beckett's short play Pas in terms of its emphasis on numbers, counting and musical rhythms. These are posited as central to Beckett's work and the early radio play Tous ceux qui tombent, where Dan is so fond of listing and enumeration, is noted as a point of reference in this connection. Cendres, La Dernière bande and Dis Joe shed further light on the matter as they introduce repetitive sounds and musical patterns, a preoccupation with statistics and a mathematical precision applied to dramatic structure. Nine is the key number in Pas as May's pacing across the stage is choreographed in terms of nine steps one way, a wheel and nine steps back. This rhythm is embedded in the stage directions and speech patterns of the play and May's pacing is then linked to her disturbed psyche in terms of a "music of the mind" designed to console and palliate. A similar pattern emerges in Quad in terms of music, walking and repetition. The echoes and reverberations in Pas all suggest a musical inspiration for the piece and one might think then of Berceuse, another short play where the old lady reflects while rocking herself to sleep/death. The prose work Company throws light on this fascination with music and numbers as there "simple sums" (such as counting the thumps of a heartbeat) are seen as a help in times of trouble. Beckett's world thus has a special place for numbers, cadences and music all linked to the workings of the human mind.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)10-13
    JournalFrench Studies Bulletin
    Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2000

    Bibliographical note

    Reference text: S.Beckett Tous ceux qui tombent, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1957

    S. Beckett Disjecta, Calder, London, 1983

    S.Beckett La Dernière bande, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1959

    No Author Better Served, the Correspondence of Samuel Beckett and Alan Schneider, ed. by Maurice Harmon, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. and London, 1998

    Jack MacGowran 'MacGowran on Beckett', THEATRE QUARTERLY, III, no 2, July-September, 1973

    S.Beckett Pas, Les Editions de Minuit, Paris, 1978

    Ill Seen, Ill Sung, BBC Radio 3, September 1999

    Samuel Beckett: The Complete Dramatic works, Faber and Faber, London, 1990

    S.Beckett Company, Calder, London, 1996


    • music
    • numbers
    • drama
    • rhythms
    • mind


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