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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

Bacon, Beckett and Spurious Freemasonry in Early Twentieth-Century Ireland

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Lynn Brunet

The artist Francis Bacon (1909-1992) and the writer Samuel Beckett (1906-1989) both convey in their work a sense of foreboding and confinement in bleak, ritualistic spaces. This book identifies many similarities between the spaces and activities they evoke and the initiatory practices of fraternal orders and secret societies that were an integral part of the social landscape of the Ireland experienced by both men during childhood.
Many of these Irish societies modelled their ritual structures and symbolism on the Masonic Order. Freemasons use the term ‘spurious Freemasonry’ to designate those rituals not sanctioned by the Grand Lodge. The Masonic author Albert Mackey argues that the spurious forms were those derived from the various cult practices of the classical world and describes these initiatory practices as ‘a course of severe and arduous trials’. This reading of Bacon’s and Beckett’s work draws on theories of trauma to suggest that there may be a disturbing link between Bacon’s stark imagery, Beckett’s obscure performances and the unofficial use of Masonic rites.

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Chapter Three Samuel Beckett’s Plays: Waiting for Godot: A Parody of Royal Arch Rites? 63

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Chapter Three Samuel Beckett’s Plays: Waiting for Godot: A Parody of Royal Arch Rites? Samuel Beckett’s plays have intrigued and delighted their audiences since they first appeared on stages in Paris and London. At the time of their crea- tion his plays were significant for their rejection of a naturalist portrayal of characters and instead portrayed characters that were more like abstracted fragments or aspects of the psyche.1 The curiously repetitious, ritualistic and circular behaviour of these characters, the bleak and oppressive spaces in which they enact them, as well as the combination of the profound and the comic in the dialogue have provoked endless scholarly discussion and have resulted in multiple interpretations. Beckett’s plays have been located within the context of the Theatre of the Absurd and interpreted as existentialist writing. They have been analysed in terms of their liter- ary connections and also with a view to their psychological dimensions. The sense of despair that pervades the work has, as in Bacon’s case, been attributed to the effects of war, in particular, Beckett’s experiences in the Resistance movement and the sense of disorientation, danger, depriva- tion and exile that formed part of this period in his young adult life.2 As a number of scholars have identified, many autobiographical elements and aspects of Irish life are woven throughout Beckett’s writing.3 The plays have also been interpreted as an expression of religious themes, especially those of Christian mysticism.4 In relation to a reli- gious interpretation Beckett had a similar reaction...

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