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‘A Course of Severe and Arduous Trials’

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


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 Four Samuel Beckett’s Plays: Ritual Movements, Subjective States, Torture and Trauma 85


Chapter Four Samuel Beckett’s Plays: Ritual Movements, Subjective States, Torture and Trauma While Waiting for Godot may be the play that expresses the clearest rela- tionship between the official Royal Arch rites and their irregular use this chapter will suggest that many of Beckett’s plays contain Masonic elements and probe further aspects of the initiation process. Endgame, for example, can be interpreted as alluding to one of the pledges made by the Masonic candidates and containing further references to Royal Arch rites as well as to those from the Knightly Orders, also known as Christian Masonry. A number of the short plays, especially those that display strange ritual actions such as Act Without Words I, Come and Go and … but the clouds … appear to replicate specific ritual movements conducted during the rites. A category of plays, including Happy Days, All That Fall and That Time, contain some elements of Masonic ritual but the emphasis is on subjective states as they explore feelings of grief and depression and the theme of childhood. A further category deals with the subject of torture and is found in plays such as Rough for Radio II, Rough for Theatre II and What Where. The following traces a range of Beckett’s plays demonstrating the Masonic and initiatory themes that are woven through each one. 86 Chapter Four Endgame (Fin de partie) Written in French in 1954 and first performed in English in Great Britain in 1957, Endgame is a one-act play that involves an exchange between...

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