Disembodied Voice and Space in Beckett's Footfalls

Female characters in Samuel Beckett's drama started to appear as protagonists relatively late if compared to their male counterparts, and interestingly, those female characters usually experience a body loss and/or reduction. In Beckett’s later works, the body that is not seen and the words that are not spoken become an essential signification of his plays. One of those plays is Footfalls—in which an invisible mother performs only in the form of a voice. This play features two characters: a daughter whose name is May, and her mother whose body is not shown on stage. The two are having a conversation while May is repeatedly pacing on a straight, carefully calculated line, back and forth. The mother's voice can be heard from upstage. Her body is not shown, and she remains unembodied yet omnipresent.   

When the play is staged, the mother's voice represents her body; therefore, it is present for her. The voice becomes the extent to which the audience can only grab by using their hearing senses. When the mother speaks, the audience only focuses on her voice without seeing its physical appearance. According to Steven Connor, a voice without origin "emphasises the power of voice as utterance and effect over against its associations with presence and intention" (24). As her voice does not come from a visible exact source—a visible mouth or body, the mother's dialogue becomes more potent as all attention and senses are directed only towards the voice. In this sense, her voice becomes immune to the powers of the eye and the other cognitive functions associated with it. 

The mother appears as if her flesh dissolves and incarnates into a voice that occupies the stage. Her voice comes without a definite source or a body; thus it floats in the air and surrounds May as if it attends somewhere near her. She appears as if her body is exceptionally reduced—there is no physical representation left, but only a voice that remains on stage. Her voice seems to be mutilated from her body, and because of that, her existence becomes questioned: whether she is a real person or merely an illusion of her daughter. Despite this question, she brings a unique concept of a bodiless character that reflects an implication. Her interaction with May posits a fusion of a mother and daughter relationship, which is not physically shown but given through a voice. She, thereupon, attends the play through the voice that represents her presence and exists in the space where her voice is carried. When related to the space on stage, the mother's disembodied voice can be interpreted in two senses: 1) it inhabits the space, therefore, 2) her voice is space itself. 

Although her body is nowhere to be spotted, the mother is occupying the stage in front of and among the audience whenever she utters her dialogues. Her presence is dynamic and not only narrowed to a stage presence. In this sense, she does not exist only on stage, but anywhere as far as she can be heard, including among the audience seats. Her figure is not limited to a body that stands/sits/moves on stage and is wherever her voice can travel to. She is invisible, and her presence can be felt because she is actually there—among the air in which her voice inhabits. As her voice takes up space, it also transforms as space itself. Her voice is the locus where language is spoken and transferred from a mouth to the ears of those who watch (and listen). The voice, then, becomes a vocalic space that is actively and dynamically produced as the play goes on, especially when the mother speaks. Per Connor, vocalic space is where "differing conceptions of the voice and its powers are linked historically to different conceptions of the body's form, measure, and susceptibility, along with its dynamic articulations with its physical and social environments" (7). The mother's voice transforms into a space that is dynamically produced as the dialogues go on, and vocalises a situation that is not spoken or physically shown. 

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