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Myth and Archetype in Sam Shepards True West and The Tooth of Crime

Sam Shepard, who is considered by many critics to be Americas most original, prolific and gifted dramatist at work today, began his dramatic career in 1964 when his two one-act plays Cowboys and The Rock Garden were staged in New ork! "he yo#ng man who in 19$1 said %& dont want to be a playwright, & want to be a rock and roll star'& got into writing plays beca#se & had nothing else to do'to keep from going off the deep end(, has ne)er become a rock and roll star, altho#gh the infl#ence of rock is ma*or in many of his plays, b#t he has become Americas leading contemporary dramatist, as well as a s#ccessf#l scriptwriter and a well-known actor! +is dramatic o#tlook was infl#enced by the e,perimental gro#ps of the si,ties, The Living Theater and The Open Theater (he collaborated with -oseph .haikin, the leader of "he /pen "heater in the prod#ction of two pieces, Tongues and Savage Love 0, by the car or road c#lt#re, science-fiction, +ollywood westerns, American pop c#lt#re and the myth of the 1est! &n his st#dy on Sam Shepard, American critic 2ichard 3ilman, remarked that the titles of Shepards plays are %aggressions , p#t-ons, parodies'they seem cra4ily theatrical and they resemble the names of rock gro#ps or pieces of graffiti or certain writings on t-shirts( 5 Shepard 6lays 7 8& 9, for e,ample, The Tooth of Crime , The ad !og "#ues, $orensic and %avigators , &carus's other( "he same is tr#e of Shepards character names , which s#ggest road signs or trade marks, cartoon characters, film or rock stars , names %that scare yo# or break yo# before the c#rtain has e)er risen( 5Shepard plays 7 8 9 , s#ch as Shooter , Shadow, Ga#actic )ack, *osmo, "#ade , "#ood, &ce ( "he ma*ority of Shepards plays deal with the American myths and they circ#mscribe a partic#lar geographical backgro#nd, the so#th-west, and a partic#lar h#man territory of sadness and )iolence , loneliness and self-assertion , bra)ado and the pathos of r#thless e,istence to which Shepard has also added archetypal motifs , achie)ing what 2ad# S#rd#lesc# calls % a mythomorphic )ision % ! :any other American playwrights incorporated myths into their plays! /Neil re-wrote the Aeschylean Oresteia in ourning "ecomes +#ectra and the legend of 6haedra and +ypolyt#s in !esire under the +#ms! Arth#r :iller wrote abo#t the myth of s#ccess or rather abo#t the fail#re of the American dream in !eath of a Sa#esman and he re-interpreted Genesis in The Creation and Other "usines( "ennessee 1illiamss plays deal with the myth of the so#th and the decay of the old traditional ways and with the myth of /rphe#s in Orpheus !escending while "hornton 1ilders %6lanetary "heater( has the small pro)incial American town as a cosmic a,is-m#ndi or the whole of history as the backgro#nd for "y the Skin of Our Teeth! Sam Shepards #se of myth and archetype brings to the foregro#nd the American ethos and c#lt#re and offers a specific response to the challenges and dilemmas of contemporary western ci)ili4ation!

"wo of the best known archetypal motifs, the symbiotic hostile brothers and the death of the old king, form the mythical framework of Shepards famo#s plays, True ,est and The Tooth of Crime( &n True ,est the two siblings ;ee and A#stin are at odds b#t fore)er entwined, fore)er battling against each other in a desperate attempt to assert their sel)es! A )i)id metaphor of this battle is offered by 1esley, a character in The Curse of the Starving C#asses in his tale abo#t the eagle that swoops down and lifts a cat into the sky7 %they fight, they fight like cra4y in the middle of the sky! "he cats tearing his chest o#t and the eagles trying to drop him, b#t the cat wont let go beca#se he knows if he falls hell die( 5Shepard7 1<=9! "he setting of the play is realistic7 a traditional ho#se in so#thern .alifornia, not far from ;os Angeles! &n his own note on the play Shepard insisted that the set sho#ld be constr#cted realistically with no attempt to distort its dimensions so as not to conf#se the e)ol#tion of the characters sit#ation which is the most important foc#s of the play! "he play opens with ;ees arri)al after a long period of time spent in the :o*a)e >esert and his insolent intr#sion #pon his brothers pri)acy! A#stin, who has left his family somewhere in the north, stays in their mothers ho#se in order to %concentrate( and get inspiration for a script he is writing for a +ollywood prod#cer! "he ?#arrel between the brothers starts o)er A#stins car which ;ee wants to #se for some little thefts in the neighborhood! At first the )erbal attacks look like a rit#al game of b#llying played between the older and the yo#nger brother b#t grad#ally tension b#ilds #p as the gest#res and )oices become more and more threatening! ;ee mocks at A#stins %art( and acc#ses him of being no more than a )ictim of his c#lt#ral imprisonment, a mere seller of , ;ee has a temporary ad)antage o)er his brother and his attempt at dispossessing A#stin of his things and territory seems s#ccessf#l! "he t#rning point in the play occ#rs when ;ee sells the +ollywood prod#cer his own idea of a script abo#t the tr#e west, a story rooted in his life e,perience which parallels in a symbolical way the conflict between the two brothers@ it is a story abo#t two men chasing each other thro#gh and endless black prairie and %the one whos chasing doesnt known where the other is taking him! And the one whos being chased doesnt know where hes going!( 5Shepard7 =$9! 1hen ;ee claims that his story re)eals the tr#e west A#stin retorts that %theres no s#ch thing as the west anymore! &ts a dead iss#eA "he myths are #sed #p( 5Shepard7 BC9, howe)er A#stins own identity as a contri)er of ill#sions lies in manip#lating pop#lar myths! Dy t#rns comic and threatening, Act && e,plores the dissol#tion of identity as the two brothers begin to swap roles! ;ee starts writing his script, typing it with one finger and trying hard to concentrate while A#stin dr#nk and singing wants to make a little to#r in the neighborhood to steal a toaster and then lea)e for the desert! "he ne,t scene shows them both dr#nk ;ee smashes the typewriter and b#rns his script while A#stin is polishing a heap of toasters he has *#st stolen! ;ee admits that he has always considered what it wo#ld be like to be A#stin while A#stin declares that he has always wished to go o#t there in the desert and be like ;ee! &t is ob)io#s that A#stin en)ies ;ees freedom and non-conformism and that ;ee cra)es A#stins sec#re position!

An ill#sory reconciliation takes place7 A#stin accepts to write ;ees script if ;ee takes him to the desert! 1hen the script is finished ;ee does no longer want to keep his promise, therefore A#stin attacks his brother )icio#sly in an attempt to m#rder him and th#s preser)e his own self! "he final fro4en image of the play is that of the two brothers preparing to contin#e their fight, predator and prey at the same time! &t seems that they prepare to enact the script abo#t True ,est they ha)e been fighting o)er, against the backgro#nd of a desert landscape and the menacing howling of the coyotes heard in the distance! "he two characters and the deadly game they play incite a wide range of interpretations! Eirst ;ees and A#stins fight represents the frontier myth battling for s#r)i)al against the modern west which, in order to a)oid spirit#al bareness, m#st acknowledge and integrate the past! "his may be acco#nted for by the characters names which seem prosaic b#t which, at a closer look, may f#nction as symbols of American identity7 ;ee is the name of the famo#s *ean trade mark which has played a great role in the %*ean-ing( of America and that is being ad)ertised as a symbol of freedom and wilderness, whereas A#stin is the name of a well known a#tomobile trade mark which s#ggests safety, respectability and tradition! "he story is set east of ;os Angeles and if we take into acco#nt A#stins words %were li)ing in a 6aradise(, then this is east of Fden and the warring brothers become the biblical archetypes of .ain and Abel! A#stin, like Abel, is the kind, diligent and moral brother associated with )egetation and family concerns while ;ee, like .ain, embodies )iolent masc#line )al#es, howe)er Shepard b#ilds a new plot in which brothers swap roles and Abel-like A#stin attempts fratricide! At the same time the biblical archetype is paralleled by the -#ngian archetype of the self! %Somewhere(, .!3! -#ng writes in the -sycho#ogy of the .nconscious, %we ha)e a sinister and frightf#l brother, o#r own flesh-and-blood co#nterpart who holds and malicio#sly hoards e)erything that we wo#ld so willingly hide #nder the table( 5-#ng7 499! :etaphorically A#stin and ;ee represent the two sides of the modern di)ided self! &n his own commentary on the play Shepard stated that %were split in a m#ch more de)astating way than psychology can e)er re)eal, its not so c#te! Not some little thing we can get o)er! &ts something we)e got to li)e with!( 5in S#rd#lesc# 7 1C49! "he two brothers personalities are complementary, e)en symbiotic7 they need each other, en)y each other and hate each other with e?#al intensity! &n the beginning ;ee and A#stin seem so different that it is hard to belie)e that they are brothers! ;ee comes from the desert, A#stin from the cold north, ;ee is a drifter, a renegade who li)es by his own codes while A#stin is ed#cated, has a *ob and conforms to the standards e,pected of him! ;ee appears in A#stins ci)ili4ed, con)entional world from the dark and he beha)es like the -#ngian shadow, an emotional a#tonomo#s and possessi)e fig#re, defying his brother and re)ealing what A#stin %wo#ld so willingly hide #nder the table(! ;ee is also associated with demonic imagery7 snakes, horror shows of dog fights, howling coyotes! A#stin resembles the -#ngian %persona(, the actors mask that the ego shows to the world! 1hen he is forced to acknowledge his co#nterpart he makes the mistake of trying to identify with the shadow instead of integrating it!

"he motif of opposing and conflicting personalities can also be interpreted as the Apollonian>ionysian d#ality of the h#man nat#re7 on the one hand, the need for older and restraint which is Apollonian, and on the other hand, the irrational s#rge of the dark and destr#cti)e imp#lses, which is >ionysian! A#stin stands for the Apollonian self, respectable, con)entional and adhering to the e,isting social and c#lt#ral norms! +is world is disr#pted by the intr#sion of his wild, incontrollable and #n-con)entional >ionysian co#nterpart, ;ee! Doth recogni4e the limits of their roles and personalities and the fact that the merging of sel)es into a whole personality is an ill#sion, and therefore the reconciliation is impossible and the deadly game of opposites will be res#med in s#bse?#ent plays! The Tooth of Crime is a s#rrealistic rock-drama in two acts that stages a deadly battle between two rock-stars who ha)e created their own codes and who fight for s#premacy #nderstood in terms of style and territory! "he title comes from a line in a sonnet by Stephane :allarme %A heart that the tooth of crime cannot wo#nd(, and it contrasts a )#lnerable persona with his in)#lnerable partner in )ice! Shepard places the e)ent in science-fiction world where comp#ters determine rankings and where an interplanetary commission g#ards the r#les or codes, howe)er at the core of this drama lays the archetypal motif of the Gilling of "he /ld Ging! "he /ld Ging is +oss, a composite image of a g#nslinger and a rock-star, a self-made idol with a market )al#e that affects the stocks and bonds@ like his antagonist, .row, he is a kille, b#t he has lost his instincts #nder press#re to stay at the top of his profession! +oss is aware that he is not longer able to cope with the code and style of the new generation as his song at the beginning of the play shows7 +oss 7 H o# may think e)ery pict#re yo# see is a tr#e history of "he way things #sed to be or the way things are 1hile yo#re ridin in yo#r radio or walkin thro#gh the late ;ate show aint it a drag to know yo# *#st dont know o# *#st dont know So heres another ill#sion to add to yo#r conf#sion /f the way things are!!! ''''''''''''''''''''''''!!! & #sed to belie)e in rhythm and bl#es Always wore my bl#e s#ede shoes Now e)erything & do goes down in do#bt D#t sometimes in the blackest night & can see a little light "hats the only thing that keeps me rockin- keeps me 2ockin So heres another fantasy abo#t "he way things seem to be to me! 5Shepard7 =CB-=C49! +is yo#nger challenger is more aggressi)e and, as the name s#ggests, more predatory and r#thless! Shepard characteri4es .row as %a totally lethal h#man with no way or reason for tracing how he got that way! +e *#st appeared, he spit words that become his weapons( 5in S#rd#lesc#7 =49!

"he battle between +oss and .row is fo#ght thro#gh lang#age as they challenge each other on a le,ical battlefield switching between idiolects in the rhythm of rock m#sic! &n the plays climactic moment +oss makes a last effort to re-establish his r#le o)er the domain where nothing is )al#ed e,cept the %deified name(! &n -#ngian terms .row is +osss shadow that the latter is #nable and #nwilling to recogni4e let alone identify with it! .row finally s#cceeds in depri)ing +oss of his image and of his self !+e is able not only to imitate +osss mo)ements and gest#res b#t also to change his own image and easily ass#me any identity! +oss #nderstands that his time is r#nning thin and that he is too old to learn the new style imposed by his antagonist who has come to s#pplant him and therefore he kills himself in an attempt to assert his #ni?#e identity one more time! "he power has shifted and the force of ego has t#rned r#thless and mechanical! .row has become "he Ging b#t as his final song shows he is aware that the repetiti)e pattern of sacrifice and replacement does not spare any king! +e can only pray to be kept rolling from his fate for as long as possible7 .row7 HGeep me rollin down Geep me rollin down Geep me in my state agrace -#st keep me rollin down &)e fooled the >e)ils hand &)e fooled the ace of spades &)e called the bl#ff in 3ods own face Now keep me from my fate -#st keep me rollin down Geep me rollin down Geep me in my state agrace -#st keep me rollin down! .row will reign in a world witho#t grace or tr#e lights, knowing that his own time will soon r#n thin and fearing the arri)al of the new king! "he play begins and ends with the protagonists songs which mark both )is#ally and symbolically the repetiti)e pattern of its theme!

2eferences
Dingsby, .!1!F!, :odern American >rama 194I-199C, .J6, 199C .a#fman-Dl#menfeld, /!, "eatr#l F#ropean- teatr#l american7 infl#ente, Fd! Jni)ersitatii Al! &! .#4a, &asi, 199< Erye, N!, "he Anatomy of .riticism, 6eng#in Dooks, 199C 3ascoigne, D!, "wentieth .ent#ry >rama, +#tchinson Jni)ersity 6ress, ;ondon, 19$4 +odgson, "!, :odern >rama from &bsen to E#gard, D!"!Datsford, ;ondon, 199= Sharp, >!, -#ng ;e,icon! A 6rimer of "erms and .oncepts, &nner .ity Dooks, "oronto, 1991 Simard, 2!, 6ostmodern >rama .ontemporary 6laywrights in America and Dritain, Jni)ersity 6ress of America, 19<4 Shepard, S!, 6lays! &ntrod#ced by 2ichard 3ilman, Eaber and Eaber, 19<1 S#rd#lesc#, 2!, Sam Shepard! "he :ythomorphic Kision, Fd! Jni)ersitatii din D#c#resti, 1996 1ardle, &!, "heatre .riticism, 2o#tledge, 199=