Ending and "Copping Out": Completeness and Closure in the Plays of Sam Shepard
Couch, Joseph Dennis
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This dissertation analyzes the interpretive dilemmas arising from treatments of completeness and closure in Sam Shepard's plays, an undertaking that raises two key questions about its own academic exigence. Shepard's plays expand the discourse on closure by providing dramatic texts to which the terms "the open work," "the sense of ending," "anti-closure," and the reading of texts in socio-political contexts can apply. More significantly, Shepard's theory of closure as a "cop-out" to resolution complicates the previous discourse on closure with texts that complementarily deny formal and thematic closure in ways that previous critics do not explore. The "unloosened ends," specifically, that each ending does not resolve not only draw attention to the unresolved status of an American socio-political theme but actually implicate the audience in the larger and false cultural assumption that the theme was closed before the start of the play and now need the audience's help offstage and therefore outside the boundaries of the text to resolve the issue. In terms of categories within the context of closure in drama, Shepard's endings combine Schmidt's categories of "unmediated" and "ironic" as a reflection of their thematic implication of the collective American audience's "cop-out" regarding the assumed closed discourse on a socio-political issue. Additionally, the endings "frustrate" the audience's expectations for closure thematically and formally even when they provide a moment of "cessation" in Schlueter's terms. The reason lies in the fact that the "consensus" required from the audience, as Schmidt claims, relies on the audience to close the work by closing the discourse on the issue that the endings suggest that the audience should recognize as open and unresolved. The issues of fate, home, family, and memory cannot truly reach a moment of cessation, Shepard's interrogations of closure reveal, until the audience makes the discourse cease by not "copping-out" to the false sense of closure that America's conventional society, both on and offstage, provides.