In 1956 Harold Pinter trod the boards in Bournemouth and Torquay in over thirty thrillers and comedies, the standard repertory company staple of the pre- and post-war periods,1 while J. B. Priestley, Noel Coward and Terence Rattigan dominated the West End theatre with comforting spiritualism, stylish comedy of manners and sentimentalised social problem play, all designed to reassure the self-applauding middle-class patrons, through laughter or tears. Alternatively, by the early 1950s, the plays of Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams with their contrasting realistic modes of incidental expressionism (Death of a Salesman, 1949) and passionate naturalism (A Streetcar Named Desire, 1947) were quite free from the all-constrictive self-censorship of the British class system dominated by virtual terror of the vulgar and lower class. Along with changing post-war social conditions the seeming freedom signalled by the Americans provided an impetus for the rise of the Angry Young Men (pre-eminently John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and John Arden) at the Royal Court Theatre, from the annus mirabilis of 1956. Of equal importance, but less sensational in immediate impact was the translation of French absurdism, most famously Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco, to London productions at the Arts Theatre (respectively, Waiting for Godot, 1955; The New Tenant, 1956).
With his outstanding success by the early 1960s, Pinter was frequently associated with the social realism of the Angry Young Men and with the absurdism of Beckett and Ionesco. Furthermore, it is probably safe to say that there is not a single dramatist of the twentieth century with whom Pinter has not been compared or contrasted, from Ibsen to David Mamet. Beginning with the question of 1950s realism, this chapter then looks at Ionesco and Beckett and selects various dramatists with whom Pinter’s plays have been associated – namely Chekhov, Strindberg, Pirandello, Eliot, Joyce – and, as far as space allows, assesses Pinter’s debts, affinities or differences, to gain thereby a sharper recognition of his individual contribution to twentieth-century theatre.
Plays like Osborne’s Look Back in Anger (1956), Wesker’s Chicken Soup with Barley (1958) and Arden’s Live Like Pigs (1958) displaced the middle-class drawing room with the lower-class mise-en-scène of ‘kitchen sink’ realism and without condescension faithfully represented ordinary lives. Each had an implicit left-wing agenda deriving from contempt for the dominant middle-class values of past and present conservatism. Plays like Pinter’s The Room, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker2 with their realistic sets and hyper-real demotic dialogue seemed part of this movement, but only at first glance: ‘I’d say that what goes on in my plays is realistic, but what I’m doing is not realism’, 3 Pinter recorded. In comparison with the realists Pinter did not speak from a recognisable political platform. In contrast, he deconstructs social realism by divorcing the identification of character and environment, defamiliarising the pedestrian and destabilising the audience with ultimately self-recriminating laughter. For the realists the accurate presentation of the material conditions of persons in society was a didactic end in itself.
An exception in Pinter’s work was A Night Out, which he contributed to Sydney Newman’s ‘Armchair Theatre’ series for ABC television of the late 1950s, early 1960s. Newman, a Canadian, had been deeply influenced by the social realism of American television drama. A Night Out presents the social entrapment of Albert, an office clerk: intimidated by his mother, bullied by an office superior, blamed for a misdemeanour at an office party, he takes out all his resentments and frustrations on a genteel prostitute before returning to the confinement of home. The often-made comparison with The Birthday Party brings out the essential difference. Practically everything in A Night Out is explicit. Character and motivation are generally unambiguous, the circular plot supplying if not the satisfying resolution of the well-made play, a significance which is clear. Quite the opposite to the numbing circularity of The Birthday Party which leaves us aghast, asking where? how? when? why? ‘If I’m being explicit I’m failing’, 4 Pinter said. A Night Out was highly successful, but its adherence to ‘kitchen sink’ realism meant that it lacked that ‘core of our living … this ambiguity’ 5 which Pinter saw as his main dramatic concern.
Alternatively, the ambiguity of such plays as The Birthday Party and The Caretaker prompted comparison with the absurdists. Ionesco founded his anarchic, surrealist drama on a premise: the ‘Absurd is that which is devoid of purpose … Cut off from his religious, metaphysical, and transcendental roots, man is lost; all his actions become senseless, absurd, useless.’ 6 Consequently the tragic is mixed with the comic, which ultimately liberates through recognition of the confining morality of society. Ionesco’s basic technique was a radical estrangement by literalising the metaphorical in concrete stage objects, and by defamiliarisation and deformation of language.
The origin of The Bald Prima Donna (1950) derived from Ionesco’s discovery of an English phrase book which reduced all life to the social repetition of banal, indicative propositions. His parody of this led to comparison of The Birthday Party to the ‘inconsequential gabble … of Ionesco’. 7 However, the realism of The Caretaker prompted another reviewer to claim that it was free from the ‘fantastic Ionesco-like world of nightmare’ found in The Room and The Dumb Waiter. 8 A significant distinction was made in another review, comparing The Caretaker to Ionesco’s The Chairs: ‘nowhere does Mr Pinter treat non-communications as an extraneous, rather banal “point” to be made’. 9 The major contrast was made in the most perceptive of all early reviews of The Birthday Party, ‘Mr Pinter’s world is one of fantasy; not however of the Ionesco school with its formalism of swelling corpses, piling furniture and gathering chairs’, 10 referring to the externalised stage symbols of, respectively, Amédée or How to Get Rid of It (1953), The New Tenant (1953) and The Chairs (1951). The implicit allegory of Ionesco’s theatre appeared most overtly in Rhinoceros (1960).
In this play, all but one in a small provincial town turn into a rhinoceros. The allegory of conformist fascism is very clear, heavily so in places: ‘Good men make good rhinoceroses, unfortunately. It’s because they are so good that they get taken in.’ 11 At one point a character turns into a rhinoceros before our eyes. The visual power is stunning but reflection shows that the originality of theatre is incommensurate with the orthodoxy of thought. Compare The Birthday Party – to what extent is Goldberg and McCann’s abduction of Stanley analogous to fascist atrocity? Pinter’s multi-levelled theatricality thwarts a simple allegorical reading.
Pinter denied the influence of Ionesco, claiming that he had never heard of him until after his early plays. Yet in 1959 he acknowledged seeing The New Tenant12 (which had been produced with The Bald Prima Donna in London in 1956) and there does seem to be a likeness between the garrulous concierge and Rose in The Room. Moreover, Ionesco’s theatre provided a public debate in 1958. 13 With the realism of The Caretaker Pinter moved on from the absurdism of the 1950s, but his name was still to be associated with that of Beckett.
In 1970 Pinter declared Beckett to be ‘the greatest writer of our time’. 14 A forceful indication of his respect survives in a brief letter of 1954: ‘I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, way outs, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. [Beckett] is the most courageous, remorseless writer going.’ 15 At this point, just before the first London production of Godot, Pinter is responding to the artistic integrity of Beckett’s fiction. ‘I didn’t read a play of Beckett’s for a long time’ Pinter recorded in 1963. 16 Michael Billington gives an account of Pinter’s discovery of Godot. In Ireland during 1955, Pinter learned of Peter Hall’s forthcoming production, obtained a copy of Godot in French which he worked through, translating with friends, and then saw the play in London.17 In another interview Pinter mentioned hearing Beckett’s All That Fall (1957), which demonstrated ‘a certain uniqueness about radio’, 18 namely a complete imaginative absorption not possible in the theatre. We may assume that, correspondingly, this is what Pinter hoped to achieve in the original radio production of A Slight Ache, some of the dialogue of which L. A. C. Dobrez acutely compares to the prose reveries of Beckett’s Watt. 19
Reviewers of The Birthday Party occasionally linked Beckett and Ionesco’s names, but Beckett’s name was regularly invoked with The Caretaker – for praise or blame. Mac Davies, the prevaricating tramp, along with the procrastinating Aston, immediately prompted comparison with Estragon and Vladimir of Godot. At an unsympathetic extreme it was suggested that ‘this is the way in which all original visions are reduced by inadequate imitation into conventional realism’. 20 Robert Brustein made an analytic distinction: though Pinter may have borrowed some Beckettian techniques, ‘the comparison is more misleading than illuminating … In Waiting for Godot the action is metaphorical and universal; in The Caretaker it is denotative and specific.’ 21 My own view is that Beckett and Pinter use theatricality to quite opposite ends: Godot dismantles religion and philosophy to reveal the emptiness of teleological truth, whereas The Caretaker ultimately transcends theatricality by realising arguably the only truth we have, existence itself.
Still further indebtedness was claimed with the production of Landscape and Silence in comparison with Beckett’s Play (1964). Beckett’s work had three figures buried in notorious urns speaking in cross-cut monologues, alternately illuminated by a spotlight. To some extent this minimalist immobility is reflected in Pinter’s plays as, indeed, is the content of failed love. Silence, it may be conceded, is the most Beckettian of all of Pinter’s plays particularly in its use of past and present voices in relation to the fragmentary arbitrariness of memory, as can be found in such plays as Krapp’s Last Tape (1958) and Embers (1959). And yet it possibly anticipates That Time (1976). Let a reviewer of 1960 have the last word here: The Caretaker ‘stands up with full stature to the comparison’ with Godot, ‘it savours of Chekhov, Beckett and Ionesco but, still more, of life itself’. 22
Life for Pinter’s great predecessor, Anton Chekhov, was pedestrian: ‘life … as it really is’, that is, not life ‘on stilts’ of nineteenth-century melodrama.23 Pinter said something similar in considering ‘Life with a capital L, which is held up to be very different to life with a small l, I mean the life we in fact live.’ 24 The two dramatists have been compared many times and, indeed, there are several common factors in their work.
Chekhov and Pinter wrote for a proscenium arch theatre; strong curtain lines are found in both. Chekhov favoured the exposition of the wellmade play, which Pinter abhorred as false. However, Chekhov replaced the catastrophe–denouement with the long drawn out coda of the last act. In spite of Stanislavsky’s emphasis on the realism and tragedy, Chekhov insisted that the comedy of his plays should be stressed. Conversely, while Pinter is always enjoyed in the theatre as a distinguished writer of comedy, it is very rare for any criticism to take this into account. Each uses comedy to preempt the audience from slipping into a consolatory emotional response of pathos and sentiment. Realism is thereby compromised by theatricality of speech, situation and character. In Chekhov some characters hide their pain behind a comic mask, whereas Pinter uses laughter to induce a retroactive guilt as audience insecurity parallels that of his characters.
Stanislavsky defined the Chekhovian subtext as ‘the manifest, the inwardly felt expression of a human being in a part, which flows uninterruptedly beneath the words of a text, giving them life and a basis for existing’. 25 Comparably, Pinter writes ‘[t]here] are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed. This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it. That is its continual reference. The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don’t hear.’ 26 Typical of Chekhov’s dialogue is the way that characters will occasionally talk across each other, as if encapsulated in private worlds. In contrast, evasion of communication characterises Pinter’s dialogue. As John Russell Brown points out, one of the striking features of Chekhov’s and Pinter’s plays is the way in which the most profound expression of feeling is through silence, as at the close of Uncle Vanya and The Caretaker, for example.27 Chekhov is famous for his ‘orchestration’ of detail as if his dialogue were composed like a musical score. Again, his promotion of ensemble acting, as opposed to the somewhat operatic star system, often drew comparisons with chamber music. Comparably, a reviewer of The Caretaker praised Donald McWhinnie for directing ‘with melodic perfection’ 28 and the interweaving allusions to ‘shoes’, ‘Sidcup’ and ‘papers’, ‘shed’, ‘saws’ and ‘roof’ indeed suggest the contrapuntal augmentation of musical composition. But such likenesses should not blind us to the differences, which some examples will bring out.
The last words of Toozenbach to Irena, in The Three Sisters, before going off to possible death in a duel, are ‘I didn’t have any coffee this morning. Will you tell them to get some ready for me?’ 29 In Act One of The Caretaker, having been told by Aston that the gas stove does not work, Davies asks ‘What do you do for a cup of tea?’ 30
Because of the crucial situation Toozenbach’s celebrated lines, in spite of their banality, give expression to the subtextual emotional impasse that has just been admitted – he is passionately in love with Irena who has agreed to marry him, although she does not love him. Therefore Toozenbach cannot make a certain kind of romantic appeal because he knows it cannot truly be reciprocated. The psychological truth is recognisable, but so is Chekhov’s anti-conventional agenda. As an ironic consequence the lines cannot escape melodrama, albeit of an inverted kind.
Davies’s question could be taken literally and the lines simply accepted as an incidental example of Pinter’s superb ear for colloquial accuracy. But the inflexible self-interest created by a tramp’s way of life suggests that Davies, once more the hard-done-by victim, is indirectly protesting ‘Ain’t I even going to get a cup of tea?’ The first of a number of references to the stove is made here, which subsequently show that Davies just cannot get it into his head that the appliance is unconnected. Thus the question can be taken in terms of Davies’s fears of leaking gas as one more example of a malevolent world: ‘I don’t believe that stove’s not working [since you must make a cup of tea].’ Alternatively, the question can be read as revealing the basic imperative of a way of life which keeps complete deprivation one symbolic cup of tea away, with the added irony that all that it represents – sustenance, warmth, society – have already been precluded by Davies’s habitual repugnance. With Toozenbach’s words we know exactly where we are: with examples like that of Davies, which are characteristic of Pinter on the whole, we are drawn into the endless permutations of possibility.
In comparing Chekhov’s and Pinter’s plays generally, consider the conventional pattern of arrival–disruption–departure as it is found in Uncle Vanya and The Homecoming. In the Chekhov, individual psychology and emotion are coordinated and conditioned by class structure. Thus Yeliena and Serebriakov start a chain reaction of cause and effect on the other characters according to status, age and position within a determining social microcosm. In The Homecoming all cultural values are deconstructed by the visceral, atavistic animality revealed by the reaction to Ruth. Thus for Chekhov existence is always measured against the domestic sphere of social reality, but here Pinter’s almost anthropological insight reveals a reality beneath the social.
Chekhov, Ibsen and Strindberg are commonly regarded as the founding fathers of twentieth-century drama. Though Pinter is infrequently compared to Ibsen, a general and a highly specific case for influence can be made. Thomas Postlewait sees Ibsen as bequeathing the conventional characterisation of women in terms of sexual identity, desire and power in the male-dominated home, and builds a fascinating comparison between Hedda, of Hedda Gabler, and Nora, of A Doll’s House, with Ruth, in The Homecoming. 31 The specific case is an unusual one, as I shall show below in arguing that the direct influence of Ibsen in James Joyce’s Exiles reappears in Pinter’s Betrayal.
August Strindberg’s restless dramatic experimentalism anticipates the major developments of the twentieth century. Pinter’s plays are occasionally compared with Strindberg, particularly The Collection, which featured in a double bill with Strindberg’s Playing With Fire (1892), directed by Peter Hall in 1962. In one way this was a curiously prescient choice since its concern with a husband abetting his own adulterous betrayal by a friend anticipates Pinter’s Betrayal. Recently Michael Billington paired The Lover with Strindberg’s The Stranger (1889), a monologue in which a wife addresses her husband’s former lover. In his review Adrian Noble called Pinter ‘Strindberg’s natural heir’. 32 Looking at Strindberg’s realist period, in plays like The Father (1887) and The Creditors (1888), it is possible to identify the power struggles of sexual politics, outright misogyny and the fixation with the male’s impotent defeat by the female, with those in such plays as The Lover, The Collection and The Homecoming.
More specific influence is difficult to argue, but it can be said that Pinter is the heir to some of Strindberg’s theoretical innovations, namely his pause/ silence technique, and his concept of dialogue in relation to the exploration of musical form. ‘Silence cannot hide anything – which is more than you can say for words’ 33 says Hummel just before the ‘ghost supper’ of The Ghost Sonata (1907) which is, indeed, structured around pauses, silences and long silences. Probably by way of Beckett, Pinter became notorious for this technique, which Strindberg developed before Chekhov. Eventually, Pinter structured a whole play by the feature that was to provide its title, Silence. In the preface to Miss Julie (1888) Strindberg stressed the irregular, haphazard nature of his realistic dialogue in contrast to the mechanistic symmetries of French drama. Strindberg’s aleatory dialogue ‘is worked over, picked up again, repeated, expounded, and built up like the theme in a musical composition’, 34 which sounds exactly like a description of Pinter’s dialogue in The Caretaker, that Irving Wardle characterised as like a ‘sonata movement’, ‘undergoing development and combination’. 35 Another influential experimentalist and theorist was Luigi Pirandello.
In 1980, when Pinter received the ‘Premio Pirandello’ in Palermo, he remarked that he was surprised as he felt that his plays were ‘at the other end of the telescope’ from those of Pirandello himself.36 Pinter probably had in mind the metadrama of a philosophy of life and art as found in Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921) and Henry IV (1922). None of Pinter’s plays are self-reflexive or cerebral in the same way, but Pirandello’s mixture of the comic and tragic, his dislike of symbolism and abstraction, and above all his destabilisation of the audience, are all common to Pinter’s drama. One of the principal modes of promoting audience instability in both is to frustrate the need for verification. In this respect Pirandello’s Right You Are (If You Think So) (1917), is usually compared with The Collection.
Both plays are concerned with the problem of verification where two conflicting versions of a situation are given and a third party has to decide on which may be true. Pirandello is seemingly concerned with revealing the social snobbery of the bourgeoisie in a comedy of manners, but the existential twist at the close raises the psychological and philosophical question of the relativity of the truth and the alienation of identity. In The Collection James pursues the truth of apparent adultery in the conflicting stories of his wife and Bill, who use fictions to reposition themselves in the power struggles of domestic relationships. But it emerges that James is possibly as much in flight from the truth of his own situation, from heterosexual rejection and homosexuality. Elsewhere, among several interesting allusions to Pirandello, L. A. C. Dobrez compares the Matchseller of A Slight Ache as object of Edward’s and Flora’s fantasies to the veiled figure at the end of Right You Are, who declares ‘I am the one you believe me to be.’ 37
Pirandello paradoxically entitled his collected plays ‘naked masks’. Comparably, a major aspect of Pinter’s drama is to disclose the verbal ‘stratagem to cover nakedness’. 38 A significant difference, however, is that for Pirandello identity is deeply subjective and incommunicable – the ‘private world’ of the Father in Six Characters, the ‘impenetrable world’ of Henry IV39 – whereas Pinter’s characters evade communication to resist ‘being known’. 40 As a consequence, for each dramatist to discover a character is to encounter an autonomous otherness rather than each creating a fiction out of omniscient imagination. In his famous preface to Six Characters Pirandello described how his maidservant, Fantasy, admitted the insistent characters to his study. Similarly, in his speech on accepting the Hamburg Shakespeare prize, Pinter recorded ‘I am aware, sometimes, of an insistence in my mind. Images, characters insisting upon being written.’ 41
There is a further area of common ground, that of Pirandello’s theory of ‘l’umorismo’, or humourism,42 which is related both to character and dramatic structure. For Pirandello humour is much more profound than the mere laughter of comedy, or the moral indignation of satire. The core concept is expounded in Pirandello’s example of a grotesquely made-up old lady with an appalling hair-do, attempting to look like a young girl. In fact she looks like an ‘exotic parrot’, he tells us. The incongruity creates an ‘awareness of the opposite’ – what a respectable old lady should look like – which gives rise to comic laughter. But when a deeper ‘reflection’ arises in the viewer it makes us aware of the possible underlying cause of such an appearance (attempting to keep the love of a much younger husband, for example). Then we can no longer laugh. ‘Reflection’ has made us shift to a ‘feeling of the opposite’ which makes us respond with compassion, even though elements of the initial comic response may remain.43
Consider The Birthday Party and The Caretaker in the light of this. In Act Two of the former Meg enters for the party ‘in evening dress’, 44 which is immediately stressed in the subsequent exchange. Incongruously, Meg claims that her father gave it to her. The shift in action from Stanley’s interrogation creates the laughter of relief which is increased by Meg’s garish appearance: ‘like a Gladiola’, 45 as Goldberg says. In Pirandello’s terms, we laugh from an ‘awareness of the opposite’, the disparity between intention and appearance, yet ‘reflection’ gives rise to the ‘feeling of the opposite’. Meg’s simple-minded delusion reminds us of the father who seemingly abandoned her as a child, and of her hope to please Stanley, the surrogate of her thwarted maternal longings. Comedy is deepened by the latent compassion of ‘humourism’.
Again, consider the figure of Davies in Act Two of The Caretaker, trying on the ‘deep-red velvet smoking jacket’, and asking, ‘You ain’t got a mirror here, have you?’ 46 The ‘awareness of the opposite’ is hilarious: the smoking jacket as synecdoche for that pre-war world of the sophisticated gentleman, glamour and romance – and Davies the tramp. But the inevitable ‘reflection’ gives rise to ‘feeling of the opposite’ by which the smoking jacket symbolises all that Davies is denied – status, friendship, love, comfort and so on. We still laugh at Davies as a stereotype of comic affectation here but this is ultimately displaced by the residual compassion for the plight of a human being at the close.
For Pirandello, as for Pinter, ‘[t]he humourist … treasures … ordinary events and common details … all [of] which may appear trivial and vulgar’, 47 but humourism allows these to shape the artistic structure. What Roger W. Oliver says of Pirandello, ‘[t]his conflict [of humourism] between surface appearance and deeper realities becomes the basis for both subject matter and dramatic technique’, 48 is also true of Pinter.
Pirandello’s work made a major contribution to modernism. Two other leading modernists, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce, directly influenced two of Pinter’s plays, respectively No Man’s Land and Betrayal.
T. S. Eliot ‘I admire extremely’, Pinter recorded.49 In the early 1950s he joined a group touring London with a production of the choruses from Eliot’s The Rock (1934).50 Eliot’s ‘Aristophanic fragment’ of the 1920s, Sweeney Agonistes, was regularly compared with the early Pinter for the common qualities of menace and banality, music-hall stylisation and the demotic. Eliot’s Dusty and Doris exchanges are often compared with those at the opening of The Birthday Party; they make an even stronger parallel with those of Annie and Millie in Night School. Eliot speculated that perhaps the music-hall comedian would make the ‘best material’ to transform ‘entertainment’ to a ‘form of art’, but it was Pinter who fully realised this with such echoes of the cross-talk double-act of Goldberg and McCann in The Birthday Party. Similarly, the ‘new form’ which might be devised out of ‘colloquial speech’ that Eliot experimented with, for example at the opening of The Cocktail Party, is the celebrated hallmark of Pinter’s whole oeuvre. 51 Goldberg and McCann’s pursuit of Stanley to the seaside boarding-house has often been likened to the Eumenides’ pursuit of Harry to the security of his family seat in The Family Reunion (1939). Again, an Unidentified Guest at The Cocktail Party (1949) leads to the jungle martyrdom of another guest: we do not know the precise fate of Stanley following his birthday party.
Pinter’s blind Negro, Riley, in The Room, is arguably a burlesque of Eliot’s Unidentified Guest who sings the music-hall song of the ‘one-eyed Riley’ and turns out to be Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly. Pinter’s Riley also brings a form of revelation, but it is existential rather than Christian. Elsewhere, as Katherine Burkman has hinted, A Slight Ache can be considered from one point of view – given Edward’s displacement and the seasonal vegetative references – as a burlesque of fertility ritual as found in J. G. Frazer’s The Golden Bough (abridged 1922) which contributed to the symbolism of Eliot’s The Waste Land (1922).52 But it was not until No Man’s Land that Pinter indirectly confronted the informing beliefs of Eliot’s dramatic world. For all the upper-class ennui of those conventional drawing rooms, Eliot is concerned with atonement and salvation.
Spooner overtly identifies himself with Prufrock, by repeatedly alluding to his lines – ‘For I have known them all already … And I have known’ 53 – with ‘I have known this before.’ 54 The epigraph of ‘Prufrock’ from Dante’s Inferno, Spooner’s allusion to ‘terza rima’ 55 and the significance of Dante in The Waste Land, suggest a loosely parodic relationship between Spooner–Hirst as a mock Virgil–Dante, and the wasteland of Bolsover Street as reflecting Dante’s third canto, but there are more direct correspondences to Eliot’s dramatic work. Russell Davies has justly paralleled the drinks exchange between the Unidentified Guest and Edward in The Cocktail Party56 but the greater correlation is between The Elder Statesman (1958) and No Man’s Land.
In The Elder Statesman, after changing his name to Gomez, Culverwell returns to Lord Claverton’s home where, as he knocks back the drink, he reveals his intention to pursue friendship, while at the same time reminding his host of the guilty secret of Oxford days: quite precise analogues for Spooner and Hirst in Act One. Again, Hirst’s loneliness is kept at bay by his photograph album whereas Claverton’s loneliness is exacerbated by his symbolic engagement book. In great contrast, Hirst at the close remains in his particular alcoholic circle of hell, Pinter thereby effectively rejecting any parallel to the epiphany of love vouchsafed to Claverton, just as Briggs and Foster’s mock-antiphony parodies Eliot’s liturgical mode.
In Pinter’s next play we find a similar structural relationship: Acts One and Two of Joyce’s Ibsenesque Exiles provide the genesis for scenes one and two of Betrayal. The direction of Exiles in 1970, a few years before writing Betrayal, not only demonstrated Pinter’s lifelong admiration for all of Joyce’s work but also brought into focus the preoccupation with male friendship and betrayal common to both writers which is reflected in the central conflict of each play. There are very many correspondences in verbal detail and dramatic situation. A few from each category are examined here, as further demonstration may be considered elsewhere.57
In Exiles Richard and Bertha return to Dublin and meet Robert and Beatrice once again, after nine years. Pinter’s Emma admits to Jerry that she has confessed her adultery to Robert nine years after the affair began. Towards the end of Act One of Exiles, following the love overtures of Robert, Bertha is interrogated by her husband and reveals all that took place in the flirtation. In scene one of Betrayal the ex-lovers Jerry and Emma meet up in a pub and Emma reveals that not only are she and Robert about to separate, but that she revealed to him ‘last night’ 58 her affair with his oldest friend. In Act Two of Exiles Richard makes his way to Robert’s cottage and confronts him with the betrayal: ‘I know everything. I have known for some time … Since it began between you and her.’ 59 Robert assumes that Richard was told ‘This afternoon’, but Richard has to disabuse him, ‘No. Time after time; as it happened.’ 60 In scene two of Betrayal, at Jerry’s request Robert has arrived at his house, where he acknowledges that Emma ‘didn’t tell me about you and her last night. She told me about you and her four years ago.’ 61 Robert expostulates with Richard, ‘And you never spoke! You had only to speak a word.’ 62 Jerry remonstrates with Robert, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ 63 Richard leaves Robert with Bertha after the confrontation in Act Two. Eventually Robert hesitatingly asks, ‘Did you tell him – everything?’ ‘Everything’, 64 Bertha replies. Correspondingly, in scene one of Betrayal it eventually occurs to Jerry to ask, ‘You didn’t tell Robert about me last night, did you?’ ‘He told me everything. I told him everything’, Emma answers. Staggered, Jerry asks twice, ‘You told him everything?’ 65
In Act Three ofExiles Bertha expostulates with Richard, ‘You are a stranger… A stranger! I am living with a stranger!’ 66 In the longest speech of Betrayal Robert plays on relationship, title and names, and the idea of being a ‘stranger’: ‘We could be, and in fact are most vastly likely to be, total strangers … I could very easily be a total stranger.’ 67 At an early stage Joyce’s Robert appeals to Richard ‘for the sake of … our friendship, our life-long friendship’. 68 ‘Your husband is my oldest friend’, 69 Jerry reminds Emma.
Finally, all that is implicit in the buried homoerotic psychology of the men in Betrayal, is arguably made explicit in Exiles: ‘You are so strong that you attract me even through her’, 70 Robert says to Richard, who later acknowledges ‘I longed to be betrayed by you and by her.’ 71 In conclusion, we can see the likely influence of Beckett, and the direct influence of Eliot and Joyce, on the genesis of specific plays, and the indirect influence of realist and experimental dramatic traditions. In some cases, Pinter’s technique bears a fascinating resemblance to his predecessors. However, on closer analysis we find that each of Pinter’s plays has its own character and accomplishment, and the totality of his drama, over nearly half a century, is of unique, unrivalled distinction.
NOTES 1. See David T. Thompson, Pinter: the Player’s Playwright (London and New York: Macmillan, 1985), pp. 131–5. 2. All references to Pinter’s plays are to the four-volume Faber edition (London, 1991), as follows: The Room, The Birthday Party, A Night Out, The Dumb Waiter, A Slight Ache (Plays One); The Caretaker, The Collection, The Lover, Night School (Plays Two); The Homecoming, Landscape, Silence (Plays Three); No Man’s Land, Betrayal (Plays Four). 3. Pinter, ‘Writing for Myself’, Plays Two, p. ix. 4. The Daily Mail, 7 March 1964, p. 8. 5. ‘New Comment’, interview with Laurence Kitchin, 8 October 1963, BBC transcript, p. 10. 6. Quoted by Martin Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968), p. 23. 7. The Financial Times, 20 May 1958, p. 15. 8. Plays and Players, 7, 10 (July 1960), 15. 9. The Manchester Guardian, 29 April 1960. 10. The Isis Review, 14 May 1958, p. 27. 11. Eugène Ionesco, Rhinoceros. The Chairs. The Lesson (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1976), p. 104. 12. The Times, 16 November 1959, p. 4. 13. See Eugène Ionesco, ‘The London Controversy’, Notes and Counter-Notes (London: John Calder, 1964), pp. 90–112. 14. New Theatre Magazine 11, pt.3 (May–June 1971), 3. 15. Harold Pinter, Beckett at Sixty (London: Calder and Boyars, 1967), p. 86. 16. ‘New Comment’, interview with Laurence Kitchin, 8 October 1963, BBC transcript. 17. Michael Billington,TheLife andWork of Harold Pinter(London: Faber, 1996), p. 51. 18. ‘Talking of Theatre’, a joint interview with Donald McWhinnie, with Carl Wildman, 7 March 1961, BBC transcript, pp. 9–10. 19. L. A. C. Dobrez, The Existential and Its Exits: Literary and Philosophical Perspectives in the Work of Beckett, Ionesco, Genet, and Pinter (London and New York: Athlone Press, St Martin’s Press, 1985), p. 333. 20. Nigel Dennis, ‘Optical Delusion’, Encounter, 15 (July 1960), 64.
21. Robert Brustein, ‘A Naturalism of the Grotesque’, Seasons of Discontent (London: Jonathan Cape, 1966), p. 182. 22. Theatre World, 56, 425 (June 1960), 8–9. 23. Robert W. Corrigan, ‘The Drama of Anton Chekhov’, in Modern Drama. Essays in Criticism, ed. Travis Bogard and William I. Oliver (London, Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1965), p. 79. 24. Pinter, ‘Writing for the Theatre’, Plays One, p. xi. 25. Constantin Stanislavsky, Building a Character (London: Methuen, 1968), p. 113. 26. Pinter, ‘Writing for the Theatre’, Plays One, p. xiii. 27. John Russell Brown, ‘Dialogue in Pinter and Others’, in Modern British Dramatists, ed. John Russell Brown (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1968), p. 140. 28. John Mortimer, The Evening Standard, 31 May 1960, p. 12. 29. Anton Chekhov, Plays, trans. Elisaveta Fen (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1982), p. 321. 30. The Caretaker, Plays Two, p. 15. 31. Thomas Postlewait, ‘Pinter’s The Homecoming: Displacing and Repeating Ibsen’, Comparative Drama, 15 (1981), 195–212. 32. Adrian Noble, The Guardian, 12 April 1977, ‘The Week’, p. 7. 33. August Strindberg, The Chamber Plays, trans. Evert Sprinchorn, Seabury Quinn Jr, and Kenneth Petersen (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1962), p. 136. 34. August Strindberg, Seven Plays, trans. Arvid Paulson (New York, Toronto, London: Bantam Books, 1964), p. 70. 35. Irving Wardle, ‘There’s Music in that Room’, in New Theatre of the Fifties and Sixties, ed. Charles Marowitz, Tom Milne, Owen Hale (London: Eyre Methuen, 1981), p. 131. 36. The Independent, 26 November 1993, p. 14. 37. Dobrez, The Existential and Its Exits, p. 333. 38. Pinter, ‘Writing for the Theatre’, Plays One, p. 13. 39. Luigi Pirandello, Three Plays (London: Methuen, 1985), pp. 85, 187. 40. ‘Harold Pinter: An Interview’ (with Lawrence M. Bensky) in Harold Pinter: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Arthur Ganz (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1972), p. 26. 41. ‘Speech: Hamburg 1970’, Theatre Quarterly, 1 (1971), 4. 42. Pirandello, On Humour, trans. Antonio Illiano and Daniel P. Testa (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1974). 43. Ibid., p. 113. 44. The Birthday Party, Plays One, p. 47. 45. Ibid., p. 48. 46. The Caretaker, Plays Two, p. 40. 47. Pirandello, On Humour, p. 144. 48. Roger W. Oliver, Dreams of Passion. The Theatre of Luigi Pirandello (New York and London: New York University Press, 1979), p. 4. 49. Pinter, ‘Talking of Theatre’, p. 7. 50. See Billington, The Life and Work of Harold Pinter, p. 21. 51. For these and the following Eliot references I am indebted to Andrew K. Kennedy’s helpful discussion in his Six Dramatists in Search of a Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), pp. 108–15.
52. Katherine Burkman, The Dramatic World of Harold Pinter: Its Basis in Ritual (Columbus: University of Ohio Press, 1971), pp. 47–64. 53. T. S. Eliot, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, Collected Poems 1909–1935 (London: Faber and Faber, 1961), pp. 12, 13. 54. No Man’s Land, Plays Four, pp. 78, 121. 55. Ibid., p. 139. 56. Russell Davies, ‘Pinter Land’, New York Review of Books, 25, 21/22 (25 January 1979). 57. See Ronald Knowles, ‘Joyce and Pinter: Exiles and Betrayal’, Barcelona English Language and Literature Studies, 9 (1998), 183–91. 58. Betrayal, Plays Four, p. 179. 59. James Joyce, Exiles (London: New English Library, 1962), pp. 73–4. 60. Ibid., p. 74. 61. Betrayal, p. 185. 62. Exiles, p. 75. 63. Betrayal, p. 188. 64. Exiles, pp. 97–8. 65. Betrayal, p. 179. 66. Exiles, p. 136. 67. Betrayal, p. 222. 68. Exiles, p. 45. 69. Betrayal, p. 198. 70. Exiles, p. 78. 71. Ibid., p. 87.