Harold Pinter and the Absurd theatre


N. Pratima


Harold Pinter was born on October 10, 1930. He has presented the characteristics of the Absurd theatre in the background of the English ethos. The essence of the European Absurd theatre finds a new dimension in the plays of Pinter. He has shown the inherent drawbacks and tension in the social life of today. His dramatic style and techniques have certainly given a novel direc≠tion to the drama today. The theatre with which are associated Samuel Beckett, Edward Albee, Jean Genet and Harold Pinter, the stage is invariably occupied by a few characters and each one of them expresses his ideas vehemently. The modern stage has taken many turns the main being the Poetic theatre, the Angry theatre and the Absurd theatre.


Harold Pinter is in the forefront in bringing forth changes in the British theatre. Whatever forms theatre has taken in the pre≠sent period, only that theatre has survived which catered to the likes of the audience avoiding all that which the audience do not favour. During the 1950ís the verse drama came into vogue, but it did not succeed in refining the tastes of the theatre-goers. The verse drama of Yeats, Eliot and Fry gained limited popularity only. The European drama was given a vital shape by Samuel Beckett, Jean Paul Sartre, Eugene Ionesco. Arthur Adamov, Bertolt Brecht and others, for it emerged with a wider perspective and could deal with a variety of human problems. The New Theatre could not foster the verse drama, but it absorbed the Angry drama and the Absurd drama instead. John Osborne, Arnold Wesker and John Arden are the vital forces of the Angry theatre. But the Angry theatre did not do justice with the problem of human suffering in the modern world. The theatre of the Absurd fared better than the Angry theatre, because it flourished in many forms, developing its own traditions since Beckettís play Waiting for Godot. Pinter along with a number of other merited playwrights has given a new shape and direction to the contemporary drama.


Pinter has maintained that his plays are not intricate and are easy to grasp. He has denied the presence of any allegorical mean≠ing in his plays. Brevity is the hallmark of Pinterís dialogue which naturally gives rise to many shades of meaning. The reader of Pinterís plays cannot always arrive at the exact meaning of the cryptic sentences, and one can draw many alternative ideas from them. Pinterís plays have a suggestive power which is missing in the works of many contemporary dramatists. Following the traditions of the Absurd theatre Pinter has debunked the excessive stress on language and logic.


The influence of Beckett on his plays has been recognised by Harold Pinter. Like Beckett, Pinter waits for the dawn of a better world. For the Absurdists humanity is waiting for the appearance of the ideal order and it shares the psychology and existentialist idealism of the two tramps Estragon and Vladimir in Beckettís play Waiting for Godot. The question when will Godot come is not different from the question when will a better society come into existence, both in connotation and significance. Pinter has taken the Beckettian models of presenting the existential suffering of huma≠nity, but his depiction of the despair experienced by the individual is certainly different from that of the other writers of the Absurd theatre. The Absurdist playwrights do not follow the Aristotelian rules of writing plays, but this does not decrease the effectiveness of the absurdist plays. In fact, the Absurd theatre gives a psycho≠logical shock to the audience by showing the absurd ideas and absurd activities of persons who do not know how to come out of the abyss of anxiety. Pinterís plays provide an indepth analysis of the concept of the Absurd theatre.


Pinterís play The Room is about two people and it was written in four days. Pinter has given a glimpse of his style and the stage≠-setting in this play. Rose and Bert are an old couple living in a small room of a big mansion. Though they live together, yet each one experiences a loneliness untouched by the ideas and attitudes of the other. Each lives in a world insulated from the others, but is capable of apprehending the feelings and fears of others. Rose convinces Bert that their room provides security from the insecure world outside. In this play the conversation of the landlord named Kidd is utterly vague, and the dialogue of the couple Clarissa and Toddy Sands who are in search of a room is equally ambiguous. The blind negro in this play symbolises the shady past and guilt of Rose. The characters in The Room are victims of suppressed motives and are menaced thy some unspecific evil power.


Pinterís famous play The Birthday Party shows the attempts of Stanley to evade all the connections of his past life and begin a new life. But Stanley does not succeed in this attempt and he is literally dragged away by his erstwhile partners from whom he tried to escape. Stanley loses his will-power and becomes a pathetic figure, an embodiment of the anxiety and fear felt by the individual in the modern world. Pinterís two plays A Slight Ache and A Night Out did not receive much attention from the critics when compared with The Birthday Party and The Room. But the pro≠blems and events dealt by Pinter recur in a diluted and unimpres≠sive form in these two plays. Pinterís another play The Dumb Waiter is an exposition of the nature of menace and how the menac≠ing persons are in turn menaced by others. It is in The Dumb Waiter that Pinter has used silence as an integral part of the dialogue. The Dwarfs is a radio-play regarded as most enigmatic, but it is not devoid of the Pinter touch. The Caretaker is another cele≠brated play of Pinter which has been filmed under the name The Guest. In The Caretaker Pinter has shown the search of the indi≠vidual for compassion and help in a world which is devoid of finer sentiments. The attitude of the public towards Pinterís plays took a favourable turn when he started working for television. Unlike the dramatists of the past wider opportunities and larger audience become available to those who work for radio, television and cinema. Along with other dramatists Pinter has accepted the television and cinema enhance the scope of drama, for the dramatist can reach wider sections of mankind. Pinterís contribution to the Absurd theatre has become more significant today.


It is wrong to say that the Absurd theatre ends in absurdity and despair. The Absurd theatre concentrates on the rampant absurdity faced by the individual willingly or unwillingly. When the absurdities dominate the life style of individuals this will throw them into a state of despair from which there is no escape. Pinter has maintained that even if the absurdities of life are opposed in thought if not in action, the individual has still a chance to free himself from the contradictions which effect his personal and social life. The heroes of Pinter as well as those of the other absurdist playwrights are aware of the all-powerful net of absurdity within which the individuals are caught, and in spite of their will to escape its meshes find no way out. The gloom and despair found in the Absurd theatre is indicative of the irrational and futile pursuits of the present day societies and states. Beckett. Osborne, Brecht, Pinter and others try to show a way out of the aimlessness haunt≠ing the modern societies.


In the plays of Pinter the atmosphere is charged with fear and threat to the natural harmony of life. Though Pinter depends on the form of comedy than that of tragedy, this does not decrease the hidden menace against the characters who want to escape from the forces of evil. Pinter likes to show the inevitable contradic≠tions faced by people in todayís world. The tentacles of evil forces drag the individual into the mire of corruption and nefarious acti≠vities. Pinterís plays have been rightly called the comedies of menace.


The heroes of Pinter are pessimistic and function as tools in the hands of unbenign powers. The undercurrent of social malaise pushes the individual hither and thither and he loses the sense of direction and purpose in the plays of Pinter. Like the existentialist playwrights Pinter has given expression to the hapelessness and anxiety felt by the individual in the modern society dominated by despotic groups and crime syndicates. The dilemma faced by the individual in the 20th century is presented in the Absurd theatre of Pinter. Pinterís plays take one directly into the controversial areas of modern life wherein the individual has to fallow without any protest the dictates of such persons and institutions which have no regard for the aspirations of the common man.