Harold Pinter: essays on the metaphysics of his theatre

Rogers, Rodney Outhwaite, Department of English, University of Virginia
Quigley, A.E., Department of English, University of Virginia
Day, Douglas, University of Virginia

Three related essays elucidate a single thesis: Pinter's drama illustrates--as his utterances about it defend--the idea that man by the very nature of the human condition is metaphysically isolated from the world he must inhabit. The first essay defines Pinter's metaphysic. The second explores how this metaphysic influences Pinter's concept and development of dramatic character and how it determines the typical conflict in his drama. The third systematically reads the various plays in the light of generalizations developed in the first two, "Pinter and Beckett: The Philosophical Nexus" examines the implications of Pinter's professed admiration for and indebtedness to Samuel Beckett, Beckett's belief that man's intellect is inadequate to understand clearly the world around him is what Pinter finds philosophically and artistically stimulating. The solipsistic metaphysic enunciated by Beckett in Proust and later in "Three Dialogues" is also the one developed in a rudimentary way by Pinter in "Writing for the Theatre" and other similar comments about his drama. By contrast, Pinter's aesthetic is somewhat distinct from though clearly related to the aesthetic set forth in "Three Dialogues." Though one cannot prove conclusively that Beckett's philosophical predispositions in fact directly influenced Pinter, a comparison of the two men's similar and quintessentially modern ideas is nevertheless justified the light which Beckett’s outlook sheds on Pinter’s.

“Characterization and the Type-Situation in Pinter’s Drama” examines the relationship between Pinter's metaphysic and his dramatic technique. Since he finds everything external to the self inscrutable, Pinter necessarily sees personality as an irrational. For the same reason he totally rejects conventional notions about predictability of behavior and verification of motive, Fear of the unknown is often evident in man's behavior, though exactly how this fear will be manifested remains a mystery until the behavior actually occurs, Pinter himself, in harmony with this view, insists on seeing his characters strictly from an “outside” point of view; he observes what they are doing physically without trying to understand precisely why they are doing it, Such notions also inform Pinter's conception of the type-situation in his plays, a situation where man confronts the unknowable and is victimized by it, This type-situation is epitomized by the conflict in Pinter's short story "The Examination11 and clearly illustrated in his play The Collection.

“Exempla: Conflict in Pinter’ s Drama from The Room Through The Basement" studies the development of the type conflict situation in Pinter’ s drama. In The Room The Dumb Waiter, and The Birthday Party, a menacing because undefinable stranger destroys the sanctity of another person’s domicile. In The Caretaker, however, toward which these three earlier plays develop in depicting man’ s victimization by the unknown, menace is inside rather than outside the room, and conflict derives from the struggle of each of three protagonists to define and thus to control the other two, Five other plays--A Slight Ache, A Night Out, Night School, The Lover, and The Homecoming -depict a similar conflict between individuals struggling to preserve their illusion of intellectual control over what appears to them (though not to the audience) as an ordered, rational environment, The sexual nature of the conflict in each of these plays underscores Pinter's conviction that man's efforts to love tacitly ignore the fact that everything outside one’s mind is metaphysically unknowable and thus incapable of being loved satisfactorily, Still a third group of plays--The Dwarfs, Tea Party, and The Basement--intentionally foreshortens the audience's point of view to put the audience in the position of Pinter's typical protagonist--threatened by the indefinability and unpredictability of things and people.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Pinter, Harold -- 1930-2008
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