For Pinter the past is certainly not meaningless, and particularly in his later work (from Old Times to Betrayed) prior relationships are viewed nostalgically as vital and alive when compared with those of the present which are fossilized and empty. In disclosing dramatic truth, his choice of incident and metaphor is very close to that of Eliot. One has only to juxtapose a few titles to recognize the extent of their congruity.


  The Birthday Party
The Caretaker/The Lover
The Homecoming
The Cocktail Party
The Confidential Clerk/The Elder Statesman
The Family Reunion

Rather than the middle classes of Eliot's late preoccupation, we find in Beckett the furnished-flat sort of people who inhabit The Waste Land and "Sweeny Agonistes"; even vulnerable and ragged down-and-outers, who exist uncomfortably on the edges of social and psychological stability. The occasion for dramatic action is thoroughly banal – meals, parties, arrivals, and departures, even chance conversations, while subtexts manifest themselves through the elliptical and fragmentary nature of modern reality. Whereas Eliot explores the breakdown of personal relationships and their redemption, either spiritually or temporally, Pinter provides no resolution. Logical motivation is ignored, and the action is rendered both inconclusive and inexplicable, mysterious and ambiguous. The unsuspected instability of situations is further emphasized by suspending the conventional limits of possibility – the calculated aggressiveness of Goldberg and McCann, for example, against so defenceless a character as Stanley in The Birthday Party or the transfer of Flora's love from her suburban husband to the Old Matchseller in A Slight Ache.

Pinter rejects the author's right to creep inside his characters and pretend to know what makes them act, even how they feel. All he can do is to render a meticulously accurate account of the movement which takes place, to give a description of the situation at the beginning, before the intrusion, and to note the changes that have taken place at the end. But – if the playwright cannot claim to know what his characters feel, what makes them act as thy do, what then can he communicate to the audience? He can convey his impression of the structure, the pattern of situation, the movement of its change as it unfolds again as a pattern, like the movement of a dance; and, on observing this, the author can also communicate his own sense of mystery, of wonder at his strange world of patterns and structures, of beings that move by mysterious and unpredictable impulses. | 8 |

8 | Martin Esslin, The Peopled Wound (London; ? , 1970), p. 79.

It is exactly such a structure or patterning of situations which accounts for the symbolic form of modern drama from Yeats and Eliot to Beckett and Pinter: a fixed relationship of images, characters, and action which offers a logical analogy or picture of the 'fact' (world view) being dramatized. The one-act chamber-drama created by Yeats provides the basic pattern for the plays of both Beckett and Pinter, but the structure is transformed more often than not by a division into two scenes so contrived as to emphasize an absence of logical progression and resolution. In Beckett, for example, self-contained fragments of dialogue and action at the beginning of Waiting for Godot, Endgame, and Happy Days amount to variation on a single theme, but when those of the second act echo them, more or less closely. The effect is overwhelming. In Play the strategy is extended to a devastatingly exact repetition of Act One. The isolation of the dramatic moment, its divorce from traditional concepts of exposition and development, is certainly Yeatsian, as is the extreme condensation and intensity of presentation. Beckett's later plays carry the form to its logical conclusion, reducing situation and dialogue to the barest minimum, yet retaining maximum dramatic tension and relevance. The point is clear; neither fragments of intense experience nor the repetition of time past, renders human experience coherent. The voice of May's mother in Footfalls says it all.

I had you late. (Pause.) In life. (Pause.) Forgive me again. (Pause.) | 9 |

9 | Samuel Beckett, Footfalls (London; Methuen, 1976), p. 10.

Although in his early work Pinter retains the more controversial dramatic development of Eliot's major plays, he does not imitate the structure of Greek drama, presumably because he does not believe than an awareness of the artistic past is fundamental to present conditions. Pinter's sense of dramatic form is not so radically experimental as that of Yeats and Beckett, yet it relies heavily on the truncation and seeming arbitrariness of action in those one-act chamber plays from The Room to Silence, as well as the early three-acters, The Birthday Party and The Caretaker. In The Homecoming, Old Times, and No Man's Land, however, there is no sense of resolution or outcome, and the subtext is discovered in the discrepancies and contrasts between the action of the two scenes into which the play is divided. There is, however, a very Yeatsian/Beckettian return to prior themes and situations, as in Family Voices which appears to be a much condensed rerun of The Birthday Party, as well as striking affinities between Pinter's and Beckett's monologues for radio.

Extra Literary Effects


Formal structuring, however, is not the only means of suggesting the presence of unstated meaning. Yeats, for example, relied heavily on non-verbal production techniques for the ultimate effectiveness of his plays. From his earliest experiments he used the visible symbolism of set design, costume, lighting, and stage properties in addition to music, chant, and song as constructional features. Drum taps, musical recitation, and physical movement were often orchestrated to create emotional effects, and when words alone failed to express the quality of the passionate moment, he substituted "the symbolic dance as a climax to suggest the impingement of the timeless upon the actual … to explode verisimilitude by miracle for the purpose of a more ultimate reality". | 10 | Even before his flirtation with the stylized sets of Nō , symbolism, masks, and non-illusionistic lighting were used while the importance of stage properties grew from Aibric's magical harp in The Shadowy Waters, through the chess board and burning brazier of Deirdre, to the stylized representation of water in At the Hawk's Well and the Christian cross of Calvary. Perhaps even more striking are the examples from the late plays such as the stuffed donkey on wheels and the bird design painted on a backcloth in The Herne's Egg, the pillar stone and seven parallelograms of The Death of Cuchulain, or the riven tree and ruined country house of Purgatory. In Eliot's work The only comparable instance is an appearance of the Eumenidies in The Family Reunion, a device which is hardly original and not particularly successful here as it tends to undermine the careful creation of surface realism.

10 | Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain (New York; ?, 1967), p. 72.

Beckett and Pinter, on the other hand, exploit both non-verbal devices and language/style to suggest sub-texts. In Beckett visual images are both central and unmistakable; the barren tree or slave halter in Waiting for Godot, the wheelchair and dustbins of Endgame, the handbag and mound of earth in Happy Days, or the burial urns of Play, for example. More important still are the disembodied voices and beams of light which animate other works and through whose agency unsuspected relationships are revealed. In Krapp's Last Tape the silent old man listening to recordings of his own voice and ideas from different stages of his life, makes us doubly conscious of his progressive decline in control over his own life. A similar situation taken many steps further is the basis of Not I, in which only a Mouth is visible, hovering eight feet above the stage, speaking to a dimly perceived Auditor. Or again, That Time, in which a listener's face, ten feet above ground level, hears three voices – all his own – coming at him from different directions on a completely darkened stage. The beam of light in Play is used as a sentient character, an independent force, activating the voices of the immobilized figures who rehearse their past experiences. In Footfalls an unseen woman's voice seems to carry on a dialogue with May, who paces catatonically up and down, seven steps in each direction turning on alternate feet. Threescore years and ten? The three women of Come and Go are almost realistic by contrast, actually visible and moving about more or less normally, but the original production hid their faces under wide-brimmed bell-shaped hats just as they hid their experiences beneath the silence of words suppressed and suggested relationships in a dance-like pattern of tableaux.

A Yeatsian theater of masks obviously informs Beckett's drama, not only in the close-up techniques of Not I and That Time or in the clown mask of Eh Joe, but also in the shock of hair which generally obscures the face so revealingly reflected at the beginning and end of Ghost Trio. Even earlier, the foes in Play are meant to be "so lost to age and aspect as to seem almost part of the urns". Dehumanization/stylization is obviously the order of the day, and precision of lighting is further used to undermine any residual confidence the audience might have, as to realism. Sound is also invoked as a symbolic device, especially in Embers where the sucking sound of the sea and the incessant beet of hooves (see also Purgatory) play so important a role – not to mention the obsessive beat of dripping water which reverberates in Hamm's head. The importance of sound in Beckett's mime plays, such as Act without Words, is another feature of his development beyond Yeatsian precedents. Breath, for example, consists of a cry, a drawing of breath accompanied by an increase of light – an exhalation of breath in decreasing light and a recurrence of the initial cry, all within sight of a rubbish heap. The question of existence is confronted by the enigma of annihilation in a microcosmic world which obviously owes much to Maeterlinck and Yeats.

The patterning of minimal elements in Beckett's plays is so basic a structural feature that his use of music is often overlooked. In Happy Days, for example, the youthful vitality and ardor of the waltz rhythms sung by Winnie belie her predicament as well as providing a sense of movement and multiplicity to that most static of dramas – while the largo from Beethoven's Fifth Piano Trio animates the ethereal television play, Ghost Trio, as do the last seven bars of the Schubertlied in Nacht und Träume. In addition to the patterning of sound, choreographed movement come to replace silence and immobility as in the spectral pacing of Footfalls, or the precisely timed blocking of Quad, not to mention …but the clouds…. In the main Beckett moves farther and farther away from realistic presentation of action and retreats into images of immobility, darkness, and silence – as visible representations of emptiness, of the void from which whatever action or dialogue there is, bursts upon us. Yet he projects that vision in terms of highly pattered lyricism. The inherent suffering of the human condition is thereby measured as well as by the pauses which isolate sequences of action and even phrases of individual speech.