Pinter, on the other hand, avoids such extensive visual symbolism except, perhaps, in Landscape and Silence, but his earlier plays do make use of stage properties and visible images for their representational value; the dumbwaiter in the play of that name, for example, the toy drum and blackout of The Birthday Party, or the mound of miscellaneous refuse in The Caretaker. Otherwise setting and action are wholly representational and calculated to produce a reasonable illusion of everyday reality. On the other hand Pinter is a past master of tableaux, much in the tradition of Yeats and Maeterlinck. The visual grouping of characters, especially in the early plays, make eloquent yet silent statements, as in Homecoming, where both Joey and Max kneel at Ruth’s feet. Oddly enough the notion of the Yeatsian dance play is often present in the static and symbolic scenes Pinter devises, as also in those of Beckett. Pinter is, above all, ingenious in transforming everyday occurrences, such as lights going on or off, insistent telephones ringing, and doors opening for unexpected arrivals, into modes of harassment which penetrate established façades and expose personal weaknesses.

Music is another extra-literary device which Pinter often employs; but perhaps one should speak of rhythmic accentuation, as in the tapping out of erotic messages on a bongo drum in The Lovers or in Stanley’s breakdown as signaled by his frenzied drumming in The Birthday Party. Yeats was equally given to the accentuation of action through drum beats in his dance plays, and Eliot accommodated the technique to scenes of modern life, not only in terms of musical accompaniment, but also those of prose rhythms. Another strategy employed by Pinter is unnaturally long pauses, not to mention the immobilization of characters in Landscape or the blank stage of Silence (three bar stools on a raked stage with reflecting mirrors in the original production). Rather than suggesting a cosmic void, such silences measure the shallows and shoals of human intercourse, as well as prompting the imagination of the audience to engage itself. Both tension and expectation are generated, not to mention analysis and comment.

Exploitation of Language

The creation of expressive dialogue is equally central to the plays of all four dramatists. Eliot admired Yeats’s development and control of dramatic verse, his manipulation of poetic style as a means of characterizing and illuminating action. One of Yeats’s great successes was the use of contrapuntal styles as both a structural and expressive device. In The Only Jealousy of Emer, for example, a heightened intensity was achieved through the irregularly rhymed octasyllabic couplets which distinguish the dialogue of the play-within-the-play from the freely varied pentameters of the basic dramatic action and also from the irregular and lyrical verse of the musicians which frames the whole and sets it off from the familiar world of the audience. In The Words upon the Window-Pane there is a formal contrast between the rhymed decasyllabic couplets and Eighteenth century diction with the mundane prose patterns and contemporary speech of the séance room, while the satire is further extended by songs from The Irish Church Hymnal and the bathos of Lulu’s baby-talk. Perhaps the most imaginative usage occurs in The Death of Cuchulain where the opening chorus or prologue is delivered in the rambling prose of a very old man and set in contrast to the irregular verse form of the heroic dialogue which follows. At the end of that play Emer’s solemn dance of Cuchulain’s death in body and rebirth in spirit is broken in upon by the electrifying contrast of a vulgar and modern, street song. Such juxtaposition of styles, moods and song represent the degradation of the present. Yeats also "encompassed in The Herne’s Egg and Purgatory some of the clipped rhythm and intentionally awkward syntax which Auden had made available for confiscation". | 11 | A modern poetic idiom was being naturalized for both the idealized world of heroic action and a symbolic universe of contemporary reality.


11 |  Richard Ellmann, Eminent Domain, New York 1967, p.5.

Above all Eliot admired Yeats for his subordination of poetry to dramatic statement.

But another, and important, cause of improvement is the gradual purging out of Poetical ornament. This is perhaps the most painful part of the labour, so far as the versification goes of the modern poet who tries to write a play in verse. The course of improvement is towards a greater and greater starkness. The beautiful line for it’s own sake is a luxury dangerous even for the poet who made a himself a virtuoso of the techniques of the theatre. What is necessary is a beauty which shall not be in the line or the isolable passage, but woven into the dramatic texture itself; so that you can hardly say whether the lines give grandeur to the drama, or whether it is the drama which turns the words into Poetry. | 12 |

12 |  On Poetry and Poets, London 1957, pp. 259-260

The issue here is the distinction between the rational appeal of discursive drama which also employs dramatic verse as a means of arousing further emotion and a directly emotional response to presentational drama which functions as a lyric poem. Ronald Gaskell defines poetic form in drama as "an action which convinces not so much by its resemblance to our life outside the theatre as by the unity and expressiveness of its design". | 13 | Such lyric or poetic drama could not have come into existence without a way of suggesting meaning which is outside, or beyond, the explicit statements of the verbal text. In the final analysis there is only one way of indicating unstated meaning or inner feeling and that is through a conscious discrepancy between speech and context; the patterning of speech, gesture, and situation. Subtext is not the sole property of what was called the Theatre of the Absurd, both Yeats and Eliot contributed to its development. Yeats relied heavily on visual symbols and dance in addition to counterpointing literary styles and registers of language, but it was Eliot who really broke new ground in exploiting the possibilities of language alone.

13 |  Drama and Reality: The European Theatre Since Ibsen, London 1972, p. 60.

Each play in succession is, among other things, a conscious choice from consciously stored ‘possibilities’: for "Sweeney Agonistes", the speech heard in the streets and pubs of London, but assimilated through the rhythm of jazz, the music hall, and ‘archaeologically’ reconstructed phallic-Aristophanic chorus; for Murder in the Cathedral, the versification of Everyman and some doggerel, in a framework of the inwardly conceived and Christianised Dionysiac chorus, with a prose sermon to explain a moment of illumination, and prose parody to implicate and ‘alienate’ the audience; and in the four plays that followed we see the struggle to find the point of intersection between liturgy and approximate naturalism, between speech out-of-time (‘the musical order’ and the unsayable) and the speech of our time (‘the dialect of the tribe’). | 14 |

14 |  Andrew K. Kennedy, Six Dramatists in Search of a Language. Studies in Dramatic Language, London 1975, p. 89.

At first Eliot sought an antithetical substitute for the language of imitation, for the presentation of events through dialogue which was faithful to the stylistic precepts of the day, and he created an alternative to Yeats’s interweaving of expressive verse forms. In the work of both. Essential relationships are revealed on the level of language itself and the counterpoint of speech constitutes the action of the plays. Beyond this giant step in modernist technique, however, Eliot exploits the suppression of inner feelings where Yeats introduces symbolic objects and movement in order to express them. After Murder in the Cathedral Eliot abandoned language as a means of illuminating his characters and situations directly, in order to explore the negative capability of concealment and inarticulateness in suggesting dramatic truth. His main characters tend to hide their real feelings and desires beneath a mask of banality and conventionally accepted sentiments which belie their obvious predicaments. As in everyday life, the audience apprehends the significance of both character and circumstance through the concealment of decorous speech, even through the hesitations and inarticulateness of the speakers. | 15 | In the plays that followed The Family Reunion, Eliot continued to create a surface language of sufficient mimetic imitation to be immediately recognizable, yet stylized enough to suggest a universal truth, to suggest an ultimate recognition as in the case of Lord Clarenton (The Elder Statesman) talking to his daughter about the past which has returned to confront him.

15 |  See Kennedy, pp. 111 and 113.

Your mother knew noting about them. And I know
That I never knew your mother, as she never knew me.
I thought that she would never understand
Or that she would be jealous of the ghosts who haunted me.
And I’m still of that opinion. How open one’s heart
When one is sure of the wrong response?
How make a confession with no hope of absolution?
It was not her fault. We never understood each other.
And so we lived, with a deep silence between us,
And she died silently. She had nothing to say to me. | 16 |

16 |  The Complete Poems and Plays of T.S. Eliot, London 1969, p. 570.

Rather than a falling away of creative power, Eliot’s last plays can be seen as a logical extension of his on-going experimentation with dramatic language. The dialogue of the last plays is perhaps more conventionally realistic than that of The Family Reunion or The Cocktail Party, but is no less successful.