Unlike the great originals of modern drama in English, both Beckett and Pinter reject natural or logical dialogue, however highly stylized and subordinated to a particular conception of dramatic construction, in favor of atomizing speech and re-ordering the fragments into new and meaningful patterns. | 17 | Beckett, for example, created a kind of cross-talk, a distorted form of stichomythia in which monologues intersect and gain their desired effect through counterpoint and repetition. His was a reaction against the verbal drama of Giraudoux as well as against the existential posturing of Sartre and Camus. An echo-principle underlies Beckett’s dramatic language; old subject and old styles tumble out over one another again and again and prove themselves to be moribund and meaningless. Beckett demonstrates just how much received ideas and traditional language have atrophied by presenting them as a mechanical replay, and the failed intersection of speeches runs down into silence. The final incoherence of Lucky’s set speech and Pozzo’s empty rhetoric in Waiting for Godot are images of the dead-end to which language has come, as is Winnie’s endless nostalgia for the verbal remnants of a dying culture in Happy Days. The non-dialogue of Play is the logical outcome and final abstraction of cross-talk while the monodrama of Happy Days, Krapp’s Last Tape and the later dramaticules are barely sufficient transformations of interior monologue to maintain dramatic conflict. Through abstraction and compression, Beckett creates a lyric structure of events, a series of still points – episodes unconnected except by context and the exploration of voice rhythms which constitute a counter-rational, dramatic language. As with the practice of the later Yeats or Eliot’s early intention "to write a drama of modern life about furnished-flat sort of people, in a rhythmic prose, and perhaps with certain things in it accentuated by drum beats", | 18 | Beckett often uses staccato phrasing as a sound effect which reinforces meaning, and the lyric unity sought by both Yeats and Eliot is realized. Beckett’s achievement, like Yeats’s, is his reduction of action to a memory, a repetition; not physical activity but verbal occasions whose vitality derives from the comedy and pathos of incongruity. The combination of cross-talk and echo principle offers a substitute for conventional dialogue which is ultimately capable of questioning received assumptions about human experience.


17 |  The discussion which follows is indebted to Andrew K. Kennedy's essay on Beckett and Pinter in Six Dramatists ....


18 |  Hugh Kenner, The Invisible Poet: T. S. Eliot, New York 1959, p. 179.

Beckett also strives towards a kind of music drama, at least in the sense that a smooth and level accelerando exerts itself throughout given texts. Significant and individual phrasing is subordinated in favor of larger effects, an ensemble which bespeaks consummate orchestration. The minor echo of Words and Music with Yeats’s Words for Music Perhaps is not altogether irrelevant, and the interweaving of harmonic voices/prosodies in Beckett’s plays is eminently musical as well as constituting a basic structural principle. Phrases and verbal cadences function as music, and characters express themselves through the hypnotic effect of their speech patterns. The special atmosphere created by such elaborate rhythms encourages us to accept the reality of that particular inner world while the nervous charge in ordinary talk enable us to penetrate to a deeper level of consciousness and understanding.

Pinter uses language rather differently, in the first place he shapes speeches and actions to the development and resolution of dramatic crises but avoids conventional plot by juxtaposing evasive speech and unverifiable action. Because language operates in relation to potential- or non-action, it really defines situation and character rather than revealing them. Instead of cross-talk, Pinter exposes inarticulateness and non-communication through an exact suggestion of living speech across a wide range of social and cultural levels. In order to create a psychic and expressive pattern, he explores non-standard syntax, tautologies, pleonasms, ellipses, repetitions, self-contradictions, and non-sequiturs in addition to reproducing the inescapable banality and minimal content of casual conversation. Kate’s speech in Old Times on re-appearing after a shower provides an excellent example.

Thank you. I feel fresh. The water’s very soft here. Much softer than London. I always find the water very hard in London. That’s one reason I like living in the country. Everything’s softer. the water, the light, the shapes, the sounds. There aren’t such edges here. And living close to the sea too. You can’t say where it begins or ends. That appeals to me. I don’t care for harsh lines. I deplore that kind of urgency. I’d like to go to the East, or somewhere like that, somewhere very hot, where you can lie under a mosquito net and breathe quite slowly. You know … somewhere where you can look through the flap of a tent and see sand, that kind of thing. The only nice thing about a big city is that when it rains it blurs everything and it blurs the lights from the cars, doesn’t it, and blurs your eyes, and you have rain on your lashes. That’s the only nice thing about a big city. | 19 |

19 |  Harold Pinter, Old Times, London 1971, p 59.

Pinter’s precisely rendered and seemingly mimetic dialogue is certainly influenced by Eliot’s example, but is set against extraordinary situations and shifting relationships in such a way as to create a sense of menace and tragic tension, much as the lyrics of the Musicians in Yeats’s dance plays frame and provide a contrast for the levels of reality that follow. Eliot differs from Pinter, however, in that the earlier dramatist stylized and strained speech rhythms as a means of intimating a sub-text while Pinter achieved the same end by reproducing the absurdities and incongruities of actual speech within an illogical and ambivalent context.

The echoes from Eliot in (Pinter’s) plays have become if anything stronger as time has gone on; in No Man’s Land, indeed they have become very close to being quotations as in the scene where Hirst, the ruined alcoholic writer, so terribly goes down on all fours… while Spooner… is made to reflect, as if regurgitating Prufrock, ’I have known this before. The exit through the door, by way of belly and floor’. Pinter makes sure we catch the echo by a strong musical emphasis. The motif, ’I have known this before…’, recurs three times, in a general pattern of stylized pauses and repetitions, accentuated by internal rhyming, which makes the dialogue more like a piece of chamber music than anything he has yet written. His musicality relates him to the ’interior’ tradition, as also his feeling for the visual symbolism of the stage. | 20 |

20 |  Katharine Worth, The Irish Drama of Europe from Yeats to Beckett, Atlantic Highlands/NJ 1978, p. 209.

As was the case with Eliot, and even Synge before him, the creation of such intricate verbal cadences requires that the text be read like a musical score, an orchestration of rhythms, pauses, silences, hesitations, and repetitions which modify an opaquely sinister volubility, the flow of everyday talk. As in The Cocktail Party, Pinter’s characters attempt to hide behind what they say, but their inner world is ultimately exposed, not only through outside intervention, but also from our growing awareness of suppressed hostility and violence, of hidden motives and intentions which forcibly demonstrate the instability and artificiality of their actual circumstances. As in the case of Beckett, pauses are used to allow time for the imagination of the audience to delve beneath the surface and reconstruct the psychology of the characters. The pauses, however, are not those of Beckett’s all-consuming silences which deny metaphysical speculation, but rather they are nicely integrated with character or circumstance and help to create expressive prose rhythms. Where Beckett concentrates on the intense suffering of modern man as imaged through incarceration in decaying bodies, Pinter focuses on projections of unstable and ambivalent psychology. Beckett and Pinter have even more in common than had Yeats and Eliot, yet each owes much to his predecessors for the direction and progress of development.