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Discuss what Theatre of the Absurd is and if this play comes under that category.

The term Theatre of the Absurd was used for the first time by the Hungarian-born critic Martin Esslin, in 1962, as the title of his book on the subject. It refers to a particular type of play which became popular during the „50s and ‟60s, play presenting on stage the ideas articulated b y the French philosopher Albert Camus, in his essay The Myth of Sisyphus, published in 1942. In this essay, Camus characterizes the human condition as meaningless and futile. The plays grouped under this label reflect a sense of bewilderment, anxiety and wonder in the face of an unexplainable and godless universe. Because the human existence has no meaning at all, communication breaks down, logical construction and argument are replaced by irrational, illogical speech and, finally, by silence. The characters reflected in these plays are lost and unable to understand universe, they are puppets controlled or menaced by an invisible force. They abandon rational devices because they find them inappropriate. Many of them are automatons and speak only in cliché, or they are stereotypical, archetypal, flat characters as those of Commedia dell‟arte. On the other hand, the more complex characters are caught in a constant crisis because the world they live is in incomprehensible. This crisis is reflected in some of Harold Pinter‟s plays, where the characters are trapped in an enclosed space, unceasingly menaced by an outside force. Also, characters may found themselves trapped in a routine or in a story. The language exploited in absurd plays, even if it is considered nonsensical, is naturalistic. The dialogue between characters is often is elliptical, the primary things characters should address are suppressed and language frequently gains a rhythmical, musical quality. Among the most renowned playwrights approaching this dramatic genre, Harold Pinter is well-known for having been risen “to the level of the adjective”1, for every man in theatre, literature or film knows the term Pinteresque, especially when talking about the Pinteresque pause. In his plays, the pause isn‟t just a “common stage direction indicating a moment of silence”2, but a “cue to the actor that the real action, the action of human revelation, should now commence”3. Harold Pinter successfully uses this particular and original artistic device in The Collection, play written in 1961 which follows the pattern of the general features of the theater of the absurd, as I am going to argue in this essay. The most important feature of the theatre of the absurd, derived directly from Albert Camus‟s philosophy, is the futility of existence, of actions and even of communication. In The Collection, two couples fall victim to suspicions and jealousy, and what really did happen in a hotel room in Leeds one night, between Stella, James‟s wife, and Bill, a young man standing for Parliament, becomes irrelevant, except as the ignition point to their pursuit to find the truth about
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Jones, Chris – Harold Pinter found mystery and meaning in pauses, Tribune Critic, December 28, 2008 Idem 3 Idem

each other, truth that will be proven as unreachable. James and Harry, pushed by jealousy, try to find out what did happen that night, but their search for the truth is futile because the story changes all the time. We have no more than four versions of the adultery, and no one knows which the true one is. The title of the play, The Collection, seems, at a first glance, absurd, because the reader is unable to make a connection between what happens in the play and the title, he can‟t justify it. The word collection appears once in the play, but the context is merely irrelevant (He’s got a collection of Chinese pots stuck on a wall, must have cost at least fifteen hundred a piece). Allegorically, we can connect the title to the web in which the characters, together with the reader, are caught, a web of lies and stories. Thus, we may affirm that the title suggests a collection of lies and stories which are told so that the characters revolve around the truth, but they never find it. Another important feature of the theatre of the absurd is the inadequacy of communication as it breaks down; some of the dialogues between the characters seem to have no logic at all, for the speakers don‟t pay attention to what the other says, focusing only on what they want to express. The characters refuse to answer the questions that one asks them, being more concerned about what they want to know. Besides the rupture of communication, there is pointed out the rupture between characters, especially the one between their interests. Not only the universe has no meaning, the others are of no importance as well. Importance is gained only when a person affects another one‟s integrity. HARRY: Hullo. VOICE. Is that you, Bill? HARRY. No, he’s in bed. Who’s this? VOICE. In bed? HARRY. Who is this? VOICE. What is he doing in bed? Pause. HARRY: Do you know it’s four o’clock in the morning? Understatement, form of speech which contains an expression of less strength than what would be expected, is perceived in the attitude some characters show regarding the committed adultery. Stella, for example, has no remorse and regrets for what she did, she hopes her husband will understand and confesses that he doesn’t matter, he’s not important, and that what happened between them was just something. She lacks empathy, as she‟s unable to understand her cuckolded husband‟s feelings. She plays the victim, forgetting who the real victim is, and, violently attacked by her husband‟s ironic and cynical words, she starts to cry. On the other hand, James Horne, Stella‟s husband, the cuckolded one, as his name suggests (to put horns on someone‟s husband means to be unfaithful, to cheat) makes use of it to tease his wife, he confesses himself as perfectly happy after having met him and he even thanks his wife for committing the adultery, because, in this way, he came across a man he can respect.

STELLA. He doesn’t matter. JAMES. What do you mean? STELLA. He’s not important. JAMES. Do you mean anyone would have done? You mean it just happened to be him, but it might as well have been anyone? STELLA. No. JAMES. What then? STELLA. Of course it couldn’t have been anyone. It was him. It was just… something… […] JAMES. Well, I do understand, but only after meeting him. Now I’m perfectly happy. I can see it both ways, three ways, all ways… every way. It’s perfectly clear, there’s nothing to it, everything’s back to normal. The only difference is I’ve come across a man I can respect. It isn’t often you can do that, that that happens, and really I suppose I’ve got you to thank. The instability of characters and the lack of their definite characterization is another feature visible in this play. Stella, for example, is instable in her confessions, because she indirectly supports two versions of the story. The first is more ambiguous, as it is revealed to us through James‟s words, and the reader may have some doubts about its authenticity. Any doubt is dispelled by the dialogues between the married couple, when Stella feels herself attacked, harassed by her husband and by her reactions, which betray her. Like Stella, Bill is also instable in his declarations. In the beginning, he denies the adultery, later on he admits that it happened, but not exactly how Stella said it did, in order to, finally, deny in once more. His attitude towards James is also fickle, as he rejects him in the beginning, and, later on, they become friends and Bill does his best to satisfy James (for example, he serves him olives, after finding out that he likes them). Harry also follows the pattern because his jealous attitude towards James becomes more benevolent in the end, when all seems to have a happy-ending and his homosexual relationship with Bill turn out to be out of trouble and stainless. The instability of the characters in the play and that of the story makes the truth relative and impossible to know. Harold Pinter‟s The Collection is, as we argued, a play perfectly fitting the genre of the theatre of the absurd. But, even though it is an absurd play, it doesn‟t mean that it is nonsensical. For example, some political attitudes transpire through its lines. As Bill himself mentions, he is standing for Parliament next season. Harold Pinter makes a satire of political figures through this character, as Bill represents a faithful image of contemporary politicians: he‟s a liar, as his fickle confessions reveal us, he‟s arrogant, hypocrite and indifferent to other‟s problems because of a paramount interest in himself. Moreover, he‟s a flatterer; he tries to gain James on his side, for he serves James with olives on his second visit.