A critique of Martin Esslin’s essay, ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’, in relation to Harold Pinter’s style in his play, ‘The

Dumb Waiter’.

Harold Pinter. conforms to or transgresses what is held by Esslin as characteristics of the Theatre of the Absurd. 3) He further shows how the nightmarish incidents can be found dormant even within the happenings of the real world.. ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’ enumerates several common characteristics pertaining to the theatrical tradition called the ‘Theatre of the Absurd’ which came into being in mid 1940s in France. Arthur Adamov and Eugène Ionesco. Even though the playwright has chosen a rare specimen of the society. ‘The Theatre of the Absurd’. in relation to Harold Pinter’s style in his play. This essay is a critique of how the British playwright. hired assassins are not aliens but human beings who do exist in the society. What Pinter portrays in his play does not seem to be impossible. Therefore this play rules out the possibility of being called an ‘anti-play’ as Esslin expresses that some plays run the risk of being labelled. Therefore Pinter has adopted “real happenings” (Esslin. of this extension of the theatre in relation to the works of its pioneers such as.. [and] ... He discusses the unconventionality and radicalism in approach.” (Esslin. All that is enacted on the stage are purely mundane in spite of having eccentricities and absurdities. 3) instead of “a dream world of nightmares. ‘The Dumb Waiter’ well. The essay begins with Esslin dwelling on the reception of Absurd Drama by stating that the audience is usually encountered with “a bewildering experience. as it presents the audience/reader with two potential hit men waiting to be instructed in a prison-like smothering room. despite being excluded in Esslin’s (1960) treatment on Absurd Theatre. improbable or fantastical. Samuel Beckett. Pinter’s play is set in a basement of a cafeteria within the post World War II London setting in Birmingham. (3) The above excerpt seems to dress Pinter’s play.widely irrational often nonsensical goings-on that seem to go counter to all accepted standards of stage convention”. which creates a menacing and perturbing atmosphere contagious to audience. . British scholar Martin Esslin in his critical analysis.2 Q A critique of Martin Esslin’s essay. ‘The Dumb Waiter’.

indomitable questioning. lapsing into silences. or objective” (as cited in Esslin: 4) and ‘The Dumb Waiter’ asserts this fact when the audience identify themselves with Gus who questioned the intent of life and probably meets with an unbelievable. queer responsiveness to the dumb waiter. or goal. According to Ionesco (1957). These are some of the “basic issues and problems of our age” (4) experienced by the people globally in a post World War II era. Ben’s quasi attentiveness to the newspaper. Pinter’s endeavour to establish the fact that people sometimes have to expect the unexpected by . (Pinter. We were too early. (3) The audience is seldom provided with an inkling of what awaits Gus until the curtain falls and yet they are still not entitled to an unambiguous finale.3 Although the incidents of ‘The Dumb Waiter’ are probable they are unpredictable due to the inherent irrationalities. “everything that happens seems to be beyond rational motivation”. hostility. This aspect can be situated in Esslin’s essay where he states that in Absurd Drama. fill that gap physically by their actions. tragic and abrupt end without being answered. aversion to silence and frequenting lavatory. What was all that about then? Why did you stop? Ben : (picking up the newspaper). silences and pauses. insecurity and uncertainty. Esslin expresses that it is these “manifold mechanical interactions of human puppets in groupings that suggest tension. It becomes evident how the irregular behavioural patterns and disjointed dialogues reflect the inner turmoil and conflict of Ben as well as Gus. 42) The above instance shows how Ben reacts to Gus’s formidable questions by showing his pseudo occupation with the newspaper and providing irrelevant and evasive curt replies. suggest their desperate attempts to conceal the mental struggle to drown their feelings like fear. pauses. polishing his revolver.”(4) Gus : I must have fallen asleep again. language. Ben and Gus occupying an almost empty space except for the two beds. “absurd is that which has no purpose. conflict. etc and Gus’s putting on and taking off his shoes.

It is hard to predict whether the audience will sympathise with either Ben or Gus. with which he has to spend the rest of his life. 6) Silence. Silence. (5) Nevertheless he seems to have ignored the fact that this “critical attention” per se could lead or prompt the audience to have certain emotional affinity with the characters and incidents. and sits. Even though it is evident that a certain gap is created between “the public and the happenings on the stage” (Esslin. Esslin seems to self contradict when he admits that despite the absurdity. In spite of the suggested physical agony of Gus. For the traditional audience “right and wrong were never in doubt” (6) but for the audience of Pinter it has been blurred. the implicit psychological agony of Ben having betrayed his companion.4 showing “the world as an incomprehensible place” (Esslin. BEN turns to his paper. 69) . When traditional drama is contrasted with the Absurd Drama by Esslin it becomes evident that Pinter is representative of the latter. “it is impossible for them to share the aspirations and emotions depicted in the play” (5) due to the incomprehensibility of characters and happenings the audience is encountered with. the happenings on the stage “remain recognizable as somehow related to real life with its absurdity”. (5) If the audience can perceive the relation of absurdity with the real life then it might not be impossible for them to identify with it. They turn quickly. Thus Pinter aligns himself with people like Ionesco who believed that the theatre is an “outward projection onto the stage of an inward world”. The box goes up. (as cited in Esslin. 5) marks Pinter as an ardent proponent of the Theatre of the Absurd. critical attention”. 5) it is difficult to state vehemently that empathising is impossible because without which the drama would have no impact on the audience. Esslin argues that this “emotional identification with the characters is replaced by a puzzled. puts Ben also into a pathetic plight despite being a criminal. Slowly GUS goes back to his bed. Esslin states regarding the audience of the Absurd Drama that. (Pinter. their eyes meet.

and silences can portray their inner worlds “to externalize and project outwards what is happening in the deeper recesses of the[ir] mind. 46) Pinter’s language use show how mechanically Ben and Gus converse for the sake of conversation concealing the emotional undercurrent going through their minds.” (Esslin. 10) clearly deviates from that of the traditional drama as he attempts to “smash limitations of conventional vocabulary and syntax. (11) Through this Pinter shows “opacity.” (Esslin. Yes. Ben Gus Ben Gus Ben Gus Ben : : : : : : : Yes. Gus : Well they‘ll come in handy. The following conversation shows how Pinter has skilfully used the fragmented sentences.! A bloody liberty! (Pinter. Won’t they? Yes. Won’t they? (Pinter. denied the voices and routinely execute the orders of their organisation. 8) The use of language by Pinter for “externalization of mental process” (Esslin. aren’t you? All the time. 12) Gus : Now look here. 11) The utterances of Ben are clearly indicative of how he asserts his authority over Gus using language. The . and interchangeably repeated questions and responses. As Esslin says everything they say does not mean what they intend to mean. a mask for genuine meaning and emotion. you’re always running out. the misleading nature of language and grammar. Well they‘ll come in handy then.) How many times have I . 48) The play ‘The Dumb Waiter’ provides such ample examples of the absurd limitations of human language which is “a mere conversational token of human intercourse.” (Esslin. 10) The use of fragments. repetition and questioning shows although how meaningless these clichés may be they are still used in the society. Ben Ben : I’m not looking anywhere! (He addresses the room. Thus they are likewise presented as dumb waiters or apparatuses.” (Esslin.5 Pinter has been so meticulously precise in detailing to show how the behaviour of Ben and Gus.

In Absurd Drama the element of suspense according to Esslin is not maintained so much due to the ignorance of the audience of what their playwrights are doing. “the real content of the play lies in action.” (Esslin. 14) the experience they undergo.” (12) This statement cannot be completely agreed upon in relation to Pinter’s drama because the language plays a pivotal role and cannot be divorced from the performance of his drama. K. The more they comprehend the play the better will they come to terms with the incomprehensible nature of the world. C. THE KETTLE. the most intellectual theatre.6 power dimension of language is extensively explored by Pinter and he further shows how Ben exerts physical violence when he discovers the atrophy of his language to assert his authority. Language may be discarded altogether. by I. YOU FOOL! (Pinter. Furthermore the meaning of word suspense is blurred by saying that the audience is “in suspense to what the play may mean” which remains even after the drama. 14) which is the Theatre of the Absurd.? (grabbing him with two hands by the throat. Thus Harold Pinter’s play ‘The Dumb Waiter’ exemplifies “the most demanding. 13) thus forcing them “to a mental effort and evaluate” (Esslin. 48) Esslin expresses that. The audience of ‘The Dumb Waiter’ even after the play is prompted to contemplate on the confounding experience. on which the Theatre of the Absurd is all about. Hematilake *** Bibliography . 14) Due to this transcending suspense the Pinter’s audience is “spurred on to attempt their own interpretations” (Esslin. Gus Ben : : What does the gas . K. at arm’s length). (Esslin. Ignorance can be a contributing factor that heightens the level of suspense for the audience of the Pinter’s play.

jstor. 1960). Martin. The Theatre of the Absurd. No. The Tulane Drama Review.7 • Esslin. *** . <http://www. (May. 3-15 07 July 2008. 4.org/stable/1124873> • Pinter. 4. The Dumb Waiter. np: nd. Vol. pp. The MIT Press. Harold.

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