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A study of dramatic structure in Harold Pinter's stage plays Parkin, Christine Patricia

Abstract

Pinter has said that his main concern when writing a play is with structure, yet published criticism has so far paid little attention to this aspect of his craft. This study, therefore, examines the structures of Pinter's stage plays. The method followed is a chronological structural analysis moving from The Room through The Birthday Party, The Dumb Waiter, The Caretaker, The Homecoming, Landscape and Silence to his latest play, Old Times, first produced in London on June 1, 1971- The opening chapter discusses the terms which form a background to the subsequent description of the dramatic structures. The analyses demonstrate that there are at least three major features of his craftsmanship to emerge at this point in his career. The first is that where as the stage plays up to the writing of Landscape share a common, almost traditionally sequential narrative structure, the three latest plays, Landscape, Silence and Old Times, have differently shaped structures relying heavily on the exploration of memory and abandoning a normal sequential ordering of incident. This marked change implies a different use of time which is the second major feature, and is a consequence of the exploration of the past. It is accompanied in Landscape and Silence by a shift from dialogue in the previous plays to an almost exclusive reliance on monologue. Pinter also moves from his earlier comic-grotesque manner to a cooler, more subdued mode which uses lyrical and elegiac language. The third major feature of his craftsmanship is a certain rhythm of structure. This is a tendency to elaborate a one-act form into a larger structure, and then to take some feature or concern from previous work, paring down and compressing to make another one-act play, before building up and elaborating once more. Thus The Room is followed by the larger, three act structure of The Birthday Party to accommodate additional concerns. The Dumb Waiter shows the paring down process before the structural expansion in The Caretaker. The Homecoming, with its tighter two-act structure, is centrally placed, looking back to previously explored themes and anticipating the concern with memory in the three latest works. In the one-act Landscape Pinter abandons horizontal for vertical structure, explores cyclic rather than sequential time and uses monologue rather than dialogue. Silence illustrates a further paring down process in its even more austere denial of theatricality before the renewed building up process discernible in the two-act play, Old Times.

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