Comparative Study of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter

Pinter belongs to the post-war generation of the playwrights, that have rejected the established dramatic values and believed in presenting a new outlook on the society. The following schools of drama were popular at that time:

  • Working class drama
  • Kitchen-sink drama
  • Angry young group
  • Absurd theater

The Absurd theatre was the most powerful group before 1950s. It originated in France and then came to England. Absurd theatre was the theatre of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco and Fernando Arrabal. It was a result of the situation after the Wars. Life had lost all its meaning. There was no faith in values. It was a world of shattered beliefs.

Read About: What is Theater of the Absurd?

The Absurd drama gives more importance to the situation than to the character. The ultimate end of the playwrights of this group is not to tell a story in the usual sense, but to present a situation in its complexity. Thus lack of plot or story is one of the characteristics of this theatre. The absurd playwrights believed that life is chaotic, full of perplexity and absurdity and it has no set pattern.

The absurdity is presented through setting, dialogue and situation. Following are some features of absurd play:

  • It does not have a well-constructed story or plot.
  • There is no proper characterization. The characters do not have any motive. They are more like puppets.
  • The play lacks a beginning, middle and end.
  • It portrays life in its worst images.
  • It fails to present any social aim.

The plays of Samuel Beckett brought a big change in the field of drama. He expressed ‘the despair of modern man’ in his first play Waiting for Godot. It introduced limited number of characters who ‘wait’. Beckett’s plays are generally related to “tramps, dustbins and prolonged inactivity.

Most of his plays are pessimistic and they take one nowhere as nothing happens in them. But the plays are experimental in nature and remarkable for the economy of language and scenery. Beckett influenced many young playwrights of the period and Pinter was one of them.

Following are the features common to both playwrights, Beckett and Pinter:

  • Discoursal pattern.
  • Use of silence and pause.
  • Symbols.
  • Attitude towards life.

Discoursal pattern

It is the use of language pattern, Beckett’s language is not an elaborate expression of man’s hidden thoughts. It is not emotional, nor does it have catchy phrases. He believes that the world is meaningless and, as a result, language is also a meaningless sound. Beckett reaches to a point where he can do without words. This failure of language is presented by Beckett in a variety of ways.

Read About: Waiting for Godot as an Absurd Play

Taking examples from Waiting for Godot:

“Estragon Can you not stay still ?

Vladimir I’am cold.

Estragon We came too early.

Vladimir It’s always at night fall.

Estragon But night doesn’t fall”

Uses of repetition in “Waiting for Godot”

“Estragon : I am happy

Vladimir: So am I.

Estragon: So am I.

Vladimir: We are happy.

Estragon: We are happy”.

Use of repitition in ‘The Dumb Waiter”

“Ben: He won’t see you.

Gus: He won’t see me.

Ben: But he’ll see me.

Gus: He’ll see you.

Ben: He won’t know you’re there.

Gus: He won’t know you were there.”

Use of silences and pauses

Beckett uses silence and pauses skillfully for dramatic purpose. It is the “failure of language” which fascinates Beckett and Pinter. Beckett uses pauses for various purposes:

To show uncertainty in Waiting for Godot:

“Vladimir : Yes, you do know them.

Estragon : No, I don’t know them.

Vladimir : We know them, I tell you, you forget everything. (Pause) To himself unless they’re not the same”

Beckett uses silence in his plays as he believes that words cannot express everything and silence is a better way of expression than words. He uses silence to express hesitation, meaninglessness of communication, a dead end to an incident or relationship.

Pinter also believes in the failure of words and he makes use of pause and silence in his plays. He uses pause to create the background of some crime, menace, shock, fear. Occasionally, it is a pre-pause to a false reply. It presents conflict in the thought or some break in thought process.

Pause becomes an integral part of Pinteresque discourse, serving a variety of purposes:

  • For creating background
  • Discoursal situation
  • Moods of characters

In Beckett’s plays pauses are used mainly to express confusion, doubt and hesitation.

Read About: Symbolism in Waiting For Godot

Symbolism

Some symbols and dramatic situations are common in their work. For example, two tramps wait for something unknown in Godot. Similar situation is present in The Dumb Waiter. Ben and Gus wait for someone; whose identity is unknown to them. They are not certain about time, place and action just like Vladimir and Estragon of ‘Godot’.

The symbol of shoes is used by the playwrights for different purposes. In ‘Godot’ Vladimir establishes shoes as a metaphysical symbol. Pinter uses this symbol in The Caretaker as a sign of identify.

View for life/Attitude towards life

Beckett’s plays present a bleak view of life. His is the world of utter hopelessness. It is purposeless and absurd. It has no meaning. Pinter’s plays, too, present the bleak outlook towards life. Life is uncompromising and unpleasant. The major difference here is that Pinter’s world is not purposeless and absurd. His people act with motives and many times they succeed in achieving them.

Characters

Their characters are confused. They have short memory and they easily forget the past. It happens with Estragon and Vladimir and it also happens with Rose, Stanley and Davies.

Both the playwrights do not give the details of their characters. Beckett’s people totally lack history. They do not have any social background. As a result, they become timeless and symbolical. Pinter’s people, compared to Beckett’s, are more worldly. They have ambiguous social background. Their families exist and they live a life of fear and tension. They cannot become timeless like Beckett’s characters. No doubt, some of Pinter’s characters are clowns and tramps which is an important feature of Beckett’s characters.

The people of both the playwrights represent common men, but Pinter’s people belong to our world and they are nearer to us.

Considering the difference between these two playwrights:

  • Waiting for Godot is completely timeless compared to Pinter’s plays. On the other hand, The Caretaker has references to point modern time.
  • Beckett does not present a family picture, which exists in Pinter’s work.
  • Inspite of having close affinity in the use of language, the difference is seen in the linguistic progress of Pinter’s work. Pinter’s silences are perfectly timed to fit characterization, but in Beckett language is created out of silence.
  • Beckett’s plays are more ambiguous compared to Pinter’s. Their masters are invisible, but in Pinter’s plays they give clear instructions and his people don’t like to have a dull wait. They are brutal and deadly in following the instructions of their masters.

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