Dr. Dinesh Panwar,
Department of English,
Ajay Kumar Garg Engineering College, GZB, India
Pinter’s dramatic dialogue is based on both the colloquial and a neatly structured manipulation of the vernacular. In reviewing the Brimingham, Repertory Theatre’s 1993 production of Old Times, Michael Billington stresses the important theatric impression inherent in, this quality of Pinter’s language. It’s a sign of the production’s quality that, without violating Pinter’s verbal rhythms, it fines (sic) new resonances in this haunting play. As Peter Hall has it, Pinter’s “repeated patterns of speech create rhythms where the precise accenting of words is crucial”, and in addition Pinter’s pauses”, often put form into nearly colloquial speech”. F.J. Bernhard also stresses rhythmic stylization, and holds that any.
Single line of dialogue might be taken as realistic prose. But in the pattern of the play as a whole, the words have a consistent rhythmic construction and symbolic charge that lift them beyond conventional realism.
There is thus an ambiguous relationship between the naturalistic effect of Pinter’s dialogue and other effect of stylization.
Old Times is no less distinguished by pauses and silences that invest the Pinterian dialogue with arrange ambiguous meaning. The play, underlining the subtle struggle for psychological power, steeped in an atmosphere which blends everyday reality with dream-images. The play also introduces an intruder, as do the earlier plays, which threatens the prevailing peaceful mode of life, and registers similar battle for territory – for possession of an individual. Besides, the play has a strong undercurrent of sexual overtones. In Old Times Pinter’s dialogue creates the appropriate dramatic tone which is new and poetically compelling. The shifting perspective on the past, the inadequate grip characters have on truth and reality give rise to a threatening world in
which the desire for verification, the need for full knowledge and genuine communication is necessarily frustrated. Through the dialogue Old Times makes slow but sure move to divulge the malignant element usually hidden in human life – a common Pinter theme. In Old Times Pinter shows us that a play in its broadest definition is a personal, direct impression of life. Its value is greater or lesser in accordance with the intensity of the impressions of the individuals. The playwright knows that physical performance expresses inner conflicts and resolution. He uses a theatre language capable of carrying forward these sense impressions. There is the colloquially based verbal game people play in their social interchanges. The dialogue of the three characters raises the question whether the characters tell lies to one another. Can they make the audience aware that they are lying? The answers may emanate out of the accentuation and intonation – giving a clue either of assertion or of neutrality. The significant aspect of dramatic dialogue happens to be its latent heat or the various degrees of suggestiveness. From this standpoint it may be said that Pinter’s play is a dramatic text which defines its own context through its dialogue.
Pinter communicates with actors in a direct way, being equipped with the inner theatrical logic. He as a dramatist does not involve the audience so much as he imposes a theatrical spectacle on it, and this he does primarily through the dialogue, upholding J.L. Styan’s familiar observation, made in his ‘Elements of Drama’, that a play is its dialogue. The pattern of the dramatic dialogue pertains to the modern, knowing society shot through with psycho-sexual sophistication. The playwright has deftly exploited all visual clues, such as the devices of flash-back, mixing images, close-up, fading and quick scene-veer in order to intensify the absence of direct verbal route-map.Pinter subtly retreats the ingredients of the traditional comedy of manners through a theatrically viable lingual idiom in Old Times. This focuses on the love intrigues of sophisticated young high-ups who rely heavily on their verbal wit expressed in the comic style of popular entertainment. Pinter’s play differs in the sense that as an Absurdist play it uses comedy to express ironic techniques and philosophical ideas representing Existentialism. In the Absurdist plays like Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, comic convention is employed in order to convey a profoundly serious view of human existence. As Old Times unfolds itself, it gradually becomes clear that what is stirred in the three characters is more than a simple
remembrance of things past, for the past is a forgotten and only retrieved in snatch to become an acute awareness of isolation in between the counter pointed trio of memory. As individuals they are alienated from one another in an inexpressible way. Communication fails in attaining any logical end, as Anna’s dialogue underlines: “There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened. There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place.” (O.T., p. 27-28) These words bear an echo from ‘The Dwarfs’: “You’re the sum of so many reflections. How many reflections? Whose reflections? Is that what you consist of? What scum does the tide leave? What happens to the scum? When does it happen? I’ve seen what happens. But I can’t speak when I see it. I can only point a finger. I can’t even do that. The scum is broken and sucked back. I don’t see where it goes. I don’t
see when….. What have I seen, the scum or the essence? What about it?”1 This is perhaps
the most crucial question of the Existentialist human predicament. Anna’s dialogue closely resembles the dialogue of Ellen in Silence: “Yes, I remember. But I’m never sure that what I remember is of today or of yesterday or of a long time ago. (Pause) And then often it is only half things I remember, half things, beginnings of things”.2
The dialogue points to the unverifiability of the past which remains in frozen isolation in a somewhat no man’s land, difficult of access. Dialogue given to Deeley again drives the point home: “Yes, she met in the Wayfarers Tavem….. She [Anna] took a fancy to me…. She was pretending to be you [Kate] at the time….. Wearing your underwear… We went to a party…… on the way to the party I took her into a Cafe…. She thought she was you….. May be she was you. May be it was you, having coffee with me”. (O.T., p. 65) What Deeley suggests is not only that Anna put on Kate’s underwear, and pretended to be Kate, he gets finally confused as to if she was Kate herself, not Anna. Thus unverifiable reigns supreme. Old Times through its placid dramatic language gives us a deep sense that life escapes – a sense that Virginia Woolf wanted to convey: “Look within and life, it seems, is very far from being ‘like this’….. life is a ….. Semi-transparent
envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end.”3 Old Times is
made as a picturesque tableau chiefly through its dialogue having multidimensional connotations.
In Old Times (p. 243-252) a conflict arises between Anna and Deeley as they in their different ways try to gain control over Kate, Deeley’s wife. This control is at first sought through knowledge about the other. Anna and Deeley also both try to get the others to agree upon or believe their own version of the past, particularly their experiences with Kate. Deeley mostly wants to find the commonly agreed version of the past memories, whereas Anna treats memory as a means more for personal expression than as historical fact. The definition and establishment of memory within the dramatic triangle thus become an important conflict in the play. Thomas Postlewait argues that the characters in Pinter’s plays are “locked into the past, unable to adapt to the present except in terms of the past”. As Anna and Deeley engage in a struggle to possess Kate, they try to convince Kate and the other that their own relationship with her was, and is, important and close. In order to defeat the other combatant they must prevent him or her from controlling Kate. This act of convincing takes a range of different linguistic strategies. With regard to Pinter’s plays in general Esslin notably stresses the aggressive and invading potential of the playwright’s dialogue, and the role of comic speech inherent in this aggression:
The one who gets hold of the more elaborate or more accurate expression establishes dominance over his partner; the victim of aggression can be swamped by language which comes too thick and fast, or is too nonsensical to be comprehended: […]4
In Pinter’s plays dialogue works through specially chosen words culled out, with an acute observation, from the mannerisms, repetitions and clichés of the English vernacular as spoken in real life. Between the three characters of Old Times words are exchanged as potent weapons of dominance and subservience. Pauses and silences are awfully meaningful in the literary sense. What resembles tape-recorded vocabulary is nevertheless, highly stylized. In Old Times Pinter shows his total capability in approximating human reality with that artistic attempt to capture the given moment and set it above the uncertainties which time brings all the way through its passage:
ANNA. Why don’t you dry her yourself?
DEELEY. Would you recommend that? ANNA. You’d do it properly. DEELEY. In her bath towel?
ANNA. How out? DEELEY. How out?
ANNA. How could you dry her out? Out of her bath towel? DEELEY. I don’t know.
ANNA. Well, dry her yourself, in her bath towel. [Pause] (O.T., p. 50-51)
Old Times has a very satisfying shape, structure and an overall dramatic unity, all of which are of a very different kind from those of the conventional plays. The play is basically a series of conversation between three characters – Anna, Kate, Deeley – who form a clear love triangle. Their dialogue, woven mostly around the episode of the past, attempts to define the nature of the relationship which existed and gradually came to stay in between them. Their conversation in bits and piece leads to an awareness of the distance by which they have been alienated. Bryden, the reviewer of the first night of Old Times, comments pertinently on the dialogue by referring to “the value of each word and silence which exposes every layer of the text like the person of a three-dimensional
An audience with an ear for Pinter’s dialogue recognizes the territory upon which Old Times stand. The complex rhythm of the dialogue strikes the note of a conflict for dominance and possession. The combat ground indeed is Kate; the two contenders to possess her are Anna, her one-time room-mate and only friend, and Deeley, her husband. The ammunition used in the skirmish is indeed dramatic dialogue. Language of innuendo and ambiguous menace abounds in the play. As in The Homecoming, the winner here will be the one who would ultimately impose his or her language upon the other in getting the upper hand.
In The Homecoming Ruth and Lenny exchange blows; in Old Times it is between Anna and Deeley that blow follows blow and parry follows parry in terms of the skilled game of lingual gambits and maneuvers. Whereas Deeley, Kate’s husband, wields
crude power with Kate under his physical control, Anna has a patient finesse, the authority of money and culture, a cold determination. Kate’s vague, smiling passivity appears to be on Anna’s side. The dialogue of the play “participates in the new Pinter world of maximum compression and austere poetry first heard in Landscape and Silence.”6 For within the same triangular frame or remembrance of things past as of Silence, Old Times blends the sexual ambiguities of The Collection with the territorial was of dominance which underlines The Homecoming. All this is achieved by dint of the
verbal designing and technique used with stunning mastery of economy of expression.
The dramatic action of Old Times takes place in a converted country farmhouse of Deeley and his wife Kate, who are awaiting the arrival from Sicily in Italy of Kate’s old friend Anna whom Kate has not seen for the last twenty years. Her arrival subtly menaces the marriage of Kate as she tries calculatedly to recreate her very close friendship with Kate which Deeley has got into as an intruder by marrying Kate. Anna enters the secluded household of Deeley and Kate to struggle for a position of dominance, as does Ruth, coming from America, in The Homecoming. In the earlier One- Act Landscape this theme of struggle for dominance appears only tangentially but in Old Times it recurs with an insidious force superbly manifested through the masterly fashioned dialogue with verbal variations cut out for the individual characters:
DEELEY. Yes, I remember you quite clearly from The Wayfarers. ANNA. The what?
DEELEY. The Wayfarers Tavem, just off the Brompton road. ANNA. When was that?
DEELEY. Years ago. ANNA. I don’t think so.
DEELEY. Oh yes, it as you, no question. I never forget a face. (O.T., p. 44-45)
The combat for territory between Deeley and Anna for the possession of Kate with all her individuality emerges gradually from their glib conversation and soon explodes into the uncomfortable, rather surrealist, memories of the past. Old Times upholds the usual male-female scuffle found in Pinter’s world and endemic to human race
as well. Deeley, a successful, widely traveled film maker, uses masculine prowess and blunt coarseness to encounter Anna’s indirect and sly attack. The dramatic dialogue in Old Times weaves the pattern of attack and defence in which all the three characters are locked.
The play Old Times deals with the element of time, space and the related concept of memory of the dim distant past. The play attempts to recapture the past, to co- relate eternal time with spatial time and to recreate the effect of the past on the present through memory lane. Its dialogue relates to the past of all the three characters, and is broken up by extended stories which in their turn relate again to the past with reference to
space in time. It is aptly said, “the characters in Old Times enter a sort of time-machine”.7
Kate confronts her girl friend Anna from the hazy past, and thereupon hidden and shelved memories start spilling out once again though it is difficult to ascertain the truth.
A close examination of the dramatic dialogue reveals that there is a strong undercurrent of suggestion that Kate and Anna could well have been involved in a lesbian relationship. It is also suggested that there could have been a close touch between Anna and Deeley in the past. Gradually, as the play unfolds its net, Deeley the single man of the triangle is left with a sense of separation from both women. Their conversation shows that Pinter, being quite intent on mystification, withholds essential information. In this context, Benedict Nightingale’s observation is quite relevant: “Most playwrights’ reputations depend on what they reveal about their characters; one has felt that his
[Pinter’s] depends on what he [Pinter] does not reveal.”8
Rhyme and Ritual Repetition is also an interesting feature of Pinter’s language. In his dialogue we find a touch of rhymes. The category of rhymes and repetition covers quite general instances of such devices, and the significance of its comic effects may therefore pertain to other categories as well. It is still useful to separate overt rhyming and marked repetitions of words, phrases and sentences, in order to concentrate on such basic forms of comic technique. The general effect is ritualistic, and it is interesting to see how his works in Old Times, both within one character’s utterances and though interaction. Since the conflict centers on which character’s utterances take authority, the characters create ritualistic moods to support their need for authority and control. The contingent
comic rhythms in their speech focus the audience’s attention on their strategies for control. However, although the comic rhythms are results of the repetitions and the linguistic rituals, the rhythm may still function to break the feeling of authority the character tries to create. In Old Times as in The Birthday Party and The Homecoming, Pinter does not come up with any information to set up the necessary background of the characters. What he points out is that the mind has chasms, and that human subconscious is more or less impervious. The dialogue magnifies the mysteries, and multiplies speculation. Through the dialogue between Anna, Deeley and Kate, the playwright’s message that unfolds is that impressions and events come to us filtered through the unreliable senses of unreliable people, and consequently what is true for one is often untrue for another. When through a play such as Old Times our idea of certainty about the common events of the exterior reality gets tarnished and removed, the play, tries to draw our attention on the greater truths of the inner reality. Pinter’s journey is into the interior of man, and until this point is not considered: he appears to be imperviously absurdistic in his plays.Pinter’s dialogues put the layers of meaning before the audience.
- Harold Pinter Plays: Two, Methuen, London, 1977. p. 112.
- Harold Pinter Plays: Three, Methuen, London, 1979, p. 214.
- Arnold Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel (London Hutchinson, 1953) Vol. 2, p. 91.
- Martin Esslin, Pinter the Playwright (London: Methuen, 1992), p. 40.
- Ronald Bryden, “Pinter’s New Pacemaker,” The observer, June 6, 1971. Qtd. Plays in Review 1956-1980, ed. Gareth and Barbara Lloyed Evans (London. Batsford Academic and Educational, 1985), p. 179.
- William Baker and Stephen Ely Tabachnich, Harold Pinter (Edinburgh. Oliver and Boyd, 1973), p. 137.
- Guido Almansi and Simon Henderson, Harold Pinter: Contemporary Writers Series (London: Methuen, 1983), p. 91.
New Statesman, 11 June 1971. Qtd. Plays in Review 1956-1980. p. 180