Middle East Technical University
A writer on drama, Marjorie Boulton says that a play "is not a piece of literature for reading. A true play is three-dimensional; it is literature that walks and talks before our eyes" (Boulton in Watson 1). Indeed the theatricality of the play text requires that the text is transformed into a live event taking place on stage witnessed by the members of the audience. The language of the text, therefore, has to be transformed to the language heard, even seen, on stage by players and spectators alike.
In their ingenious ways, both Pinter and Stoppard have been sensitive to this dynamic quality of the language that they have been playing with. They have also been aware of the inexplicable communication problem of the human species; the superior species blessed with language to interact with one another. Yet, somehow, the human beings have shown their incapacity to make the most of this blessing that other living beings do not have. In the 30s, when Pinter and Stoppard were born, the technology of the 90s did not exist to allow people of the world to interact with one another speedily and efficiently. In fact, polarisation was more popular than globalisation to the extent that there had to be another World War. But the advanced communication facilities of the 90s still do not allow the human beings to make use of their language properly. It seems what preoccupied Pinter and Stoppard about language will continue doing so for many more years to come even if these dramatists will not be around to create plays to present this incapacity to employ language to communicate.
However, as dramatists Pinter and Stoppard have been successful to employ language theatrically to present how language cannot bring human beings together. Their plays do "talk and walk" on stage, fully exploiting the dynamism of language. The dramatic impact of their language use is powerful, provocative, and unforgettable. How did they acquire the skill to be so competent in making use of language? David Baron (Pinter's stage name) acted in many plays including plays by Shakespeare (Thompson 127). In the meantime, he worked as a waiter, doorman, and a dishwasher in 1954 (Bloom 165). Stoppard wrote play reviews before he started writing plays. He was a drama critic if not an actor. Both playwrights were in the theatre world feeling the pulse of this tricky domain and the real world as well, being exposed to everyday speech. Furthermore, both writers inherited the Shakespeare, Kafka, Chekhov, Beckett, Wilde, Coward legacy. They may be trying to reflect the language problem of the human species but they themselves had craftily overcome this problem. If Pinter created linguistic ballets, Stoppard contrived linguistic gymnastics.
As people do in real life, the players on stage by means of language, also employ the well-known survival techniques of animals; namely, fight, flight, and mimesis (Almansi in Bloom 91). The players contradict one another, avoid one another, or they disguise what they are, to reflect what people in real life do.
Both Pinter and Stoppard when they make their characters contradict one another, make use of language in such a way that the characters literally attack each other verbally if not physically. Yet, the intensity of the verbal attack is more than the intensity of the would-be physical attack. Why do people attack each other? Just like animals, when people sense a threat, they immediately develop defence strategies for the purpose of protection, assertion, and exertion of superiority. Pinter has always been sensitive to the protection need of the individual. In The Caretaker, one of his earlier plays written in 1960, all the characters display this need by means of language. Mick seeing Davies, an outsider to the family territory, verbally attacks him through his repetitive questions, his long speeches full of jargon that Davies would never heard of, perhaps even the spectator would not know (The Caretaker 36). Mick tries to terrorise Davies physically as well but his verbal attack is more shocking and frightening. Davies, equally seeing Mick for the first time, tries to protect himself in a rather broken and incomplete language. He is not as eloquent as Mick. Compared to Davies and Mick, Aston is completely restricted in his use of language although he also wants to protect himself when he feels exposed. So, to show their need of protection although Mick and Davies are more eloquent, Aston resorts to silences. All the characters want to assert themselves too through their silences and eloquences. Mick's abrupt statements, sudden remarks all show his desire to be assertive. Davies pathetically in his grammatically incorrect and colloquial language wants to show that he has seen good days, he understands table manners, can be selective when quality matters. Aston, again in his well-programmed, almost computerised and very precise and correct language tries to assert himself expressing his desire to build a shed (The Caretaker 17).
All the characters in their eloquences and silences want to demonstrate their superiority as well. Aston, compared to Mick and Davies does not speak a lot but whenever he does his remarks are to the point, his words are never wasted, he never makes linguistic errors. In his silences he probably makes more powerful statements whereas Mick and Davies in their eloquences constantly repeat themselves, sometimes cannot find the appropriate words and therefore their messages are left undelivered.
Just like Pinter, Stoppard is aware
of this need of the human species to fight when they feel the need to protect
themselves, assert themselves, and to exert their superiority. In The Real
Thing, Henry, the playwright in the play, definitely feels superior with
his verbal virtuosity. His protection need emerges when he feels a threat
towards his language, that is to say, words. He exclaims:
As to the instinct of flight of the
human beings, both Pinter and Stoppard are aware of the fact that more
often than not, individuals prefer to take refuge in their private worlds
rather than fight against what threatens them. Pinter comments on this
In The Caretaker, Mick with his threatening silence at the beginning of the play does not bother to encounter Aston and Davies and leaves the room before they come in to pounce upon his victim later. Aston in his silences, hides in his frightening and clinically corrected world. He cannot forget his mother's and brother's betrayal but he has been conditioned not to react. Davies, on the other hand, in his eloquences tries to cover up for what he is not by his desperate pretences. Instead of openly admitting his ignorance, he continues to utter incomprehensible language. Pinter finds this aspect of the everyday individual most dangerous. Similarly, Stoppard is aware of people's constant habit of escaping into an unrealistic world to evade encounter with others. The most intriguing aspect of human beings is that they use language to perform this evasion. In The Real Thing, Henry feels most comfortable when he is preaching others hiding behind his speeches. Billie has to make love to Annie either at a rehearsal or borrowing lines from plays. However, Henry and Annie rediscover their love for each other in their silent exchanges at the end of the play.
The final strategy is the individual's mimetic approach to encounter another individual. In this case individuals truly disguise themselves behind language. They go on communicating but through pretence. In a way, they are playing the part of the diplomat. In The Caretaker, Davies by taking sides with Mick against Aston, in his eloquences tries to impress Mick without realising the price he is going to pay for this insincerity. At times, in his conversations with Aston, Davies just to appear as if he is in agreement accepts what Aston tells him as is the case in their exchange of ideas about the Buddha statue and the concept of the caretaker. Davies does not admit his ignorance about these matters. In The Real Thing, Annie to compete with Henry without arguing against him, at times accepts what Henry says. Later in the play, she plays the game as Henry does which actually surprises him. Compared to the fight and flight strategies, the mimetic use of the language in communications is at least more constructive. The individuals still do not talk to one another in a straightforward manner but at least they do not destroy relationships under an imaginary threat and they do not escape from each other.
The strategies individuals develop
to communicate or rather as Pinter fears, not to communicate, theatrically
are the most intriguing devices to be employed by the playwrights. Both
Pinter and Stoppard take advantage of these strategies. Pinter's approach
is more serious and stable. His language games are not surprising but intellectually
soothing. Whereas, Stoppard has a more amusing way of dealing with these
strategies. He treats language like an elastic substance. The language
in the pen of Stoppard (for he is one of those rare writers who uses a
fountain pen to write with rather than a writing machine) stretches and
shrinks as Stoppard pleases (Gusson 93). He is intellectually more activating.
Both playwrights have been fascinated by the elusive nature of reality.
Language, of course, reflects this state most effectively. Stoppard who
would not hesitate to make use of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle or
Einstein's theory of relativity in his plays, has always been aware of
the treacherous trait of the words. A character, George Moor in one of
his plays, Jumpers, exclaims:
Both playwrights employ the language for theatricality. Pinter's "plays are rhapsodic rather than symphonic being held together by a series of internal tensions-the tension being between two opposing tonalities" (Taylor 357). Stoppard in his plays creates the theatrical energy out of his dynamic and brain-teasing language. In fact, in The Real Thing he allows the spectator to glimpse at scenes from other plays as well. Henry's play, The House of Cards, Strindberg's Miss Julie, Ford's 'Tis Pity She's a Whore. By means of different plays, different uses of language are displayed as well. All these loans from other playwrights also allow Stoppard to question further what reality is, what the real thing is although he is not generous enough to answer his challenging questions. Pinter does not answer questions either.
Both dramatists unlike the people
of the world who fail to employ language successfully, make use of this
blessing given to human beings powerfully on stage challenging the reader
and the spectator alike, which may eventually provoke the spectators to
at least make an effort to communicate meaningfully and constructively.
Almansi, Guido. "Harold Pinter's idiom of Lies", Modern Critical Views: Harold Pinter. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
Andrena, Richard A. Tom Stoppard:. An Analytical Study of His Plays. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House PVT Ltd., 1992.
Billington, Michael. Stoppard: The Playwright. London; Methuen, 1987.
Bloom, Harold. Modern Critical Views. New York: Chelsea Rouse Publishers, 1987.
Boulton, Marjorie. The Anatomy of Drama. London; 1960.
Esslin, Martin. The Peopled Wound. London; Methuen, 1970.
Gussow, Mel. Conversations With Stoppard. London; Nick Hem Books, 1995.
Hu, Stephen. Torn Stoppard's Stagecraft. New York: Peter Lang, 1989.
Jenkins, Anthony. The Theatre of Torn Stoppard. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Nightingale, Benedict. A Reader's Guide to Fifty Modern British Plays. London: Heinemann, 1982.
Pinter, Harold. The Caretaker. London: Methuen, 1982.
Stoppard, Tom. The Real Thing. London: Faber and Faber, 1983.
Taylor, John Russell. Anger and After. London: Methuen, 1978.
Thompson, David T. Pinter: The Player's Playwright. New York: Schocken Books, 1985.
Watson, G.J. Drama : An Introduction. London; Macmillan, 1983.