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Stasis as Structure in Pinter's No Man's Land JOHN BUSH JONES • ONE OF THE LEAST likely working dramatists one tends to think of in terms either of palpable surface artifice or deliberate literary borrowings is Harold Pinter, and yet his latest play, No Man's Land,] reveals both of these characteristics, not only after study of the play in print but even in the immediacy of a first viewing of the play in production. Whether or not the atypical visibility of these elements reflects an attempt by the playwright to make patently clear in the theatre his avowed interest in the structure or shape of a play,2 No Man's Land indeed emerges lobsterlike , its skeleton on the outside with the flesh hidden deep within. Whereas the form of this play becomes apparent as it displays itself in production, the thematic content or "meaning" (a term I apply to Pinter with great trepidation) is seemingly as hard to extract as in most of his previous works. And yet, a close examination of the literary affinities and the formal characteristics may demonstrate that through its structure the meaning of No Man's Land is dramatized. In other words, the shape of the play is what it is about. The form of No Man's Land is inextricably linked to its literary antecedents - Beckett's Endgame and, primarily, Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." That the play's associations with these works (or at least their authors) is not abstruse but readily accessible is vividly made evident by the fact that at least four first-night reviewers remarked on echoes of Eliot, two of the four mentioned Beckett, and, of these, one dealt with specific analogues to Endgame.3 Irving Wardle, in the most extended commentary on the Pinter-Eliot relationship, begins with the character Spooner, finding "his dialogue ... pure Georgian, but 291 292 JOHN BUSH JONES when he goes into verse soliloquy it is pastiche Eliot." From Spooner alone, the Times critic expands his remarks to include the verbal fabric of the entire play: "Nor do the Eliot echoes end there [i.e., with Spooner]. Like the mazes and rose gardens invoked by that poet and the others of his generation, the play seeks to locate spiritual malaise in some concrete image, and fails to find one." Whether or not this criticism is justified, Wardle comes very close to touching on both the controlling structural principle and the central thematic concern of No Man's Land. Furthermore , he remarks that "another literary presence is Beckett, never more insistent in Pinter than in this play," elaborating this observation by pointing to specific correspondences between Hirst, most often seated in his center-stage armchair facing dead front, and Hamm, always immobile except through the agency of Clov, in his similarly positioned chair in Endgame. Both characters, notes Wardle, contemplate the prospect of remaining so seated forever, and as Hamm repeatedly asks for his painkiller , Hirst continually demands more and more alcohol, his own form of spiritual anesthetic. Again, Wardle's perceptions of immobility approach the play's fundamental meaning - or perhaps "attitude," to be more precise - yet without fully suggesting how Pinter has effected this dramatically. Just as the literary affinities of No Man's Land came through the National Theatre production to four of its journalistic critics, a single notion of thematic content impressed itself on virtually all the reviewers. Though expressed differently, from Sheridan Morley's facetious picture of the play "suspended in time and space at some unfixed point roughly halfway from Pirandello to [Monty] Python," through B.A. Young's observation of "the spiritual wilderness in which the men live,"4 to Wardle's interpretation of that wilderness as "that uncharted territory where dreams, memories, and actuality meet on equal terms," their incapsulations of Pinter's theme amount to much the same thing: a feeling of stagnation , forces held in balance, suspended animation - in short, stasis. The question remains, however, how did the critics get from their ,few sketchy remarks about literary echoes to essentially identical state- :ments of the play's thematic content? What, if this is the route they took, led...


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