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Reviews 175 Kennedy has written an important book. I wish I had found it easier to get through. OTTO REINERT University of Washington Bernard F. Dukore. Where Laughter Stops: Pinter’s Tragicomedy. A Literary Frontiers Edition. Columbia & London: University of Missouri Press, 1976. Pp. 74. $5.50. Writing candidly about himself in 1961, Harold Pinter observed that “the old categories of comedy and tragedy and farce are irrelevant.” Months before, in the pages of The Sunday Times of London, he had called The Caretaker “funny, up to a point. Beyond that point it ceases to be funny, and it was because of that point that I wrote it.” Bernard Dukore has taken the playwright at his own words in order to examine the precise relationship between laughter and tears Pinter has made so haunting on the contemporary stage. “Associated initially and primarily with comedy,” concludes Dukore in his interesting new monograph on the Pinter plays, “they begin with comic expectation and then move to a point where laughter stops.” Beginning with The Room and ending with No Man’s Land, Dukore traces Pinter’s distinctiveness as a writer of tragicomedy by outlining the shape, structure, and unity of each play he has written in this genre. Where laughter stops in Pinter the real tension of the drama begins. Dukore convincingly argues that the sources of the “noncomic” within each Pinter play are the same as those of the comic and that the tension between the two ultimately denies the comic qualities earlier established. Dukore is sensitive enough to avoid reducing the variety and richness of Pinter’s drama to a single formula. Each tragicomedy is seen as a variation of the basic structure: “in some plays laughter stops briefly, to return and then stop again, to do so yet another time or other times until ultimately the play reaches that point where the funniness of what was funny does not return, and the sources of the comic are mocked and denied.” Because Dukore has so carefully focused his argument on an essential aspect of Pinter’s playwriting, his concise and lucid discussion offers us a very appealing approach to the ambiguous structure and tone of this baffling new theater. Dukore’s essay can be very persuasive indeed, for he has firmly, though briefly, based his interpretation on traditional dramatic theory. Starting out with Sir Philip Sidney, who deprecated tragicomedy as “mongrel,” he moves swiftly forward in time from Shakespeare to Shaw to accommodate more recent preoccupations with this modern genre. Reviewing The Wild Duck in 1897 (“to look on with horror and pity at a profound tragedy, shaking with laughter all the time at an irresistible comedy”), it was Shaw who was among the first to notice pedigree potential in such bastardized form. John Gassner made Shaw’s flippancy academically respectable when he said that “ever since Chekhov became a successful playwright, the plotless play, which is 176 Comparative Drama little more than a string of occurrences forming a story . . . has won the greatest degree of respect and affection. Modern drama has been the result of fundamentally anti-Aristotelian playwriting, largely plotless, meandering, semi-comic and semi-tragic.” What Bernard Dukore adds to the discussion of tragicomedy in gen­ eral and to Pinter in particular is a sensitive perspective on clearly defined possibilities of the genre: “If a tragicomedy is primarily asso­ ciated with tragedy or if its end resembles that of tragedy (‘unhappy’), then the conclusion carries none of the affirmation, redemption, or catharsis . . . characteristic of tragedy; it reveals neither stature nor heroism; and it discloses no moral order. . , . If the play is primarily associated with comedy, however, or if its end resembles that of comedy (‘happy’), then its conclusion freezes laughter or smiles, it carries dis­ comfort rather than comfort, it contains a sardonic or grim quality that denies happiness, and it mocks the frequently festive culmination of comedy.” In applying these distinctions to Pinter, Dukore is concerned with the consistent employment of a tragicomic technique based on an alternation and transformation of essentially comic modes. The analyses of individual plays Dukore presents are there to test and illustrate the viability of his suggestive thesis. In discussing the...


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pp. 175-176
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