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The Theatre of the Absurd, the Grotesque and Politics

A Study of Samuel Beckett, Harold Pinter and Tom Stoppard


Jadwiga Uchman

The monograph deals with chosen aspects of modern drama based on the output of three playwrights. It discusses the works of Beckett, Pinter and Stoppard in reference to their employment of the grotesque and the theatre of the absurd. Elements of the grotesque appear in political dramas of all three playwrights. While Beckett does not shy away from absurdity in his plays, some of the early dramas of Pinter and Stoppard present a general existential condition of man, even though their strictly political plays are basically realistic in respect to form, yet satirical in their content. Most of the political plays discussed portray the absurdity of totalitarian countries, stemming from the tragicomic discrepancy between what the authorities are saying they are doing and their actual actions.

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Varun Begley, in his book, entitled Harold Pinter and the Twilight of Modernism, referring to this artist, contends: “Recondite absurdist, admirer of Beckett, adapter of Proust and Kafka, an apolitical littérateur but also political firebrand, adapter of middle-brow fiction, screenwriter for florid filmmaker Joseph Losey, toast of the West-End – all these tags could be justly applied” (2005, 5). Speaking during the National Student Drama Festival in Bristol in 1962, Pinter referred to “the desire for verification” in respect to his characters, which “cannot always be satisfied.” He also stated “When a character cannot be comfortably defined or understood in terms of the familiar, the tendency is to perch him on a symbolic shelf, out of the harm’s way. Once there, he can be talked about but need not be lived with” (1976, 11). Providing strict classification is hardly ever possible. Nevertheless it is often tempting to offer labels and categories, and thus to systematise the data. So it is also alluring to add two more tags describing this notable playwright, namely the word Pinteresque, and a reference to his getting the Nobel Prize for literature in 2005. It is not certain who was the first to use the term “Pinteresque.”55 In 1966, during an interview with Lawrence Bensky, Pinter, in a sense, exploded when he heard the expression: “That word! These damn words and that ‘Pinteresque’ particularly – I don’t know what they’re bloody well talking about!” (2005, 64). However, it seemed to find its way into critical terminology....

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