Thesis: Pinter, Theatre of the Absurd, &amp Aristotelian Conventions

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Pinter Pt.

Finding Aristotle -- and Pinter -- in the Twentieth Century's Theatre of the Absurd

Aristotle's Poetics laid the groundwork for much Western drama for the next two millennia. Like as flowed forth from ancient Greeks in many other areas of the arts and sciences, and indeed in a wide range of human endeavors, theatre and dramatic literature have traveled in a distinct and identifiable arc from the time Aristotle first codified the precepts of Greek tragedy (and comedy, to a lesser degree) to the present day, to the point that even deviations and rejections of Aristotelian drama must be seen in the context of this rejection. There is no simple avoiding of Aristotle Poetics in the work of the theatre, that is; his conventions are the conventions of Western theatre, at least insofar as the construction of drama, and any rejection or controversion of these conventions must be seen as precisely that.

The twentieth century saw more radical departures from the Aristotelian model of effective Western drama than any century since this model was established, and many of the various stylistic and political movements that he century saw were quite conscious rejections of the precepts of the Poetics. Other movements were less rigidly defined themselves, and thus less purposeful rejections of Aristotelian drama and more explorations of other possibilities in dramatic construction and presentation. The theatre of the absurd, though consciously used as a form of political and aesthetic disruption by many of it's practitioners -- Ionesco and Beckett, especially -- can be more firmly placed in this latter camp of exploration than in any explicit analysis and rejections of Aristotle's theories.

The degree to which conventions are broken in the absurdist genre, however, is still somewhat extreme. William Spanos, writing in the final decade of absurdist theatre's decline and twenty to thirty years after its heyday, observed a fundamental and yet incredibly profound departure from the concept of time and sequentialism as it exists in Aristotelian drama (and therefore the bulk of Western drama) by the writers of absurdist theatre. Reaching its height in the nineteenth-century's "well-made play," the plot that unfolds inevitably and organically as a product of previous action and time was seen by the practitioners of the theatre of the absurd as simply a (mis)appropriation of "the illusory teleological perspective of Western essentialist philosophy, which perceives and interprets human life from the end (in the senses of both termination and goal" [emphasis Spanos'] (346).

This undoubtedly places the theatre of the absurd in opposition to contemporary philosophical and aesthetic trends, but more importantly it laces the theatre of the absurd in opposition to the traditions that led to the modern philosophy of essentialism. That is, essentialism itself is a uniquely modern development according to Spanos, but one that extends in a direct line from the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and through the Enlightenment and the rest of Western thought. Though there are new ideas and perspectives, there is no questioning or doubt of the basic structure underlying these perspectives and philosophies; no skepticism regarding the basic assumptions that Western thought relies on.

The theatre of the absurd's defining feature was that it quite consciously and explicitly questioned the basic logic and assumptions of Western thought, tossing out notions of time and cause-and-effect -- and thus essentially eradicating the Aristotelian idea of plot. Harold Pinter is specifically noted by contemporary scholars for his presentation of "small, disconnected incidents while the play-long interests are being manifested at a different level of consciousness"(John Russell Brown, qtd. In States, 49). That is, Pinter (as well as the other authors of absurd theatre) specifically rejects the Aristotelian notion of a plot that flows through different causes and effects that create conflict and build to a certain emotional release (catharsis) at the resolution, instead portraying independent scenes that have inherent emotional states, and presenting these scenes in an order that purports to lead the audience on a similar emotional climb but provides no real resolution.

The concept of the Aristotelian catharsis depends on the ability of the play to elicit specific emotions from the audience through the presentation of events that are logical and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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"Pinter, Theatre of the Absurd, &amp Aristotelian Conventions."  Essaytown.com.  November 13, 2009.  Accessed October 15, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/harold-pinter-theatre-absurd-violation/12239.