I am working on a paper exploring the theme of how memory is used in Harold Pinter's plays. The paper currently covers "Old Times", "No Man's Land", "Silence", "Night", and "Landscape". I have two...

I am working on a paper exploring the theme of how memory is used in Harold Pinter's plays. The paper currently covers "Old Times", "No Man's Land", "Silence", "Night", and "Landscape". I have two questions. First, I'd like some help with what I should discuss in the paper. Second, I'm wondering if I should also cover "Betrayal"? 

 

 

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Memory is a theme that recurs across almost all of Harold Pinter's dramas. In them, typically, a person or memory from the past shows up suddenly to destabilize or disrupt the present. Often this intrusion of memory has slightly ominous overtones, and operates by means of indirection, conveying meaning as much through the gaps and pauses in the dialogue as through what is actually said. The memories of the plays are frequently elusive and untrustworthy, often constructed by the characters to sustain or create narratives that actively influence the present. For Pinter, the past is not necessary a fixed empirical reality, but as Anna States in "Old Times":

There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened. There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place.

"Old Times": In this play, three characters, Deeley, his wife Kate, and their guest Anna reminisce about their past in London some 20 years before the time in which the play is set. In the dialogue, the three characters bring to bear different visions of the past. Anna emphasizes her shared love of art and culture with Kate and their closeness. Deeley recalls a sexual encounter. As the play progresses the memories become stranger and more emotionally fraught, with Anna discussing wearing Kate's underwear, and describing a man who came home to the flat she shared with Kate and cried. Deeley claims to have gone on a date with Anna. Kate utters the most startling revelation, saying to Anna: "I remember you dead." As Kate reveals increasingly detailed but impossible memories, we begin to understand that the discussion is not one of memories in an historical sense of reconstruction of a determinate past, but rather revelation of deeper truths about characters. For your essay, you might want to focus on the relationship of memory to death in this play. Paradoxically, memory is all we have of people who are dead, but once we die we stop having memories and we fade from the memories of other people.

"No Man's Land": At the beginning of the play, the mysterious stranger Spooner and the writer Hirst appear to be recent acquaintances. As they drink, they begin to reconstruct a shared past at university, but this past may well be imaginary. We have an opportunity to find out if the past is real when Hirst mentions an album of photographs that contains all his real friends. The album never appears in the play, and so we are unsure if the album itself is another one of the constructions of memory. The photograph album is among the central points you should cover in your analysis of this play.

"Silence" apparently portrays a love triangle among three characters, Ellen, Rumsey, and Bates. The setting in sparse, with each of the three characters sitting in isolation and reminiscing. As in Pinter's other plays, the three different voices reveal different stories, each narrative constructing not only a different past but a different set of possibilities for relationships in the present. The memories, which could serve to deepen present relationships by means of a shared past, do the reverse, emphasizing that the missed opportunities for happiness in the narrative will not be revived. As you might discuss in your paper, as the memories of the past diverge, the protagonists drift further apart, each into an individual memory stream. As the characters live in these memories, their present itself becomes remote, almost as if the present is the memory and the past the reality.

"Night": In "Night", the man and woman reconstruct their first encounter, with the man emphasizing its sexual nature and the woman emphasizing its romantic nature. Their disagreement over this memory reflects a deep-seated difference in their understanding of the relationship. As you write about this play, focus on how memory of a shared past serves to deepen rather than heal the fractures of the present.

"Landscape": The main theme of "Landscape" is that the past disrupts a marriage in the present. The woman's idealized vision of the man she met by the sea intrudes into the efforts of the husband to reignite the intimacy of their marriage. We don't actually find out whether the man by the sea is her husband when he was younger or someone else, but eventually it doesn't matter, because the idealized "one true love" of this memory is something with which the present reality of the husband cannot compete. In writing about this play, you should emphasize how memory serves to displace the present, not strengthening but disrupting the bonds of the marriage.

"Betrayal": Although "Betrayal" has themes similar to the other plays you discuss, you probably should not include it. These are very complex plays, and you should focus on analyzing each play in depth, something that would be hard to do if you included an additional play.

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