Comic Elements in The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter

Comic Elements in The Birthday Party by Harold
Pinter Written by Ohidur Chad Plenty of Comedy
—Almost every character contributes to the humour of the play in a greater or lesser
measure —maximum contribution made by Goldberg and
Meg —humour provided by Meg is totally unconscious
—She is not aware—she is a source of amusement to anybody
—But Goldberg is a witty man capable of making sarcastic remarks which amuse us
—McCann too is capable of making sarcastic remarks which amuse us
—McCann too is capable of sarcasm —Stanley is another character who can make
witty remarks, and he does make a few amusing statements in the course of the interrogation
to which he is subjected by Goldberg and McCann —humour provided by Lulu is again of the
unconscious variety—amuses us by being made the target of ridicule by Goldberg and also
by McCann Not Appropriate to Describe the Play as a
Comedy —however, abundance of comedy does not mean—the
play can be called a comedy —play has certain very serious implications
—central character, Stanley, undergoes harrowing experiences
—he meets a cruel fate which arouses both terror and pity in our hearts
—On the whole, therefore, the play is a tragedy rather a comedy
—But the most appropriate label for it is the “comedy of menace”. An amusing dialogue between Meg and Petey
—play opens with an amusing dialogue between Meg and her husband Petey—because it is
inconsequential, repetitions, and trivial —2/3 times Meg asks her husband a question
that answer to which is obvious, and which therefore need not have been asked at all
—Apart from a repetition of this question, the word ‘nice’ is repeated several times
in the course of this dialogue —reference to an item of news in the newspaper
makes this dialogue even more amusing —inconsequential dialogue continues till
Petey informs his wife—a couple of men would be coming to their boarding-house to spend
a couple of nights there —only important bit of information this
initial dialogue proves to Meg and to us An amusing dialogue between Meg and Stanley
—Then we have a dialogue between Meg and her lodger Stanley—again trivial and almost
meaningless —However, it is amusing enough
—When Stanley uses the word ‘succulent’, Meg takes it to mean—he regards her as a
sexy woman —When she asks him to say ‘sorry’ first
before she can give him some tea, he repeats the words: ‘Sorry first’
—When she says—he should say just ‘sorry’, he repeats both the words, saying: ‘Just
sorry’ —She thereupon says—he deserves to be
caned, like a school boy —again amused when Stanley describes Meg
as a ‘succulent old washing bag’. An amusing dialogue between Lulu and Stanley
—dialogue between Stanley and Lulu—another comic piece
—When Lulu suggests—Stanley should have taken a wash because he looks terrible without
it —he replies: “A wash wouldn’t make any
difference.” —When Stanley suggests—she should go away
with him and she wants to know where they should go, he replies: “Nowhere. Still, we could go.” —On her asking again where they can go,
he gives the following amusing reply: “Nowhere. There’s nowhere to go. So we could just go.” —Lulu eventually leaves after saying—Stanley
is “a bit of a washout” Meg’s garbled version of Stanley’s account
of his concerts —Although all these dialogues are amusing,
we cannot say—examples of any sparkling or uproarious comedy
—comedy here is of a very trivial kind —We get slightly better comedy when Meg
gives to Goldberg a garbled version of Stanley’s account of 2 piano concerts
—one—which had proved very successful while the other had not even materialized
—Here the comedy arises from Meg’s muddle-headedness and her failure either to have understood
Stanley’s account or to remember it correctly —Meg had not even correctly understood the
sense in which Stanley had used the word ‘tip’ to move so that one side is higher than another
side; to pour a substance from one container into another or onto a surface Amusing bits in the dialogues between Stanley
and McCann —Then, at the beginning of Act II, there
is a long dialogue between Stanley and McCann which is amusing in parts
—when McCann says—it is an honour for him to have been invited to Stanley’s birthday
party, Stanley says—McCann is ‘exaggerating’ —When McCann insists—if it is an honour,
Stanley says—he regards his view as ‘plain stupid’
—When Stanley wants to go out of doors, McCann insists—Stanley should stay where
he is —We are greatly amused when Stanley, in
an effort to send the two men away, says—the landlady of his boarding-house is crazy, ‘round
the bend’, that she is mad —We are again amused when Stanley poses
to be the manager of this boarding-house and when he says—actually no accommodation is
available for the 2 men and they must leave —Stanley’s effort to befriend McCann by
praising Ireland and the Irish people is also a part of the fun here
—Then there is a bit of comedy in the way in which the 2 men again and again ask Stanley
to sit down while he refuses to pay any heed to them
—However, the comedy here has a hint of menace too. The comic aspect of the two men’s interrogation
of Stanley —interrogation to which Stanley is subjected
by the 2 men is also amusing in parts —Some questions asked by them are really
funny —following bit of dialogue is an example
of the comedy here, though the comedy arises more from Stanley’s answers than from the
questions asked: A short conversation between Goldberg and
Stanley When did you come to this place? Last year. Where did you come from? Somewhere else. Why did you come here? My feet hurt. Why did you stay? I had a headache. Did you take anything for it? Yes. What? Fruit salts. —A couple of questions in the interrogation
are mutually contradictory and therefore amusing —Stanley is first asked why he had killed
his wife—then why he had never got married —Some other amusing questions are: “Why
don’t you pay the rent?” “Why do you pick your nose?” How many fingers do you use (while playing
the piano)?” —question why the chicken crossed the road
is also quite funny, while the question whether the chicken came fires or the egg came first
is partly comic and partly philosophical The comedy in the dialogue at the birthday
party —Goldberg’s compliments to Meg, when he
admires her bearing or deportment the way a person walks and stands or behaves and when
he compares her to a tulip and a gladiolus the tulip and the gladiolus are kinds of flowers,
are also a part of the comedy, as is her vanity in asking Stanley what he thinks of her dress
—When McCann asks whether Meg has ever been to Carrikamacross, she gives a reply which
is, unintentionally on her part, quite amusing —Her reply is “I’ve been to King’s
Cross.” —“Carrikamacross” is the name of an
Irish town, while “King’s Cross” is the name of a railway station in London
—humour here arises from the incongruity between the question and the answer
—But, of course, Meg is perfectly unconscious of the fact—her answer is amusing
—humour provided by Meg elsewhere in the play is also unconscious on her part
—Some of the dialogue between Goldberg and Lulu during the birthday party is also amusing,
as are the reminiscences of Lulu and Meg both of whom recall their childhood days
—Then there is some fun in the game of blind man’s buff which they all play. Comedy at the Beginning of Act III
—(Act III)—initial dialogue between Meg and Petey, which reminds us of their dialogue
at the opening of Act I, is again amusing because of its triviality and inconsequentiality
—Further, we feel amused when Meg becomes nervous on seeing a big car parked outside
the boarding-house, because she is reminded of Stanley’s warning to hear—some people
would come in a van and bring a wheel-barrow with them
—There is a touch of comedy in the feeling of uneasiness which McCann experiences and
also in Goldberg’s plight when he feels completely devitalized and is almost unable
to talk coherently —Here we feel amused by the contrast between
Goldberg’s claim—he has always enjoyed good health and his present condition in which
he thinks it necessary to ask McCann to blow into his mouth. Goldberg’s witty remarks to Lulu
—dialogue between Lulu and Goldberg is really very amusing because of the witty answers
which Goldberg gives to Lulu’s accusations against him
—When Lulu says—her first lover, Eddie, never behaved like Goldberg because Eddie
had never come into her room at night with a briefcase, Goldberg wittingly asks who had
opened the briefcase, he or she —When she complains—Goldberg had ‘used’
her for a night as a mere ‘passing fancy’ Goldberg asks who had used whom, implying—it
was he who had been used by her for her own satisfaction
—When she complains—he had made use of her ‘by cunning when her defences were down,’
—Goldberg asks who had taken down those defences, thus implying—she had surrendered
to him of her own free will —When Lulu complains—Goldberg had taught
her things which a girl should not know before she has been married at least 3 times
—Goldberg replies—she has now acquired much more experiences of sexual intercourse
and that she should therefore have no grouse an angry complaint against him
—Not only are Goldberg’s sarcastic answers amusing, but the way in which Lulu makes her
complaints is amusing also because we know—she had herself been encouraging Goldberg to fondle
her at the party. Comic moments in the second brain-washing
exercise —2nd session of the brain-washing to which
Stanley is subjected by the 2 men also has its comic moments
Another conversation by Goldberg and McCann. Stanley has been cock-eyed for years. Stanley is now even more cock-eyed. Stanley has gone from bad to worse. “Worse than worse”. Stanley needs a change of air somewhere beyond
that rainbow. Stanley needs a change of air at a place where
angels would fear to tread. Stanley is in a rut period of the year during
which particular male animals, especially deer and sheep, are sexually active. Stanley looks anaemic without any energy and
effort. Stanley looks rheumatic. Stanley is myopic not able to see clearly
things that are far away. thus the brain-washing goes on, becoming more
and more comic, even though the effect of it on Stanley would be disastrous
—Towards the end of the brain-washing—2 men make some very fantastic and preposterous
promises which amuses us by their very absurdity or extravagance Unconscious humour at the end
—play closes with a bit of comedy which is unconsciously provided by Meg when she
tells Petey—she was ‘the belle a beautiful girl of the ball a dance’
—Meg replies: “O yes. They all said I was.” —Petey then agrees with her and says: “I
bet you were, too.”—And Meg says that she surely was. Comedy of Menace in The Birthday Party by
Harold Pinter A sense of danger accompanying the audience’s
laughter —David Campton (1957) in the sub-title of
his play “The Lunatic View” —the laughter of the audience immediately
followed by a feeling of some impending disaster —audience feels uneasy even while laughing
because of its perception of some threat (explicit/implicit) —potential violence/actual violence/underlying
sense of violence —feeling of uncertainty/insecurity—nervousness
Amusing dialogues followed by one suggestive of menace
—Meg informs Stanley of 2 gentlemen for a couple of nights
—Stanley disturbed and warns Meg of throwing dust into her eyes
—Stanley impresses Meg (Ex-pianist/job/concert) —1st concert utterly successful but 2nd
one wasn’t held (antagonistic) The reference to a van and a wheel-barrow
—Stanley scares Meg (childish fear)—a dead body would be taken away by wheel-barrow
(Meg’s dying/Stanley’s departure/a joke) —Pinter’s art of mingling comedy with
menace A knock at the door: apprehension followed
by mirth —The sudden knock frightens as Stanley said
—Actually Lulu to deliver a parcel to Meg —Startles Meg/Stanley/audience followed
by feeling of relief/amusement —Lulu disappointed and thought Stanley to
be a bit of a “washout” The menace resulting from the reference to
the “Job” —Goldberg knows the details of the job—hides
from McCann Our anxiety followed immediately by amusement
—Meg returns from shopping and asked about Stanley
—Goldberg’s inquisitiveness about this lodger (Stanley)—makes up anxious Please subscribe to my channel. Thanks for watching.

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