Places: The Birthday Party

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1959

First produced: 1958, at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge, England

Type of work: Drama

Type of plot: Absurdist

Time of work: Mid-twentieth century

Places DiscussedSeaside town

Seaside Birthday Party, Thetown. Unnamed coastal English town. Long popular with English vacationers, many English coastal towns featured amusement parks and other entertainments, along with public beaches. Some of the smaller coastal towns gained reputations for seedy raffishness as their old seafront hotels and tourist accommodations lost much of their former grandeur due to neglect and the ravages of time. They have been satirized in a number of literary works, including The Birthday Party, which is apparently set in one of them.

Boles boardinghouse

Boles boardinghouse. Dilapidated seaside establishment run by Meg and Petey Boles. For some time, it has had only one tenant, Stanley Webber. The play’s primary set is the Boleses’ living room, which has a table and chairs at its center and a square porthole in the wall separating it from the kitchen. That the home is cheaply run is apparent from the meager breakfast that Meg serves. Although she boasts of the house’s cleanliness and says it is on an approved list of such accommodations, her claims are probably exaggerated. Petey supplements their income by collecting paltry fees from people who use seaside deck chairs. The arrival of oddly menacing strangers, Goldberg and McCann, suggests the presence of something sinister beyond the household, but neither the name, the nature, nor the purpose of this menace is ever disclosed. As in the fiction of Franz Kafka, the lives of seemingly ordinary characters are intruded upon by inexplicable, sinister happenstance.

BibliographyBaker, William, and Stephen Ely Tabachnick. Harold Pinter, 1973.Bloom, Harold, ed. Modern Critical Views: Harold Pinter. New York: Chelsea House, 1987. An eclectic collection of essays by various critics. Comprehensive analysis of general themes as well as selected specific texts.Bold, Alan, ed. Harold Pinter: You Never Heard Such Silence, 1984.Burkman, Katherine H. The Dramatic World of Harold Pinter: Its Basis in Ritual. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1971. An analysis of Pinter’s work viewed through Freudian, Marxist, and myth analysis. Heavy on theory with solid literary analysis of individual plays.Esslin, Martin. Theatre of the Absurd. New York: Viking Penguin, 1987. Overview of the avant-garde and how the term relates to selected dramatic works. Includes an excellent discussion of Pinter’s early work.Esslin, Martin. Pinter: The Playwright, 1984.Gale, Steven H. Butter’s Going Up: A Critical Analysis of Harold Pinter’s Plays, 1977.Gale, Stephen H., ed. Harold Pinter: Critical Approaches. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1986. A collection of essays by various critics on a wide range of Pinter’s work. Places the material in the context of contemporary critical theories.Ganz, Arthur, ed. Pinter: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1972.Hayman, Ronald. Harold Pinter, 1973.Hinchliffe, Arnold P. Harold Pinter, 1967.Merritt, Susan H. Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. Excellent discussion of current and past debates on critical theory as it relates to Pinter’s work. Provides scrupulous textual examination.Taylor, John Russell. Harold Pinter, 1969.Thompson, David T. Pinter: The Player’s Playwright, 1985.Trussler, Simon. The Plays of Harold Pinter: An Assessment, 1969
Categories: Places