Article Title

G. B. Shaw’s Heartbreak House and Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming: Comedies of Implosion


Emil Roy


Shaw’s Heartbreak House (1919) and Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming (1965) are two of twentieth-century British drama’s premier plays. Both plays exploit an enduring archetype deeply rooted in the dramatic form: the impact of one or more outsiders on a closed, emotionally conflicted family group, eliciting long-buried antagonisms and flimsy lies, the unforeseen death of a minor character and, in both plays, futile attempts, after the departure or expulsion of an outsider, at re-forming the shattered social group. Where Shaw over-explains, Pinter’s dialogue is spare, even cryptic. What Shaw achieves in scope and breadth, Pinter gains in depth and ambiguity. They can be called “comedies of implosion” as, despite the final offstage explosions in Shaw, the characters in self-destructing reveal the emptiness they had struggled to conceal from both themselves and us. Underlying the struggles for dominance among men and women in both plays is, on a deeper more internal level, a contest between independence and inter-connectedness. Both playwrights have not so much abandoned the hackneyed conventions of the well-made, three-act play as they have hollowed it out, slowed its pace and sought poetic, highly evocative language and action. Rather than disappearing, Shaw’s outdated social distinctions have been posited in Pinter then undermined and negated. They leave in their stead a rootless, alienated society driven primarily by naked, self-lacerating struggles for love, money, power and status.

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