The phrase "comedy of menace" often applied to Harold Pinterâ€™s The Birthday Party suggests that although they are funny, they are also frightening or menacing in a vague and undefined way. Even as they laugh, the audience are unsettled, ill at ease and uncomfortable. The Birthday Party is a play that ultimately leaves the reader or audience confused and without any real explanation for the unfolding events. This in turn causes the audience to be uncomfortable and ill at ease. The play is riddled with elements of the absurd and surreal in which the central character, Stanley Webber, is threatened by forces or people whose precise intentions neither he nor the audience can define. This paper will attempt to explore the reasons for this.
Communication in the play is one reason why the audience and Stan become confused in the play. Communication is conventionally used to communicate a message or meaning to another character. In The Birthday Party communication seems to be solely used as a means to avoid silence (Combrink, 1979). The characters are constantly conversing in order to take part in a structured situation that gives them a temporary role and identity in order to escape the unstructured terror of isolation. What takes place is then a continual evasion from concrete conversations and the characters seem to continually need to confirm their relationships with others through senseless banter. This makes their conversation comical but also makes the audience feel confused and uncomfortable, as they are unwilling to understand the situation.
The play does not have a lack of communication, only a lack of real and effective conversation. The dialogue in the play seems to register repetitions, hesitations and equivocations of colloquial speech, but never really sounds natural. This leaves the audience wondering what the precise intentions of the characters are. .
Goldberg speaks continuously in platitudes and clichÃ©s making him seem like a conservative, middle class family man.