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The play No Man’s Land was written by Harold Pinter in 1974 and produced in 1975 for the first time at the Old Vic Theatre in London. This play can be considered as a dramatic comedy with more sarcasm and elusive subject discussions. The play, right from its setting all the way through to its conclusion, shows a lack of commitment to characterization, often leaving the audience and critics with the daunting task of interpretation and drawing of conclusions. Over the past years, this play has been compared to other works by Harold Pinter and is considered as elusive and yet impressive as the rest. It, however, stands out in how funny it can be without committing itself to one meaning. Generally, it can be stated that the play highlights the problem of being a litterateur whether successful, failed or self proclaimed. For a play with four characters, having three poets implies a certain importance of the discipline to the author’s intended message. No Man’s Land silently speaks of the tribulations that litterateurs face before, during and after their careers, or a lack of it. The play has undertones of betrayal, manipulation and stagnation as well, all woven together to create a masterpiece comedy with slightly too many interpretations and criticisms. This paper discusses the play in order to provide a critical response with regards to its plot, structure, setting, aim, genre and success with regards to delivering the intended message to the audience.

The Play’s Plot

No Man’s Land is a play which portrays two eventful days in the lives of four men namely Hirst, Foster, Briggs and Spooner. Generally, it can be stated that Hirst is the main character as he is the wealthy litterateur who lives in a large house in West London. While the house is not given much in terms of decor and character, the playwright offers to give it some color by placing it in Hampstead Heath. The house, like its owner, holds some value in the play’s interpretation as it is a symbol of the vanity associated with career success in the absence of ‘something’ or ‘someone’ to make life meaningful. Foster, on the other hand, is Hirst’s housekeeper, charged with ‘taking care’ of his master as a secretary and an amanuensis. He sees so much importance in his work and considers it a privilege in every sense to be working for the accomplished celebrity litterateur. In the play, however, Foster is shown to have a stronger attachment to his master in the way he along with Briggs try so hard to keep Spooner away from their master. Briggs is a body guard of some sort, and plays the role of a bouncer to the celebrity litterateur, while Spooner is the intruder, “considering himself as a new friend of the litterateur after only meeting him at the pub and often manipulating him in his rants about their relationship before that meeting” (Dukore 72). As Hirst’s house guest, Spooner even tries to get a job at the house after seeing just how well the writer was doing and how badly he was feeling about the state of his life.

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This play presents a situation in which a total stranger comes in to the main character’s house and threatens to upset the order of things with regards to how the other members of the household are used to running things. The stranger tries to gain the trust of the house owner by manipulating his memory with regards to their relationship, and eventually it can be stated that he actually succeeds. The play ends while he is still in Hirst’s house, meaning that as far as the play is concerned the stranger gets what he wanted.

Within the play, there are a few remarkable issues that beg for attention. First is the way the play starts, with Hirst offering Spooner a drink and asking if it should be served ‘as it is.’ The answer provided has some undertones of sarcasm, which may be interpreted by different people to mean different things. For this paper, the sarcasm will be interpreted as a sign of Spooner’s sinister motives when he accompanied Hirst to his home after having only met him at the pub. The play then ends with Spooner telling Hirst that he was in no man’s land, and Hirst responds with ‘I’ll drink to that.’ The words used by Spooner were actually a rephrase from what Hirst had said earlier. This simply means that Spooner was manipulating the drinking host and trying too hard to get on his good side by seemingly agreeing with all he had to say and pretending to appreciate his talents and personality a little too much.

With this said, it can be deduced that the play’s plot is really deep in that the characters are all in some way conceited. Each one of them, except perhaps for Hirst, has an ulterior motive within the story. Spooner needs a job, with possibly a deeper motive to enter into the litterateur’s life for his own benefit in some way. Briggs needs to keep his boss safe from ‘men of evil’ and possibly also shut him off to the emptiness of his own world for as long as it would suit him. Foster also appears to have more than housekeeping in his mind as he initially introduces himself to Spooner as the litterateur’s son. He seems to be in Hirst’s house with the hope of not just succeeding as a poet but possibly inheriting the old man’s talent and wealth at some point in time.

The Play’s Structure

No Man’s Land has two acts. The first one is the setup, which involves the introduction of characters and situations that define the moment. In this case, the writer introduces all the characters in different manners. Hirst and Spooner are introduced as new friends, having already met at the pub and gone home for a drink as is common between friends. Briggs and Foster are then introduced in the absence of their master, allowing them to romanticize their roles and responsibilities in Hirst’s house (Anderson 47).

Considering that the set up is the introductory phase of the play, No Man’s Land produces enough information for the audience as well as the critics in the first act. This act takes place in Hirst’s drawing room, one described to be ‘as plain as a doctor’s office’ where Hirst shares a drink with a new found friend. They then indulge in a lot of heavy drinking, introducing Hirst as an alcoholic who only felt the effect of alcohol when he collapses. During this time, the guest also is introduced to the audience as a man who enjoys his own words as he spends most of the evening talking rather than listening. He speaks of his talents in poetry, refilling his glass as well as that of his host several times before Hirst tries to leave, mentions no man’s land and its inability to move or change or grow old but rather only remains silent and icy for eternity. In more ways than one, this scene introduces Hirst as a talented alcoholic who can express himself even when on the verge of a black out as happens after this scene.

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Another significant set up scene in the first act of this play is when both Spooner and Foster lie about who they really are. Spooner claims to be a friend of the host yet they had only just met. And Foster claims to be his son yet he is only the housekeeper in that house. This introduces both individuals as having sinister motives in their presence at Hirst’s house. In more ways than one, it can be stated that both Foster and Spooner are questionable individuals within the set up stage of the play. Both characters are defined by their impulsive lies considering that they could both have just told the truth.

Briggs is also introduced in this act when he comes in and asks who Spooner is, later recognizing him as an employee of the pub. This presents him as a knowledgeable guy to whom Hirst’s security is entrusted. The ease with which he relates with Foster also places him at an advantage as a new entrant into the story. This sets him up as he trusted one amongst the three suspicious characters.

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When Hirst reenters the stage it appears that the other three men are drinking and he joins them, drinking from the bottle at some point, and eventually collapsing yet again. It is at this point that Spooner is further introduced as someone who is trying to get close to Hirst. He claims to have a better connection and understanding with the boss due to their age, scoffing the two servants and trying to reassure the litterateur of his support and friendship. This then brings out the protective character of the younger men as they seek to keep their master away from worldly men. This is the part that sets the stage for the conflict between Spooner and the younger men as well as for his job seeking confession that takes place in Act Two.

The second act is then the conflict, which may also in some interpretations present the resolution in itself. In Act Two, the conflict is clear in that Spooner is considered ‘evil’ by the younger men seeing as they had even locked him up for the night. During their discussions over champagne, Spooner attempts to convince the boss about giving him a job at the house. The boss has another memory lapse during which he believes that Spooner is an old friend from his days at Oxbridge. Spooner plays along, successfully manipulating the troubled litterateur and eventually puts his cards on the table by asking the boss desperately to consider hiring him as well. This can be considered as a resolution given that Spooner finally confesses his motive for being at the house, but it is a conflict with regards to the fact that he upset the status quo at Hirst’s house by being there and getting close to the master.

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Basing on Aristotle’s thoughts on structure and organization, this play can be considered as either complete or incomplete depending on the interpretation being used. Taking it as a tragedy, one would expect something really bad to happen. This is an interpretation in which Spooner gets hired and is able to accomplish whatever sinister motives he has for the litterateur or gets disrupted by the younger men, with dire consequences. Another interpretation would see Foster and Briggs remaining with their master as Spooner is sent on his way back to his employment at the pub. Such an interpretation would require a conflict resolution in which this play would present as Spooner’s departure from Hampstead. For these interpretations, the play can be considered incomplete such that the audience is left to resolve the pending conflict that has already been created.

This play is however a comedy by Harold Pinter, implying that it is most likely to tease the audience and leave them debating over the context and meaning of the occurrences. The second part is thus considerably complete in that the conflict is the decisions made by the poets, with Hirst being successful, Spooner failed and Foster stagnating to work for Hirst. The resolution is presented as Spooner remarking that Foster should pursue his writing career instead of spending his life taking care of the accomplished Hirst. This seems to be a selfless, and yet selfish moment for Spooner. Selfless because he offers advice to the younger man expressing regret for his own failure as a poet, and selfish because he wanted to be hired at the house as well and may have realized that it would be hard for him to get hired if the housekeeper did not leave.

Aim of the Play

This play is somewhat open to different interpretations and understanding. On one hand, it can be assumed that the author simply wanted to express the experiences of writers at different stages and phases of their lives. In this case, the play is seen as a projection of the author’s fears and thus as a means for him to express what he is afraid of with regards to his career and future. The three litterateurs are seen as variations of Harold Pinter at different stages of his life, and what he fears to become at a later time period. With this in mind it can be stated that the aim of the play is to lighten the sobriety of vanity and old age in the life of a litterateur. The ‘lifeless trance’ of no man’s land that Hirst is kept in with the help of his servants is the busy life of a successful writer and Spooner’s entry signifies the importance of friendship in sailing the waters of life even for a wealthy and famous writer. The play is thus aimed at showing how vain life can be for successful people, and how much they need help with seeing the things that really matter.

Considering how the play was structured and how little emphasis was put on the definition of the characters with regards to what they really wanted, it can be stated that the playwright simply wanted the audience to have a good time while examining the possible outcomes of living a life full of vanity. Craig reiterated that…“With the open ended nature of this play, it can be stated that its aim was to draw attention to the subject and let the audience create their own ending after thinking about the situation and putting themselves in it in one way or another” (9).

Genre / Period

This play is a poetic comedy in which the characters are mainly writers and litterateurs who are at different points in their careers. As a 1975 production, the play has undertones of homosexuality as is seen in the fondness and closeness between Briggs and Foster. Also, the author presents the theme of vanity and the need for more than just money and servants. In exploring these themes, the author applies sarcasm among other comic techniques including the hint that Spooner could be the ‘other side’ Hirst or rather an unsuccessful Hirst. The arguments in the play are mainly held in sarcasm and with not more than a hint on the speaker’s true intention in speaking at the time or on the subject.

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The Play’s Success

This play succeeds in its aim with regards to drawing attention to the subject of vanity. In the play’s plot, it is seen that Hirst is wealthy and very successful as a litterateur. His works are acknowledged and admired by many including his guest and his housekeeper, both litterateurs by their own definitions. The main character has a grand house at Hampstead Heath, has a housekeeper and even a body guard. From an outsider’s eye, his life would be perfect in more ways than one. In the play, however, he is portrayed as an alcoholic with a raving mind and an inability to control himself with regards to drinking. This implies that he was not as perfect as he was expected to be (Jones 35). Spooner is, on the other hand, portrayed as a rational individual, despite his failure as a poet. He seems to represent another side of the main character, one which had his sanity and only lacked the fame and material wealth. Foster represented the younger and hopeful version of Hirst, before the fame and wealth took over his life. He is a hard worker, willing to take up a housekeeping job just so he could have access to the prolific writer.

Looking at all these characters as variations of a single litterateur individual, it becomes easier to notice the impact of fame and wealth on the individual. In this sense, “it becomes clearer that Hirst’s alcoholism is rooted in his life’s inadequacy with regards to friendship or affection.” (Dukore 780) The fact that he picks a stranger from a pub and offers to have drinks with him at home pin points his loneliness, one that he may or may not overcome, depending on the ending that a member of the audience selects for their conclusion of the play. The solitude that robs the litterateur of his peace, sanity and mostly his memory is thus as a consequence of his focus on vanity at the expense of the things that would be really important to him.

Without using so many words, the playwright manages to initiate a debate on what is really important to a man. With the discussion about Hirst’s wife, and his reaction to Spooner’s remarks, it becomes clear that the author is driving a real point home. This makes the play a remarkable success in delivering its aim.

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Conclusion

No Man’s Land is set in a grand house owned by a celebrity writer, and occupied by himself along with his two male servants. This play provides a basis within which the audience can question the bliss of a celebrity status as lived by Hirst. By presenting three distinct stages and possible phases of a litterateur’s life, the play enables for a comparative analysis in order to establish whether the main character is really happy and fulfilled with his success and popularity within the career path he had chosen. As a comedy, the play employs a lot of sarcasm and conflicts to create the final message for further synthesis by the audience. Without using so many words, the playwright manages to initiate a debate on what is really important to a man. With the discussion about Hirst’s wife, and his reaction to Spooner’s remarks, it becomes clear that the author is driving a real point home. This makes the play a remarkable success in delivering its aim. In more ways than one, Harold Pinter’s No Man’s Land can be considered as an open ended play that allows for the audience to use their imagination and create a series of possible outcomes without deviating from the main theme and getting the intended message.

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