Saturday, March 27, 2004

Fintan O'Toole. Our Own Jacobean NYRB, October 7, 1999
Harold Pinter's imagination was shaped to a large extent by Shakespeare, Beckett, Joyce, and Kafka. But in a speech delivered in 1995 and published now in Various Voices, a collection of his essays, interviews, short stories, and poems, he recalls the schoolteacher with whom he went for long walks in the 1940s and 1950s:

Shakespeare dominated our lives at that time (I mean the lives of my friends and me) but the revelation which Joe Brearley brought with him was John Webster. On our walks, we would declare into the wind, at the passing trolley-buses or indeed to the passers-by, nuggets of Webster....

He goes on to quote, as if from memory, lines from The Duchess of Malfi and The White Devil like "What would it pleasure me to have my throat cut/ With diamonds?"; "There's a plumber laying pipes in my guts"; "My soul, like to a ship in a black storm/Is driven I know not whither"; "I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably." And, of course, "Cover her face; mine eyes dazzle; she died young." He adds, "That language made me dizzy."
I've said this before without quoting the article. My God, how that reminds me of my childhood ecstasy, listening to the 1958 recording of Mahagonny. I felt as if I were being torn apart, and smiling. Second to this at least was my parents' recording of Der Jasager, the only opera that has ever made me cry, and which I've thought for years should be staged with the cast in the uniforms of the Hitler Jugend. I've always associated Brecht with just the sort of decadence, of formal rigor and conflict, that Pinter responded to and O'Toole describes.

I have caught/ An everlasting cold. I have lost my voice/Most irrecoverably.
I just laugh and laugh.

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