A Mother’s Touch: Ethics and Maternal Corporeality in Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language

Matthew Roberts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language presents a national military’s violent attempt to outlaw an ethnic minority group’s language. The conflict between the military personnel and an injured Elderly Woman who waits to visit her imprisoned son orients this ban and its effects. But the common qualification that the work is one of Pinter’s “political plays” risks obfuscating its specific ethical dimension. By following the Elderly Woman and her son’s words and actions, it becomes possible to observe how Mountain Languages situates its ethical significance in the figure of the maternal body. This figure precipitates a form of corporeal cohabitation – a touch shared by two bodies that makes it impossible to distinguish completely where one body ends and the other begins – that not only troubles the distinction between self and other that often foregrounds theatre and performance studies’ “ethical turn” but also makes it necessary to reimagine the political itself. Such a matter bears on the play’s performance: the only sound that the Elderly Woman’s silent stillness emits during the play’s conclusion is that of the actor’s body who plays her. In this setting, the sound produced by the actor’s body touches the body of the spectator, inspiring them both to find the language to undo the “terrible trap” that the play depicts. Mountain Language makes it possible to consider how Pinter explores the ethical implications of theatrical performance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-165
Number of pages20
JournalModern Drama
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2022


  • Harold Pinter
  • Mountain Language
  • deconstruction
  • ethics
  • maternity
  • politics
  • tragedy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Literature and Literary Theory


Dive into the research topics of 'A Mother’s Touch: Ethics and Maternal Corporeality in Harold Pinter’s Mountain Language'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this