Pinter.gif (12037 bytes) Harold Pinter

(b. Oct. 10, 1930, London, Eng.), English playwright who achieved international renown as one of the most complex and challenging post-World War II dramatists. His plays are noted for their use of understatement, small talk, reticence--and even silence--to convey the substance of a character's thought, which often lies several layers beneath, and contradicts, his speech.

The son of a Jewish tailor, Pinter grew up in London's East End in a working-class area. He studied acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1948 but left after two terms to join a repertory company as a professional actor. Pinter toured Ireland and England with various acting companies, appearing under the name David Baron in provincial repertory theatres until 1959. After 1956 he began to write for the stage: The Room (1957) and The Dumbwaiter (1957), his first two plays, are one-act dramas that established the mood of comic menace that was to figure largely in his early plays. His first full-length play, The Birthday Party (1958; filmed 1968), puzzled the London audiences and lasted only a week, but later it was televised and revived successfully on the stage.

After Pinter's radio play A Slight Ache (1959) was adapted for the stage, his reputation was secured by his second full-length play, The Caretaker (1960; filmed 1963), which established him as more than just another practitioner of the then-popular Theatre of the Absurd. His next major play, The Homecoming (1965), helped establish him as the originator of a unique dramatic idiom. Such later plays as Landscape (1969), Silence (1969), Night (1969), and Old Times (1971) virtually did away with physical activity on the stage. Pinter's later successes included No Man's Land (1975) and Betrayal (1978). From the 1970s on, Pinter did much directing, of both his own and others' works. His Poems and Prose 1941-1977 was published in 1978.

Pinter's plays are ambivalent in their plots, presentation of character, and endings, but they are works of undeniable power and originality. They typically begin with a pair of characters whose stereotyped relations and role-playing are disrupted by the entrance of a stranger; the audience sees the psychic stability of the couple break down as their fears, jealousies, hatreds, sexual preoccupations, and loneliness emerge from beneath a screen of bizarre yet commonplace conversation. In The Caretaker, for instance, a wheedling, garrulous old tramp comes to live with two neurotic brothers, one of whom underwent electroshock therapy as a mental patient. The tramp's attempts to establish himself in the household upset the precarious balance of the brothers' lives, and they end up evicting him. The Homecoming focuses on the return to his London home of a university professor who brings his wife to meet his brothers and father. The woman's presence exposes a tangle of rage and confused sexuality in this all-male household, but in the end she decides to stay with the father and his two sons after having accepted their sexual overtures without protest from her overly detached husband.

Dialogue is of central importance in Pinter's plays and is perhaps the key to his originality. His characters' colloquial speech consists of disjointed and oddly ambivalent conversation that is punctuated by resonant silences. The characters' speech, hesitations, and pauses reveal not only their own alienation and the difficulties they have in communicating but also the many layers of meaning that can be contained in even the most innocuous statements.

In addition to works for the stage, Pinter wrote radio and television dramas and a number of successful motion-picture screenplays. Among the latter are those for three films directed by Joseph Losey, The Servant (1963), Accident (1967), and The Go-Between (1971), as well as ones for The Last Tycoon (1974), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), and the screen version of Pinter's play Betrayal (1982).

Harold Pinter (1930-)

English playwright, who achieved international success as one of the most complex post-World War II dramatist. His plays are noted for their use of breakdown of communication, understatement, cryptic small talk, and silence to describe the thoughts of characters'.

Harold Pinter was born in the East London as the son of a Jewish tailor. He was educated at Hackney Downs Grammar School where he acted in school productions. After two unhappy years at the London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art he left his studies. In 1949 Pinter was fined by magistrates for having as a conscientious objector refused to do his national service.

In 1950 Pinter started to publish poems in Poetry (London) and worked as an actor on a BBC Radio programme, Focus on Football Pools. He studied the for a short time at the Central School of Speech and Drama and toured Ireland from 1951 to 1952. In 1953 he worked for Donald Wolfit's company in Hammersmith.

After four more years in provincial repertory theatre under the pseudonym David Baron, Pinter began to write for the stage. His first full-length play, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, was produced in 1958. Most reviewers were hostile, but in rapid succession Pinter produced the body of work which made him the master of 'the comedy of menace'. Pinter's major plays are usually set in a single room, whose occupants are threatened by forces or people whose precise intentions neither the characters nor the audience can define.

In 1960 Pinter wrote THE DUMB WAITER. With his second full-length play, THE CARETAKER (1960), Pinter made his reputation as a major modern talent. It was followed by A SLIGHT ACHE (1961), THE COLLECTION (1962), THE DWARFS (1963), THE LOVER (1963) and THE HOMECOMING (1965), perhaps the most enigmatic of all his works. After BETRAYAL (1978) Pinter wrote no new full-length plays until MOONLIGHT (1994). Short plays include A KIND OF ALASKA (1982), inspired by the case histories in Oliver Sack's Awakenings (1973).

Several of Pinter's plays were originally written for British radio or TV. From the 1970s Pinter have directed a number of stage plays and the American Film Theatre production of Butley (1974). In 1977 he published a screenplay based on Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du Temps perdu. Closely associated with the director Peter Hall (1930-), Pinter became an associate director of the National Theatre after Hall was nominated as the successor of Lawrence Olivier.

Pinter has also written a number of screenplays, including The Servant (1963), The Accident (1967), The Go-Between (1971), The Last Tycoon (1974, dir. by Elia Kazan), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), Betrayal (1982), Turtle Diary (1985), Reunion (1989), The Handmaid's Tale (1990), The Comfort of Strangers (1990), and The Trial (1990).

For further reading: Harold Pinter by R. Hayman (1975); Harold Pinter by W. Kerr (1968); Harold Pinter by W. Baker and S.E. Tabachnik (1973); Theatre and Anti-Theatre by R. Hayman (1979); The Theatre of the Absurd by M. Esslin; Pinter: A Study of his Plays by J.R. Taylor; Anger and After by A.E. Quingley; The Pinter Problem by J. Bull: Stage Right: The Recovery for the Mainstream by J. Bull

Pinter have received many awards, including Berlin Film Festival Silver Bear in 1963, BAFTA awards in 1965 and in 1971, the Hamburg Shakespeare Prize in 1970, the Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or in 1971 and the Commonwealth Award in 1981. He was made CBE in 1966.

The Homecoming (1965) - After teaching philosophy at an American university for six years, Teddy brings his wife Ruth home to London to meet his family: his father Max, a nagging, aggressive ex-butcher and other member of the all-male household. At the end Teddy returns alone to his university job in America, leaving Ruth as mother or whore to his family.



Selected works:

The Room, 1957 - suom. Huone

The Birthday Party, 1957 - suom. Syntymäpäiväjuhla

The Birthday Party, 1958

Pieces of Eight, 1959

The Caretaker, 1959 - suom. Talonmies - film 1963, dir. by Clive Donner, starring Peter Sellers, Richard Burton, Elisabeth Taylor

The Dumb Waiter, 1960

A Night Out, 1960

The Dwarfs, 1960 (from his novel)

Night School, 1961

The Collection, 1961

One To Another, 1961 (with J. Mortimer, N.F. Simpson)

A Slight Ache and Other Plays, 1961

The Pumpkin Eaters, 1963

The Lover, 1963

The Servant, 1963 (from R. Maugham's novel)

The Pumpkin Eater, 1964 (from P. Mortimer's novel)

The Homecoming, 1965 - suom. Kotiinpaluu

Tea Party, 1965

The Quiller Memorandum, 1966 (from Adam Hall's The Berlin Memorandum)

The Party and Other Plays, 1967

Accident, 1967 (from N. Mosley's novel)

New Poems, 1997 (ed.)

a PEN Anthology, 1967 (ed. with J. Fuller, P. Redgrave)

Poems, 1968

Mac, 1968

Landscape, 1968

Silence, 1969

Night, 1969

Old Times, 1971

The Go-Between, 1971 (from L.P. Hartley's novel)

Monologue, 1973

The Proust Screenplay, 1977 (with B.Bray, J. Losey)

No Man's Land, 1975 - suom. Ei kenenkään maa

The Last Tycoon, 1976 (from F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel)

Betrayal, 1978 - suom. Petos

Poems and Prose 1941-1977, 1978

Langrishe, Go Dowm, 1978 (from A. Higgins)

I Know the Place, 1979

The Hothouse, 1980

Family Voices, 1981

The French Lieutenant's Woman, 1981 (From J. Fowles's novel)

A Kind of Alaska, 1982

The French Lieutenant's Woman and Other Screenplays, 1982

Other Places, 1982

Victoria Station, 1982

The Big One, 1983

Players, 1983

One for the Road, 1984

Players, 1985

Turtle Diary, 1985 (from R.Hoban)

100 Poems by 100 Poets, 1986 (ed. with A. Astbury, G. Godbert)

Mountain Language, 1988

Heat of the Day, 1989 (from E.Bowen's novel)

Reunion, 1989 (from F. Uhlman)

The Comfort of Strangers and Other Screenplays, 1990

The Comfort of Strangers, 1990 (from I. McEwan's novel)

Victory, 1990 (from J. Conrad's novel)

The Handmaid's Tale, 1990 (from M. Atwood's novel)

The Dwarfs, 1990

Complete Works, 1990

Party Time, 1991

Plays, 1991

The Trial, 1991 (from F. Kafka's novel)

Ten Early Poems, 1992

Moonlight, 1993

Pinter At Sixty, 1993 (ed. by K.H. Burkman, J.L. Kundert-Gibbs)

99 Poems in Translation, 1994 (ed. with A. Astbury, G.Godbert)




A. Natural speech. Other authors seem prolix or pompous after you've read Pinter. Note how much he pares down language, uses simple expressions. He also purposely uses redundancies-- i.e., Lenny says he didn't fight in the war because "I was too young, you see, too small, I was only a child," etc. Characters also may answer friends out of sequence:

(in Betrayal)

Jerry: I saw Charlotte the other day

Emma: Where? She didn't tell me.

Jerry: She didn't see me. In the street.

B. Subtext. What lies beneath the text is significant. Often an added adjective or adverb clues us in. Lenny (Homecoming): "Oh, you went to Italy first, did you." (Subtext: you should have come to see our family in England first). Or Robert at lunch with Jerry in Betrayal: "You and Emma really love literature. It gives you a thrill."

C. Reverse dramatic irony. In traditional dramatic irony, the audience knows what the actors don't -- i.e., Hamlet thinks Claudius is praying, but we know from the soliloquy that he isn't. In Pinter the characters have secrets we never discover. Are Ruth and Teddy really married? Do they have children? Is Jerry or Robert the father of Emma's son? etc.

For other notes which may be of use to you, see my Home Page.