English playwright who achieved international success as one of the most
complex post-World War II dramatist. Pinter's plays are noted for their use of
silence to increase tension, understatement, and cryptic small talk. Equally
recognizable are the 'Pinteresque' themes - nameless menace, erotic fantasy,
obsession and jealousy, family hatred and mental disturbance.
"I don't know how music can influence writing, but it has been very
important for me, both jazz and classical music. I feel a sense of music
continually in writing, which is different matter from having been
influenced by it." (Pinter in Playwrights at Work, ed. by George Plimpton,
Harold Pinter was born in Hacney, as small, working-class neighborhood near
London's East End, as the son of a Jewish tailor. On the outbreak of the World
War II he was evacuated out of the city; he returned to London when he was
14. "The condition of being bombed has never left me," Pinter has later said. At
school Pinter read particularly the works of Franz Kafka and Ernest
Hemingway. He was educated at Hackney Downs Grammar School where he
acted in school productions. He accepted a grant to study at the London's
Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts. After two unhappy years he left his studies.
In 1949 Pinter was fined by magistrates for having as a conscientious objector
refused to do his national service. "I could have gone to prison - I took my
toothbrush to the trials - but it so happened that the magistrate was slightly
sympathetic, so I was fined instead, thirty pounds in all. Perhaps I'll be called
up again in the next war, but I won't go." (from Playwrights at Work)
In 1950 Pinter started to publish poems in Poetry (London) under the name
Harold Pinta. He worked as a bit-part actor on a BBC Radio program, Focus
on Football Pools. He studied for a short time at the Central School of
Speech and Drama and toured Ireland from 1951 to 1952. In 1953 he
appeared during Donald Wolfit's 1953 season at the King's Theatre in
After four more years in provincial repertory theatre under the pseudonym
David Baron, Pinter began to write for the stage. THE ROOM (1957),
originally written for Bristol University's drama department, was finished in four days. A SLIGHT ACHE, Pinter's first radio piece, was broadcast on the BBC in 1959. His first full-length play, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, was first
performed by Bristol University's drama department in 1957 and produced in
1958 in the West End. The play, which closed with disastrous reviews after
one week, dealt in a Kafkaesque manner with an apparently ordinary man who
is threatened by strangers for an unknown reason. He tries to run away but is
tracked down. Although most reviewers were hostile, Pinter produced in rapid
succession the body of work which made him the master of 'the comedy of
menance.' "I find critics on the whole a pretty unnecessary bunch of people",
Pinter said decades later in an interview. "We don't need critics to tell the
audiences what to think."
"Pinter's dialogue is as tightly - perhaps more tightly - controlled than
verse. Every syllable, every inflection, the succession of long and short
sounds, words and sentences, is calculated to nicety. And precisely the
repetitiousness, the discontinuity, the circularity of ordinary vernacular
speech are here used as formal elements with which the poet can
compose his linguistic ballet." (Martin Esslin in The People Wound, 1970)
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. Often they are engaged in a struggle for survival or
identity. Pinter refuses to provide rational justifications for action, but offers
existential glimpses of bizarre or terrible moments in people's lives. In
MONOLOGUE (1973) and NO MAN'S LAND (1975) the characters use
words as their weapons in their struggles, not only for survival but also for
ASTON - You said you wanted me to get you up.
DAVIES - What for?
ASTON - You said you were thinking of going to Sidcup.
DAVIES - Ay, that'd be a good thing, if I got there.
ASTON - Doesn't look like much of a day.
DAVIES - Ay, well, that's shot it, en't it?
(from The Caretaker)
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), the story of an estranged son who brings his wife
home to meet his family, perhaps the most enigmatic of all his works. It won a
Tony Award, the Whitebread Anglo-American Theater Award, and the New
York Drama Critics' Circle Award. 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. No one needs him and he needs no one. Ruth stays as a mother or
whore to his family. Everyone needs her. - Similar motifs - the battle for
domination in a sexual context - recur in Landscape and Silence (both 1969),
and In Old Times (1971)
Although Pinter has told in an interview in 1966, that he never has written any
part for any actor, his wife Vivien Merchant, frequently appeared in his plays.
In the 1960s he also directed several of his dramas. 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