Authors: Harold Pinter

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English playwright and screenwriter

Author Works

Drama:

The Room, pr. 1957, pb. 1960 (one act)

The Birthday Party, pr. 1958

The Hothouse, wr. 1958, pr., pb. 1980

The Dumb Waiter, pr. 1959 (in German), pr. 1960 (in English; one act)

The Caretaker, pr., pb. 1960

The Collection, pr. 1961

“A Slight Ache” and Other Plays, 1961

The Lover, pr., pb. 1963 (one act)

The Homecoming, pr., pb. 1965

Tea Party, pb. 1965

The Basement, pb. 1967

Landscape, pb. 1968 (one act)

Silence, pr., pb. 1969 (one act)

Old Times, pr., pb. 1971

No Man’s Land, pr., pb. 1975

Plays, pb. 1975-1981, revised pb. 1991-1998 (4 volumes)

Betrayal, pr., pb. 1978

Family Voices, pr., pb. 1981

Other Places: Three Plays, pr., pb. 1982 (includes Family Voices, Victoria Station, and A Kind of Alaska; revised in 1984, includes One for the Road and deletes Family Voices)

Mountain Language, pr., pb. 1988

The New World Order, pr. 1991

Party Time, pr. 1991

Moonlight, pr., pb. 1993

Ashes to Ashes, pb. 1996

“The Dwarfs,” and Nine Revue Sketches, pb. 1999

Celebration, pr., pb. 2000

Remembrance of Things Past, pr., pb. 2000 (with Di Trevis; adaptation of Marcel Proust’s novel)

Press Conference, pr., pb. 2002 (sketch)

Long Fiction:

The Dwarfs, 1990

Screenplays:

The Servant, 1963

The Guest, 1964

The Pumpkin Eater, 1964

The Quiller Memorandum, 1966 (adaptation of Adam Hall’s novel)

Accident, 1967

The Birthday Party, 1968 (adaptation of his play)

The Go-between, 1971

The Homecoming, 1971 (adaptation of his play)

The Last Tycoon, 1976 (adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel)

Proust: A Screenplay, 1977

The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981 (adaptation of John Fowles’s novel)

Betrayal, 1983 (adaptation of his play)

Turtle Diary, 1985

Reunion, 1989

The Handmaid’s Tale, 1990 (adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel)

The Heat of the Day, 1990 (adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen’s novel)

The Comfort of Strangers, 1991

Party Time, 1991 (adaptation of his play)

The Remains of the Day, 1991 (adaptation of Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel)

The Trial, 1992 (adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel)

Collected Screenplays, 2000 (3 volumes)

Poetry:

Poems, 1968 (Alan Clodd, editor)

I Know the Place, 1979

Ten Early Poems, 1992

Nonfiction:

Pinter at Sixty, 1993

Conversations with Pinter, 1996

Edited Text:

One Hundred Poems by One Hundred Poets, 1991 (with Geoffrey Godbert and Anthony Astbury)

Miscellaneous:

Poems and Prose, 1949-1977, 1978, 1986 (revised as Collected Poems and Prose, 1991)

Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics, 1948-1998, 1998

Biography

During the brief period between 1957 and 1965, Harold Pinter established himself as one of the most talented and innovative playwrights in England. Although he turned to other interests after the mid-1970’s–directing plays, writing film scripts, and pursuing political interests, in addition to authoring very short and lyrical forms–he remains one of the most important playwrights of the twentieth century.{$I[AN]9810000934}{$I[A]Pinter, Harold}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Pinter, Harold}{$I[tim]1930;Pinter, Harold}

Harold Pinter

(R. Jones)

Pinter was born in a Jewish area of the East End of London, the son of a tailor, on October 10, 1930. Educated at Hackney Downs Grammar School, he joined the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London in 1949. He began an acting career shortly thereafter, during which time he met his first wife, the actress Vivien Merchant. (They were later divorced, and she died in 1982.) Pinter turned to writing professionally in the mid-1950’s, and although his work had little success initially, he startled the theater world with his “electrifying” and “brilliant” The Birthday Party in 1958. In 1980 he married the historian Lady Antonia Fraser. The two remained married until Pinter’s death in 2008 after a long battle with cancer.

It has been said that throughout Pinter’s early plays, a single question predominates. The pattern of these plays has been read in many ways, but most commentators remark upon the “menace” or “the absurd” that is visited upon Pinter’s characters. Pinter’s plays, it would seem, are studies of the assault of the gratuitous evil of the universe upon innocent humanity. Upon close study, however, it can be seen that these assumptions are imprecise, since it is difficult, even allegorically, to locate in the dramas the so-called forces of evil–particularly in the plays that feature only two characters, each of whom suffers an ultimate disintegration. Furthermore, shortly after each play begins, it becomes clear that the victims, these so-called targets of inevitable disintegration, are not so innocent after all. The most typical Pinter pattern is rather this: Couples are introduced in apparently comfortable lifestyles–in their rooms or gardens, relaxing with morning tea and toast or discussing the flower arrangements. It is precisely within such a seemingly banal daily activity that their profound disintegration occurs, which then becomes all the more frightening. In fact, these homebound, rather modest people are actually besieged by their own internal fears, such that their efforts to maintain a stable, civilized relationship and safe style of living are threatened by nothing less than their own deepest emotional selves: their menacing sexuality, their deep, residual anger toward a parent, or their irrepressible guilt for any number of events. It is these deepest longings, fears, or repressed anger rather than any external figures of dread (the gratuitous imposition of the absurd) that invariably wage an entirely successful war against their banal lifestyles. Yet palpable threats to the physical well-being of characters are never far away. Stanley, for example, in The Birthday Party, disappears with another pair of characters, and the implication is ominous.

Although Pinter’s plays are often called comedies, they are comedies of a unique sort, based upon the breakdown of the “games people play,” specifically the breakdown of the word games–the daily conversation–these couples play in order to maintain the status quo. In effect, comedy takes place at the level of language, rather than that of action. Since the couples have agreed to play specific roles, and each understands the limits of his or her script, Pinter evokes a unique new comedy as his people go beyond the limits of their roles. As the internal stresses intensify, double entendres, puns, outrageous admissions, or loaded pauses lead to the final paralysis. There is always more “said” during a Pinter silence than in dialogue; it is during his famous pauses that his characters often reveal an identity at complete odds with their words.

Pinter frequently remarked that speech is a protective covering that hides true identity; he said, for example, “The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don’t hear. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.” In effect, Pinter’s plays are stratagems that uncover nakedness. The pattern is repeated through Silence and Landscape, in which Pinter moves to a more lyrical form. The same childless couples are located in the kitchen or in the garden, but they have ceased playing word games. Instead of stripping them of their rationalizations and patterned language, Pinter focuses on the simultaneous levels of real and fantasized experience that preoccupy them. Each lives in his or her own world.

Continuing in the more lyrical vein, Pinter collected several short pieces for Other Places. The works deal, once again, with Pinter’s basic issues of menace and loyalty, focusing upon the contingencies of human experience and the extremes of evil and kindness. The most successful of these short pieces, A Kind of Alaska, portrays a woman who awakens after nearly thirty years of sleeping sickness. Her combined bewilderment, rebelliousness, anger, and gallant courage, all expressed in childlike language and hallucination, create an extremely powerful image of lost youth and lost love.

Political concerns preoccupied Pinter’s work beginning in the late 1980’s. The desire for dominance and territory pervades short plays such as Mountain Language, The New World Order, Party Time, and the resurrected The Hothouse. On the other hand, television scripts such as Victoria Station (pb. 1982) and the reworked novel The Dwarfs focus on London and its characters. Pinter’s concentration on film adaptation and television drama gave way to a prolific period of poetry and drama. For example, Moonlight movingly synthesized Pinter’s obsession with dream states, lyricism, violence, memory, and power, and it confirmed his status as a great dramatist.

BibliographyArmstrong, Raymond. Kafka and Pinter Shadow-Boxing: The Struggle Between Father and Son. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999. Analyzes the affinities between Franz Kafka and Pinter. Focuses on Pinter’s plays The Homecoming, Family Voices, and Moonlight in discussing the playwright’s depiction of father/son relationships.Billington, Michael. The Life and Work of Harold Pinter. New York: Faber and Faber, 2001. This 432-page update of a 1997 study covers the life of Pinter and provides critical analysis of his major works.Gale, Steven H., ed. The Films of Harold Pinter. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2001. A collection of ten essays devoting to his film scripts the same sort of critical attention that Pinter’s plays have garnered.Gordon, Lois, ed. Harold Pinter: A Casebook. New York: Garland, 1990. Honoring Pinter on his sixtieth birthday, this collection of insightful essays is a good source for later plays and revisionist criticism on earlier plays. Best is Gordon’s “observation,” full of contemporary information, of Pinter’s 1989 visit to the United States, where the playwright came to stage Mountain Language, among other projects. Appendix of photographs from Pauline Flanagan’s collection, select bibliography, and valuable index to all articles.Gordon, Lois, ed. Pinter at Seventy: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2001. This comprehensive and authoritative collection of insightful essays is a good source for later plays and revisionist criticism on earlier plays. Appendix of photographs from Pauline Flanagan’s collection, select bibliography, and valuable index to all articles.Gussow, Mel. Conversations with Pinter. New York: Grove/Atlantic, 1996. The playwright discusses his technique and aesthetic.Merritt, Susan Hollis. Pinter in Play: Critical Strategies and the Plays of Harold Pinter. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990. Centering her discussion on “criticism as strategy” and comparing criticism to “playing” in Pinter’s work, Merritt puts a postmodern twist on her study, which is divided into “Perspectives on Pinter’s Critical Evolution,” “Some Strategies of Pinter Critics,” and “Social Relations of Critical and Cultural Change.” Sophisticated and astute. Supplemented by a list of works cited and an index.Morrison, Kristin. Canters and Chronicles: The Use of Narrative in the Plays of Samuel Beckett and Harold Pinter. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Compares narrative movement and, especially, Pinter’s absurdist approach to dialogue with that of his early idol.The Pinter Review. 1987-    . Formerly The Pinter Journal. Invaluable are the essays contained in this journal of the Pinter society.Raby, Peter, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Harold Pinter. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002. A guide to Pinter’s entire body of work in all genres and media. Includes photographs from key productions, a chronology, a checklist of works, and bibliography.Thompson, David T. Pinter: The Player’s Playwright. New York: Schocken Books, 1985. A short but information-packed work. Takes a performance approach, starting from Pinter’s own acting career. Subtleties of movement and dialogue, and Pinter’s concentration on “the positioning of characters” in the stage picture, are well discussed. Includes a list of plays acted by Pinter in the 1950’s and a good index.
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