Harold Pinter


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Pinter, Harold,

1930–2008, English dramatist. Born in Hackney in London's East End, the son of an English tailor of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, he studied at London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and Central School of Speech and Drama. One of the most important English playwrights of the last half of the 20th cent. and the most influential of his generation, Pinter wrote what have been called "comedies of menace." Using apparently commonplace characters and settings, he invests his plays with an atmosphere of fear, horror, and mystery. The peculiar tension he creates often derives as much from the long silences between speeches as from the often curt, ambiguous, yet vividly vernacular speeches themselves. His austere language is extremely distinctive, as is the ominous unease and sense of imminent violence that it provokes, and he is one of the few writers to have an adjective—Pinteresque—named for him. His plays frequently concern struggles for power in which the issues are obscure and the reasons for defeat and victory undefined. In the course of a career that spanned six decades, Pinter won many prestigious honors, the crowning of which was the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Pinter began his theatrical career as an actor, touring with provincial repertory companies. He continued to act throughout his career, working on stage, in films, and on radio and television. His first produced effort as a playwright, a one-act drama entitled The Room (1957), was followed by such plays as The Birthday Party (1957, film 1967), The Dumb Waiter (1957), A Slight Ache (1958), and The Dwarfs (1960). Pinter adapted several of these and later plays for film. The Caretaker (1959, film 1963) was his first great commercial and critical success and was followed by numerous plays, including The Collection (1961), The Homecoming (1964, film 1969), Landscape (1967), Old Times (1970), No Man's Land (1974), Betrayal (1978, film 1981), A Kind of Alaska (1982), One for the Road (1984), Mountain Language (1988), Moonlight (1993), Ashes to Ashes (1996), Celebration (1999), and Remembrance of Things Past (2000). By and large, Pinter's later dramas, often more overtly political than his previous works, were greeted with less critical acclaim than his earlier plays.

Pinter wrote the screenplays for a number of other highly praised motion pictures as well, among them The Servant (1963), The Pumpkin Eater (1964), Accident (1966), The Go-Between (1971), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), and The Handmaid's Tale (1987). His collected screenplays were published in 2000. He also wrote Mac—a Memoir (1969), several volumes of poetry, the novel The Dwarfs (1990), numerous essays, and a miscellany, Various Voices (1999). An active director of his own work and that of other contemporary dramatists, Pinter oversaw the productions of numerous plays as well as of several films and television dramas.

A longtime political activist, Pinter was a vigorous and vocal campaigner for human rights and an outspoken opponent of American and British involvement in the Iraq war. In 2005 he announced that he had retired from playwriting in order to focus on politics and his work for peace, but planned to continue writing poetry. He was married to the historian Lady Antonia Fraser.

Bibliography

See M. Gussow, Conversations with Pinter (1994); A. Fraser, Must You Go?: My Life with Harold Pinter (2010); critical biography by M. Billington (1996); studies by W. Kerr (1967), M. Esslin (1967, 1970, 1973, 1984 repr. 1992), W. Baker and S. E. Tabachnick (1974), S. Sahai (1981), J. Klein (1985), S. H. Gale (1986) and as ed. (1990), H. Bloom, ed. (1987), E. Sakellaridou (1987), L. Gordon, ed. (1990, 2001), C. Misra (1992), K. H. Burkman and J. L. Kundert-Gibbs, ed. (1993), R. Knowles (1995), M. S. Regal (1995), D. K. Peacock (1997), P. Prentice (2000), M. Batty (2001), and I. Smith (2003, 2005).

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References in periodicals archive ?
Could it have been the prospect of the award going to Harold Pinter? Many people reacted to the Swedish Academy's latest flirtation with absurdity by quoting the English wit who, writing about Harold Pinter's plays, observed that Pinter was "a man of few words, most of them silly." There was a lot of sniggering when Stockholm announced the winner of this year's prize for literature.
In this paradise of simulation, Harold Pinter and Welcome Back, Kotter merge to give us Vincent and Jules discoursing upon Big Macs, foot massages, and divine intervention; if the fact that erstwhile sweathog John Travolta later did a TV movie of Pinter's The Dumb Waiter was forgotten by most people, Tarantino surely wasn't one of them.
The only feature films of her work to date have been Claude Jutra's Surfacing (1981) and Volker Schlondorff's version of her dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale (1990), as adapted by Harold Pinter. Clearly, the second is a more important film than the first, but even taken together they scarcely do justice to one of the few true national literary treasures.
Dumb Waiter, The Drama in one act by HAROLD PINTER, produced in 1959 and published in 1960.
I have recently learned (through Mel Gussow's excellent new book) that Harold Pinter regrets ever having suggested that his plays represented "the weasel under the cocktail cabinet." Well the phrase has indeed become overworn with its own aptness, but it also very well describes some dark quality in Taylor's work.
It is an altogether more cogent reading of the runes of the Stalinist past than Harold Pinter's recent and much overpraised Mountain Language.
A writer of fierce individuality, Whiting blazed a trail for younger dramatists, such as John Osborne and Harold Pinter, with such plays as A Penny for a Song (1950) and Saint 's Day (1951).
| STEPHEN MANGAN, inset, Toby Jones and Zoe Wanamaker are to appear in a new production of Harold Pinter's The Birthday Party next year to mark the 60th anniversary of the critically acclaimed play.