Study Guide

Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter Biography

Biography (Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Harold Pinter was born October 10, 1930, in England, the son of a hardworking Jewish tailor whose business eventually failed. Pinter grew up in a rundown working-class area, full of railroad yards and bad-smelling factories. When World War II broke out in 1939, Pinter, like most London children, was evacuated to the countryside to be safe from the German bombing. Living in the countryside or by the sea was not, for Pinter, as idyllic as it might have been: “I was quite a morose little boy.” He returned to London before the end of the war and remembers seeing V-2 rockets flying overhead and his backyard in flames. After the war ended, the violence did not cease; anti-Semitism was strong in his neighborhood, and Jews were frequently threatened. Perhaps these early brushes with war and violence decided him; when he was eighteen and eligible for National Service, he declared himself a conscientious objector. He was afraid he would be jailed, but in fact, he was merely fined. In grammar school, he was a sprinter and set a record for the hundred-yard dash. He was also an actor in school plays, playing Macbeth and Romeo, and he received a grant in 1948 to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He did not stay long, however, and spent the next year tramping the streets. He published a few poems in literary magazines (he was only nineteen when the first were published) and got an acting job with a Shakespearean company touring Ireland; other acting jobs followed. He met the actress Vivien Merchant and married her in 1956; she was to perform in a number of his plays. They were divorced in 1980, and in November of that year Pinter married Lady Antonia Fraser, a highly regarded writer of...

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Harold Pinter Biography (British and Irish Poetry, Revised Edition)

Harold Pinter was born to a Jewish family in London’s East End. The son of a tailor, Pinter was an only child, morose, morbid, and lonely, with few friends. As a young boy, he was aware of the anti-Jewish fascist marches on the predominately Jewish East End, which were met with strong resistance. He grew up in a working-class area, surrounded by fascist threats and economic insecurity. Near his house was the Lee River, which Pinter fantasized as idyllic. Indeed, Pinter’s output is permeated with the juxtaposition of beauty and squalor, security and insecurity.

Following the declaration of war in 1939, he was evacuated to a castle in Cornwall. He returned home during the Blitz and in September, 1942, gained a scholarship to the selective Grocer’s Company High School, Hackney, where he stayed until July, 1948. Pinter associated his childhood with a lack of money and walking. Many years later, he recalled walking a long way to the home of his school and lifelong friend, Henry Woolf, to find only Woolf’s parents at home. While waiting for his friend, he began to write a poem. Almost reverentially, Woolf’s parents watched the young Pinter write his poem. Pinter first began to write at the age of thirteen because he was obsessed with a girl who tormented him.

Pinter formed lifelong friendships at school. They provided continuity and stability in an ever-changing world. He acted, wrote poetry, and read. He was greatly influenced by his...

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Harold Pinter Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201656-Pinter.jpgHarold Pinter Published by Salem Press, Inc.

Harold Pinter was born in Hackney, a working-class suburb of East London, England, on October 10, 1930, the son of Hyman and Frances Pinter. Even though the neighborhood was a rough area of abandoned warehouses, dilapidated tenements, and, at times, roving bands of fascists, his father was able to provide his family with a terraced house in a fairly comfortable middle-class setting. During the air raids on London in World War II, Pinter was evacuated from the city, and the themes of restrained panic and impending violence that recur in his plays suggest how deeply his war experience affected his writing.

Pinter expressed an early interest in acting. While attending Hackney Downs Grammar School, he won acclaim in the school magazine for his performances in several dramatic roles, although he remained ambivalent toward his academic studies. As he recalled in a 1966 interview with The Paris Review: “The only thing that interested me at school was English language and literature. . . . I was mostly in love at the time and tied up with that.” He did, however, develop a keen interest in sports—especially cricket and track—and motifs of sports and games often surface in his plays.

At eighteen, Pinter refused mandatory military duty as a conscientious objector, but not on religious grounds. He faced a possible jail term for his actions, but he was fined only thirty pounds and released. That same year, 1948, Pinter received a grant to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art but dropped out after two terms to travel, recording his experiences in poetry and short prose pieces while working at various odd jobs, such as waiting tables and selling books door-to-door. Meanwhile, he developed a sharp ear for dialogue, especially for the silences that punctuate ordinary conversation, and for the nuances and the anomalies of everyday language.

By 1950, Pinter had published poems in Poetry London and was working as a professional radio and television actor. Soon he was touring with Anew McMaster’s acting company in Ireland; in 1954, under the stage name of David Boren, he worked in various provincial repertory theaters all over England. It was while he was on tour that he met and married actress Vivien Merchant in 1956. Pinter told The Paris Review that his wife was “a very good actress and a very interesting actress to work with,” but he claims that he never wrote a part for her, even though she has appeared in many of his plays. In 1980, he divorced Merchant and married British writer and socialite Lady Antonia Fraser.

It was also on tour in 1957 that a director friend asked Pinter to write a play for the Bristol University theater department. Pinter promised it in six months but delivered it in four days. The play was The Room (pr. 1957, pb. 1960), which received little notice but did impress the London Sunday Times critic Harold Hobson, who championed Pinter’s next play, The Birthday Party (pr. 1958, pb. 1959), which nevertheless closed after its first week. Pinter’s reputation, however, was growing. Hobson dubbed him “the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London.”...

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Harold Pinter Biography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Harold Pinter established himself as one of the most significant playwrights writing in English since the 1950’s. Even as he devoted more and more of his time to writing for the screen rather than for the stage, revivals of his early plays continued to draw audiences to mainstream productions both in London’s West End and on New York’s Broadway, as well as to smaller regional and university theaters. Many critics consider his full-length plays, especially The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, and The Homecoming, to be among the best plays written after World War II. His plays, a quirky combination of absurdism and social realism, or what one critic has called “expressionistic naturalism,” revitalized popular theater in the 1960’s and 1970’s, and his Pinteresque style remains indelibly original.

Harold Pinter Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

ph_0111201656-Pinter.jpgHarold Pinter Published by Salem Press, Inc.

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.

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...

(The entire section is 952 words.)

Harold Pinter Biography (Drama for Students)

On October 30, 1930, Harold Pinter was born to Jewish parents in Hackney, a working-class neighborhood in London. It was a difficult time for...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Harold Pinter Biography (Drama for Students)

Harold Pinter was born on October 30, 1930, in Hackney, a working-class neighborhood in East London, the only child of Hyman (a tailor) and...

(The entire section is 421 words.)

Harold Pinter Biography (Drama for Students)

Harold Pinter was born in the northern borough of Hackney, a working-class section in London, England, on October 10, 1930. Pinter's father,...

(The entire section is 941 words.)

Harold Pinter Biography (Drama for Students)

Harold Pinter was born on October 10, 1930, in Hackney, a section of metropolitan London, England. His father, Hyman, and his mother, Frances Mann, were descended from Sephardic Jews from Portugal, who had, around 1900, migrated to England after an interim residence in Hungary. The family, relatively poor, lived very frugally, like the other working-class families in the area.

Between 1941 and 1947, Pinter attended the Hackney Downs Grammar School, where he began writing poetry and prose. He also took an interest in theater, taking roles as both Macbeth and Romeo in school productions of Shakespeare. His education continued in 1948, when he obtained a grant to study at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, but, finding the academy oppressive, he only stayed for two terms. In the same year, he tried to obtain legal status as a conscientious objector, which he was denied, and he was eventually fined when he refused to answer an army draft call.

In 1949, while he continued to write non-dramatic works as Harold Pinta, he launched a career as professional actor. His first work was as a bit actor for the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) Home Service radio, from which, in 1951, he moved up to a role in Shakespeare's Henry VIII, a production of BBC's Third Programme. He also resumed formal training at the Central School of Speech and Drama. Thereafter, under the stage name David Baron, he acted with Shakespearean and other repertory companies in both England and Ireland. On tour, he met and worked with the actress Vivien Merchant, whom he married on September 14, 1956. The pair struggled to make ends meet, and Pinter was forced to assume a variety of odd jobs, including stints as a dance-hall bouncer or "chucker,'' a dishwasher, a caretaker, and a salesman.

Pinter's first foray into play writing came in 1957, when a friend asked him to write a piece for production at Bristol University. The result was The Room, a one-act play that earned the favorable notice of critic Harold Hobson and revealed Pinter's unique talent and technique. The work was not professionally produced until after The Birthday Party opened and floundered in 1958, but it was Hobson's review of The Room's university production that brought Pinter to the attention of the young, new-wave producer Michael Codron, who decided to stage The Birthday Party.

Pinter's first major staged success was The Caretaker, which, in 1960, began a run in London's West End and won the playwright The Evening Standard Award. Along with The Birthday Party and The Homecoming (1965), The Caretaker established Pinter's reputation as a major absurdist playwright, and, in the opinion of some commentators, his claim to being Britain's most important dramatist since George Bernard Shaw (Major Barbara).

In the 1960s, Pinter proved his diversity by producing a steady stream of both stage and media works. He began an extended association with the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1962 with The Collection at the Aldwych Theatre, but by then he had also begun writing for cinema, adapting The Caretaker to film. Although his creative energy remained unabated, he devoted more and more of it to scripting plays for television and the screen. Some of these were originally written for the stage, but most were first written for specific media. Some, like The Pumpkin Eater (1964) and The Quiller Memorandum (1966), were adaptations from the fiction of other writers. Acclaim for his media works quickly rivaled that awarded his stage works and greatly expanded his creative involvement and focus.

Although some believe that Pinter's best theatrical works were his earliest pieces in the absurdist mode, the playwright has remained a major voice in the British theater since the early-1960s. If financial success and the diffusion of his creative energy have diminished his stage power, as some have claimed, there has been no real erosion in his reputation as England's premier, post-World War II playwright, his only serious rivals being John Osborne (Look Back in Anger) and Tom Stoppard (Arcadia). Nevertheless, despite some well-received plays like One for the Road (1984) and Mountain Language (1988), the playwright has met with some decline in his critical fortunes. It is has almost become a scholarly truism that none of Pinter's works written for the stage after the 1960s has superceded The Caretaker, The Homecoming, or The Birthday Party as Pinter's major contributions to modern theater.

Harold Pinter Biography

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Harold Pinter

Introduction

Harold Pinter began his career as an actor, but he quickly turned his attention to writing and became one of the twentieth century’s most prolific and important playwrights. Pinter loves to play with words, and many of his works feature witty banter between characters interspersed with long pauses. Pinter did not originally want to be categorized as a political writer, but in the 1980s, his work took on a decidedly leftist tone. Pinter’s personal life has been as stormy as that of many of his characters. He was married to actress Vivien Merchant for several years, and they had one son. He then embarked on several long affairs, which cost him his marriage and the love and respect of his son.

Essential Facts

  1. Harold Pinter’s stage name as an actor was David Baron.
  2. Pinter won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the Legion d’honneur in 2007.
  3. Pinter is a huge cricket fan. He has said, “One of my main obsessions in life is the game of cricket—I play and watch and read about it all the time.”
  4. Pinter has been vocal about his politics and was once thrown out of the U.S. embassy in Turkey.
  5. Pinter publicly announced in 2005 that he was retiring from playwriting. Since then, he has written a screenplay, short dramatic sketches, and a great deal of poetry.