Critical Context

Criticism on Pinter numbers thousands of pages, because there is a wide belief, as critic John Lahr has said, that “Pinter is the finest playwright to emerge in our technological society.” Before 1965, there was comparatively little written on him. His first play, The Room (pr. 1957, pb. 1960), attracted mostly puzzled comment, as did The Caretaker (pr., pb. 1960). Both plays employed the device of presenting two people in a single room. In The Homecoming, Pinter’s first major full-length work, there are six characters instead of two, but the claustrophobia of a single room is maintained— there is no change of set.

Lahr saw Pinter reinvesting people and objects with mystery. Some critics have focused on the comic grotesqueness of the characters, who hover between animal grossness and a veneer of culture, pointing out the frequency of animal metaphors in their language. Others see Ruth as a fertility goddess, with the men vying for her favors and the play a chilling version of the ritual renewal of life. Still others see the play as a parody of the comedy of manners. The two predominating modes of Pinter criticism in the late twentieth century were those based on either a cultural anthropological or a linguistic approach; earlier attempts in the 1960’s by such critics as Martin Esslin to appropriate Pinter as a dramatist of the Theater of the Absurd came to be seen as too limiting. The play was Pinter’s first American success, winning the Tony Award in 1967 for best play on Broadway. It was not until Betrayal (pr., pb. 1978) that Pinter experienced a greater commercial success in the United States.