Arthur Wing Pinero Biography


(Critical Edition of Dramatic Literature)

Sir Arthur Wing Pinero was born into an upper-middle-class family in London, England, on May 24, 1855. He was the youngest child and only son of Lucy Daines Pinero and John Daniel Pinero, a couple described by Pinero’s biographer, Wilbur Dunkel, as “liberal-minded.” Pinero’s maternal ancestors were of long-established English stock. His paternal forebears, whose name was originally Pinheiro, were Portuguese Jewish immigrants who had arrived in England in the early eighteenth century.

Pinero’s parents were frequent theatergoers, and one of his earliest memories was of attending a Grecian Theatre pantomime with his parents and his sisters, Frances and Mary. Very early, too, he discovered the wonders of Sadler’s Wells, where, for a mere eighteen pence, he could indulge his growing fascination with plays and actors. His parents never objected to this fascination, but it was always understood that Arthur, like his father and his grandfather, would become a lawyer.

Because of family financial difficulties, Pinero was removed from school and began his legal apprenticeship at age ten. He worked in his father’s law office, without great enthusiasm, until his father’s retirement in 1870 and then found employment as a library clerk. He soon left that job to accept a position in a solicitor’s office, but he felt no more interest in the law while working for his new employer in Lincoln’s Inn Fields than he had felt while working for his father in Great James Street.

Meanwhile, Pinero’s fascination with the theater continued to increase: He discovered Thomas William Robertson’s dramas at the Prince of Wales’s Theatre and became absorbed in the new theatrical realism. He learned much that would later be of great use to him from Marie Wilton’s purposely understated productions of Robertson’s plays, and he began to haunt the street outside the David Garrick Club in hopes of catching an occasional glimpse of the performers he so much admired. He wrote plays that no theater manager would produce, took elocution lessons that intensified his interest in the actor’s art, and decided finally to seek a theatrical career of his own.

In 1874, soon after the death of his father, Pinero became an extra with the Edinburgh Theatre Royal. A year later, he moved on to Liverpool, where Wilkie Collins saw him and secured for him a part in his newest play, Miss Gwilt, which opened at the Globe Theatre, London, in April of 1876. Henry Irving liked Pinero’s unpretentious style of acting and offered him the role of Claudius in a Lyceum Theatre tour of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (pr. c. 1600-1601). Pinero accepted the part and spent most of the next five years performing in various Lyceum Theatre productions.

Pinero also succeeded for the first time in having one of his own plays produced. In October of 1877, £200 a Year was performed as a curtain raiser at the Globe Theatre, which...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The career of Arthur Wing Pinero (pih-NIHR-oh) is deeply interesting to the historian of the English drama, for in his work can be seen the partial influence of Continental themes and ideas, from Victorien Sardou, the master of the well-made play, to Henrik Ibsen, the creator of the theater of ideas. In Pinero, for two decades, the English found their leading practitioner of these imported skills.

Pinero was the son of a Jewish solicitor in London. With a private school education as a foundation, he read for the law in his father’s office but with no serious intentions of becoming a solicitor. At the age of nineteen he joined the Theatre Royal in Edinburgh, soon supplementing his bit-role acting by writing short dramatic pieces as supplements to longer plays. After the success of The Money Spinner he was able to devote his time to playwriting. Between 1885 and 1887 he wrote three successful farces for the Court Theatre in London. In these he presented “possible people doing improbable things”; that is, he shifted the emphasis from farcical situations to character.

This was a foreshadowing of his greater successes during the 1890’s, beginning with The Second Mrs. Tanqueray in 1893. In this play, and in those that followed, he added to his technically deft work themes and social insights that the public regarded as daring and thought-provoking. For two decades the English press and public regarded each new Pinero play...

(The entire section is 459 words.)