Harold Pinter

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Other Literary Forms

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In addition to his works for the stage, Harold Pinter published poetry and a few short stories in magazines. Early in his writing career, he contributed poems to Poetry London under the pseudonym Harold Pinta. He wrote a number of radio plays as well as screenplays adapted from his own works and those of other writers. In 1972, Pinter was approached by Joseph Losey, who had directed the films made from Pinter’s screenplays The Servant (1963), Accident (1967), and The Go-Between (1971), with the idea of adapting Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu (1913-1927; Remembrance of Things Past, 1922-1931, 1981) for the screen. The task of turning Proust’s monumental seven-volume novel into a workable screenplay was daunting, and although the screenplay was published in 1977, the film was never made. However, Pinter wrote that the time devoted to the Proust project was the best working year of his life. Three collections of Pinter’s screenplays were published in 2000, and a collection of his prose and poetry, Various Voices: Prose, Poetry, Politics, 1948-1998, was published in 1998.

Achievements

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Harold Pinter won many awards, including the Evening Standard Award (1960, for The Caretaker), the Italia Prize (1963, for the television version of The Lover), the British Film Academy Award (1965, for The Pumpkin Eater), and the Commonwealth Award (1981). He had a long list of honorary degrees, and he was elected an Honorary Fellow in the Modern Language Association in 1970. In 2005 Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature.

Other literary forms

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Although Harold Pinter was primarily known as a dramatist, poetry was an essential element in his work. He published in various genres including plays and sketches, screenplays, a novel, and nonfiction, including essays, articles, and public speeches. Some of his best-known plays are The Birthday Party (pr. 1958), The Caretaker (pr., pb. 1960), The Homecoming (pr., pb. 1965), and Betrayal (pr., pb. 1978).

Achievements

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Harold Pinter received numerous accolades. He was named a Companion of Honour by Queen Elizabeth II in 2002. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 and the French Légion d’Honneur in 2007. His other awards include the David Cohen Prize (1995), the Lawrence Olivier Special Award (1996), Wilfred Owen Poetry Award for his antiwar poetry (2005), the Prague Franz Kafka Prize (2005), and the Europa Theatre Prize (2006). In the latter part of his life, Pinter became politically involved and was noted for his opposition to U.S. foreign policy. His works have been translated into many languages.

Discussion Topics

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Define what critics mean by “Pinteresque.”

How does Harold Pinter use ellipses—the implied pauses in the characters’ lines—to create dramatic tension in his work?

Discuss how Pinter’s work can be read as both “realistic” and “absurdist.”

Define “kitchen sink” elements in Pinter’s work.

Pinter often explores family relationships being threatened by intrusions from outsiders. Find examples of this dramatic technique in his work and discuss how these threats to the family unit are resolved.

Discuss how Pinter’s plays are both humorous and frightening.

Bibliography

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Armstrong, 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...

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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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