Harold Pinter

Harold Pinter

10 October 1930 – 24 December 2008

Photo via Camden New Journal
Photo via Camden New Journal

Pinter’s Dramatic Writing has, collectively, a strong coherence, a sense of continuity and evolution, and forms a body of work that invites constant re-evaluation.


Harold Pinter was born on October 10th, 1930 in his parent’s house in Hackney, north London. His parents names were Jack and Francis Pinter. During the war, he and his family left London several times to avoid bomb drops. In 1944 he accepted a spot at Hackney Downs Grammar School, where he met Joe Brearley, an influential figure in his life. In 1947, Pinter was seen and reviewed in the News Chronicle. He had been acting in MacBeth. 1948 was a big year for Pinter.

He was accepted to and attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Later that year he was chosen by the National Service (akin to the American ‘draft’) but registered as a conscientious objector. He is eventually brought before a military tribunal and arrested. He dropped out of RADA and read and wrote while he applied for acting jobs.

Pinter’s poems were first published in the August edition of Poetry London in 1950. Later that year, he debuted his career as a professional actor in Focus on Football Pools. In 1951 he went back to school, this time at the Central School of Speech and Drama. At the end of spring term, he was hired by Anew McMaster for a Shakespeare tour around Ireland. During that tour he discovered Samuel Beckett, another influential figure. While writing both poetry and novels, he decided to adopt a stage name: David Baron. In 1956 Pinter acted in Bournemouth, where he met his soon-to-be wife, Vivian Merchant.

Their marriage sparked Pinter’s imagination, for 1957 ushered in his first three plays: The Room, The Birthday Party, and The Dumb Waiter. 1959 marked the internationalization of Pinter with a performance in Germany’s Frankfurt Municipal Theatre. His plays also transferred to radio, TV, and film in 1959, 1960, and 1963 respectively. His first performance in the USA was in 1960 and his first Broadway performance was The Caretaker in October of 1961. He retires David Baron in September of 1960. In 1966 Pinter was ordained Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In 1970 he was awarded the German Shakespeare Prize. In 1980 he married his second wife, Lady Antonia Fraser. 1994 added another milestone to his already impressive career with the first Pinter Festival held at the Gate Theatre in Dublin. It consisted of six of his plays: Betrayal, The Dumb Waiter, Old Times, One for the Road, Moonlight, and Landscape. In 1995 and 1996, he was awarded the David Cohen British Literature Prize and the Laurence Olivier award for his lifetime achievements in literature. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005. Click HERE to listen to Pinter’s Nobel lecture. He died in 2008.

Common Themes

  • Pinteresque: (as defined by the OED) of or relating to Harold Pinter; resembling or characteristic of his plays. Pinter’s plays are typically characterized by implications of threat and strong feelings produced through colloquial language, apparent triviality, and long pauses.
  • Comedy of menace
  • “Two silences” or the Pinter Pause
  • How do we know what we know?
  • Absurdism
  • Nonlinear plots and complex characters
  • Illogical dialogue and events
  • The importance of language
  • Disintegration of the mind
  • Cruelty of people to their fellow beings
  • Nihilism (belief in nothing)


  • The Room (1957) short
  • The Birthday Party (1957)
  • The Dumb Waiter (1957)
  • A Slight Ache (1958) short
  • The Hothouse (1958)
  • The Caretaker (1959) screenplay (1963)
  • A Night Out (1959)
  • Night School (1960)
  • The Dwarfs (1960)
  • The Collection (1961) short
  • The Lover (1962) short
  • Tea Party (1964)
  • The Homecoming (1964)
  • The Basement (1966) short
  • Landscape (1967)
  • Silence (1968) short
  • Old Times (1970)
  • Monologue (1972)
  • No Man’s Land (1974)
  • Betrayal (1978)
  • Family Voices (1980)
  • Other Places (1982)
  • A Kind of Alaska (1982)
  • Victoria Station (1982)
  • One For The Road (1984)
  • Mountain Languages (1988) short
  • The New World Order (1991)
  • Party Time (1991)
  • Moonlight (1993)
  • Ashes to Ashes (1996)
  • Celebration (1999)
  • Remembrance of Things Past (2000)

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Karen Bilotti