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Harold Pinter

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Harold Pinter, CH, CBE, Nobel Laureate (born 10 October 1930), is a world-renowned English playwright, screenwriter, actor, director, poet, and political activist. After publishing poetry as a teenager and acting in school plays, Pinter began his theatrical career in the mid-1950s as a rep actor using the stage name David Baron. During a writing career spanning over half a century, beginning with his first play, The Room (1957), Pinter has written 29 stage plays; 26 screenplays; many dramatic sketches, radio and TV plays; poetry; some short fiction; a novel; and essays, speeches, and letters. He is best known as a playwright and screenwriter, especially for The Birthday Party (1957), The Caretaker (1959), The Homecoming (1964), and Betrayal (1978), all of which he has adapted to film, and for his screenplay adaptations of others' works, such as The Servant (1963), The Go-Between (1970), The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), The Trial (1993), and Sleuth (2007). He has also directed almost 50 stage, TV, and film productions of his own and others' works. Despite frail health since 2001, he has continued to act on stage and screen, most recently in the October 2006 critically-acclaimed production of Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, during the 50th anniversary season of the Royal Court. He also continues to write (mostly poetry), to give interviews, and to speak about political issues.

Pinter's dramas often involve strong conflicts among ambivalent characters fighting for verbal and territorial dominance and for their own remembered versions of the past; stylistically, they are marked by theatrical pauses and silences, comedic timing, provocative imagery, witty dialogue, ambiguity, irony, and menace ("Biobibliographical Notes"). Thematically ambiguous, they raise complex issues of individual human identity oppressed by social forces, the power of language, and vicissitudes of memory. Like his work, Pinter has been considered complex and contradictory (Billington, Harold Pinter 388).

Although Pinter publicly eschewed applying the term "political theatre" to his own work in 1981, he began writing overtly political plays in the mid-'80s, reflecting his own heightening political interests and changes in his personal life. This "new direction" in his work and his "Leftist" political activism stimulated additional critical debate about Pinter's politics. Pinter, his work, and his politics have been the subject of voluminous critical commentary ("Biobibliographical Notes"; Merritt, Pinter in Play; Grimes).

Pinter is the recipient of eighteen honorary degrees and numerous other honors and awards, including the Nobel Prize in Literature and the French Légion d'honneur. Academic institutions and performing arts organizations have devoted symposia, festivals, and celebrations to honoring him and his work, in recognition of his cultural influence and achievements across genres and media. In awarding Pinter the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005, instigating some public controversy and criticism, the Swedish Academy cited him for being "generally regarded as the foremost representative of British drama in the second half of the 20th century."

Biography

Personal background

Pinter was born on 10 October 1930, in the London Borough of Hackney, to "very respectable, Jewish, lower middle class," native English parents of Eastern-European ancestry; his father, Jack Pinter (1902–1997), was a "ladies' tailor" and his mother, Frances (née Moskowitz; 1904–1992), "kept what is called an immaculate house" and was "a wonderful cook" (Pinter, as quoted in Gussow, Conversations with Pinter 103; Billington, Harold Pinter 1–2). Correcting general knowledge about Pinter's family background, Michael Billington, Pinter's authorized biographer, documents that "three of Pinter's grandparents hail from Poland and one from Odessa, making them Ashkenazic rather than Sephardic Jews" (Harold Pinter 1–5). His evacuation to Cornwall and Reading from London during 1940 and 1941 before and during the Blitz and facing "the life-and-death intensity of daily experience" at that time influenced him profoundly. "His prime memories of evacuation today [circa 1994] are of loneliness, bewilderment, separation and loss: themes that are in all his works" (Billington, Harold Pinter 5–10).

Education

Although he was a "solitary" only child, he "discovered his true potential" as a student at Hackney Downs Grammar School, "where Pinter spent the formative years from 1944 to 1948. … Partly through the school and partly through the social life of Hackney Boys' Club … he formed an almost sacerdotal belief in the power of male friendship. The friends he made in those days—most particularly Henry Woolf, Michael (Mick) Goldstein and Morris (Moishe) Wernick—have always been a vital part of the emotional texture of his life" (Billington, Harold Pinter 11; cf. Woolf). Significantly "inspired" by his English teacher, mentor, and friend Joseph Brearley, "Pinter shone at English, wrote for the school magazine and discovered a gift for acting" (Billington, Harold Pinter 10–11). He wrote poetry frequently and published some of it as a teenager, as he has continued to do throughout his career. He played Romeo and Macbeth in 1947 and 1948, in productions directed by Brearley (Billington, Harold Pinter 13–14). He especially enjoyed running and broke the Hackney Downs school sprinting record (Gussow, Conversations with Pinter 28–29).

Sport and friendship

Pinter has been an avid cricket enthusiast most of his life, taking his cricket bat with him when he was evacuated as a pre-teenager during the Blitz (Billington, Life and Work 7–9; 410). In 1971 he told Gussow: "one of my main obsessions in life is the game of cricket—I play and watch and read about it all the time" (Conversations with Pinter 25). Being Chairman of the Gaieties Cricket Club and a "lifetime support[er] of the Yorkshire Cricket Club (8), Pinter devotes a section of his official website to "Cricket" ("Gaieties Cricket Club"). One wall of his study is dominated by "A huge portrait of a younger, vigorous Mr. Pinter playing cricket, one of his great passions … The painted Mr. Pinter, poised to swing his bat, has a wicked glint in his eye; testosterone all but flies off the canvas" ("Still Pinteresque" 16 [illus.]). As Billington documents, "Robert Winder observes how even Pinter's passion for cricket is far removed from a jocular, country-house pursuit: 'Harold stands for a different tradition, a more urban and exacting idea of cricket as a bold theatre of aggression' " (Harold Pinter 410).

Other main loves or interests that he has mentioned to Gussow, Billington, and other interviewers (in varying order of priority) are family, love (of women) and sex, drinking, writing, and reading (e.g., Gussow, Conversations with Pinter 25–30; Billington, Harold Pinter 7–16; Merritt, Pinter in Play 194). According to Billington, "If the notion of male loyalty, competitive rivalry and fear of betrayal forms a constant thread in Pinter's work from The Dwarfs onwards, its origins can be found in his teenage Hackney years. Pinter adores women, enjoys flirting with them, worships their resilience and strength. But, in his early work especially, they are often seen as disruptive influences on some pure, Platonic ideal of male friendship: one of the most crucial of all Pinter's lost Edens" (Harold Pinter 10–12; cf. Woolf).

Early theatrical training and stage experience

Beginning in autumn 1948, Pinter attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) for two terms, but "Loathing" RADA, he cut most of his classes, feigned a nervous breakdown, and dropped out in 1949 (Billington, Harold Pinter 20–25, 31–35; Batty, About Pinter 7). That year he was also "called up for National Service," registered as a conscientious objector, was brought to trial twice, and ultimately fined by the magistrate for refusing to serve (Billington, Harold Pinter 20–25). He had a "walk-on" role in Dick Whittington and His Cat at the Chesterfield Hippodrome in 1949–50 (Billington, Harold Pinter 37; Batty, About Pinter 8). From January to July 1951, he "endured six months at the Central School of Speech and Drama" (Billington, Harold Pinter 31, 36, 38; Batty, About Pinter xiii, 8). From 1951–52, he toured Ireland with the Anew McMaster repertory company, playing over a dozen roles (Pinter, "Mac", Various Voices 27–34). In 1952 he began regional repertory acting jobs in England; from 1953–54, he worked for the Donald Wolfit Company, King's Theatre, Hammersmith, performing eight roles (Billington, Harold Pinter 20–25; 31, 36, 37–41). From 1954 until 1959, Harold Pinter acted under the stage name "David Baron". (Pinter's paternal "grandmother's maiden name was Baron … he adopted it as his stage-name … [and] used it [Baron] for the autobiographical character of Mark in the first draft of [his novel] The Dwarfs" [Billington, Harold Pinter 3, 47–48].) As Batty observes: "Following his brief stint with Wolfit's company in 1953, this was to be Pinter's daily life for five years, and his prime manner of earning a living alongside stints as a waiter, a postman, a bouncer and snow-clearer whilst all the time harbouring ambitions as a poet and writer" (About Pinter 10).

In Pinter: The Player's Playwright, David Thompson "itemises all the performances Pinter gave in the [David] Baron years," including those in English regional repertory companies, nearly twenty-five roles (Cited in Billington, Harold Pinter 49–55). In October 1989, Pinter told Mel Gussow: "I was in English rep as an actor for about 12 years. My favourite roles were undoubtedly the sinister ones. They're something to get your teeth into" (Conversations with Pinter 83). During that period, he also performed occasional roles in his own and others' works (for radio, TV, and film), as he has done more recently (Billington, Harold Pinter 20–25; 31, 36, 38).

Marriage and family life

First marriage From 1956 until 1980, Pinter was married to Vivien Merchant, a rep actress whom he met on tour, probably best known for her performance in the original film Alfie (1966); their son, Daniel, was born in 1958 (Billington, Harold Pinter 54, 75). Through the early '70s, Merchant appeared in many of Pinter's works, most notably The Homecoming on stage (1965) and screen (1973), but the marriage was turbulent and began disintegrating in the mid-1960s (252–56). For seven years, from 1962 to 1969, Pinter was engaged in a clandestine affair with Joan Bakewell, which informed his play Betrayal (1978) (264–66). Between 1975 and 1980, he lived with historian Lady Antonia Fraser, wife of Sir Hugh Fraser (272–76), and, in 1975, Merchant filed for divorce ("People").Second marriage After the Frasers' divorce became final in 1977 and the Pinters' in 1980, in the third week of October 1980, Pinter married Antonia Fraser. Due to a two-week delay in Merchant's signing the divorce papers, however, the reception had to precede the actual ceremony, originally scheduled "to coincide with Pinter's fiftieth birthday" on 10 October 1980 (271–72).

Unable to overcome her bitterness and grief at the loss of her husband, Vivien Merchant died of acute alcoholism in the first week of October 1982 at the age of 53 (Billington, Harold Pinter 276). According to Billington, who cites Merchant's close friends and Pinter's associates, Pinter "did everything possible to support" her until her death and regrets that he became estranged from their son, Daniel, after their separation and Pinter's remarriage (276, 345). A reclusive gifted musician and writer (345), Daniel no longer uses the surname Pinter, having adopted instead "his maternal grandmother's maiden name," Brand, after his parents separated (255). "His efforts to reach out … rebuffed," Pinter has not spoken with him since 1993; " 'There it is,' he said" (Lyall, "Still Pinteresque").Personal feelings Billington observes that "Pinter's new life with Antonia … obviously released something that had long been dormant: a preoccupation with the injustices and hypocrisies of the public world"; yet, his "sorrow, and even residual guilt, over Vivien's death" still seems to have resulted in "Pinter's creative blankness over a three-year period in the early 1980s" (Harold Pinter 278). Since Pinter "loves children and … would have liked a large family of his own, the progressive separation from Daniel is obviously a source of anguish" which Billington speculates is "reflected in Moonlight" (written in 1993, the year that Pinter and his son mutually decided to cease contact), "not only in Andy's cry of 'Where are the boys?' but in his final sad enquiries after his imagined grandchildren," though Pinter disavowed any conscious connection (346).

Pinter has stated publicly in interviews that he remains "very happy" in his second marriage and enjoys family life, which includes his six adult stepchildren and 17 step-grandchildren (Billington, Harold Pinter 388, 429–30; Dougary), and, after vanquishing cancer, considers himself "a very lucky man in every respect" (Quoted in Wark; Billington, " 'They said' "). According to Lyall, who interviewed him in London for her Sunday New York Times preview of Sleuth, Pinter's "latest work, a slim pamphlet called 'Six Poems for A.,' comprises poems written over 32 years, with 'A' being Lady Antonia. The first of the poems was written in Paris, where she and Mr. Pinter traveled soon after they met. More than three decades later the two are rarely apart, and Mr. Pinter turns soft, even cozy, when he talks about his wife" ("Still Pinteresque" 16). In his interview with Lyall, Pinter "acknowledged that his plays––full of infidelity, cruelty, inhumanity, the lot––seem at odds with his domestic contentment. 'How can you write a happy play?' he said. 'Drama is about conflict and degrees of perturbation, disarray. I've never been able to write a happy play, but I've been able to enjoy a happy life' " ("Still Pinteresque" 16).

Career

1957–2005

Pinter is the author of twenty-nine plays, fifteen dramatic sketches, twenty-six screenplays and film scripts for cinema and television, a novel, and other prose fiction, essays, and speeches, many poems, and co-author of two works for stage and radio. Along with the 1967 Tony Award for Best Play for The Homecoming and several other American awards and award nominations, he and his plays have received many awards in the UK and elsewhere throughout the world. His screenplays for The French Lieutenant's Woman and Betrayal were nominated for Academy Awards in the category of "Writing: Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium" in 1981 and 1983, respectively.The Room (1957) Pinter's first play, The Room, written in 1957, was a student production at the University of Bristol, "commissioned" and directed by his good friend (later acclaimed) actor Henry Woolf, who also originated the role of Mr. Kidd (which he reprised in 2001 and 2007). After Pinter had mentioned that he had an "idea" for a play, Woolf asked him to write it so that he could direct it as part of fulfilling requirements for his postgraduate work. Pinter wrote it in three days (Qtd. in Merritt, "Talking about Pinter" 147). To mark and celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of that first production of The Room, Woolf reprised his role of Mr. Kidd, as well as his role of the Man in Pinter's play Monologue, in April 2007 as part of an international conference at the University of Leeds, "Artist and Citizen: 50 Years of Performing Pinter"."Comedies of menace" The Birthday Party (1957), Pinter's second play and among his best-known, was initially both a commercial and critical disaster, despite a rave review in the Sunday Times by its influential drama critic Harold Hobson, which appeared only after the production had closed and could not be reprieved (Hobson, "The Screw Turns Again"). Critical accounts often quote Hobson's prophetic words: Hobson is generally credited by Pinter himself and other critics as bolstering him and perhaps even rescuing his career (Billington, Harold Pinter 85); for example, in their September 1993 interview, Pinter told the New York Times critic Mel Gussow: "I felt pretty discouraged before Hobson. He had a tremendous influence on my life" (141).

In a review published in 1958, borrowing from the subtitle of The Lunatic View: A Comedy of Menace, a play by David Campton (1924–2006), critic Irving Wardle called Pinter's early plays "comedy of menace"—a label that people have applied repeatedly to his work, at times "pigeonholing" and attempting to "tame" it. Such plays begin with an apparently innocent situation that becomes both threatening and "absurd" as Pinter's characters behave in ways often perceived as inexplicable by his audiences and one another. Pinter acknowledges the influence of Samuel Beckett, particularly on his early work (Billington, Harold Pinter 64, 65, 84, 197, 251); they became friends (354), sending each other drafts of their works in progress for comments (Wark).

After the success of The Caretaker in 1960, which established Pinter's theatrical reputation (Jones), The Birthday Party was revived both on television (with Pinter himself in the role of Goldberg) and on stage and well received. By the time Peter Hall's production of The Homecoming (1964) reached New York (1967), Harold Pinter had become a celebrity playwright, and the play garnered four Tony awards, among other awards ("Harold Pinter" at the Internet Broadway Database)."Memory plays" From the late sixties through the early eighties, Pinter wrote Landscape (1968), Silence (1969), "Night" (1969), Old Times (1971), No Man's Land (1975), The Proust Screenplay(1977), Betrayal (1978), Family Voices (1981), and A Kind of Alaska (1982), all of which dramatize complex ambiguities, elegaic mysteries, comic vagaries, and other "quicksand"-like characteristics of memory and which critics sometimes categorize as Pinter's "memory plays".

Pinter's more-recent plays Party Time (1991), Moonlight (1993), Ashes to Ashes (1996), and Celebration (2000) draw upon some features of his "memory" dramaturgy in their focus on the past in the present, but they have personal and political resonances and other tonal differences from these more-clearly-identifiable "memory plays" (Billington, Harold Pinter; Batty; Grimes).Pinter as director Pinter began to direct more frequently during the 1970s, becoming an associate director of the National Theatre (NT) in 1973, and he has directed almost fifty productions of his own and others' plays for stage, film, and television. As a director, Pinter has helmed productions of work by Simon Gray ten times, including directing the stage premières of Butley (1971), Otherwise Engaged (1975), The Rear Column (stage 1978; TV, 1980), Close of Play (NT, 1979), Quartermaine's Terms (1981), Life Support (1997), The Late Middle Classes (1999), and The Old Masters (2004), and the film, Butley (1974), several of which starred Alan Bates (1934–2003), who originated (on stage and screen) the role of Mick in Pinter's first commercial success, The Caretaker (1960), and played the roles of Nicholas in One for the Road and the cab driver in Victoria Station in Pinter's own double-bill production at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1984.Pinter's overtly political plays During the 1980s, after the three-year period of "creative blankness in the early 1980s" following his marriage to Lady Antonia Fraser and the death of Vivien Merchant, as mentioned by Billington (Harold Pinter 258), Pinter's plays tended to become shorter and more overtly political, serving as critiques of oppression, torture, and other abuses of human rights (Merritt, Pinter in Play xi–xv, 170–209, Grimes 19), linked by the apparent "invulnerability of power" (Grimes 119). After writing the brief dramatic sketch Precisely (1983), a duologue between two bureaucrats exposing the absurd power politics of mutual nuclear annihilation and deterrence, he wrote his first full-length overtly-political one-act play, One for the Road (1984). In a 1985 interview called "A Play and Its Politics", with Nicholas Hern, published in the Grove Press edition of One for the Road, Pinter states that whereas his earlier plays presented "metaphors" for power and powerlessness, the later ones present literal "realities" of power and its abuse. Grimes proposes, "If it is too much to say that Pinter faults himself for his earlier political inactivity, his political theater dramatizes the interplay and conflict of the opposing poles of involvement and disengagement" (19). He also wrote the political satire Party Time, first as a play for the stage (Faber and Faber, 1991), published in the U.S. edition along with The New World Order (Grove P, 1993; Grimes 101–28), and then revised and adapted it as a television screenplay (Faber and Faber, 1994; Baker and Ross 100–102). From 1993 to 1999, reflecting both personal and political concerns, Pinter wrote Moonlight (1993) and Ashes to Ashes (1996), full-length plays with domestic settings relating to death and dying and (in the latter case) to such "atrocities" as the Holocaust. In this period, after the deaths of first his mother and then his father, again merging the personal and the political, Pinter wrote the poems "Death" (1997) (which he read in his 2005 Nobel Lecture) and "The Disappeared" (1998).Lincoln Center Harold Pinter Festival (Summer 2001) In July and August 2001, a Harold Pinter Festival celebrating his work was held at Lincoln Center in New York City, in which he participated as both a director (of a double bill pairing his newest play, Celebration, with his first play, The Room) and an actor (as Nicolas in One for the Road).Harold Pinter Homage at World Leaders (Autumn 2001) In October 2001, as part of the "Harold Pinter Homage" at the World Leaders Festival of Creative Genius, at Harbourfront Centre, in Toronto, following the reception and during the dinner honoring him, he presented a dramatic reading of Celebration (2000) and also participated in a public interview as part of the International Festival of Authors ("Harold Pinter Added to IFOA Lineup"; "Travel Advisory").

That winter Pinter's collaboration with director Di Trevis resulted in their stage adaptation of his as-yet unfilmed 1972 work The Proust Screenplay, entitled Remembrance of Things Past (both based on Marcel Proust's famous seven-volume novel In Search of Lost Time), being produced at the National Theatre, in London. There was also a revival of The Caretaker in the West End.Career developments from 2001 to 2005 Late in 2001, Pinter was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus, for which he underwent a successful operation and chemotherapy in 2002. During the course of his treatment, he directed a production of his play No Man's Land, wrote and performed in his new sketch "Press Conference" for a two-part otherwise-retrospective production of his dramatic sketches at the National Theatre, and was seen on television in America in the role of Vivian Bearing's father in the HBO film version of Margaret Edson's Pulitzer Prize-winning play Wit. Since then, having become increasingly "engaged" as "a citizen," Pinter has continued to write and present politically-charged poetry, essays, speeches and two new screenplay adaptations of plays, based on Shakespeare's King Lear (completed in 2000 but unfilmed) and on Anthony Shaffer's Sleuth (written in 2005, with revisions completed later for the 2007 film Sleuth). Pinter's most recent stage play, Celebration (2000), is more a social satire, with fewer political resonances than such plays as One for the Road (1984), Mountain Language (1988), Party Time (1991), and Ashes to Ashes (1996), the last three of which extend expressionistic aspects of Pinter's "memory plays". His most recent dramatic work for radio, Voices (2005), a collaboration with composer James Clarke, adapting such selected works by Pinter to music, premièred on BBC Radio 3 on his 75th birthday (10 Oct. 2005), three days before the announcement that he had won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature (13 Oct. 2005).Public announcement of "retirement" from playwriting (February 2005) On 28 February 2005, in an interview with Mark Lawson on the BBC Radio 4 program Front Row, Pinter announced publicly that he would stop writing plays to dedicate himself to his political activism and writing poetry: "I think I've written 29 plays. I think it's enough for me. I think I've found other forms now. My energies are going in different directions—over the last few years I've made a number of political speeches at various locations and ceremonies … I'm using a lot of energy more specifically about political states of affairs, which I think are very, very worrying as things stand."

Since 2005

After announcing in February 2005 that he would stop writing plays (Lawson), Pinter completed his screenplay for Sleuth and wrote a new dramatic sketch entitled "Apart From That", which he and Rupert Graves performed on television (Wark). In recent interviews and correspondence, he has vowed to " 'keep fighting' " politically (Lawson; Billington, Harold Pinter 395), and, in March 2006, in Turin, Italy, on being awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, he said that he would keep writing poetry until "I conk out" (Qtd. in Billington, " 'I've written' ")."Let's Keep Fighting" As he had announced that he planned to do, Pinter remains committed to writing and publishing poetry (e.g., his poems "The Special Relationship", "Laughter", and "The Watcher") and to continuing political pressure against the "status quo," battling politically what he considers social injustices, as well as personally his post-esophageal cancer bouts of ill health, including "a rare skin disease called pemphigus"—that "very, very mysterious skin condition which emanated from the Brazilian jungle", as Pinter described it (Qtd. in Billington, " 'I've written' ")—and "a form of septicaemia which afflicts his feet and makes movement slow and laborious" (Billington, Harold Pinter 394; cf. Lyall, "Still Pinteresque").

In June 2006, prevailing over persistent health challenges, Billington observes in his updated "Afterword 'Let's Keep Fighting' ", Pinter attended "a celebration of his work in cinema organised by the British branch of the Academy of Motion Pictures," for which his friend and fellow playwright David Hare "organised a brilliant selection of film clips ... [saying] 'To jump back into the world of Pinter's movies ... is to remind yourself of a literate mainstream cinema, focused as much as Bergman's is on the human face, in which tension is maintained by a carefully crafted mix of image and dialogue' " (Billington, Harold Pinter 429).Europe Theatre Prize (March 2006) In their public interview at the Europe Theatre Prize ceremony in Turin, Italy, which was part of the cultural program of the XX Winter Olympic Games. Billington asked Pinter, "Is the itch to put pen to paper still there?" He replied, "Yes. It's just a question of what the form is … I've been writing poetry since my youth and I'm sure I'll keep on writing it till I conk out. I've said it before and I'll say it again. I've written 29 damn plays. Isn't that enough?" (Billington, " 'I've written' "). In response, audience members shouted "in unison" a resounding No, urging him to keep writing (Merritt, "Europe Theatre Prize Celebration").Interview on Newsnight (June 2006) Pinter occasionally leaves open the possibility that if a compelling dramatic "image" were to come to mind (though "not likely"), perhaps he would be obliged to pursue it. After making this point, Pinter performed a dramatic reading of his "new work," Apart From That, at the end of his June 2006 interview with Wark, which was broadcast live on Newsnight, with Rupert Graves. This "very funny" dramatic sketch was inspired by Pinter's strong aversion to mobile telephones; "as two people trade banalities over their mobile phones there is a hint of something ominous and unspoken behind the clichéd chat" (Billington, Harold Pinter 429).

Krapp's Last Tape (October 2006) In an account of Pinter's public interview conducted by Ramona Koval at the Edinburgh Book Festival "Meet the Author" in late August 2006, Robinson reports: "Pinter, whose last published play came out in 2000, said the reason he had given up writing was that he had 'written himself out', adding: 'I recently had a holiday in Dorset and took a couple of my usual yellow writing pads. I didn't write a damn word. Fondly, I turned them over and put them in a drawer.' " It appeared to Robinson that "despite giving up writing [Pinter] will carry on his acting career." From another perspective, however, as Eden and Walker observe: "So keenly is Harold Pinter relishing his return to the stage this autumn [in Krapp's Last Tape] that he has put his literary career on the back burner." Pinter said: "It's a great challenge and I'm going to have a crack at it" (Qtd. in Robinson).

After returning to London from Edinburgh, in September 2006, Pinter began rehearsing for his performance of the role of Krapp. In October 2006 Harold Pinter performed Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape from a motorized wheelchair in a limited run at the Royal Court Theatre to sold-out audiences and "ecstatic" critical reviews (Billington, "Theatre: Krapp's Last Tape" and Harold Pinter 429–30).

The production of only nine performances, from 12 October, two days after Pinter's 76th birthday, to 24 October 2006, was the most prized ticket in London during the fiftieth-anniversary celebration season of the Royal Court Theatre; his performances sold out on the first morning of general ticket sales (4 Sept. 2006). One performance was filmed, produced on DVD, and shown on BBC Four on 21 June 2007.Pinter: A Celebration (October–November 2006) Sheffield Theatres hosted Pinter: A Celebration for a full month (11 Oct.11 Nov. 2006). The program featured selected productions of Pinter's plays (in order of presentation): The Caretaker, Voices, No Man's Land, Family Voices, Tea Party, The Room, One for the Road, and The Dumb Waiter; films (most his screenplays; some in which Pinter appears as an actor): The Go-Between, Accident, The Birthday Party, The French Lieutenant's Woman, Reunion, Mojo, The Servant, and The Pumpkin Eater; and other related program events: "Pause for Thought" (Penelope Wilton and Douglas Hodge in conversation with Michael Billington), "Ashes to Ashes –– A Cricketing Celebration", a "Pinter Quiz Night", "The New World Order", the BBC Two documentary film Arena: Harold Pinter (introd. Anthony Wall, producer of Arena), and "The New World Order –– A Pause for Peace" (a consideration of "Pinter's pacifist writing" [both poems and prose] supported by the Sheffield Quakers), and a screening of "Pinter's passionate and antagonistic 45-minute Nobel Prize Lecture."50th anniversary West-End revival of The Dumb Waiter; Celebration (February 2007) Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of The Dumb Waiter, Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs starred as Gus and Ben in "a major West end revival," directed by Harry Burton, "in a limited seven week run" at the Trafalgar Studios, from 2 February 2007 through 24 March 2007. John Crowley's film version of Pinter's play Celebration (2000) was shown on More 4 (Channel 4, UK), in late February 2007, "with a cast including James Bolam, Janie Dee, Colin Firth, James Fox, Michael Gambon, Julia McKenzie, Sophie Okonedo, Stephen Rea and Penelope Wilton."Radio broadcast of The Homecoming (March 2007) On 18 March 2007, BBC Radio 3 broadcast a new radio production of The Homecoming, directed by Thea Sharrock and produced by Martin J. Smith, with Pinter performing the role of Max (for the first time; he had previously played Lenny on stage in the 1960s), Michael Gambon as Max's brother Sam, Rupert Graves as Teddy, Samuel West as Lenny, James Alexandrou as Joey, and Gina McKee as Ruth (Martin J. Smith; West).Revival of The Hothouse (From 11 July 2007) A revival of The Hothouse, directed by Ian Rickson, with a cast including Stephen Moore (Roote), Lia Williams (Miss Cutts), and Henry Woolf (Tubb), among others, opened at the Royal National Theatre, in London, on 11 July 2007, playing concurrently with a revival of Betrayal at the Donmar Warehouse, also starring Samuel West (Robert), opposite Toby Stephens (Jerry) and Dervla Kirwan (Emma) and directed by Roger Michell (West).Sleuth (August 2007) Pinter's screenplay adaptation of the 1970 Tony Award-winning play Sleuth, by Anthony Shaffer, is the basis for the 2007 film Sleuth, directed by Kenneth Branagh and starring Michael Caine (in the role of Andrew Wyke, originally played by Laurence Olivier) and Jude Law (in the role of Milo Tindle, originally played by Caine), who also produced it; scheduled for release on 12 October, the film debuted at the 64th Venice International Film Festival on 31 August 2007 and was screened at the 2007 Toronto International Film Festival on 10 September.Broadway revival of The Homecoming (December 2007–April 2008) A Broadway revival of The Homecoming, starring James Frain as Teddy, Ian McShane as Max, Raul Esparza as Lenny, Michael McKean as Sam, and Eve Best as Ruth, and directed by Daniel Sullivan, opened on 16 December 2007, for a "20-week limited engagement … through 13 April 2008" at the Cort Theatre (Gans; Horwitz).50th anniversary revival of The Birthday Party (8–24 May 2008) The Lyric Hammersmith celebrated the play's 50th anniversary with a revival, directed by artistic director David Farr, and related events from 8 to 24 May 2008, including a gala performance and reception hosted by Harold Pinter on 19 May 2008, exactly fifty years after its London première there.

Civic activities and political activism

Political development

Pinter's political concerns have developed since he became a conscientious objector when he was eighteen, in 1946 to 1947 (Billington, Harold Pinter 21–24, 92, & 286), and since he expressed ambivalence about "politicians" in his 1966 Paris Review interview with Lawrence M. Bensky. Those assuming that Pinter's political interests began in the 1980s may not be aware that he was an early member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the United Kingdom and supported the British Anti-Apartheid Movement (1959–1994), participating in British artists' refusal to permit professional productions of their work in South Africa in 1963 ("Playwrights in Apartheid Protest") and in subsequent related campaigns (Mbeki; Reddy).

Later political activities

His later political activities are better known and more controversial. He has been active in International PEN, serving as a vice-president, along with American playwright Arthur Miller. In 1985, Pinter and Miller travelled to Turkey, on a mission co-sponsored by International PEN and a Helsinki Watch committee to investigate and protest the torture of imprisoned writers. There he met victims of political oppression and their families. At an American embassy dinner in Ankara, held in Miller's honor, at which Pinter was also an invited guest, speaking on behalf of those imprisoned Turkish writers, Pinter confronted the ambassador with (in Pinter's words) "[t]he reality … of electric current on your genitals": Pinter's outspokenness apparently angered their host and led to indications of his desired departure. Guest of honor Miller left the embassy with him. Recounting this episode for a tribute to Miller on his 80th birthday, Pinter concludes: "Being thrown out of the US embassy in Ankara with Arthur Miller—a voluntary exile—was one of the proudest moments in my life" ("Arthur Miller's Socks", Various Voices 56–57). Pinter's experiences in Turkey and his knowledge of the Turkish suppression of the Kurdish language "inspired" his 1988 play Mountain Language (Billington, Harold Pinter 309–10; Gussow, Conversations with Pinter 67–68).

He is an active delegate of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign in the United Kingdom, an organization that defends Cuba, supports the government of Fidel Castro, and campaigns against the U.S. embargo on the country (Hands Off Cuba!). In 2001 Pinter joined the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milošević (ICDSM), which appealed for a fair trial for and the freedom of Slobodan Milošević; he signed a related "Artists' Appeal for Milošević" in 2004. (The organization continues its presence on the internet even after Milošević's death in 2006.)

Recent political views

For over the past two decades, in his essays, speeches, interviews, and literary readings, Pinter has focused increasingly on contemporaneous political issues. Pinter strongly opposed the 1991 Gulf War, the 1999 NATO bombing campaign in Yugoslavia during the Kosovo War, the United States's 2001 War in Afghanistan, and its 2003 Invasion of Iraq.

In accepting an honorary degree at the University of Turin (27 Nov. 2002), he stated: "I believe that [the United States] will [attack Iraq] not only to take control of Iraqi oil, but also because the American administration is now a bloodthirsty wild animal. Bombs are its only vocabulary." Distinguishing between "the American administration" and American citizens, he added the following qualification: "Many Americans, we know, are horrified by the posture of their government but seem to be helpless" (Various Voices 243). He has been very active in the current anti-war movement in the United Kingdom, speaking at rallies held by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), which reprinted his Turin speech.

Since then he has called the President of the United States, George W. Bush, a "mass murderer" and the (then) Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, both "mass-murdering" and a "deluded idiot" and has described them, along with past U.S. officials, as "war criminals." He has also compared the Bush administration ("a bunch of criminal lunatics") with Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, saying that, under Bush, the United States ("a monster out of control") strives to attain "world domination" through "Full spectrum dominance". Pinter characterized Blair's Great Britain as "pathetic and supine," a "bleating little lamb tagging behind [the United States] on a lead." According to Pinter, Blair was participating in "an act of premeditated mass murder" instigated on behalf of "the American people," who, Pinter notes, increasingly protest "their government's actions" (Public reading from War, as qtd. by Chrisafis and Tilden). Pinter published his remarks to the mass peace protest demonstration held on 15 February 2003, in London, on his website: "The United States is a monster out of control. Unless we challenge it with absolute determination American barbarism will destroy the world. The country is run by a bunch of criminal lunatics, with Blair as their hired Christian thug. The planned attack on Iraq is an act of premeditated mass murder" ("Speech at Hyde Park"). Those remarks anticipate his 2005 Nobel Lecture, "Art, Truth, & Politics", in which he observes: "Many thousands, if not millions, of people in the United States itself are demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions, but as things stand they are not a coherent political force–yet. But the anxiety, uncertainty and fear which we can see growing daily in the United States is unlikely to diminish" (21).

In accepting the Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry, on 18 March 2005, wondering "What would Wilfred Owen make of the invasion of Iraq? A bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the conception of international law?", Pinter concluded: "I believe Wilfred Owen would share our contempt, our revulsion, our nausea and our shame at both the language and the actions of the American and British governments" (Various Voices 247-48).

In March 2006, upon accepting the Europe Theatre Prize, in Turin, Pinter exhorted the mostly European audience "to resist the power of the United States," stating, "I'd like to see Europe echo the example of Latin America in withstanding the economic and political intimidation of the United States. This is a serious responsibility for Europe and all of its citizens" (Qtd. in Anderson and Billington, Harold Pinter 428).

Continued public support of political causes and issues

Pinter continues to contribute letters to the editor, essays, speeches, and poetry strongly expressing his artistic and political viewpoints, which are frequently published initially in British periodicals, both in print and electronic media, and increasingly distributed and re-distributed extensively over the internet and throughout the blogosphere. These have been distributed more widely since his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005; his subsequent publications and related news accounts cite his status as a Nobel Laureate.

He continues to sign petitions on behalf of artistic and political causes that he supports. For example, he became a signatory of the mission statement of Jews For Justice For Palestinians in 2005 and of its full-page advertisement, "What Is Israel Doing? A Call by Jews in Britain" featured in The Times on 6 July 2006. He also co-signed an open letter about recent events in the Middle East dated 19 July 2006, distributed to major news publications on 21 July 2006, and posted on the website of Noam Chomsky ("Letter from Pinter, Saramago, Chomsky and Berger"; Chomsky, "Israel, Lebanon, and Palestine"; "Palestinian Nation Under Threat").

On 5 February 2007 The Independent reported that, along with historian Eric Hobsbawm, human rights lawyer Geoffrey Bindman, fashion designer Nicole Farhi, film director Mike Leigh, and actors Stephen Fry and Zoë Wanamaker, among others, Harold Pinter launched the organization Independent Jewish Voices in the United Kingdom "to represent British Jews … in response to a perceived pro-Israeli bias in existing Jewish bodies in the UK", and, according to Hobsbawn, "as a counter-balance to the uncritical support for Israeli policies by established bodies such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews" (Hodgson; Independent Jewish Voices#IJV Declaration).

In March 2007 Charlie Rose had "A Conversation with Harold Pinter" on Charlie Rose, filmed at the Old Vic, in London, and broadcast on television in the United States on PBS. In this interview they discussed highlights of his career and the politics of his life and work. They debated his ongoing opposition to the Iraq War, with Rose challenging some of Pinter's views about the United States. They also discussed some of his other public protests and positions in public controversies, such as that involving the New York Theatre Workshop's cancellation of their production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, which Pinter views as an act of cowardice amounting to self-censorship.

In mid-June 2008, opposing "a police ban on the George Bush Not Welcome Here" demonstration organized by the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), "Pinter commented, 'The ban on the Stop The War Coalition march in protest at the visit of President Bush to this country [England] is a totalitarian act. In what is supposed to be a free country the Coalition has every right to express its views peacefully and openly. This ban is outrageous and makes the term "democracy" laughable' " ("Protesters Will Defy Ban").

Retrospective perspective on political aspects of his own work

Since the mid-eighties, Pinter has described his earlier plays retrospectively from the perspective of the politics of power and the dynamics of oppression. He expressed such a retrospective perspective on his work recently, for example, when he participated in "Meet the Author" with Ramona Koval, at the Edinburgh Book Festival, in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the evening of 25 August 2006. It was his first public appearance in Britain since he won the 2005 Nobel Prize in Literature and his near-death experience in hospital in the first week of December 2005, which had prevented him from traveling to Stockholm and giving his Nobel Lecture in person. Pinter described in moving terms how he felt while almost dying (as if he were "drowning"). After reading an interrogation scene from The Birthday Party, he provided a rare "explanation" of his work (McDowell). He "wanted to say that Goldberg and McCann represented the forces in society who wanted to snuff out dissent, to stifle Stanley's voice, to silence him," and that in 1958 "One thing [the critics who almost unanimously hated the play] got wrong … was the whole history of stifling, suffocating and destroying dissent. Not too long before, the Gestapo had represented order, discipline, family life, obligation—and anyone who disagreed with that was in trouble" (Qtd. in McDowell).

In both his writing and his public speaking, as McDowell observes,

Honors

An Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and an Honorary Fellow of the Modern Language Association of America (1970), Pinter was appointed CBE in 1966 and became a Companion of Honour in 2002 (having previously declined a knighthood in 1996). In 1995 and 1996 he accepted the David Cohen Prize, in recognition of a lifetime's literary achievement, and the Laurence Olivier Special Award for a lifetime's achievement in the theatre, respectively. In 1997 he became a BAFTA Fellow. He received the World Leaders Award for "Creative Genius", as the subject of a week-long "Homage" in Toronto, in October 2001. A few years later, in 2004, he received the Wilfred Owen Award for Poetry—"in recognition of Pinter's lifelong contribution to literature, 'and specifically for his collection of poetry entitled War, published in 2003' " (Wilfred Owen Association Newsletter). In March 2006 he was awarded the Europe Theatre Prize, in recognition of lifetime achievements pertaining to drama and theater ("Letter of Motivation"). In conjunction with that award, from 10 March to 14 March 2006, Michael Billington coordinated an international conference on "Pinter: Passion, Poetry, Politics", including scholars and critics from Europe and the Americas (Harold Pinter 427–28).

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2005

On 13 October 2005 the Swedish Academy announced that it had decided to award the Nobel Prize in Literature for that year to "Harold Pinter … Who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms" (press release).

When interviewed about his reaction to the Nobel Prize announcement by Billington, Pinter joked: "I was told today that one of the Sky channels said this morning that 'Harold Pinter is dead[.'] Then they changed their mind and said, 'No, he's won the Nobel prize.' So I've risen from the dead" (Billington, " 'They said' ").

Nobel Week, including the Nobel Prize Awards Ceremony in Stockholm and related events throughout Scandinavia, began in the first few days of December 2005. Due to medical concerns about his health, Pinter and his family could not attend the Awards Ceremony and related events of Nobel Week. After the Academy notified him of his award, he had arranged for his publisher (Stephen Page of Faber and Faber) to accept his Nobel Diploma and Nobel Medal at the Awards Ceremony scheduled for 10 December, but he had still planned to travel to Stockholm, to present his lecture in person a few days earlier (Honigsbaum). In November, however, he was hospitalized for an infection that nearly killed him, and his doctor barred such travel.

Art, Truth & Politics: The Nobel Lecture

While still hospitalized, Pinter went to a Channel 4 studio to videotape his Nobel Lecture: "Art, Truth & Politics", which was projected on three large screens at the Swedish Academy in Stockholm on the evening of 7 December 2005 (Lyall, "Playwright Takes a Prize and a Jab at U.S." and "Still Pinteresque").

Simultaneously transmitted on Channel 4 in the UK that evening, the 46-minute television broadcast was introduced by friend and fellow playwright David Hare. Subsequently, the full text and streaming video formats were posted for the public on the Nobel Prize and Swedish Academy official websites. In these formats Pinter's Nobel Lecture has been widely watched, cited, quoted, and distributed by print and online media and the source of much commentary and debate.

His Nobel Lecture, Art, Truth & Politics provoked extensive public controversy, with some media commentators accusing Pinter of "anti-Americanism" (Allen-Mills). Yet Pinter emphasizes that he criticizes policies and practices of American administrations, not American citizens, many of whom he recognizes as "demonstrably sickened, shamed and angered by their government's actions" (Various Voices 243; Art, Truth & Politics 21).

As a result of his Nobel Prize and his controversial Nobel Lecture, interest in Pinter's life and work have surged. They have led to new revivals of his plays, to the updating of Billington's biography (Billington, "We Are Catching Up"; Harold Pinter), and to new editions of Pinter's works (The Essential Pinter and The Dwarfs by Grove Press and a box set of The Birthday Party, No Man's Land, Mountain Language, and Celebration by Faber and Faber).

DVD and VHS video recordings of Pinter's Nobel Lecture (without Hare's introduction) are produced and distributed by Illuminations.

Légion d'honneur

On 18 January 2007 BBC News announced that French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin (a published poet himself) presented Harold Pinter with "France's highest civil honor, the Légion d'honneur … at a ceremony at the French embassy in London, shortly after holding talks with Tony Blair." Prime Minister de Villepin "praised Mr Pinter's poem American Football (1991)," saying: " 'With its violence and its cruelty, it is for me one of the most accurate images of war, one of the most telling metaphors of the temptation of imperialism and violence.' " "In return," Pinter "praised France for its opposition to the war in Iraq." M. de Villepin concluded: "The poet stands still and observes what doesn’t deserve other men’s attention. Poetry teaches us how to live and you, Harold Pinter, teach us how to live." He said that Pinter received the award particularly "because in seeking to capture all the facets of the human spirit, [Pinter's] works respond to the aspirations of the French public, and its taste for an understanding of man and of what is truly universal." According to the BBC's Lawrence Pollard, "the award for the great playwright underlines how much Mr Pinter is admired in countries like France as a model of the uncompromising radical intellectual."

Pinter and academia

As Merritt observes, some academic scholars and critics challenge the validity of Pinter's critiques of what he terms "the modes of thinking of those in power" (Pinter in Play 171–89; 180) or dissent from his retrospective viewpoints on his own work (Begley; Karwowski; and Quigley). In his personal political history,

Scholars who have studied the evolution of Pinter's life and work over the course of his career agree that Pinter's analyses and dramatizations of power relations reflect such a "critical and moral scrutiny" astutely.

Pinter's aversion to any censorship by "the authorities" is epitomized in Petey's line at the end of The Birthday Party. As the broken-down and reconstituted Stanley is being carted off by the figures of authority Goldberg and McCann, Petey calls out after him, "Stan, don't let them tell you what to do!" "I've lived that line all my damn life. Never more than now," he told Gussow in 1988 (Qtd. in Merritt, Pinter in Play 179). Pinter's ongoing opposition to "the modes of thinking of those in power"—the "brick wall" of the "minds" perpetuating the "status quo" (180)—infuses the "vast political pessimism" that some academic critics may perceive in his artistic work (Grimes 220), its "drowning landscape" of harsh contemporary realities, with some residual "hope for restoring the dignity of man" (Pinter, Art, Truth & Politics 9, 24).

As Pinter's longtime friends and colleagues director David Jones (19 February 1934 – 19 September 2008) and actor Henry Woolf have often reminded serious-minded scholars and dramatic critics, Pinter is also a "great comic writer" (Coppa); but, as Pinter said of The Caretaker, his work is only "funny, up to a point" (Qtd. in Jones; cf. Woolf in Merritt, "Talking about Pinter").

The Harold Pinter Archive in the British Library

Works

See also

Notes

Selected bibliography

External links

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