The Franz Kafka Prize
2005 - Harold Pinter
Born: 10 October 1930, London, United Kingdom.
Died: 24 December 2008, London, United Kingdom
Author's Quote: "The past is what you remember, imagine you remember, convince yourself you remember, or pretend you remember."
Prize share: 1/1
Books Written By Harold Pinter
About Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter was the most influential, provocative and poetic dramatist of his generation. He enjoyed parallel careers as actor, screenwriter and director and was also, especially in recent years, a vigorous political polemicist campaigning against abuses of human rights. But it is for his plays that he will be best remembered and for his ability to create dramatic poetry out of everyday speech. Among the dramatists of the last century, Beckett is his only serious rival in terms of theatrical influence; and it is a measure of Pinter's power that early on in his career he spawned the adjective "Pinteresque" suggesting a cryptically mysterious situation imbued with hidden menace.
Pinter was born into a Jewish family in the London borough of Hackney. His grandparents were Jews who had fled persecution in Poland and Odessa. His father, Jack, was a hard-working tailor whose own family had artistic leanings: his mother, Frances, came from a convivial, extrovert and spiritually sceptical clan. And it was not difficult to trace in Pinter's own complex personality elements from both sides of the family. He balanced his father's faintly authoritarian nature with his mother's instinctive generosity.
Pinter was an only child: as a boy, he conducted conversations in the back garden with imaginary friends. But such circumstances conspired to give him a sense of solitude, separation and loss: the perfect breeding-ground for a dramatist. He was evacuated to Cornwall at the age of nine where he became aware of the cruelty of schoolboys in isolation. Back in London during the Blitz, he also absorbed the dramatic nature of wartime life: the palpable fear, the sexual desperation, the genuine sense that everything could end tomorrow. All this fed into his work as a writer: his memories of wartime London led to a particularly vivid 1989 screen adaptation of Elizabeth Bowen's The Heat of the Day.
Always a wide reader, from his teens Pinter devoured Dostoyevsky, Kafka, Eliot, Lawrence, Woolf and Hemingway. He also had a gift for friendship: he became the centre of an itinerant, intellectually voracious Hackney clan - Henry Woolf, Mick Goldstein and Morris Wernick - who stayed in close touch for the rest of their lives. He also fell under the spell of a teacher, Joe Brearley, whose passion for poetry and drama fired his imagination. Under Brearley's direction, he played Romeo and Macbeth at Hackney Downs grammar school; and he was a good enough actor to get a grant to study at RADA which he detested and which, with characteristic independence, he soon left.
But Pinter's suspicion of authority was manifested in an even more famous incident in the autumn of 1948. Receiving his call-up papers for National Service, he registered as a conscientious objector, thereby risking imprisonment. He was summoned before a series of increasingly Kafkaesque military tribunals, in the end escaping with a fine. The whole incident epitomised Pinter's nonconformity, truculent independence and suspicion of the state.
Pinter's early determination, however, was to be an actor. After a second spell at drama school, he joined Anew McMaster's Shakespearean Irish touring company in 1951 and later worked with Donald Wolfit's company in Hammersmith. From these two masters of the big effect, the young Pinter learned how to achieve maximum intensity through silence or gesture. But in the mid-1950s he found himself leading a strenuous double-life. On the one hand, there was the aspiring actor slogging round the weekly rep circuit and filling in with odd jobs as doorman, dishwasher, waiter and snow-shoveller. On the other hand, there was the closet writer penning poems, prose sketches and an autobiographical novel about Hackney life eventually published as The Dwarfs (1990). He was always hard up: the only consolation was that after 1956 his troubles were shared by his first wife, Vivien Merchant, a glamorous Manchester middle-class girl who was something of a star on the rep circuit.
The turning-point came in 1957 when one of Pinter's old Hackney friends, Henry Woolf, asked him to write a play for Bristol university's recently-established drama department. The result was The Room and it reveals Pinter, from the start, staking out his own particular territory: the play shows an anxious recluse reisisting the insidious pressures of the outside world and artfully blends comedy and menace.
It was a staggeringly confident debut which attracted the attention of a young producer, Michael Codron, who decided to present Pinter's next play, The Birthday Party, at the Lyric Hammersmith in 1958. The result was one of the most famous disasters in post-war British theatre. The play was roundly dismissed by the daily critics and taken off at the end of the week. Pinter's only consolation was that Harold Hobson in The Sunday Times wrote a glowing encomium claiming that Pinter possessed "the most original, disturbing and arresting talent in theatrical London."
Pinter not only survived the disaster of The Birthday Party. He showed that he had immediately found his voice as a dramatist. Using many of the devices of the rep thriller, he had produced a work that was comic, disturbing, strangely unresolved and deeply political in its plea for resistance to social conformity and inherited ideas. Despite its initial failure, it also brought Pinter a whole series of new commissions: he wrote revue-sketches for West End shows, for A Slight Ache and A Night Out for BBC radio and The Dumb Waiter as an accompaniment to The Room.
Although often bracketed with Absurdists like Beckett and Ionesco, Pinter was an instinctively political writer. Proof came with a play written in 1958 but not actually produced until 1980, The Hothouse: a savage farce set in a state-run "rest-home" which aims to turn the dissident inmates into model citizens.
The play that finally secured Pinter's reputation was The Caretaker, first produced at the Arts Theatre in 1960 and eventually transferring to the West End. The same critics who had dismissed The Birthday Party as gibberish now found masterly technical skill and thunderstorm tension in The Caretaker. What was largely missed at the time, however, in all the tributes to his tape-recorder dialogue, was Pinter's ability to find the hidden poetry in everyday speech: arguably his greatest single contribution to modern drama. In all the games of hunt-the-symbol, people also overlooked the more obvious point. That this was both a deeply humane play about the universal need for pipe-dreams and a microcosmic study of power in which the tramp-hero, Davies, forms shifting alliances as part of his strategy for survival.
- Harold Pinter
Harold Pinter is recognised as being one of the best modern English playwrights to date. He has consistently written some of the most sparkling dialogue to be found on the stage, and has devised some of the best characters to be seen in modern theatre. Betrayal is definitely one of his best stage plays. Centring on a love triangle between a man called Jerry, his best friend Robert, and Robert's wife Emma, Pinter brings his observations of life to the fore, as the marriage of Emma and Robert disintegrates amidst a pack of lies and deceit. The conversations between the three characters are written so realistically, the situation so true to life, that you can't help but wonder if your own neighbour or brother is involved in something similar! Even though this play was written in the late 70's, the circumstances that the characters find themselves entwined in are as relevant today as they were then, perhaps even more so today. Even now, affairs are still deemed to be heinous crimes, and rightly so in my opinion. It is obvious from the start that Jerry is still in love with Emma, and that he feels that she should still be with him. Judith, Jerry's wife, is only mentioned in the play as a topic akin to talking about the weather, she is simply referred to briefly, and brushed aside just as hastily. Clearly he does not love her, and suspects her of having an affair herself. The fact that he does not find his affair with Emma wrong, but finds the idea of his wife doing the same scandalous, does not reconcile us to his character at all. Still, you can't help but feel for Jerry. True, he basically seduced the wife of his best friend, but you get the feeling that if roles were reversed, and it had been Jerry and Emma getting married rather than Emma and Robert, then all would have been much happier. Since it turns out that Robert had been betraying Emma for years, it seems unfair to blame the two central conspirators of the play for everything that goes wrong in the marriage. The idea of showing effect before cause is, to me, the most innovative idea in the play. The audience is aware from scenes one and two that Jerry and Emma have had an affair, but are unsure how it ended, or why. This allows Pinter to build up an atmosphere of tension, making the spectator curious to see what has happened before, (for myself, far more intriguing than what is going to happen after). Upon reading this play, you get the feeling that you want to go back more, to see more of how Jerry fell for Emma, or even go back to the weddings, to see what happens there. The fact that these characters are so true to life makes it hard to let them go. They are more realistic than all the soap-operas you see on TV, and their situations and reactions more grounded in reality. I can heartily recommend reading this play, and, of course, hope that you get the opportunity to see it performed as well. Pinter, I salute you!
- Harold Pinter
Betrayal is an excellent title for this Pinter play since it is there on so many levels. Interesting in that it moves back in time. Only four actors and a waiter and a short play but really packs a punch. Have just seen it on stage at the Sheffield Crucible, with John Simm as one of the leads - it was this that prompted me to buy the play script and I wasn't disappointed.