Harold Pinter, A Dissertation


Back in the Sixties (yes, I was there), I had a dissertation to write to satisfy the requirements for my master’s degree in theatre from the Catholic University of America. Through a process of elimination (Eugene O’Neil’s scenic designer Robert Edmond Jones had been taken) I wound up writing about the then-burgeoning British playwright Harold Pinter. The connection turned into a life-long relationship with his work, with very interesting consequences for my own work.

Last month I decided to take a look at that long-ago dissertation, crafted over a post-Peace Corps year of labor in Northern California at my uncle’s concrete ready-mix plant. The dissertation now rests on my computer desktop as a PDF. I’ve reread it. I’m not displeased. And I’m always pleased to think about the subject. And to share a bit. Here are some words from the introduction to HAROLD PINTER: THE POETIC EFFECT OF THEATRICALITY.

“A playwright who is aware of his audience, of acting, of drama generally is bound to be an effective playwright, one who “knows his stuff.” Such a playwright is Harold Pinter. He acted for many years in repertory theatres throughout England, gaining his knowledge of the theatre at first hand. … The many attributes of his plays have convinced the public and critics alike that Pinter is the first poetic Dramatist to have arisen since the advent of the Commonwealth. One critic—John Russell Taylor, Guide to the New British Theatre, 1963—has written: ‘Far more than the fantasticated verse plays of Christopher Fry and his followers, or the verse-in-disguise plays of T. S. Eliot, Pinter’s works are the true poetic drama of our time.’"

That statement continues to shine its truth. While Eliot and Fry gather dust on various shelves, Pinter continues to shine around the world in revival after revival, bringing chilling insights into the sphere of public discourse and understanding. Not to mention the influence. It is the rare playwright these days who writes the word "Pause” in his script without saying an acknowledging prayer to H.P., who showed us the terrifying and wonderful power of silence on the stage, while giving actors more depths to plumb and heights to scale.

Catch just two of his film adaptations of his own work: "The Caretaker" and "The Homecoming." Both are specific and grounded pieces, both have huge metaphorical resonance. Thank you, St. Harold.