What Are Pinter Plays?

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  • Written By: R. Stamm
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
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  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2019
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Pinter plays are a series of plays written by the British playwright Harold Pinter between the years of 1957 to 2000. His plays are renowned for their theatrical pauses, which often signaled menace, a technique entered into the English language as an adjective known as Pinteresque. The dialogue in all of his plays suggests a threat while the characters act in a manner that suggests differently. Over the course of his 50-year writing and directing career, Harold Pinter wrote 29 stage plays, 27 screen plays, a number of dramatic sketches, and productions for radio and television. He is most known for using three different styles to construct his plays, including the comedy of menace, memory plays, and political plays.

Between 1957 and 1968, Harold Pinter focused his career as a playwright primarily on comedies of menace. These Pinter plays begin with a situation that appears normal and harmless on the surface; but as the play progresses, the audience realizes that the situation is incongruous. Regardless of the absurdity of the action, the characters still behave in a manner that is difficult for the other characters and the audience to understand. Two of his most well-known plays of this period include The Room and The Birthday Party. The Birthday Party received less than positive reviews and is one of Pinter’s most well-known plays.


After 1968, Pinter became interested in another sort of play in which the individual reflects on events in the past from the present day. This type of play is called a memory play. There are approximately 14 such Pinter plays, including Betrayal and Ashes to Ashes. The characters in these Pinter plays reflect on conflicting thoughts and emotions surrounding a particular event. As with all Pinter plays, the situations are presented in a contrasting humorous and sorrowful manner.

As Pinter became more active on the political scene, he took more of an interest in writing plays based on political situations. These political plays were shorter in length and the focus of his life between 1980 and 2000. Plays, such as The Hothouse and Celebration, centered on themes of social injustice and abuses of political power. His political plays also explored the ideas of oppression and persecution via the conversations between the characters in the play. The discussions remained comedic while exploring critical issues of the abuses inflicted on lesser persons in society by the privileged set.


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