The Pinter Ethic: The Erotic Aesthetic

The Pinter Ethic: The Erotic Aesthetic

The Pinter Ethic: The Erotic Aesthetic

The Pinter Ethic: The Erotic Aesthetic


The only comprehensive guide to the plays of one of the world's greatest yet most puzzling contemporary dramatists, The Pinter Ethic penetrates the mystery of Harold Pinter's work and offers compelling and authoritative insights on the primal power of his drama. With remarkable clarity, Penelope Prentice's close reading of Pinter's work untangles the multiple ambiguities, complex conflicts and contradictory actions which continue to baffle, bewilder, and confound critics and audiences. She reveals that Pinter's plays reflect not a vision of postmodern hopelessness in a world threatening to self-destruct, but provoke choice and action that enlarge the concept of love and link it to justice. Offering a definitive analysis of Pinter's work -- from his early poetry, fiction, interviews, essays and novel The Dwarfs to his most recent play Celebration -- Prentice demonstrates why Pinter's work can only be communicated through drama where attitude and intention may count for little, but where action is all.


The German art critic Anton Ehrenzweig said that the function of art is to delight and to disturb. How else than by delighting does a play hold an audience or continue to live? How other than by disturbing does it move an audience to confront unexamined received values or to act on them? I was stunned when I first saw The Birthday Party in the 1960s at the Jane Addams’ Hull House Chicago premiere. I knew I had seen a play that changed the course of twentieth-century drama, and I wanted to find out why. the new physics with its fractal geometry would have to intervene to provide the metaphor that would adequately describe the remarkable structure which conveys the vision in Harold Pinter’s plays. But that evening in the theatre changed my life.

When, for his 60th birthday in 1990, I received from Harold Pinter a copy of his novel The Dwarfs, written in his early 20s but published for the first time that year, I realized that he knew from the beginning what he was attempting aesthetically and ethically. The Printer Ethic aims to describe that aesthetic and ethic at the core of his work: the values and the vision in his plays.

W.H. Auden once said that among those he likes he can find no comparison, but among those he loves they all make him laugh. Not the least of my attraction to Pinter’s work is that it makes me laugh—often. I had been raised in a comic tradition, hearing George Bernard Shaw at my mother’s knee, and from my father, philosophy, particularly Bertrand Russell, and history—I remember best the Borgias. I read Freud beginning at ten, primarily for his emphasis on sex, and clearly the erotic undertones in Pinter’s plays remain a portion of my attraction to his work.

That first night watching The Birthday Party I was both more delighted and deeply disturbed than I had ever remembered being in the theatre. I had seen something more real and simply funnier than anything else I had seen on stage. But I also knew my laughter was provoked by something original: fearful, more immediate, and of our time.

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