From “Writing for the Theatre,” 1962
“I’m not a theorist. I’m not an authoritative or reliable commentator on the dramatic scene, the social scene, any scene. I write plays, when I can manage it, and that’s all. That’s the sum of it. So I’m speaking with some reluctance, knowing that there are at least twenty-four possible aspects of any single statement, depending on where you’re standing at the time or on what the weather’s like.”
“It took me quite a while to grow used to the fact that critical and public response in the theatre follows a very erratic temperature chart. And the danger for a writer is where he becomes easy prey for the old bugs of apprehension and expectation in this connection. But I think Düsseldorf cleared the air for me. In Düsseldorf about two years ago I took, as is the Continental custom, a bow with a German cast of The Caretaker at the end of the play on the first night. I was at once booed violently by what must have been the finest collection of booers in the world. I thought they were using megaphones, but it was pure mouth. The cast was as dogged as the audience, however, and we took thirty-four curtain calls, all to boos. By the thirty-fourth there were only two people left in the house, still booing. I was strangely warmed by all this, and now, whenever I sense a tremor of the old apprehension or expectation, I remember Düsseldorf, and am cured.”
“I’ve never started a play from any kind of abstract idea or theory and never envisaged my own characters as messengers of death, doom, heaven or the milky way or, in other words, as allegorical representations of any particular force, whatever that may mean.”
“I suggest there can be no hard distinctions between what is real and what is unreal, nor between what is true and what is false. A thing is not necessarily either true or false; it can be both true and false. A character on the stage who can present no convincing argument or information as to his past experience, his present behaviour or his aspirations, nor give a comprehensive analysis of his motives is as legitimate and as worthy of attention as one who, alarmingly, can do all these things. The more acute the experience the less articulate its expression.”
“Language… is a highly ambiguous business. So often, below the word spoken, is the thing known and unspoken. My characters tell me so much and no more, with reference to their experience, their aspirations, their motive, their history. Between my lack of biographical data about them and the ambiguity of what they say lies a territory which is not only worthy of exploration but which it is compulsory to explore. You and I, the characters which grow on a page, most of the time we’re inexpressive, giving little away, unreliable, elusive, evasive, obstructive, unwilling. But it’s out of these attributes that a language arises. A language, I repeat, where under what is said, another thing is being said.”
“We have heard many times that tired, grimy phrase: ‘Failure of communication’… and this phrase has been fixed to my work quite consistently. I believe the contrary. I think that we communicate only too well, in our silence, in what is unsaid, and that what takes place is a continual evasion, desperate rear-guard attempts to keep ourselves to ourselves. Communication is too alarming. To enter into someone else’s life is too frightening. To disclose to tohers the poverty within us is too fearsome a possibility. I am not suggesting that no character in a play can ever say what he in fact means. Not at all. I have found that there invariably does come a moment when this happens, when he says something, perhaps, which he has never said before. And where this happens, what he says is irrevocable, and can never be taken back.”
From “A Conversation [Pause] With Harold Pinter,”
An interview with Mel Gussow
“HP: I must admit that I also tend to get quite exhausted about being this Harold Pinter fellow. This is quite apart from being me. Harold Pinter sits on my damn back.
MG: Who’s Harold Pinter?
HP: He’s not me. He’s someone else’s creation. It’s very curious. Quite often when people shake me warmly by the hand and say they’re pleased to meet me I have very mixed feelings—because I’m not quite sure who it is they think they’re meeting. In fact, who they are meeting at all. I can’t explain it very well. I sometimes feel in others an awful kind of respect which distresses me.
MG: That must be off-putting.
HP: Yes, it is.
MG: What do they expect? A proper phrase or a certain kind of appearance?
HP: Most of them expect me to be a cripple, of course.
MG: A psychological cripple?
HP: No, a physical cripple [laughs].”
“What I’m interested in is emotion which is contained, and I felt very, very deeply. Jesus, I really don’t want to make a categorical statement about this. But, perhaps, it is ultimately inexpressible. Because I think we express our emotions in so many small ways, all over the place—or can’t express them in any other way.”
“In Boston, Elliot Norton, whom I respect as a critic, liked the first act of The Homecoming very much and didn’t like the second act very much. Someone actually said to me, ‘What are you going to do about the second act? Elliot Norton didn’t like it.’ I said, ‘I’m not going to do anything about the second act. The second act is the second act.’”
“Oh, no. These pauses and silences! I’ve been appalled. Occasionally when I’ve run into groups of actors, normally abroad, they say a silence is obviously longer than a pause. Right. O.K., so it is. They’ll say, this is a pause, so we’ll stop. And after the pause we’ll start again. I’m sure this happens all over the place and thank goodness I don’t know anything about it. From my point of view, these are not in any sense a formal kind of arrangement. The pause is a pause becomes of what has just happened in the minds and guts of the characters. They spring out of the text. They’re not formal conveniences or stresses by t part of the body of the action. I’m simply suggesting that if they play it properly they will find that a pause—or whatever the hell it is—is inevitable. And a silence equally means that something has happened to create the impossibility of anyone speaking for a certain amount of time—until they can recover from whatever happened before the silence.”