5 Dollars

My life as an at-home momma of 3 amazing kids...it's kind of like shoveling snow in a blizzard.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

A Pinter Pause

Playwright Harold Pinter turned 75 earlier this week. Today he won the Nobel Prize in literature.

Wow. I feel like I've been teleported back to my days at Ball State. Pinter's work will always hold a special place in my heart. The playwright was a favorite of one of our professors, Dr. Al English. I worked on a production of "The Homecoming" that he directed. During that production I got to know Liane, who would become my best friend and roommate, and Matt, who would later become my husband. I also got to work with some of the most talented performers in the department.

The phrase "a Pinter pause" came into my vocabulary during that show. Pinter is known for use of unbearable silence, with many meticulously considered and immensely significant pauses written into his scripts. Those pauses are an important part of what is happening onstage and must be explored by the actors. In Pinter's work, what the characters don't say is just as important as the words that do pass their lips. Pinter actually writes silence. When played correctly, Pinter's pauses can be as eloquent as his dialogue.

There are three different kinds of pauses in Pinter's scripts. Three Dots is the shortest: a pressure point, a search for the right word, a moment of incoherence. A Pause is a longer interruption of action during which the lack of speech and presence of non-verbal tension becomes something almost like speech itself. The third type, a Silence is the longest. It may be a crisis point from which the character emerges completely changed. When the performer embraces these moments in the script and fully explores them, it can make for some amazing and intense theatre.

What I learned from Pinter and from Dr. English about the significance of silence onstage I took with me to apply to many other dramatic productions that I worked on or enjoyed attending since then. So today, as Pinter is honored for his life's work, I'll take a Pinter pause of my own to honor his genius. (And yes, I'll also take a moment to reminisce about the good times I had in college.)


  • At 10:41 PM, March 25, 2007 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks for explaining. I heard the phrase in a Loudon Wainwright song and thought it might have to do with Harold Pinter, but wasn't sure. Thanks again!

  • At 6:18 AM, January 07, 2009 , Blogger Christy said...

    I'm always amazed when discussions on the use of silence in theater omit Marguerite Duras' India Song, which was a movie, book and play. Also finessed is the fact that space-time was a pre-occupation of all the brilliant writers of the last century: Stein and Wolfe especially. And in poetry at the turn of the last century: Mallarme. And in music, who could forget the influence of John Cage. The list goes on. Great sins of omission.

    Space-time considerations were greatly influenced by theoretical physics. I miss depth. Instead, we have the cult of personality and the continued elimination of women from the history of literature.

  • At 2:17 PM, October 22, 2010 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I was just reading an article in the NY Times and had no idea what a Pinter pause was... I do now! Thank you for the thorough explanation! :)

    Have a great day!

  • At 9:17 AM, April 27, 2011 , Anonymous PhilC said...

    I am studying at university in England and was well aware of the infamous pinter pause...(slight pause) lol... but its a very interesting feature of his writing as these pauses allow also for a moment of realisation from the audience and also allows time for them to digest the oncoming text and dialogue...

    Really good atricle, keep Pinter alive now he has passed!

    Phil, Manchester UK.


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