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Harold Pinter's 'Betrayal'

SCOTT SIMON, host:

Some people retire with a gold watch and a send-off party at a local pub. On Thursday, the recently retired Harold Pinter was awarded the 2005 Nobel Prize for literature. Now he can afford any watch he wants. The Nobel Prize carries a cash reward of $1.3 million.

He's 75 years old, has always lived in London, and before he left the stage last year Harold Pinter wrote 29 plays, intricate stories about complex characters laid out in sparse and unpredictable dialogue. Mr. Pinter's also written novels, screenplays and poetry. His recent poem, "The Special Relationship," criticizes the war in Iraq.

Mr. Pinter's dramatic work makes the most of silence. Long, tense pauses between his characters became a technique and a trademark of his plays, often making audiences squirm and wonder what people do not, and perhaps cannot, say to one another. In this performance of his play "Betrayal" written in 1978 Mr. Pinter himself plays the role of Robert, a literary agent who discovers that his wife and best friend have been keeping a secret.

(Soundbite of "Betrayal")

Unidentified Woman: (Robert's Wife) We're lovers.

Mr. HAROLD PINTER: (As Robert): Ah, yes. I thought it might be something like that. Something along those lines.

Unidentified Woman: When?

Mr. PINTER: What?

Unidentified Woman: When did you think?

Mr. PINTER: Well, yesterday, early yesterday, when I saw his handwriting on the letter. Before yesterday I was quite ignorant.

Unidentified Woman: Ah, I'm sorry.

Mr. PINTER: Sorry. Where does it take place? Must be a bit awkward. I mean, we've got two kids. He's got two kids, not to mention a wife.

Unidentified Woman: We have a flat.

Mr. PINTER: Ah, I see. Nice? A flat? It's quite well-established, then, your--um, affair?

Unidentified Woman: Yes.

Mr. PINTER: How long?

Unidentified Woman: Some time.

Mr. PINTER: Yes, but how long exactly?

Unidentified Woman: Five years.

Mr. PINTER: Five years.

SIMON: Harold Pinter acting in a 1990 BBC radio production of his play "Betrayal." We now honor Harold Pinter, the 2005 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature and the master of silence: the pause.

Twenty-two minutes before the hour. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.