Leading article: Pause for applause

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The Independent Online

No one could doubt Harold Pinter's credentials for this year's $1.3m prize. His status as Britain's premier playwright, the "Grand Old Man of the Theatre" indeed (although he'd hate to be thought so), is undoubted. His works arouse fierce debate, both for and against. And, rarely for an English artist, he has become a public political figure as well. Not since George Bernard Shaw has a British playwright been so famous, and so reviled, for his stances on war, America, the bomb and liberty.

To the popular press this has sometimes made him an object of particular vitriol. For an artist to take political stances is to torment the rhinoceros of common complacency. To call Tony Blair a "deluded idiot" and President George Bush a "mass murderer" is regarded as going beyond the bounds of erudite, considered contemplation that are supposed, in the British eye at any rate, to be the hallmarks of a mature author.

Add to that the fact that Harold Pinter is a modernist, capturing the elusive in relationships and the meanings of pauses, and it is easy to see why he has never become the public treasure that other more popular writers have. His plays are there to tease and at times torture, not to reassure, to reveal by elaborating the disguise, not to confront directly.

Within the theatre his importance is unquestioned, however. His plays - The Birthday Party, The Caretaker, The Homecoming and Betrayal - have become part of the staple diet of the theatre in England. And around the world, where his spare prose and dramatic sense of dialogue are justly appreciated. There can be few British writers working today who have given birth to an adjective, "Pinteresque", and evolved a style that has made his name famous even amongst those who would never dream of going to his plays. If to be plagiarised is the mark of a good writer, then to be parodied may well be the measure of a great one.

At 75 Pinter has said he has written his last play. Which is our loss. He has equally indicated every determination to develop his first love, poetry, as much as a means of continuing his political blasts as to develop his style. So we can expect plenty more fireworks from the old devil yet. Quite appropriate for a prize founded by an explosives manufacturer.