These are Harold Pinter’s drafts for The Homecoming which he produced circa 1964. Comprising handwritten early sketches and later typed pages with Pinter’s handwritten revisions, they show different stages of a work in progress. In the earlier drafts characters are represented by letters of the alphabet, or numbers, while in later examples Pinter uses full names.

The play is widely considered Pinter’s masterpiece. He elevates the language of everyday speech to a form of dramatic poetry and captures the power of the unspoken, resulting in a perfectly sculpted stage event in which every word, gesture and pause is significant.

What happens in The Homecoming?

In The Homecoming Teddy, an academic now living in America, has returned to his north London home with his wife, Ruth, whom he married secretly some years previously. She instantly becomes an object of fascination in this all-male household which has an obsession with power and an edgy ambivalence towards women. The mother, Jessie, is dead and the father, Max, a brutal ex-butcher, lives with his two sons – Lenny, a pimp, and Joey, a boxer – and his brother, Sam, a chauffeur. As the action unfolds, Ruth decides not to return to America with her husband, instead staying in the house with her new in-laws with whom she negotiates a deal to ‘earn her keep’ as a high-class prostitute (see f. 43r).

What do these excerpts reveal?

These excerpts show Pinter experimenting with language, structure and characterisation as he works towards the tightly constructed final text of the play. For instance, Max’s hatred of his father is made explicit with Pinter’s handwritten additions, ‘my old man caused me nothing but disgust’, and ‘the toerag’ (f. 54r). In a later draft of the same speech, Pinter inserts (but later crosses out) ‘a snot cloth’, ‘The bastard’, and ‘you’re the same kind of shit’ (f. 9r). All of these phrases are absent from the final, stripped-down version of the speech.

In an early version of the Ruth-Teddy relationship Teddy (‘A’) is anxious and cloying towards Ruth (‘B’), calling her ‘my sweetheart’ (f. 16r), and asking ‘why do you never kiss me? … Why do you never emrace [sic] me, fling your arms around me?’ (f. 17r). Teddy’s patronising tone is more restrained in the final text.

Pinter reworks and refines characters’ identities and histories: in an early draft the thuggish friend from Max’s youth is called ‘Berkowitz’ (f. 51r), but the name ‘MacGregor’ jotted in the margin suggests Pinter will reject a Jewish identity for this character. Lenny had been, in an early draft, a sailor (f. 19r) – this specific detail about his past is later removed.

The drafts also show Pinter’s development of the relationship between character and environment. He expands Max’s speech about the living room with ‘It isn’t even a room. It’s just an open space […] If your mother was alive it would kill her’ (f. 14r), but leaves this out of the more nuanced final version.

How has The Homecoming been interpreted?

Since its premiere in 1965, The Homecoming has been read from many angles. The fact that Pinter does not moralise or resolve situations explains the play’s enduring mystery and power among critics, theatre practitioners and audiences.

Director Peter Hall thought The Homecoming looked ‘unblinkingly at life in the human jungle’,[1] and many commentators see it as a study of human animals fighting over territory. Whether Ruth achieves independence and power at the end of the play – or subjugates herself to a group of violent men – has prompted furious debate.

[1] A Casebook on Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming, ed. by  John Lahr and Anthea Lahr (London: Davis-Poynter, 1974), p. 9.