Pinter is renowned for his exploration of domination and submission, threat and injustice in his over 30 plays, and his increasingly vocal political activism.
The laureate “uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression’s closed rooms”, the Nobel Prize jury said.
Pinter, who began his career as an actor, restored theatre to its basic elements, an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue, “where people are at the mercy of each other and pretence crumbles”, it said.
“In a typical Pinter play, we meet people defending themselves against intrusion of their own impulses by entrenching themselves in a reduced and controlled existence,” the jury said.
Another theme is the volatility and elusiveness of the past.
He is even credited with an adjective, Pinteresque, which is used to describe a particular atmosphere and environment in drama.
Pinter, who has just turned 75, was born in the London borough of Hackney, the son of a Jewish dressmaker.
During his youth he experienced anti-Semitism, which he said had been important in his decision to become a dramatist.
The jury, which awarded Pinter the prize on the Jewish Yom Kippur holiday, said the experience of wartime bombing also never lost its hold on him.
He made his playwriting debut in 1957, with “The Room”.
His major breakthrough came with “The Caretaker” in 1959, followed by “The Homecoming” in 1964.
Enigmatic but coherent, Pinter was notoriously reluctant to explain the inner workings of his plays even to his actors.
“Mind your own business. Just say the words,” was a typical rejoinder to a request for illumination.
He wrote screenplays for successful movies, including “The French
Lieutenant’s Woman” starring Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons in 1981, for which he was nominated for an Oscar.
His work for television is prolific and includes “Betrayal”, starring
Jeremy Irons and Ben Kingsley, which recounts a woman’s extramarital affair with her husband’s best friend.
Pinter has over the years become increasingly involved in politics. He was outraged by the US-backed coup against the Salvador Allende government in Chile in 1973, and was a vocal critic of the late US president Ronald Reagan and Britain’s former prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
More recently, he opposed the US-led war in Iraq and the preceding sanctions, protested against the treatment of Kurds by Turkey, railed against the bombing of Kosovo and has spoken out against torture.
In a 2003 poem called God Bless America, Pinter wrote: “Here they go again, The Yanks in their armoured parade, Chanting their ballads of joy, As they gallop across the big world, Praising America’s God.”
Pinter’s reaction to winning the prize was not fit to print, said the head of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, who telephoned the playwright to give him the news.
“He was very moved and had a hard time saying anything. Nothing that he said is quotable, it was so totally unexpected for him. He was too delighted, one could say,” he told the Swedish news agency TT.
He was seen as a possibility for this year’s prize but not a favourite, and will now take home A$1.7 million on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Nobel prize founder Alfred
Last year, the honour went to controversial Austrian writer Elfriede
The Literature Prize was the last of the six coveted awards to be handed out this month.