on May 24, 1855, in London, to Portuguese parents, Arthur Wing
Pinero studied law before turning to the theatre at the age of
19 to pursue a career as an actor. He served a five year apprenticeship
with Sir Henry Irving's company, during which time he took up
writing. His first major success, The Magistrate (1885),
is a farce about a woman named Agatha who has lied about her
age in order to marry her second husband, the honest magistrate,
Mr. Poskett. Not only has she shaved five years off her own age,
but she has also shaved five years off the age of a son from
her first marriage, making him fourteen instead of nineteen.
The fact that the young lad has taken to flirting, drinking,
and gambling, of course, complicates matters and makes for an
But Pinero was not happy writing only farces. One of his early
attempts at tragedy was The Profligate (1887) in which
a man takes poison after he realizes that his marriage has failed.
Unfortunately for Pinero, the public was not ready for such a
gloomy ending, and he was forced to rewrite it, resulting in
a much happier outcome. In the years that followed, however,
English theatre-goers were exposed to the likes of social dramatists
such as Henrik Ibsen and George
Bernard Shaw. Feeling that the public was now ready to receive
his tragic offerings, Pinero composed The Second Mrs. Tanqueray
(1893), the tragic story of a "woman with a past" who
tries to make herself into a "respectable" member of
society. Although the play raised protests from conservatives
because of its subject matter, it scored a box-office hit and
brought Pinero the recognition he desired as a serious social
dramatist. Shaw, however, labeled him as "a humble and somewhat
belated follower of the novelists of the middle of the nineteenth
century," and although his tragedies did help to pave the
way for "social" drama, they have since come to be
considered second-rate by most critics. His farces, however,
are still widely appreciated.
Pinero continued to write plays for the rest of his life,
but after 1910, his popularity began to decline. Other plays
include The Schoolmistress (1886), Dandy Dick (1887),
Sweet Lavender (1888), The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith
(1895), Trelawny of the Wells (1898), The Gay Lord
Quex (1899), Iris (1901), and Mid-Channel (1909).
He died on November 23, 1934, in London.
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