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STOCKHOLM, Sweden - British playwright and poet Harold Pinter, who juxtaposed the brutal and the banal in such plays as "The Room" and "The Birthday Party" and made an art form out of spare language and unbearable silence, won the 2005 Nobel Prize in literature Thursday.

The Swedish Academy, in awarding the prize, said he was an author "who in his plays uncovers the precipice under everyday prattle and forces entry into oppression's closed rooms."

In London, Pinter told reporters he was overwhelmed.

"I had absolutely no idea. I didn't know until 11:45 this morning. I was speechless," he said. "I have to stop being speechless when I get to Stockholm."

In its citation, the academy said the playwright - whose works also include "The Dumb Waiter" and his breakthrough work, "The Caretaker" - was a writer who returned theater to its bare-bones form.

"Pinter restored theater to its basic elements: an enclosed space and unpredictable dialogue where people are at the mercy of each other and pretense crumbles," the academy said.

Pinter, who turned 75 on Monday, is the first Briton to win the literature award since V.S. Naipaul won in 2001, and is the 11th playwright to win since the prize was first handed out in 1901, the academy said.

The son of a Jewish dressmaker, Pinter was born in London. Pinter has said his encounters with anti-Semitism in his youth influenced him in becoming a dramatist.

Dubbed the most influential British playwright of his generation, in recent years he has turned his acerbic eye toward the United States and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In 1999, he spoke out against the NATO bombing of Serbia.

He has been an outspoken critic of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and vehemently opposed Britain's involvement in the Iraq war. In March 2005 Pinter announced his retirement as a playwright to concentrate on politics. But he created a radio play, "Voices," that was broadcast on BBC radio to mark his 75th birthday.

"My energies are going in different directions, certainly into poetry," he said in an interview with the BBC this year. "But also, as I think you know, over the last few years I've made a number of political speeches at various locations and ceremonies."

"I'm using a lot of energy more specifically about political states of affairs, which I think are very, very worrying as things stand."

In 2003, Pinter published a volume of anti-war poetry about the Iraq conflict, and in 2004 he joined a group of celebrity campaigners calling for Blair to be impeached.

Most prolific between 1957 and 1965, Pinter relished the juxtaposition of brutality and the banal and turned the conversational pause into an emotional minefield.

Dark and peopled with unfortunates, Pinter's idiom was so distinctive that he got his own adjective: "Pinteresque."

Usually enclosed in one room, they organize their lives as a sort of grim game and their actions often contradict their words. Gradually, the layers are peeled back to reveal the characters' nakedness.

"There is a lurking fear in them that manifests itself gradually as the plot rolls on," Engdahl said. "But at the same time it really is a comedy, in that he writes for an audience that will be entertained. He really knows how to capture a theater audience."

"Within theater, he is one of the two or three most important writers during the second half of the 20th century," he said. "He has had an immeasurable influence on the dramatic form."

Pinter has also written for the cinema, penning screenplays for "The French Lieutenant's Woman," "The Accident," "The Servant" and "The Go-Between."

Engdahl said he did not expect controversy over the choice of Pinter. "I think he is unassailable from a literary point of view," Engdahl said, referring to Pinter's body of work. "On the other hand, there may be some people who think he's too established."

The academy, founded in 1786 by King Gustav III to advance the Swedish language and its literature, has handed out the literature prize since 1901.