We study the record of star formation activity within the dense cluster associated with the Orion Nebula. The bolometric luminosity function of 900 visible members is well matched by a simplified theoretical model for cluster formation. This model assumes that stars are produced at a constant rate and distributed according to the field-star initial mass function. Our best-fit age for the system, within this framework, is 2x106 yr. To undertake a more detailed analysis, we present a new set of theoretical pre-main-sequence tracks. These cover all masses from 0.1 to 6.0 M☉, and start from a realistic stellar birthline. The tracks end along a zero-age main-sequence that is in excellent agreement with the empirical one. As a further aid to cluster studies, we offer an heuristic procedure for the correction of pre-main-sequence luminosities and ages to account for the effects of unresolved binary companions. The Orion Nebula stars fall neatly between our birthline and zero-age main-sequence in the H-R diagram. All those more massive than about 8 M☉ lie close to the main sequence, as also predicted by theory. After accounting for the finite sensitivity of the underlying observations, we confirm that the population between 0.4 and 6.0 M☉ roughly follows a standard initial mass function. We see no evidence for a turnover at lower masses. We next use our tracks to compile stellar ages, also between 0.4 and 6.0 M☉. Our age histogram reveals that star formation began at a low level some 107 yr ago and has gradually accelerated to the present epoch. The period of most active formation is indeed confined to a fewx106 yr, and has recently ended with gas dispersal from the Trapezium. We argue that the acceleration in stellar births, which extends over a wide range in mass, reflects the gravitational contraction of the parent cloud spawning this cluster.