Harold Pinter Betrayal Essays

Betrayal is a play written by Harold Pinter in 1978. Critically regarded as one of the English playwright's major dramatic works, it features his characteristically economical dialogue, characters' hidden emotions and veiled motivations, and their self-absorbed competitive one-upmanship, face-saving, dishonesty, and (self-)deceptions.[1]

Inspired by Pinter's clandestine extramarital affair with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell, which spanned seven years, from 1962 to 1969,[2] the plot of Betrayal integrates different permutations of betrayal relating to a seven-year affair involving a married couple, Emma and Robert, and Robert's "close friend" Jerry, who is also married, to a woman named Judith. For five years Jerry and Emma carry on their affair without Robert's knowledge, both cuckolding Robert and betraying Judith, until Emma, without telling Jerry she has done so, admits her infidelity to Robert (in effect, betraying Jerry), although she continues their affair. In 1977, four years after exposing the affair (in 1973) and two years after their subsequent break up (in 1975), Emma meets Jerry to tell him that her marriage to Robert is over. She then lies to Jerry in telling him that, "last night", she had to reveal the truth to Robert and that he now knows of the affair. The truth however, is that Robert has known about the affair for the past four years.

Pinter's particular usage of reverse chronology in structuring the plot is innovative: the first scene takes place after the affair has ended, in 1977; the final scene ends when the affair begins, in 1968; and, in between 1977 and 1968, scenes in two pivotal years (1977 and 1973) move forward chronologically.[3] As Roger Ebert observes, in his review of the 1983 film, based on Pinter's own screenplay, "The 'Betrayal' structure strips away all artifice. In this view, the play shows, heartlessly, that the very capacity for love itself is sometimes based on betraying not only other loved ones, but even ourselves." Still, drawing on the frequently commented influence of Proust's 'In Search of Lost Time' and Pinter's work on the 1977 'The Proust Screenplay' on the 1978 'Betrayal,' more emotionally complex interpretations are possible based on a stress on dual motions, one forward in calendar time toward disillusion and one backward toward the redemptive recovery of time, in each work.


London and Venice, from 1968 to 1977 (in reverse chronology).[4]


The years between 1968 and 1977 occur in reverse order; scenes within years 1977 and 1973 move forward.[3]

  • Scene One: Pub. 1977. Spring.
Emma and Jerry meet for the first time in two years. For seven years they had an affair and a secret flat, and Jerry says no-one else knew. Now Emma is having an affair with Casey, an author whose agent is Jerry and whose publisher is Robert, Emma’s husband. Emma says she found out last night that Robert has betrayed her with other women for years, and admits she revealed her affair with Jerry.
  • Scene Two: Jerry's House. Later the same day.
Jerry meets Robert to talk about the affair. Robert reveals that in fact he learned about it four years ago. Since then their friendship has continued, albeit without playing squash.
  • Scene Three: Flat. 1975. Winter.
It is the end of Jerry and Emma’s affair. They rarely meet, and Emma’s hopes that the flat would be a different kind of home are unfulfilled. They agree to give it up.
  • Scene Four: Robert and Emma's House. Living room. 1974. Autumn.
Jerry visits Robert and Emma at home. He reveals that Casey has left his wife and is living nearby. Jerry and Robert plan to play squash, but Jerry reveals that first he is visiting New York with Casey.
  • Scene Five: Hotel Room. 1973. Summer.
Robert and Emma are on holiday, intending to visit Torcello tomorrow. Emma is reading a book by Spinks, another author whose agent is Jerry. Robert says he refused to publish it because there is not much more to say about betrayal. Robert has discovered that Emma has received a private letter from Jerry. Emma admits they are having an affair.
  • Scene Six: Flat. 1973. Summer.
Emma has returned from the holiday with Robert in Venice. She has bought a tablecloth for the flat. Jerry reveals that despite the affair he continues to lunch with Robert.
  • Scene Seven: Restaurant. 1973. Summer.
Robert gets drunk over lunch with Jerry. He says he hates modern novels, and that he went to Torcello on his own and read Yeats.
  • Scene Eight: Flat. 1971. Summer.
Emma wants to know whether Jerry’s wife suspects his affair, and announces that while Jerry was in America she became pregnant with Robert’s child.
  • Scene Nine: Robert and Emma's House. Bedroom. 1968. Winter.
During a party Jerry surprises Emma in her bedroom and declares his love for her. He tells Robert he is his oldest friend as well as his best man.


In 1977 Emma is 38, Jerry and Robert are 40. (n. pag. [7])



Betrayal was first produced by the National Theatre in London on 15 June 1978. The original cast featured Penelope Wilton as Emma, Michael Gambon as Jerry, Daniel Massey as Robert, and Artro Morris as the waiter; Wilton and Massey were married at the time. It was designed by John Bury and directed by Peter Hall.

In 1991, Betrayal ran at the Almeida Theatre directed by David Leveaux with Bill Nighy playing Jerry, Martin Shaw playing Robert and Cheryl Campbell playing Emma. The play was revived in the Lyttleton at the National Theatre in November 1998, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Douglas Hodge, Imogen Stubbs, and Anthony Calf. In 2007, Roger Michell staged a revival of Betrayal at the Donmar Warehouse theatre starring Toby Stephens as Jerry, Samuel West as Robert, and Dervla Kirwan as Emma. Pinter reportedly lunched with the actors, attended an early "readthrough" and provided some advice, which, according to Stephens, included the instruction to ignore some of Pinter's famous pauses (Lawson). In 2011, a new West End production at the Comedy Theatre, directed by Ian Rickson, starred Kristin Scott Thomas, Douglas Henshall, and Ben Miles.


Betrayal was revived at The Crucible Theatre, Sheffield – from 17 May 2012 to 9 June 2012[5] – as the climax of Sheffield Crucible's 40th anniversary season. It starred John Simm as Jerry, Ruth Gemmell as Emma, Colin Tierney as Robert and Thomas Tinker as the waiter.[6]

New York[edit]

The play had its American premiere on Broadway on 5 January 1980 at the Trafalgar Theatre where it ran for 170 performances until its close on 31 May 1980. The show was directed by Peter Hall, designed by John Bury, production stage manager Marnel Sumner, stage manager Ian Thomson, press by Seymour Krawitz and Patricia McLean Krawitz. It opened with Raul Julia as Jerry, Blythe Danner as Emma, Roy Scheider as Robert, Ian Thomson as Barman, and Ernesto Gasco as Waiter.

A 2000 Broadway revival was staged at the American Airlines Theatre with Juliette Binoche, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery. A 2013 revival starring Daniel Craig as Robert, his real-life wife Rachel Weisz as Emma, and Rafe Spall as Jerry opened on 27 October at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, and set the Broadway record for highest weekly gross the week ending 19 December 2013.[7][8]


David Berthold directed a production of Betrayal, designed by Peter England, at the Sydney Theatre Company, from 10 March through 17 April 1999; it starred Paul Goddard, Robert Menzies, and Angie Milliken.[9]

In 2015 State Theatre Company of South Australia and Melbourne Theatre Company will stage a production of "Betrayal" directed by Geordie Brookman and starring Alison Bell. The production will run from 26 August-3 October at Southbank Theatre, The Sumner.

Hong Kong[edit]

In 2004, Theatre de R&D staged Betrayal's Cantonese version as the first production of this theatrical group. With the script translated to Chinese by Lucretia Ho, this production was directed by Yankov Wong, starring Lucretie Ho as Emma, Johnny Tan as Jerry, Karl Lee as Robert, and Kenneth Cheung as the Waiter.

A reader's theatre format of Betrayal was produced by the Hong Kong Repertory Theatre and directed by Yankov Wong on 6 March 2010.

In September 2010, theatrical group We Draman put the show on stage with a translated script by Cancer Chong, featuring renowned stage actress Alice Lau as Emma.


In 2009 Italian actor and director Andrea Renzi brought the play to life in Italy. Famed Italian actress Nicoletta Braschi stars as Emma. Tony Laudadio plays the character of Robert. Enrico Ianniello plays the part of Jerry. Nicola Marchi plays the part of a waiter. The play has been very successful and has been touring in Italy for over two years and will return again in early 2012 with the same cast.


Staged in 2011 in Teatro Español, with Alberto San Juan, Cecilia Solaguren & Will Keen.

Buenos Aires[edit]

In 2013 director Ciro Zorzoli staged the play in Picadero theatre. The characters were played by Paola Krum (Emma), Daniel Hendler (Jerry), Diego Velázquez (Robert) and Gabriel Urbani (Waiter).


Translated by Haluk Bilginer in Turkish and for the first time in Turkey in 1990-1991 season, it was staged at Taksim Theatre (tr) as the production of Theater Studio by Ahmet Levendoğlu.

It was staged by Nilüfer Sanat Theater during 2007-2008 season.

In the 2016-2017 season, it was started to be staged by the management of Ahmet Levendoğlu again at IMM City Theaters. The characters were played by Şebnem Köstem (Emma), Gökçer Genç (Jerry), Burak Davutoğlu (Robert) and Direnç Dedeoğlu (Waiter).


Main article: Betrayal (1983 film)

Pinter adapted Betrayal as a screenplay for the 1983 film directed by David Jones, starring Jeremy Irons (Jerry), Ben Kingsley (Robert), and Patricia Hodge (Emma).

Autobiographical inspiration[edit]

Main article: Harold Pinter § Marriage and family life

Betrayal was inspired by Pinter's seven-year affair with television presenter Joan Bakewell, who was married to the producer and director Michael Bakewell, while Pinter was married to actress Vivien Merchant.[10][11] The affair was known in some circles; when Betrayal premiered in 1978, Lord Longford (father of Antonia Fraser), who was in the audience, commented that Emma appeared to be based on Joan Bakewell;[12] but the affair only became public knowledge after it was confirmed by Pinter in Michael Billington's 1996 authorised biography,[10] and further confirmed in Joan Bakewell's later memoir The Centre of the Bed.[11]

Pinter wrote the play while engaged in another long-running affair, this time with Antonia Fraser, which became a marriage in 1980 after he divorced Merchant. However, Pinter explained to Billington that although he wrote the play while "otherwise engaged" with Fraser, the details were based on his relationship with Bakewell.[13]

Cultural allusions[edit]

"The Betrayal" (1997), episode 8 of the 9th (final) season of the NBC Television series Seinfeld (Sony Pictures), alludes overtly to Pinter's play and film Betrayal, which appears to have inspired it. Apart from the title, "The Betrayal", and the name of one-off character Pinter Ranawat who appears in the episode, the episode is structured and runs in reverse chronological order and also features love triangles as one of its central themes. According to Kent Yoder, all of these allusions were deliberate.[14]

Awards and nominations[edit]


  1. ^Billington 257–67; cf. performance review by Bryden 204–06 and review essay by Merritt 192–99; see also film reviews by Canby and Ebert.
  2. ^Billington 257–58, 264–67; cf. the memoir by Bakewell, which includes two chapters on her relationship and affair with Pinter.
  3. ^ abFor an analysis of the plot structure, see Quigley 230–31.
  4. ^Pinter specifies the location in the stage directions describing each scene, as given in the plot summary. According to his initialed note on the same page, "Betrayal can be performed without an interval, or with an interval after Scene Four" (n. pag. [7]).
  5. ^http://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/event/betrayal-12/
  6. ^http://www.whatsonstage.com/news/theatre/london/E8831331905797/Aubrey+&+Tierney+join+John+Simm+in+Sheffield+Betrayal.html
  7. ^"Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 September 2013. Retrieved 2013-08-30. 
  8. ^http://www.deadline.com/2013/12/mike-nichols-betrayal-revival-with-daniel-craig-and-rachel-weisz-sets-broadway-weekly-gross-record/
  9. ^"Betrayal: Sydney Theatre Company, Australia, 10 March – 17 April 1999", HaroldPinter.org, Harold Pinter, 2000–[2009]. 7 February 2009.
  10. ^ abMichael Billington, Harold Pinter, rev. and expanded ed. (1996; London: Faber and Faber, 2007) 264–67.
  11. ^ abJoan Bakewell, The Centre of the Bed (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003). ISBN 0-340-82310-0. (Two chapters deal with the relationship and affair with Pinter.)
  12. ^An affair to remember, Daily Telegraph, 7 October 2003
  13. ^(Billington 264–67)
  14. ^The Betrayal – Seinfeld Episode Guide, StanTheCaddy.com. Retrieved 7 April 2011

Works cited[edit]

Further information: Bibliography for Harold Pinter

"The Betrayal". Episode Guide for Seinfeld. Sony Pictures, 2009. World Wide Web. 11 March 2009. (Includes a video clip.)

Bakewell, Joan. The Centre of the Bed. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003. ISBN 0-340-82310-0 (10). ISBN 978-0-340-82310-1 (13). Print.

Billington, Michael. Harold Pinter. Rev. and expanded ed. 1996. London: Faber and Faber, 2007. Print.

Bryden, Mary. Rev. of Betrayal (One from the Heart at The Camberley Theatre, February 2002). 204–06 in "The Caretaker and Betrayal. The Pinter Review: Collected Essays 2003 and 2004. Ed. Francis Gillen and Steven H. Gale. Tampa: U of Tampa P, 2004. 202–06. ISBN 1-879852-17-9 (10). ISBN 978-1-879852-17-4 (13). Print.

Canby, Vincent. "Movie Review: Betrayal (1983): Pinter's 'Betrayal,' Directed by David Jones". New York Times, Movies. New York Times Company, 20 February 1983. Web. 11 March 2009.

Ebert, Roger. "Movies: 'Betrayal' ". Chicago Sun-Times 18 March 1983. RogerEbert.com, 2009. Web. 11 March 2009.

Lawson, Mark. "Prodigal Son". Guardian.co.uk. Guardian Media Group, 31 May 2007. Web. 11 March 2009.

Merritt, Susan Hollis. "Betrayal in Denver" (Denver Center Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Arts, Denver, CO. 29 May 2002). The Pinter Review: Collected Essays 2003 and 2004. Ed. Francis Gillen and Steven H. Gale. Tampa: U of Tampa P, 2004. 187–201. ISBN 1-879852-17-9 (10). ISBN 978-1-879852-17-4 (13). Print.

Pinter, Harold. Betrayal. 1978. New York: Grove Press, 1979. ISBN 0-394-50525-5 (10). ISBN 978-0-394-50525-1 (13). ISBN 0-394-17084-9 (10). ISBN 978-0-394-17084-8 (13). Print. (Parenthetical references in the text are to this edition, ISBN 0-394-17084-9. Pinter indicates pauses by three spaced dots of ellipsis; editorial ellipses herein are unspaced and within brackets.)

Quigley, Austin E.. "Pinter: Betrayal". Chapter 11 of The Modern Stage and Other Worlds. New York: Methuen, 1985. 221–52. ISBN 0-416-39320-9 (10). ISBN 978-0-416-39320-0 (13). Print. Chapter 11: "Pinter: Betrayal" in Limited preview at Google Books (omits some pages). Web. 11 March 2009.

External links[edit]

Further information: Harold Pinter § External links

Having rubbished Harold Pinter's Betrayal on its appearance in 1978, I seem to have spent much of my life discovering its complexities. Each production yields fresh insights. And, watching Ian Rickson's beautifully lucid and perceptive revival, I became aware how much the play deals with the shifting balance of power in triangular relationships, and with the pain of loss.

It is acknowledged that, by using reverse chronology to chart a seven-year-long affair, Pinter probes the corrosive nature of betrayal. Emma and Jerry, the married lovers, have palpably betrayed both their partners. Robert, Emma's husband, has also betrayed Jerry, his closest friend, by not revealing to him his discovery of the affair. And since Jerry and Robert, respectively an agent and publisher, treat literature as a commodity, they can both be said to have betrayed the idealism that in their youth led them to worship poetry, that of Yeats especially, for its aesthetic joy.

All this is established. What Rickson brings out is the heartache beneath the multiple infidelities. In the poignant scene where Emma and Jerry part in the Kilburn flat that has been their secret love-nest, there is a cold sadness to Kristin Scott Thomas as Emma, and a defeated solitude to Douglas Henshall as Jerry. Yet when their fingers lightly touch, you sense the weight of their emotional past and their awareness of what is sacrificed.

This ability to pin down the terminal moment in a relationship is even more evident in the pivotal scene in a Venetian hotel where Robert learns of his wife's affair. It is beautifully written, in that her guilt confronts his seeming insouciance. Here it acquires extra resonance in that Ben Miles's Robert first hurls a bed-cover at Emma's head, and then, as she looks pleadingly at him, leans across to wipe her tears. Far from being sentimental, it is symbolic of the moment when their union ends and becomes a thing of social custom.

Rickson's production gives Pinter's play an extra layer of emotional and physical reality: even the bridges between scenes, as Jeremy Herbert's ingenious set unfolds, are informative, so that we see Jerry clutching the crucial letter that will end up in the Venice post office. But there is also revelation in the excellent performances: the major discovery to me was Miles's Robert. Looking extraordinarily like the young Pinter with his long sideburns and accosting profile, he shows Robert as a man who conceals his emotional hurt under a sardonic mask and relishes his power over the unaware Jerry.

Henshall reinforces this impression by playing Jerry as a man who proceeds through life in a state of jittery ignorance; he invests the character with the guilelessness of a man who seems oblivious, even to the fact that his own wife may be having an affair. Scott Thomas uses her wonderfully expressive features to indicate all the calibrated shifts in Emma's character, in some ways, the toughest of the three; and, in the opening scene, she registers the radiant assurance of the survivor.

In a telltale gesture that pre-empts the moment of parting we see later, she slowly withdraws her hand from Jerry's tender touch. That is a measure of the infinite subtlety of a production which anchors Pinter's elegant theatrical construct in a world of emotional truth.

Those who know the play well will find new meanings in this revival; and those who don't will be ushered into a world where pain and loss are explored with poetic precision.

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