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Betrayal is a play written by 2005 Nobel Laureate 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.

Inspired by Pinter's clandestine extramarital affair with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell, which occurred for seven years, from 1962 to 1969, the plot of Betrayal exposes different permutations of betrayal and kinds of betrayals occurring over a period of nine years, 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 with Jerry to tell him that her marriage to Robert is over and only then reveals 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. As Roger Ebert observes, in his review of the 1983 film, based on Pinter's own screenplay, "The 'Betrayal' structure strips away all artifice. It shows, heartlessly, that the very capacity for love itself is sometimes based on betraying not only other loved ones, but even ourselves."


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


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

  • Scene One: Pub. 1977. Spring. Noon
Emma and Jerry meet in a pub for a drink. She tells Jerry that, the night before, she has told her husband, Robert, about their affair, which subsequent scenes reveal occurred from 1968 to 1975. They reminisce about past memories and exchange news of their families, particularly Emma and Robert's daughter Charlotte, with Emma remembering "that time . . . oh god it was . . . when you picked her up and threw her up and caught her" (19) though they disagree about where it happened, in whose "kitchen" it occurred (20). She admits that, after their affair, she has had an affair with the writer Casey, a client of Jerry's, whose novels have been published by Robert, but that she has just learned "last night" that Robert had "betrayed her for years" and expects that they will "separate" (23–25). Regarding both her affair with Jerry and her marriage to Robert, she says, "It's all all over" (30).
1977: Later.
  • Scene Two: Jerry's House. Study. 1977. Spring.
Jerry apologises to Robert. Robert reveals that he has known about the affair "for years" and points out that it was "a long time ago" that Emma had "confirmed . . . the facts" (not merely two nights before, as she has told Jerry). Robert observes that whilst the two men have "seen each other . . . a great deal . . . over the last four years," having "had lunch", they "Never played squash though" (38). Ironically protesting, "I was your best friend," to which Robert agrees—"Well, yes, sure" (39), Jerry indicates how "upset" he is when he "holds his head in his hands" and conveys the impression that he feels betrayed, "why didn't you tell me? Pause […] That you knew. You bastard" (39–40), to which Robert retorts, "Oh, don't call me a bastard, Jerry" (41). He admits that he has "hit Emma once or twice" because he "just felt like giving her a good bashing. The old itch . . . you understand" (41). When Jerry asks, "But you betrayed her for years, didn't you?" Robert replies, "Oh yes"; but when Jerry adds, "And she never knew about it. Did she?" Robert counters: "Didn't she?" Jerry says, "I didn't," to which Robert retorts, "No, you didn't know very much about anything, really, did you?" (42). After going back and forth about the "seven years" that Jerry lived with Robert's wife "In the afternoons," Robert acknowledges that Jerry "certainly knew all there was to know about that. About the seven years of afternoons. I didn't know anything about that," adding, after a pause, "I hope she looked after you all right" (43). A silence leads to Jerry's focus on how the two men "used to like each other," to Robert's saying "We still do," to Robert's boasting of his squash games with "old Casey," and to apparently routine friendly associations about their mutual client (43–45). When Robert inquires, "Have you read any good books lately?" Jerry replies hat he has been "reading Yeats" and reminds Robert that Robert had "read Yeats on Torcellomarker alone once (45); at first surprised that Jerry knew that, Robert recalls "So I did. I told you that, yes" (46). The scene ends in apparent friendliness, with Robert inquiring "Where" Jerry planned to take his family "for the summer" and Jerry's response: "The Lake Districtmarker" (46).
  • Scene Three: Flat. 1975. Winter.
Jerry and Emma decide to give up the flat they have rented for their afternoon assignations, thereby ending the affair; their passion appears to have fizzled out (49–57).
  • Scene Four: Robert and Emma's House. Living room. 1974. Autumn.
While the three characters are having drinks, Robert invites Jerry to play squash, purposefully excluding his wife, with strategic undercurrents of aggression: "Well, to be brutally honest, we wouldn't actually want a woman around, would we Jerry? […] What do you think, Jerry?" (69–70).
  • Scene Five: Hotel Room. 1973. Summer.
Emma is lying on the bed reading a book, while Robert is at the window, looking out. They discuss their upcoming trip to the island of Torcellomarker and the book that Emma is reading, by a man named "Spinks" (75–76), whom Robert (a book publisher) says Jerry "discovered" (76). Robert says that the "subject" of the book is "Betrayal"; yet Emma denies that ("No, it isn't.") and then, when asked "What is it then?" demures, "I haven't finished it yet. I'll let you know" (78). Robert confronts Emma with a letter addressed to her and delivered to the American Express office in Venice, where Robert discovered it when he picked up their mail that afternoon (79). She admits that it is from Jerry ("Yes, I recognised the handwriting," Robert says) and, after Robert probes, that Jerry and she have been lovers for the previous five years (86). The couple's conversation reveals that Jerry was "best man" at their wedding and that he is still one of Robert's "close friends" (83). Hiding his emotional distress, Robert retaliates by telling Emma, "I've always liked Jerry. To be honest, I've always liked him rather more than I've liked you. Maybe I should have had an affair with him myself" and then, after a silence, coming full circle, asks her if she is "looking forward" to their "trip to Torcello" (87).
1973: Later
  • Scene Six: Flat. 1973. Summer.
Before they make love, Jerry asks Emma about her trip to Venice (92). He asks explicitly, "Did you go to Torcello" (92), and, although she says, "No," she deflects his question "Why not?" by inventing an explanation about a "speedboat strike" (93). Emma says "I got your letter," but, even though Jerry tells her about close calls in which he feared that his wife, Judith, may have discovered Emma's letter or that he was not with a writer named Spinks as he said when he was actually with Emma (99–100), she still does not tell Jerry that Robert has discovered Jerry's letter or that she has already confessed the affair to her husband (93). After Jerry remembers picking up Charlotte in Emma and Robert's kitchen, Emma says, "It was your kitchen, actually," recalling (the foreshadowing of) their disagreement in Scene One, and adds, "Why shouldn't you throw her up?" as if nothing were wrong (100–101).
1973: Later
  • Scene Seven: Restaurant. 1973. Summer.
Robert lunches with Jerry in an Italian restaurant in London. While Robert sips on "white wine" (105), Jerry drinks "Scotch on the rocks", which Robert observes that Jerry does not generally do at lunch (105–106). Jerry says that the Scotch is to help him get over a "bug" (106). Robert observes that they "haven't played" squash for years, while Jerry notes that they are both "thirty-six" and observes that the game is a "Bit violent" (107). Robert tells Jerry about his trip to Venice and particularly about going to Torcellomarker, rapidly, via "whoomp" (112). Jerry inquires what whoomp signifies, and when Robert answers, "Speedboat" Jerry starts to interrupt, "Ah. I thought –" harkening back to Emma's telling him that the speedboats were "on strike" (93), then adding to cover his tracks at Robert's surprise ("What?"): "It's so long ago, I'm obviously wrong. I thought one went to Torcello by gondola" (112). Robert observes that that would "take hours" and reveals that he went to Torcello "alone"; he focuses on how much he enjoyed reading "Yeats on Torcello" (113) instead of telling Jerry either then or later in their lunch conversation that on that very day he had actually discovered the affair between his wife and Jerry (113–18). Much comic business relating to the identity of the Italian waiter and the serving of the food and drinks occurs, as Jerry observes that Robert has become "pissed" (116). They also discuss other writers whom Jerry (a literary agent) represents and whom Robert publishes, mentioning particularly "Casey" (117), whom Jerry "discovered" (118) and with whom, Scene One has already revealed, Emma began having an affair after she and Jerry broke up (23–24). Robert invites Jerry to "come and have a drink sometime" as Emma would "love to see you" (118).
  • Scene Eight: Flat. 1971. Summer.
Emma reveals that, having lunch at "Fortnum and Masonmarker's" (123–24), she has unexpectedly encountered Jerry's wife, Judith, who is a doctor and works in a hospital (127). Emma wonders if Judith knows about their affair and also whether or not she may be having an affair of her own (125–26), leading Jerry to acknowledge his wife's friendship with "Another doctor" who "takes her for drinks" but to dismiss the idea, while still admitting, "I don't know exactly what's going on" (127). After asking, more pointedly: "Oh, why shouldn't she have an admirer? I have an admirer," whom Jerry fails to identify as himself, Emma goes on to ask him still more specifically if he ever considered "changing his life"—implying, that is, leaving Judith—but Jerry calls that "impossible" (126–28). After her inquiries about whether or not he thinks his wife is "being unfaithful" to him—"when" he was "in America"—result in Jerry's equivocating, "No. I don't know. […] No." (128), Emma focuses on whether or not Jerry has ever been "unfaithful" to herself (128), leading him to declare that he does "adore" Emma, while she maneuvres him towards her further ironic revelation, punctuated by pauses: she herself is "pregnant"; it was while Jerry was "in America" that she conceived; and "It wasn't anyone else. It was my husband"—to all of which Jerry gives his final socially-acceptable but emotionally-dubious response: "Yes. Yes, of course. Pause. I'm very happy for you" (129–30).
  • Scene Nine: Robert and Emma's House. Bedroom. 1968. Winter.
While alone at a party, Jerry drunkenly declares his feelings for Emma. She tells Robert, "Your best friend is drunk" (137). He agrees good-naturedly and "leaves the room" (138). Emma tries to follow, but Jerry "grasps her arm" and "She stops still." The play ends as "They stand still, looking at each other" (138).


  • Emma
  • Jerry
  • Robert
  • Waiter

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



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

In 2007, Roger Michell staged a revival of Betrayal at the Donmar Warehousemarker 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 ignoring some of Pinter's famous pauses (Lawson). The play was also revived in the Lyttelton at the National Theatremarker in November 1998, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Douglas Hodge, Imogen Stubbs, and Anthony Calf.

New York

The play had its American premiere on Broadwaymarker on January 5, 1980 at the Trafalgar Theatre where it ran for 170 performances to close on 31 May 1980. It opened on on with Raul Julia as Jerry, Blythe Danner as Emma, and Roy Scheider as Robert.

A 2000 Broadway revival was staged at the American Airlines Theatremarker with Juliette Binoche, Liev Schreiber, and John Slattery.


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.


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

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. The affair was known in some circles; when Betrayal premiered on stage in 1978, Lord Longford (father of Antonia Fraser), who was in the audience, commented that Emma appeared to be based on Joan Bakewell; but the affair only became public knowledge after it was confirmed by Pinter in Billington's 1996 authorised biography, which was further confirmed in Joan Bakewell's later memoir The Centre of the Bed.

A program note about the author accompanying productions of the play, stating that he "has lived [with] Antonia Fraser" for "five years, when the play was first produced and published in 1978, led some to assume that the play was based on their relationship; thus, the biographical context for the play was (mis)attributed to Pinter's affair with Lady Antonia Fraser, which occurred from 1975 to 1980, while he was still married to Vivien Merchant. Pinter married Antonia Fraser in 1980, after the Frasers' divorce (1977) and the Pinters' divorce (1980) became final (Billington 253–54).

In the mid 1990s, Pinter explained to his official authorised biographer Michael Billington that, although he wrote the play while "otherwise engaged" with Fraser, he actually based some details of the play on the clandestine affair which he conducted from 1962 to 1969 with BBC Television presenter Joan Bakewell, who was married to producer and director Michael Bakewell at that time (Billington 264–67).

Cultural allusions

"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. Jerry Seinfeld's debt to Pinter's play appears in his episode's title, "The Betrayal", in his use of reverse chronology, which mimicks the plot structure of Pinter's play, and in his choice for the first name of the groom, Pinter Ranawat, whose wedding Jerry and his friends travel to India to attend, and in the variations of the motif of betrayals relating to romantic affairs and friendships.

Awards and nominations


Works cited

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

Bakewell, Joan. The Centre of the Bed. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003. ISBN 0340823100 (10). ISBN 9780340823101 (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 1879852179 (10). ISBN 9781879852174 (13). Print.

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

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

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

Merritt, Susan Hollis. "Betrayal in Denver" (Denver Center Theatre Company, Denver Center for the Performing Artsmarker, Denvermarker, 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 1879852179 (10). ISBN 9781879852174 (13). Print.

Pinter, Harold. Betrayal. 1978. New York: Grove Press, 1979. ISBN 0394505255 (10). ISBN 9780394505251 (13). ISBN 0394170849 (10). ISBN 9780394170848 (13). Print. (Parenthetical references in the text are to this edition, ISBN 0394170849. 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 0416393209 (10). ISBN 9780416393200 (13). Print. Chapter 11: "Pinter: Betrayal" in Limited preview at Google Books (omits some pages). Web. 11 Mar. 2009.

External links

  • Betrayal at (Includes "Selected foreign productions".)

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