The central theme of Betrayal is, as its title indicates, deception and betrayal in human relationships. The play takes one of the most familiar of dramatic situations—an adulterous love affair—and uses it as a means of examining the vast and complicated permutations that such a betrayal can have among spouses, lovers, and friends.
In the play’s first two scenes, Pinter reveals both the extent of the deception among the three characters and the effect it has had on their lives. Jerry and Emma have betrayed Robert, violating between the two of them both marriage and friendship; Robert has betrayed Emma with his own affairs; and, as Jerry learns in the second scene, Emma has betrayed him emotionally by not telling him that Robert has known about their affair for some time. Jerry has also betrayed his wife, Judith, who never appears in the play, but who may be betraying him as well.
The level of deception involved in the story is compounded by the facts that Emma and Robert’s marriage appears from the outside to be a relatively happy one and that Jerry is Robert’s closest friend—indeed, he was the best man at his wedding. Pinter provides no excuses or explanations for his characters’ actions beyond their own desires; there is no mistreatment, estrangement, or incompatibility to create the sympathetic framework that so often accompanies a fictional affair. Pinter’s characters are intelligent, witty, well-read, and utterly...
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Betrayal opens with what should traditionally be the story’s closing segment and moves backwards through its characters’ lives during a nine-year period. Scene 1 takes place in 1977 as Jerry, a London literary agent, meets Emma, a gallery manager and the wife of his best friend, for a drink. The two—former lovers whose seven-year affair ended two years earlier—make awkward small talk, catch up on each other’s lives, and reminisce about their affair and the flat they once rented for their assignations. Jerry tells Emma that he has heard she is having an affair with Roger Casey, one of his writer clients whose work she had never liked, and Emma is vague as to the truth behind the rumors. Emma confides that she and her husband Robert, a publisher, are separating. Much to Emma’s surprise—and to Jerry’s as well—Robert has confessed to having had numerous affairs throughout their marriage. In return, she has told him about her affair with Jerry; the news upsets Jerry, as he and Robert have remained friends.
Scene 2 takes place later that same day as Robert arrives at Jerry’s house for a drink. Jerry tells his friend that he has seen Emma and knows that Robert has learned of their affair. To his astonishment, Robert responds that he has known about Jerry and his wife for the last four years and had assumed that Jerry was aware of his knowledge. He had guessed the truth long ago, he says, and Emma had confirmed his suspicions. Jerry asks tentatively if Robert intends to tell Judith, Jerry’s wife, about the affair, and Robert explains that he is past caring about anything to do with Emma and Jerry’s relationship. Robert also mentions that he suspects his wife is having an affair with Roger Casey, whose books he publishes. The two men engage in a brief skewering of Casey’s talents as a writer, although both admit that they profit from Casey’s popularity.
Scene 3 takes place in the winter of 1975 in Jerry and Emma’s rented flat. It has been some months since the pair last met and it is clear that their affair is coming to a close. Emma is kept busy by her new job as an art gallery manager, while Jerry is often in the United States on business. In earlier days, they remember, they found time to meet despite the demands of careers and their respective families. The two decide to give up the flat and sell the furnishings to the landlady.
Scene 4 takes place a year earlier at Emma and Robert’s house as Jerry drops in unexpectedly for a drink after a meeting with Roger Casey. Robert, who, unbeknown to Jerry, already knows of the affair, carries on an edgy conversation with Jerry while they wait for Emma, who is putting two-year-old Ned to bed. The three then discuss Casey’s work, which Emma criticizes as dishonest, and Robert asks Jerry to play squash with him. Emma asks if she can watch their game and is sharply rebuked by Robert, who explains why...
(The entire section is 1189 words.)