Study Guide

Betrayal

by Harold Pinter

Betrayal Themes

Themes and Meanings (Survey of Dramatic Literature)

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...

(The entire section is 558 words.)