How does reverse chronological order develop the theme of betrayal in the play Betrayal by Harold Pinter?

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Harold Pinter's play Betrayal is perhaps the first major example of a narrative portrayed in reverse chronological time. The Christopher Nolan film Memento uses this same storytelling conceit, as a way to explore the fallibility of memory. With Betrayal, it is not memory but intention and motivation which are revealed with this unique story structure.

The play begins with a pair of lovers, Emma and Jerry, breaking up. They are distant and cold with one another, and their words are full of regret. As the play goes backwards in time, these two lovers are less cold and distant, and their emotions are more attuned to anger. The third character, Robert, is Emma's husband, who is also full of negative emotion. One could say he is the one most clearly betrayed, because Emma betrays their marriage vows.

The play's last scene, which portrays the beginning of the extramarital affair, is full of high intensity and passion. Emma and Jerry's experience then encapsulates the excitement that accompanies infatuation and the early stages of romantic love. The lovers, who are not yet lovers, are talking privately at a party. There is a sense of immediacy to their actions: Emma says to Jerry, "my husband is right behind that door" and the sense of fear of discovery and the thrill of having a secret is palpable. The characters are not thinking of the future. To them, the only important thing is the immediate moment. We as readers and audience members see the fallout from their impulsive decisions motivated by passion and selfishness; we have already witnessed their future.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on April 9, 2020
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