Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 796
I speak carefully when I say that [The Proust Screenplay is] incomparably the best screen adaptation ever made of a great work and that it is in itself a work of genius—minor compared with the source, as Pinter surely would be the first to scornfully insist, but I would insist that this screenplay [of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu] far surpasses anything conveyed by the term "adaptation" and becomes a re-composition in another art. This is by far the best of his screen writing and not just because it comes from a titanic novel: look at most screenplays from great novels. Pinter has touched genius in some of his plays; here, touched by a giant genius, he rises in the film form, technically and imaginatively, to the level of his best theater work.
A lover of Proust can take the stand that the novel should not be touched. It is; and it doesn't need to exist in any other way. With that view I can see no argument. But aside from that absolute purity, if one has any interest in seeing Proust on the screen, then Pinter has transformed it miraculously….
What Pinter has done is to dismiss any thought of carpentry, of sawing and patching to get an intelligible synopsis of the vast book into three hours plus…. Instead he apparently drenched himself in the book, absorbed it, let it seep into his blood and marrow, and then figuratively forgot about the work's prior existence. He seems to have said to himself: "If I were Proust, with his societal experience, his interior landscape, his range of sensory appetites, his intoxication with the Idea of Time, and if I wanted to write a screenplay with all this instead of a novel, what screenplay would I write?" In short, insofar as matters as delicate as Proust's work and the creative process in general can be laid out diagrammatically, we can say that Pinter disassembled the book and rebuilt its materials into a different medium. (p. 22)
Throughout the screenplay a complex of time planes is dexterously manipulated. All the years of the novel are assumed to exist simultaneously and the film moves in and out of them as it needs to. The changes are almost always immediately clear, but even when a change is briefly ambiguous, this contributes to the paramount effect: of being suspended in a magical vessel full of time.
It would be child's play to list what of the book is left out and what is proportionately diminished (Gilberte, for instance). What's amazing is how much of the book is contained in the script, not salvaged or snipped but reworked to a new vitality in a new medium to approximate some of the dimensions of the original. Places are established to be loved and returned to; characters are vivid, developed through growth and decay. A great fugue of European history, social and cultural and moral, is once again deployed across our senses—other senses, which is the point of making the book into a film.
I have two grave reservations, and they're connected. The first is about the Narrator (only twice called Marcel in the book), who is here made into the protagonist Marcel…. [It] makes a tremendous difference when the narrator of a book is taken off the printed page, so to speak, and made a character just as "visible" as the others…. Here he is propelled into a role, put in front of the camera, and although he is interesting enough, he has the task of being central among characters who are mostly more interesting than he is, whom—in the book—he mostly observed.
Good casting of Marcel would enrich the role, of course; but it would still leave a second, related flaw. Because we get the whole of the novel through the Narrator, his progress toward becoming the author capable of writing what we have been reading is organic in the very reading. That progress is not well conveyed here. From time to time he is said to be a writer, and at the very end—the last shot is the yellow screen—we hear Marcel say, "It was time to begin." It's not quite enough.
But these are not Pinter's flaws, they are inescapable in a film version. What could be done, he has done: unpredictably, authentically, superlatively. This screenplay could be made into a film that, without by any means being the full equivalent of the novel, would be worthy of its source. The Proust Screenplay is beautiful art, still uncompleted. Must it remain so? (p. 23)
Stanley Kauffmann, "Films: 'The Proust Screenplay'" (copyright © 1977 by Stanley Kauffmann; reprinted by permission of Brandt & Brandt Literary Agents Inc.), in The New Republic, Vol. 177, Nos. 26 & 27, December 24 and 31, 1977, pp. 22-3.
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Most loyal theatregoers tried to dismiss [The Birthday Party (1958)], but it wouldn't go away. You could say that the world of the play was unreal, but it was insistently analogous with the real world. What was missing from the plot was a clear motive, and, in a country dominated for two hundred years by the novel, motive had become a dramatic convention too. By ignoring, or at least obscuring, motive. Pinter concentrated his audience's attention on behaviour. The result is an uncomfortable diminution of human stature, and an equally uncomfortable analysis of human cruelty. (p. 21)
The lack of determinate values is a common feature of Pinter's plays. His characters flounder among approximations and hopeless enquiries (has no one ever counted the question marks in Pinter?). Pinter's cruelly accurate observation of the dialogue that surrounds a moral vacuum conveys his horror of it. Ben's question in The Dumb Waiter, 'What's one thing to do with another?', reverberates eerily through all the plays.
However perverse it may have seemed to its first audiences, The Birthday Party is governed by a ruthless narrative logic. (p. 22)
The Birthday Party, it seems to me now, is a brilliantly appropriate theatrical statement of a social nervousness whose subtext was the enigmatic Cold War. It is also a comedy of manners, constructed according to principles quite as cruel as its Restoration forebears, and with an equivalent linguistic precision. At the comic end of its spectrum, Pinter's dialogue deploys inanity with zestful resourcefulness. Inane conversations, like those of Gus and Ben in The Dumb Waiter, are funny if the speakers are serious…. At the other end of the spectrum, though, Pinter's dialogue presents with critical incisiveness the tendency of conversation to camouflage meaning. A generation of actors has learnt, through performing Pinter, to speak with conviction lines that are not intended to convince. The high point in this style is The Homecoming. Since then, Pinter has become increasingly interested, or sidetracked, by the more overtly poetic possibilities of monologue. (p. 23)
The four plays that conclude the first phase of Pinter's dramatic career may be loosely grouped with The Room and The Birthday Party as black comedies, or even comedies of menace, though they vary in quality. The Dumb Waiter (1960) is a small gem, the most certain of Pinter's plays to survive in the theatre. Such comprehending use of stage properties is rare, and modestly beguiling. Posterity may confirm it as the neatest and most engaging example of the 'comedy of menace'. It has escaped the excesses of critical explication. A Slight Ache (1959), alas, has not. This is an imperfect play, in which Pinter begins to apply the theme of threatened possession with the stiffness of a formula. (pp. 23-4)
The Caretaker (1960) was better received by theatre critics than any previous or subsequent play…. Now that Pinter's work is so familiar, The Caretaker wears an almost perfunctory air, but the skill that sustains through three acts a largely undeclared struggle for the mastery of a bleak room has to be admitted. Pinter aims to arouse our curiosity by disguising mystification as exposition. Instead of learning what of real significance has already happened, as we must have the patience to do in Ibsen, we are tested with possibilities and fed with vanities. (p. 24)
In A Night Out (1960), the final play in the series of black comedies with which Pinter established his reputation, a mother's boy teeters on the edge of matricide after an encounter with nubile office-girls and a prostitute. It is an introduction to the theme of sexual rivalry which dominates the second phase of Pinter's career. In The Dwarfs (1960), the theme is oddly focused. Virginia, a leading character in the early novel which Pinter is here translating into a play, has disappeared from the cast. Only the three young Londoners, whose competitive friendships are the novel's centre, remain. There is a strong sexual component in their rivalry, and in the various bids to unsettle the relationships. More revealing is Pinter's obvious relish in withholding from his theatre audience information and insights that he was prepared to allow his novel's readers. The Dwarfs is mysterious in a way I find irritating. Nor do I relish, as some critics have, its purple passages. The Collection (1961), which restores a woman to inflict further mayhem on the three men who complete the cast, is much more satisfying. Like The Lover, Tea Party, The Homecoming, and The Basement, it reveals Pinter's interest in the sexual and social games that people play…. Each is composed of a sequence of competitive dialogues, in which victory (or, perversely, defeat) is pursued with a determination bordering on obsession. But it would be a mistake simply to lump them together. The Lover (1963) and The Basement (1967) look, in retrospect, like exercises. They have very little to say, and because they are unusually explicit, their shallowness declares itself. Tea Party (1965), however, survives vividly in my memory…. The destruction of [the central character] Disson, his descent from dependence to nonentity, touches on another theme that continues to disturb Pinter. Simply by depriving Disson of the reassurance he needs, his wife and his secretary accelerate his collapse…. If the cruel permutations of family life are graphically illustrated in Tea Party, it is in The Homecoming (1965) that they are fully explored. I am one of those who believe that this play is Pinter's finest. The game-playing remains, but the context is rich and desperately truthful. There is nothing that need not be there.
With the final phase of Pinter's dramatic writing, I confront my gravest doubts. In a lecture delivered as early as 1962, he reminded his audience that: 'Apart from any other consideration, we are faced with the immense difficulty, if not the impossibility, of verifying the past.' In a shifting universe, where the effect of the observer on the thing observed is an acknowledged fact, that has all the authority of truism. It does not have the promise of an alterable future which encourages us to commit ourselves to the insistent present tense of the dramatic mode at its best. Even the title of Old Times (1971) implies its defiance of the thrust into the future that is Drama's peculiar arrogance. Of the other recent plays, Landscape (1968) and Monologue (1973) carry neutral names, Silence (1969), Night (1969), and No Man's Land (1975) are negatives. Not only the titles, but the plays themselves, suggest that Pinter has decided to occupy the stage in order to tell us what he can no longer tell us. (pp. 25-6)
In the cruelly public world of the theatre, it is easy to lose confidence. Pinter has done so. More and more, his plays read like stretched lyrics or memory shocks ingeniously elaborated. Am I unfair? It is probably because I have admired Pinter for years, have grown up with him, and I feel let down. (p. 28)
Peter Thomson, "Harold Pinter: A Retrospect," in Critical Quarterly (© Manchester University Press 1978), Vol. 20, No. 4, Winter, 1978, pp. 21-8.
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One approaches "The Proust Screenplay," by Harold Pinter …, determined not to complain that Proust's language has vanished. How could it not, given the foolhardy and fascinating idea of making a movie script of the immense "À la Recherche du Temps Perdu."… Still, one must marvel at how the playwright, a master of the laconic/elliptical/polymorphous-abrupt style of modern stagecraft, has cut this lushest of novels down from two million words to a string of four hundred and fifty-five shots….
Pinter's script makes no attempt to flesh out the dialogue with descriptive writing;… it places no significant reliance on the author's words in voice-over; and … it little resembles a conventional short story or novella. Indeed, I know of no other book that so uncompromisingly shows us what a film script looks like. Nor have I read another book, not even one of Beckett's, with such consciousness of the work of exclusion, of the effort the author has invested in keeping his product to this minimum. Nor, for that matter, have I hitherto reviewed a book where judgment must remain so definitely suspended, where so much of the proof resides in a deferred pudding [—the film version itself.]
One effect of casting the novel into scenario form has been suggested: the narrator, Marcel, deposed as verbal creator and enlisted as a dramatic character among many, becomes sullen, petulant, precariously unsympathetic, and even stupid. His behavior, pried loose from the matrix of his splendid philosophizing about behavior, seems more neurotic than we remember. (p. 129)
Throughout this adaptation, not only the exigencies of the film medium but a stylistic habit and preference compress the dialogue. Pinter's characters are on the attack with every phrase, "at" each other, alert for advantage; Proust's dialogue is often an intersection of monologues, conveying with comic amplitude our deafness to one another amid the vanity of our pretensions and the lonely immensity of musing space we each of us harbor. The entire reverie of "Remembrance of Things Past" pours out of such a private space; having lifted Marcel up from the stream of analysis and description, Pinter has a troublesome nonentity on his hands. Until the rather tritely dramatic Albertine episode, the hero does little but witness, usually without expression. A witnessing narrator is a most convenient instrument for fiction, but in the movies he gets between the camera and the action….
Though he has eliminated Bergotte and Elstir, Bloch and the famous madeleine, Pinter has found space—or footage—for almost everything else…. "Great Moments from 'Remembrance of Things Past,'" this film might be called, or "This Is Your Life, Marcel." The all-inclusive strategy, with its peril of indecipherable clutter, was deliberate…. Whether or not the progress [of Marcel toward revelation] thus telescoped would seem more than a comically spasmodic jumble of eyes, faces, and snipped allusions depends, as they say, on the execution. (pp. 130, 132)
Still, one's heart quickens in anticipation…. There is in Proust's method a reblending of narrative music and image that does suggest the cinematic art, an art come to ripeness in the same years as his masterpiece, which is so cheerfully imbued with the revisions of human sensibility occasioned by such inventions as the telephone, the motorcar, the airplane, and the camera. By trying to capture this affinity, Harold Pinter has subjugated his talent to a brave and beautiful attempt at translation, and made a supreme gesture of faith in the film medium, trusting it to receive this most luxuriously verbal of prose fictions. His script, produced, would certainly have delightful evocative, mnemonic qualities for the committed Proustians in the audience. But could the movie be comprehended and enjoyed by anyone who had not read the book?
John Updike, "Pinter's Unproduced Proust Printed," in The New Yorker (© 1978 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LIV, No. 1, February 20, 1978, pp. 129-33.
Thomas P. Adler
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1122
[Especially] when dealing with a play as multileveled and enigmatic—a few might even say, and not without some justification, as obscure—as Harold Pinter's No Man's Land (1975), no single interpretation of the work can be exhaustive. Even contradictory readings are to be expected, but I hope instead to offer one that complements and extends the many illuminating critical comments that the play has already generated. There has been, for example, no dearth of suggestions as to the meaning of the title—almost always a key to puzzling out a Pinter play…. Pinter's text invites us to go even further [than previous interpretations of the title] and supports our equating "no man's land" with Death. Thus the work might profitably be seen as a summoning-by-death play, in which case it shares certain similarities with the pattern, though not with the philosophy, of the medieval moralities.
But what does it mean "to die" or to "be dead" in Pinter? What, more precisely, is the nature of death, or of man's condition when he is dead? Some enlightenment on this question can be gained by returning to Pinter's "memory plays" (like Landscape and Old Times) that immediately preceded No Man's Land; from these, we can infer that death means, at its most basic level, that man's mind is finally frozen, is fixed forever. And it is here, in its fixity, that death intersects with art. (pp. 197-98)
[For Pinter's characters, in order for the past to exist, it] must first be remembered, yet in the very process of doing the remembering, the characters can alter or modify the past at will, or even recreate it totally anew to fit their present needs; Pinter himself has suggested that the past is what one remembers, imagines he remembers, convinces himself he remembers, or pretends to remember. Memory can thus become a creative activity, and the remembrance a work of art. It is in that sense that we are all artists. If present memory takes priority over past reality, this means, then, that there is no objective truth, that everything is potentially true…. Death means a cessation of this power to control the past by modifying it at will; no longer can all times and events, both real and fictive, be simultaneously present in the mind, but only one image will be fixed there permanently. No Man's Land opens with the words, "As it is?"…; the final words could just as easily read: "And ever shall be." (pp. 198-99)
There exist … several details in the text indicating that Spooner is to be seen as a figure of Death come to call for Hirst. He has evidently been a brief visitor, one who fulfills his role with dispatch, in other people's lives before Hirst's; he refers to himself as someone whose essence is "fixed, concrete" …—which would seem to delineate him from the normal human condition of becoming—and yet whose sudden appearance ordinarily causes the welcome mat to be rolled up. (p. 199)
If change is the essence of life, fixity is the property of art. In a drama about two poets, we might expect Pinter to use a poem as the art object. But instead, just as Pirandello, whom Pinter is philosophically close to here, often used a portrait as a stage symbol in his plays, he employs the photograph, the art form whose ideal is an absolutely faithful representation of reality…. Hirst talks about the subjects of a photograph as "fixed, imprisoned"; these "ghosts," nevertheless, still possess the ability to spark a response from the living, and only this remembrance and recognition in the mind of the living secures for them a present existence…. For the art work can be ever alive and unfinished, in that the emotional impact it makes on each viewer, and the response and reinterpretation it calls forth each time it is experienced, make it ever new, ever changing.
And yet, from a different perspective, the work of art is permanently frozen, an unchanging, eternal present. Although comfort and security can be gained from such a condition of stasis, where everything is settled, determined, ordered logically and coherently, where nothing is left open to chance or indeterminacy, for Pinter—as well as for Pirandello, who seems to be his dramatic mentor in this regard—life, with its flux and infinite variability, with its "becomingness," is still preferable to art, just as life is preferable to death. So Pinter's discipleship of Pirandello embraces more than simply the illusion/reality games or the motif of the relativity of truth that Pinter develops in such works as The Lover, Landscape, "Night," and Old Times; it includes also the larger issue of art vs. life that Pirandello explored in such dramas as Six Characters in Search of an Author and Henry IV. This quality of fluidity, "becomingness," makes memory coterminous with life in Pinter's plays and, by inversion, equates a memory forever fixed with death, which accurately describes Hirst's condition at the play's end, as he relinquishes control over memory and finally recognizes that in death memory will no longer serve as an active, creative power.
Without understanding the ramifications of his words, Hirst remarks in the closing moments of the play, "Let us change the subject. For the last time" … and then asks, "Is the subject winter?"… The ritual cycle of the seasons and the hours has … symbolically come to a halt, frozen at the point of darkness and death. And as desperately as Hirst might attempt to regain control and remember the "sounds of birds" from his youth … and, by remembering them, live, finally he must submit: "But I am mistaken. There is nothing there."… The power of summoning up the past has departed, and the omnipresent Pinter room, that might well have been an image of Hirst's mind, becomes a tomb. Life, without the faculty of memory, turns to death, and death, for Pinter, is a void…. [To] reach the comfortable, because unalterable, condition of death, which in its fixity is analogous to art, [Hirst] has had to sacrifice the limitless power of memory which, for Pinter, makes life itself the supreme work of art…. (pp. 202-04)
[In No Man's Land], and in the dramas immediately preceding it, Pinter illuminates the processes by which the mind can control time, showing how memory, either faithful to fact or a creative fabrication, can make and remake the past in the present and the future—until, with death, the mind must relinquish its control over time. When memory ceases, man truly resides in "no man's land." (p. 204)
Thomas P. Adler, "From Flux to Fixity: Art and Death in Pinter's 'No Man's Land'," in Arizona Quarterly (copyright © 1979 by Arizona Board of Regents), Vol. 35, No. 3, Autumn, 1979, pp. 197-204.
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["Betrayal"] is curiously thinnish Pinter, containing few of the usual Pinter hints that behind the banal domestic chitter-chatter of our time lies some irremediable Original Sin of incommunication, older, perhaps, than Adam and Eve. The play runs backward, from 1977 to 1968, but little illumination is furnished by this device: the three characters with whom the play is concerned change scarcely at all over those nine years. Though they gain a certain amount of information about one another, this information is fastidiously circled around rather than learned from…. This is a comedy in which everyone's feelings are forever being hurt, invariably for selfish reasons; though the characters are approaching early middle age, their emotions are not much above the nursery level…. (pp. 55-6)
Brendan Gill, "Looking Back," in The New Yorker (© 1980 by The New Yorker Magazine, Inc.), Vol. LV, No. 48, January 14, 1980, pp. 55-6.∗
Terry Curtis Fox
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 308
[Harold Pinter, the] obscure, difficult playwright of the early '60s has emerged, two decades later, as our foremost exponent of naturalism. Pinter, we are told, has changed. Hardly: Pinter's style and themes have remained remarkably intact. He is now, as he has almost always been, primarily concerned with power relationships between men, with the ambiguous tension of sexuality, with the unspoken difficulties of an unacknowledged class system. But Pinter does write mystery plays, in both the secular and the religious sense of the word: He takes us on a search for the unknown during which he manages to physicalize the unknowable. Secrets do not give themselves up in Pinter's work; we learn about the nature of secrets instead.
On the surface of things, no play should seem less secretive than Betrayal. The work is more or less constructed backwards …; the path of discovery is to see how something happened, not what might happen next…. The backwards structure is not merely a device … but a means by which Pinter can make the events of the play appear inevitable. This gives Betrayal a rather bittersweet, nearly sentimental aura …; it also provides Pinter with a means of sidestepping all the usual questions.
It makes no difference, Pinter tells us, whether or not one lies to a lover about the existence of another. Fidelity itself is beside the point…. What matters is passion, which, being uncontrollable, is as likely to vanish as it is to disruptively appear.
While Pinter believes that irrational passion rules the world, he is also convinced that this force can never be openly acknowledged. The famous ellipses of Pinter's speech are not a device to conceal information, but rather a means by which his characters avoid direct emotional challenge.
Terry Curtis Fox, "Passion Plays," in The Village Voice (reprinted by permission; copyright © 1980), Vol. XXV, No. 2, January 14, 1980, p. 81.∗
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With Betrayal, Harold Pinter has committed the strategic error of writing a comprehensible play. When—once or twice—he flirted with perspicuity before, it was in one-acters and television playlets, where contingency could be invoked as excuse. Never before in a full-length stage work had Pinter deviated into sense, and thus into that manifest triviality, if not vacuity, that the percipient few had unfailingly noted, drowned out though their dissenting was by the din of hosannas. Rightly was Noël Coward an early defender of Pinter's: Underneath the third-rate imitator of Beckett, there always lurked a second-rate Coward clone.
Betrayal, which might be more aptly entitled Self-betrayal, is Pinter's most Cowardly play, but with only a fraction of Noël's wit. It deals with a classic crypto-homosexual motif: the sharing of the same woman by two close friends. This topos figures prominently in Pinter's oeuvre…. In Betrayal, there is an added device: The story proceeds widdershins. From a bittersweet postlude to an adulterous affair, it moves through breakup, climax, rising action, back to an impetuous beginning….
The notion of making the clock go backward is almost a literary commonplace…. [But let's] give Pinter his due: Two hacks aside, no serious dramatist has written a play in reverse. Yet it is, finally, only a gimmick….
Oh, there is another device or two at work in the play. Things recollected turn out to be imperfectly, distortedly so; certain asseverations are revealed as untruths. And, of course, the audience can feel cheaply superior to the characters: It knows how things will really turn out. But these characters are so mundane and banal that feeling superior to them is a shabby triumph indeed. The real superiority fulgurating here is that of the author: Jerry is only an agent, Robert only a publisher, Emma only an art-gallery owner—all middlemen, culture brokers, parasites; while Pinter, as we all know, is an Artist and Creator….
Like all Pinter plays, this one is full of pauses and longer silences. But a technique that worked, up to a point, when pauses cropped up amid troubling enigmas fails when they are dropped into the middle of simplicities or platitudes. Here they do not fill up with mystery, menace, or suggestiveness; they only add a more literal kind of emptiness to what is already vacuous enough. They attenuate thinness into exiguity. So the characters stand fully unmasked in their flimsiness and unoriginality…. (p. 61)
If Betrayal registers at all, it is only because nothing, not even human mortality, is quite so unutterably sad as the dying of love, whether traced forward or backward. (p. 62)
John Simon, "Square Triangle," in New York Magazine (copyright © 1980 by News Group Publications, Inc.; reprinted with the permission of New York Magazine), Vol. 13, No. 3, January 21, 1980, pp. 61-2.
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Though completely lucid in narrative line, Harold Pinter's Betrayal remains a puzzling play…. Spare in writing, succinct in statement, it hides as much as it reveals. It calls for a do-it-yourself interpretation. (p. 92)
Pinter does many things with [his] plot structure. On the simplest level he indulges in tight-lipped irony about English upper-middle-class manners—for instance, in the routine banality of exchanges apropos the playing of squash and the publishing of books. But the absurdities of such palaver, Pinter implies, are a cover-up for rarely expressed emotions. How genuine or profound these emotions may be is hard to say. They may have withered for lack of manifestation: correct social ritual has replaced reality of feeling.
Everyone betrays the other or betrays him or herself. But since there appears to be so little love or passion here, we can hardly speak of betrayal. Or is their betrayal only the absence of true feeling? No one recalls his or her experience with any vividness. Memories fade and past events which we might assume momentous become as something merely dreamed or invented. Life itself becomes a bleak reverie without substance. If all is not vanity, still all vanishes in a haze. Is there no love? Is there no indelible experience? Is life itself a betrayal? We should remark in passing that the subject or object at issue here is a woman, the most neutralized and thus most betrayed creature of all, as are the two wives who never visibly enter the picture.
Is Betrayal a paradigm of the spiritual state of contemporary society or has it a much wider reference? Most of what I have suggested here is never declared. Pinter's medium is ambiguity. He diagrammatically traces a pattern of happenings which are shrouded in a veil of questions, questions he refuses to answer because he is not sure that he is in possession of an answer or even that there is one. Hovering over the pleasantries of the play—which is amusing betimes—there is a kind of horror, the horror and perhaps pathos of emptiness, of nullity.
In this respect, Betrayal is part of the overall Pinter creation. In craftsmanship there is great and meticulous skill, but in this case the method has become on the whole self-defeating. We are not as mystified as we may have been with The Birthday Party, The Caretaker or The Homecoming, but the new play does not impinge as much on our imagination or senses; it will not haunt us as the others have.
If anything, we understand Betrayal too readily and even if we believe in what it seems to imply we remain indifferent to it, for we cannot penetrate to the heart of its shadows. For all the concreteness of its specific environment, all has been rendered fleshless and abstract. (pp. 92-3)
Harold Clurman, "Theater: 'Betrayal'," in The Nation (copyright 1980 The Nation Associates, Inc.), Vol. 230, No. 3, January 26, 1980, pp. 92-3.
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Reduced to its bare bones, the situation [in Betrayal] teeters on the edge of soap opera. But what interests Pinter more than the future of [his characters'] relationships is the impact of knowledge on behavior: how Robert won't play squash with Jerry though he continues to do business with him, how Emma has conceived a child by her husband while her lover was abroad, how Robert hates his work because he really hates books, how Emma confessed her adultery to Robert in Venice after he had already discovered it. These revelations in reverse introduce a novel irony into contemporary drama—common enough to ancient Greeks watching a familiar story like the Oedipus myth—where the audience is privy to certain events before they actually happen. But where Sophoclean irony leads to tragic inexorability, Pinter's irony issues only in sangfroid….
Left-wing critics have criticized this play because the people are of such microscopic importance, but one doesn't have to be a Marxist to agree that Pinter has lavished considerable gifts on a situation of crashing triviality. For a few moments, I thought this might even be the point of his play—that overcivilized people, having lost the vocabulary of feeling, respond to emotional provocations with banalities and strategems. But the sangfroid belongs to the author as well. Like James Joyce's Divine Creator, Pinter regards his own inventions aloofly, paring his nails. And like the Jupiterians in Kubrick's 2001, we are encouraged to watch these human specimens as if they were located in a simulated zoo, responding to their bizarre affairs with little squeals of laughter.
I came away from Betrayal, in short, full of cold admiration for the author, but sensing that the play had importance largely as a lesson in dramaturgy. (p. 26)
Robert Brustein, "Journeys to the End of the World," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1980 The New Republic, Inc.), Vol. 182, No. 6, February 9, 1980, pp. 26-7.∗