Synopsis of "Betrayal" by Harold Pinter

by Valerie Valdez
Sir Ben Kingsley played Robert in the 1983 movie version of Harold Pinter's

Sir Ben Kingsley played Robert in the 1983 movie version of Harold Pinter's "Betrayal."

Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Harold Pinter's love triangle play, "Betrayal," examines the decline of a marriage when Emma admits to an affair with her husband's friend, Jerry. It uses an unusual plot device of telling the story in reverse order. Critics and audiences made "Betrayal" one of London's most popular plays when it premiered in 1978. It won several major awards, including the Olivier Award for Best New Play and the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award.

"Betrayal" Plot

Robert and Emma, middle-age and successful, appear happily married and are good friends with Jerry and Judith, his wife. However, at a party in 1968, Jerry confesses his love for Emma, who returns his feelings. They rent an apartment where they meet to make love. Five years into the affair, Robert finally forces Emma to admit it; he had been suspicious about her for a while. When Emma and Jerry meet again in 1977 at the beginning, she tells him her marriage to Robert is over, and she lies to him when she says Robert just found out.

Plot Structure

Pinter wrote "Betrayal" in reverse chronological order. He starts the story at the end of the affair, then ends the play at the beginning. The first of nine scenes takes place in 1977, when Emma and Jerry meet two years after their affair ended. From 1977 to 1968, each scene reveals a little more of the affair, and Emma's growing betrayal of her husband and Jerry.


Emma, an art gallery manager, wants out of her loveless marriage to Robert. Convinced he once had an affair, she takes revenge by starting an affair with Jerry. She continues her betrayal without remorse until Robert confronts her. After she ends the affair, she stays married to Robert for four unhappy years. Emma's main weakness is her obliviousness to the consequences of her actions on those around her.


Jerry, a London literary agent and writer, is a hopeless romantic who falls in love with love. His impulsive nature leads him to instigate the affair, betraying Robert and Judith. Though kindhearted and loving, Jerry is too naïve to realize that he is manipulated by Emma and later Robert. Jerry is the last to know that Robert learned of the affair years ago, which makes Jerry feel foolish.


The most clever character, Robert, a publisher, plays detective as he unravels Emma's infidelity. Practical and logical, he plays a game of cat-and-mouse after he finds a letter from Jerry to Emma. Trapped by her own lies and betrayal, she finally confesses the affair. Still, he toys with Jerry, giving him hints to see whether he will also confess. However, Jerry never picks up on his friend's comments, and until Emma tells him, he's unaware that Robert knows of the affair. Robert's malicious behavior infuriates Emma, which is why he does it.

About the Author

Since 1998 Valerie Valdez's articles have appeared in the "Austin Business Journal," "Austin Women" and "Inside Austin." Valdez has enjoyed working in broadcasting for NBC, PBS stations and for the U.S. Army. She earned a Bachelor of Science in radio-TV from the University of Texas and a Master of Arts in theater from Texas State University.

Photo Credits

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