Manuscript notes and draft pages for Betrayal by Harold Pinter

Description

These are handwritten draft pages of dialogue for Harold Pinter’s stage play, Betrayal. The first page digitised here (f. 19r) is from Scene 2, and the second sequence of pages (ff. 97r–101r) is from Scene 5.

They are part of a folder of loose notes and drafts of dialogue labelled ‘Torcello notes’ that were created around 1978. ‘Torcello’ was an early working title for the play. Pinter uses letters of the alphabet to indicate characters, further suggesting that these are early sketches in contrast to the later typescript draft, in which he uses full character names.

What is Betrayal about?

Betrayal tells the story of a seven-year affair between Emma – married to Robert – and Jerry, Robert’s best friend. The plot is largely structured in reverse chronology, with the first scene, set in 1977, taking place two years after the affair has ended, and the last scene in the play showing how the affair began, in 1968. With the outcome of events revealed at the outset, the play’s focus is on how and when crucial knowledge is imparted or withheld via tense exchanges between characters which are loaded with subtext and double meaning.

What do these drafts reveal?

The drafts show the dynamic process whereby Pinter crafts the layers of deception at the heart of the play. Firstly, in this excerpt of dialogue for Scene 2, Robert (indicated by the letter ‘B’) reveals that he has known about the affair between Jerry and Emma (‘M’) ‘for years’. Jerry (‘A’) thinks that Emma told Robert about the affair the previous night (f. 19r):

B - Is it about you + M (sic)? I know all about it.
A - So I … understand.
B - What does it matter? It’s been over for 2 years hasn’t it? It was years ago.
A - It matters. I can’t see … that it was necessary for her to tell you.
[…]
B - She didn’t tell me. I found out.
A - Found out? How?
[…]
A - But she said she told you last night.
[…]

B - Last night? Don’t be ridiculous. I’ve known for years.

The play’s action pivots on Scene 5 in which Robert discovers Emma’s affair with Jerry (‘Jack’ in this draft). Robert (indicated with a ‘C’ in this draft sequence) and Emma (‘M’) are on holiday in Venice when Robert, on visiting the American Express office, is handed an envelope addressed to Emma — in Jerry’s handwriting. It is a scene full of pauses and silences, in which the intensity builds. Robert affects a lightly ironic tone as he engages in circuitous banter about how he came by the letter, and reflects on his past friendship with Jerry (f.97r):

C - He wasn’t best man at our wedding was he?
M - No.
C - Why the hell not? He was my closest friend.
M - He was away.
C - Oh, was he?
P
Hmmn.
P
Was there any message for me, in his letter?

Robert’s emotional devastation starts to seep through his initial defensive irony as he subtly forces Emma to confess to her affair with Jerry (f. 98r).

What changes did Pinter make to Scene 5?

When we compare this early draft of Scene 5 to the final published text, we can trace several changes made by Pinter. For example, Robert’s sense of betrayal by his wife and his best friend is intensified in the final version when Emma confirms that Jerry had, indeed, been best man at their wedding, to which Robert says, ‘[…] that’s probably when I introduced him to you’.[1]

Also, in the final version of Scene 5, Pinter expanded the section where Emma says that Jerry (‘Jack’) was in America when their child was conceived (f. 100r). Robert’s questions compound Emma’s sense of guilt. Not only has she deceived her husband, Robert, by having an affair, but she has also deceived her lover, Jerry, by getting pregnant while he was away:

Robert - Did he write to you from America?
Emma - Of course. And I wrote to him.
Robert - Did you tell him that Ned had been conceived?
Emma - Not by letter.[2]


[1] Harold Pinter, Betrayal (London: Faber and Faber, 2013), p. 69.

[2] Betrayal, p. 72.

Full title:
Pinter Archive. Betrayal. 1. Autograph notes and draft pages of dialogue. Draft pages with autograph revisions, includes rejected titles 'A White Wedding' and 'Wedding Ring'. The pages appear to be from different drafts and are not in order. [circa 1978]
Created:
c. 1967, London
Format:
Manuscript / Typescript / Playscript / Draft
Creator:
Harold Pinter
Usage terms

© Fpinter Limited is the copyright owner of BETRAYAL by Harold Pinter. All rights reserved. You may not reproduce these Materials in whole or in part for any purpose whatsoever.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Add MS 88880/1/5

Full catalogue details

Related articles

An introduction to Betrayal

Article by:
William McEvoy
Themes:
20th-century theatre, Gender and sexuality

In Harold Pinter's Betrayal, an affair and its revelation are portrayed in reverse chronological order. William McEvoy explores how this reversal focuses our attention on the ways in which meaning and knowledge are constructed, and on the ability of language to hide as much as it reveals.

An introduction to The Homecoming

Article by:
Michael Billington
Themes:
20th-century theatre, Gender and sexuality, Exploring identity

Michael Billington considers The Homecoming in the context of Harold Pinter's life and work, and explores how attitudes towards the play's portrayal of gender relations have changed.

An introduction to The Birthday Party

Article by:
Michael Billington
Theme:
20th-century theatre

Michael Billington recounts the strong reactions that critics had to early performances of The Birthday Party, and examines the way that Pinter's play engages with ideas about menace, memory and political resistance.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

Betrayal

Created by: Harold Pinter

Betrayal (1978) overview Harold Pinter’s 1978 play employs a reverse-chronological structure to tell the ...