Anyway… yes. Betrayal. The major questions I wanted to address last time before said arbitrary fence reared up were: why? Why do people betray? And who are these awful examples of execrable humanity? So let’s to it.
Before writing this post, in what qualifies as quasi-research for me, I jotted down a lengthy list of literary betrayers who came to mind. Man, there were a helluva lot more than I thought. (And that was just in the space of a couple of minutes. Whew.) And I came up with five primary reasons --- though I’m sure there could be many more --- as to why they betray other characters in their respective novels/plays. But they’re enough to go on, because, yikes, the list kind of reads like some dark catalogue of human depravity: greed, jealousy/spite, ambition, compulsion, and revenge. And that’s just before breakfast. Who are these individuals of infamy? I chose from my list five ignominious pricks… err, that is, picks… for your perusal:
Judas Iscariot, the Bible – betrayal doesn’t get much bigger than this… I mean, betraying God Himself? Two thousand years later, the name of the disciple who betrayed Jesus Christ to the authorities, identifying him with a kiss (which is where the concept of the Judas kiss, the ultimate symbol of betrayal, comes from), remains synonymous with Betrayal with a capital B. Judas does what he does out of greed, because he’s a pragmatic, petty criminal who doesn’t really believe Jesus is the Messiah and sees an opportunity to make a few bucks. The fact he later kills himself from remorse at what he’s done does nothing to rehabilitate his memory.
Iago, Othello – who can ever forget this great Shakespearean villain’s declaration to us: “I hate the Moor!” Iago feels himself slighted by his boss, Othello… but even though he admits he’s unsure if there’s been any conscious injury done to him, he decides to crank up his best Game of Jealousy/Spite anyway… and boy, does he ever. I used to tell my students Shakespearean tragedies never end well for title characters, but Iago doesn’t fare too nicely by the bloody conclusion, either.
Macbeth, Macbeth – what did I just say about title characters in Shakespearean tragedies? That they… oh, never mind. Macbeth, who’s really a bit of a tool for his harpy of a wife, gets swept up in ambition after the ‘Wyrd Sisters’ (aka witches, though ‘wyrd’ in Will’s time related to Fate, not strangeness) make several highly misleading prophecies to him and his BFF, Banquo about Macbeth becoming king of Scotland. Trouble is, there’s already a king --- Duncan --- so for Macbeth to get the job, Duncan must meet an untimely end. Which he does, at Macbeth’s dithering, bloody hands, when he’s a guest at Mac’s castle overnight. The Elizabethans shared a really strong conviction that hosts placed guests under their absolute protection, so for Mac to kill a guest in his home --- any guest, let alone a king to whom he’s sworn fealty and loyalty --- is an especially heinous betrayal.
Winston Smith, 1984 – you’ve got to feel sorry for poor Winston: he’s more pathetically hapless victim than villain. Surviving in a hellish totalitarian world he didn’t make and quietly loathes with every fibre of his being, we’re happy for Winston when he finds (forbidden) love and happiness with another rebellious sort, the lovely Julia. Of course, this being a book by George Orwell, not Jane Austen, there’s no happy resolution for the two lovers. They’re caught by the authorities, summarily jailed, and Winston is tortured until he’s compelled to betray Julia --- not because his betrayal will lead to any momentous convictions or societal convulsions or whatever, but simply because it is, to paraphrase Orwell, the Man’s stamping his boot on the face of Winston’s spirit.
Smeagol, The Lord of the Rings – my obligatory Tolkien reference for the day. Smeagol is just nasty and commits his nastiness for one of the most common reasons of betrayal --- revenge against those damned hobbits who Stole His Precious. To be fair, however, he’s been through his own private hell in being psychically ripped apart, first by the Ring itself, and later by Sauron the Dark Lord’s minions when he’s captured and tortured by them. It’s really no wonder Smeagol’s mind has splintered into two distinct and equally unstable psychotic halves, dubbed Slinker and Stinker by Sam Gamgee. As Frodo notes, it is possible to feel sorry for Smeagol --- even in full-on revenge mode, he’s a victim, too. And, of course, he’s absolutely vital to the Ring’s destruction at the tale’s climax, so he performs a heroic act, however unintentionally.
Man, quite a catalogue of calumny… an index of infamy… a posse of perdition, a --- well, you get the general idea, I think, without further need of alliterative allusions. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)
And a good thing, too, because here we are, crossing that magical 1000 words…
So I’m done for now.