Gerry Smyth
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A short history of betrayal
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This chapter serves as an introduction to some of the principal representations of betrayal at large in western culture. ‘Judas’ is a by-word for betrayal; the concept of betrayal (in Eden and in Gethsemane) lies at the heart of the Christian view, and this has had a devastating impact on cultural history during the Christian era. The Gospels represent only the first chapter in the long history of Judas, however; different eras reinvent him to fulfil the requirements of their own worldviews. Some of the most enduring and most influential representations of betrayal are contained in Shakespeare’s drama – treachery both political (as in Macbeth) and interpersonal (as in Othello). Beginning in the latter part of the nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud found that a fear of betrayal (of the child by the parent, of the ego by the id) was a key determining factor in the structure of the human psyche. Reading from Judas, Shakespeare and Freud, it may be that, rather than an anomalous exception to the human experience, betrayal is actually at the core of what it means to be human. Judas, it appears, is alive and well and living inside each of us.

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The Judas kiss

Treason and betrayal in six modern Irish novels


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