Throughout the conflicts of fiction and the dramatic undertones of plays, the notion of betrayal always remains a common and tragic theme. Betrayal itself has mostly been the causation of motives such as love, jealousy, anger, and hatred. As one further delves into the depths of the word within literature, one finds that betrayal itself leads to an alarming number of characters seeking justice, retribution, peace from the traumatic events, and detachment from one's betrayers. The word has become such a heavy burden amongst betrayers, and such a drastic occurrence on the victims that it even has its own quaint little circle in the depths of Dante's Inferno (Jackson, 2000). William Shakespeare's Othello and Alexandre Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo depict the motives and results of betrayal: as the betrayers, Iago and Danglars have become catalysts for the actions of their victims; namely Othello and Edmond Dantes.
However, by what forms does betrayal rear its unattractive head? One has to immediately characterize this theme before one further delves into the motives and subjections that Shakespeare and Dumas writes through their characters. To be sure, betrayal comes at a different motive and ends with a high price in most instances. In the Christian faith, it is Lucifer who betrays God with an uprising. It is Judas who betrays Jesus into the hands of the dissenting priests. It is Cain who betrays his brother Abel in the Bible by killing him. The three characters mentioned have all betrayed through different motives: Lucifer through love (a perceptive lack thereof), Judas through greed, and Cain through jealousy. All three were punished as the stories demand: Lucifer is banished into Hell and becomes ruler, and Cain and Judas ultimately land in the final and most tortuous circle of Hell (Dante, 2000).
It comes to stand, then, that even in the beginning forms of literature, betrayal acts as a major part in motive and consequence. It is the driving force in the breakage of trust within characters. It is the seed of distrust and the displays of violence. In Jackson's study of betrayal in Jane Austen's works, he defines betrayal as "an assault on the integrity of the individuals, affecting the capacity to trust, undermining confidence in judgment, and contracting the possibilities of the world by increasing distrust and skepticism" (Jackson, 2000). At further reading through Shakespeare's Othello and Dumas' The Count of Monte Cristo, it becomes evident that these forms manifest themselves through betrayal.
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (1844)
Most who have read The Count of Monte Cristo find the main theme to be that of vengeance. True enough, the story follows a particularly unlucky Edmond Dantes, who -- having been wrongfully thrown into the Chateau d'If through precarious acts of betrayal -- hunts his persecutors down one after the other. As the Count of Monte Cristo, Dantes dishes out the dish best served cold: vengeance. Yet how does one get to this point in the book without mentioning the process with which Edmond experienced in order to reach this height of the need for retribution? Clearly, the answer falls upon betrayal for both result of motive and cause for justice.
Dantes has had a lucky life at the novel's beginning. The favorite first mate and subsequent heir to the Pharaon and the beloved fiance of Mercedes, the innocent, good-natured Dantes had everything he could ask for. That is, until his great luck lands him the enmity of Danglars and Fernand Mondego. Danglars and Fernand covet different parts of Dantes' life: Danglars covets the Pharaon and Fernand covets Mercedes. Both men are driven to different forms of jealousy, yet both cases lead to the same result; Danglars and Fernand go out of their way to write the incriminating letter that sends Dantes to the Chateau d'If. At the time, Danglars was a former shipmate of Dantes', and Fernand a former friend of Mercedes'. While Dantes trusted them, the two easily contrived their betrayals, plucking up the parts they wanted in Edmond's life after his sentence.
The betrayal of both men -- and the later betrayal of even Mercedes (King, 2010) -- have rather negative effects on Edmond. A poignant section in the book portrays the gradual change of Dantes' own positive and hopeful personality trait to that of an angry, vengeful, calculating man out to destroy his oppressors. After having spoken to Abbe Faria, Dantes finds the true meaning of his having been imprisoned, and this knowledge of betrayal gradually sends him to frenzy. Dumas powerfully depicts this gradual decay of Dantes' good-natured character within a single chapter.
He was sustained at first by that pride of conscious innocent which is the sequence to hope; then he began to doubt his own innocence…he laid every action of his life before the Almighty, proposed tasks to accomplish…yet in spite of his earnest prayers, Dantes remained a prisoner. (Dumas, 1996)
This passage of Dantes' futile attempts to reconcile his troubles with God and to forgive the faults of the men who put him in prison violently gives way to the next passage:
Rage supplanted religious fervor. Dantes uttered blasphemies that made his jailer recoil with horror…he told himself that it was the enmity of man, and not the vengeance of heaven, that had thus plunged him into the deepest misery…he consigned his unknown persecutors to the most horrible tortures he could imagine… (Dumas, 1996).
In The Count of Monte Cristo, betrayal played a part in the past and the future.
Othello by William Shakespeare (1565)
Unlike the fictional novel of vengeance by Alexandre Dumas, Othello is a dramatic play of love, jealousy, and deception. One of the Shakespearean great tragedies, the play focuses on the prominence of Iago and Othello, the betrayer and the betrayed. In a general sense, the story culminates in Othello's murder of his wife "in a state of jealousy largely of his own creation" (Macaulay, 2005), spurred upon by the subtle treatises of the villainous Iago. The entire play is laced with deception and betrayal, and unlike Dumas' fiction, the betrayals continue until the final closing of the play.
The debate about fault and the cause-effect model for Othello becomes divided between those who argue against Othello, against Iago, and against both (Macaulay, 2005). On the one hand, Othello's jealous rages betray him to Desdemona, whom he kills because he would rather kill his wife and "be a toad and live upon the vapor of a dungeon than keep a corner in the thing [he] loves for others' uses" (Shakespeare, 2005). On the other hand, it is Iago's menacing ideas of love and jealousy that blinds Othello into his rages; it is Iago who plants the seeds of doubt and cultivates it to a maddening frenzy inside the Moor. Yet it could be a mixture of both, where Iago merely extricates the "green-eyed monster" (Shakespeare, 2005) from Othello, whose true nature finally shines at the climax.
Regardless of the state of jealousy that leads to the incident, it is Iago whose sole purpose it is to betray his most hated master, and it is Othello who is ultimately betrayed. Iago's motive is purely that of hatred, and his plans of betrayal are said outright for the audience to hear: "Make the Moor thank me, love me and reward me for making him egregiously an ass and practicing upon his peace and quiet, even to madness" (Shakespeare, 2005). Once Othello finally discovers the deep roots of his most trusted man's betrayal, it is already too late; Desdemona is dead, slain by her husband's own hand. As a result of this betrayal, Othello is overflowing with guilt for his foolishness in the matter, ultimately ending his life on a sword. Iago the betrayer is…