Theme of the Traitor and the Hero

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"Theme of the Traitor and the Hero"
Short story by Jorge Luis Borges
Original titleTema del traidor y del héroe
Country Argentina
Language Spanish
Genre(s) Mystery, short story
Published in Sur
Media typePrint
Publication dateFebruary 1944

"Theme of the Traitor and the Hero" (original Spanish title: "Tema del traidor y del héroe") is a short story by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, originally published in 1944 in number 112 of the review Sur .



For the one hundred year of the death of Fergus Kilpatrick, an Irish nationalist hero who led a group of Irish plotters, and was assassinated in 1824, a descendant called Ryan is preparing a biography. Kilpatrick was killed in a theatre by unknown assailants, with a letter on his body warning him he faced death and after a diviner had predicted his end. Spotting these parallels with Shakespeare's plays, Ryan come across that the oldest of the conspirators, Nolan, was the translator of Shakespeare into Gaelic. Eventually, Ryan works out that the nationalists knew they had been betrayed to the British authorities and Kilpatrick admitted he was the accuser. After sentencing him to death, Nolan agreed to make his passing a memorable affair in Irish history. So Nolan hastily faked the Shakespearean echoes and out of a sordid plot a hero was born. Ryan continued to leave the myth intact.

Literary and philosophical references

In addition to the plays Julius Caesar and Macbeth, with often heavy irony Borges links his story to many predecessors. Among them are:

Film adaptation

In 1970 the story was adapted into an Italian film called Strategia del ragno ( The Spider's Stratagem ), directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. In this version, the conspirators had planned to blow up the Duce Mussolini in 1936 during a performance of Rigoletto.


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