The most talented artist of wordplay in the English language is clearly the Bard of Avon and by understanding his use of idioms his work becomes a part of why he remains fresh even today. William Shakespeare coined this colorful figure of speech in Othello. The imagery is so captivating that it has spun off any number of stories including ones for children, songs, as well as, recipes for alcoholic beverages. The Story of 'O' is director Tim Blake Nelson's controversial retelling of 'Othello' in a contemporary high school setting. Canadian poet and musician Leonard Cohen employs the unnatural beast in his lyrics for a concept, transforming a progression of emotions from green to blue.
I love a small green candlestick,
into a green-eyed monster
of an altogether different stripe:
I lit a thin green candle
to make you jealous of me ....
The poor man could hardly stop shivering
his lips and fingers were blue
I suppose that he froze when the wind
took your clothes
and I guess he just never got warm
but you stand there so nice
in your blizzard of ice
oh please let me come into the storm.
(Songs Of Leonard Cohen)
Green-eyed monsters come in all shapes and sizes, envy, avarice, revenge, suspicion, deceit, slyness, guilt, vanity, conceit, ambition, pride, and humility. Shakespeare’s comes in the form of jealousy. So how did envy become associated with the color green? Perhaps it’s because when people become sick they look green about the gills. Or maybe it comes from the color of bile. During the days of Shakespeare a doctor would frequently diagnosed ailments according to the color of bile and certainly jealousy can cause a gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach.
Its unsavory reputation is firmly linked with one or more of three primary human instincts: the ego instinct, which is self-aggrandizement and preservation; the sexual instinct of self-perpetuation and extension; and the social instinct, or the self-alignment and identification with others. Through them humanity preserves its psyche, species, and the community. Jealousy has been a part of human relationships for a very long time, many experts speculate that jealousy is hard-wired into the human psyches by evolution as a way for ancestors who needed a good jealous rage to challenge other males who displayed bit too much interest in their mate. After the dust settled, the dominant male gets the female and the species propagates along his bloodline. But since head to head combat is no longer a socially acceptable resolution, modern men and women look to find other ways to dissipate these gripping and overwhelming emotions. So how about a good story about it?
Shakespeare makes an earlier hint of monstrosities to come with a similar description of jealousy through Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Her circumspection at the point of ecstasy is notably clairvoyant and an accurate forecast of the stages of Othello's career and couples it with a prayer that Desdemona's fate not be hers:
How all the other passions fleet to air,
As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! O love,
Be moderate; allay thy ecstasy,
In measure rein thy joy; scant this excess.
I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,
For fear I surfeit.
- (The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 2)
Jealousy proceeds from the extravagance of love and is the most dangerous passion of the mind. In both plays strategic moments establish jealousy as an important component of the relationship between them. Shakespeare describes Envy as lean-faced, or black, or pale, and it's Desdemona who falls victim to this toady fiend in a tale of trust and betrayal, jealousy and envy of the noble Moor
whose love for his wife Desdemona soon turns to tragic mistrust, anger and rage from an unfounded rumor of adultery. Duped by his disloyal underling, Iago
, Othello reaches the point of even doubting his steadfast lieutenant, Cassio
. By the end of the scandalous saga, Othello's faithful wife, Desdemona
, (who can no longer surprise anyone who's been through high school English) it’s revealed that the "honest" Iago teems with malicious subplots, emotional torture and eloquent lies. Desdemona stands wrongfully accused, and Othello has become the quarry of his own passionate nature. Using an allusion to cats as green-eyed monsters and the way that they play with mice before killing them. The villainous Iago hooks Othello like a fisherman angling for a prize salmon, turning his love for his wife into murderous jealousy, in his cunning plot to destroy the Moor of Venice
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o'er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!
- (Othello; Act III, Scene 3)
Iago, jealous of the couple's relationship and Othello's position of military power, spins a web of lies that entangles everyone, exploding in disastrous results. But what Shakespeare tragedy would be complete without disastrous results?
With a wink of Othello’s “green-eyed monster,” the author lays bare the basest of human emotions. The monster is symbolic of Othello's dark feelings, a specter lurking in his mind that begins to steer his behavior. Iago's deeply ironic speech highlights Othello’s flaws, and the source of his tragedy; Othello has no idea of the significance of these statements.
Jealousy is common to everyone even more so we are all in one way or another victims of it and he destroys all of his characters as it over powers them leading to desperate and irrational acts. Getting in touch with the inner green eyed monster can consume one to the point of destroying everything in its path; relationships, trust, personal integrity and self esteem. Exceptional suffering and calamity, affects Othello the tragic hero, extending far beyond him.
Desdemona is completely innocent and killed by her jealous husband Othello, and
guileless Cassio is nearly destroyed by his jealousy. Othello is the victim of Iago's jealousy, but it is really his own jealousy that brings about his death and the others in the play. However, Iago is far from a victim. He has all kinds of motives for wishing to destroy the happiness of others. Iago thinks Emillia has been unfaithful to him with Othello and is jealous of Cassio, Emillia attempts to protect her mistress' reputation and expose the real villain, her husband Iago, who silences her by killing her.
Shakespeare seems to tell us that as painful as it may be, it is better to stare the monster in its green eyes, grieve the loss and move on than to be left dangling in the limbo of uncertainty and self-doubt. All of his characters have given way to their jealous feelings as the monster wreaks its destruction in this intense tragedy. Iago the cat torments the mouse over and over again in battle between order and chaos. Chaos wins out, Othello abandons reason by using Iago's "proofs," plunging all into chaos. Speculations and raging emotions rule Othello's fate, as he comes closer and closer to his tragic end and the audience watches its destructive influence on the characters with sympathy and horror. Sure, the play’s the thing but one has to wonder just how innocent is Othello in all of this?