Ah, Othello; the original bi-racial love story. It’s true if you think about it: take any topic in the current world—controversial or not—and there’s a good chance Shakespeare explored it in one of his plays.
I’ve studied Othello as a student, and taught it as a teacher, but each time I read it, I discover something I didn’t previously catch. The story is just that complex.
In a nutshell, Othello is a “Moor” (from Northern Africa) living in Venice. He is, however, also a war hero. Othello is in love with Desdemona (hence, the bi-racial element). At the beginning of the play, Othello has just given the position of lieutenant to a man named Michael Cassio, instead of Iago, a man with evil intentions.
Iago attempts to get Desdemona’s father riled up about her relationship with Othello, but his plan fails. Iago’s next course of action is to frame Michael Cassio and Desdemona as lovers…playing on Othello’s (or every man who’s ever lived) greatest weakness: jealously.
In many of my Old School Sunday posts I like to reveal more obscure lines that are tucked away in the pages of great literature. This line is not so obscure. But nonetheless, in my personal copy of the play I underlined the short quotation numerous times and with three different color pens. It’s important. So here it is.
Ironically enough Iago utters these lines in an attempt to play Othello, when in actuality Iago himself is the one suffering from jealously. Still, the words themselves ring true for all of mankind:
“O, beware, my lord, of jealously!/It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock/The meat it feeds on” (3.3 195-97).
Jealously is a destroyer—which proves true later on in the play. And it’s not just jealously in the romantic sense. It is perhaps one of the most dangerous and useless emotions in the world.
Yesterday, I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Abrielle Valencia, entitled “Do You, Not Them.” Abrielle talked about how hazardous it is to compare ourselves to other people. Far too many of us put others on a pedestal while simultaneously criticizing ourselves. This, in essence, is the work of jealously.
It’s like Shakespeare said, it feeds on us. We become figurative meat to this life-sucking emotion.
It’s true now and it was true then. Again, Shakespeare manages to show us how repetitive the human experience has been. A thought that, in my opinion, is both comforting and disconcerting at the same time.
There’s a moral here. See if you can find it. Shakespeare did.