Monday, October 15, 2012

Not Quite Love

Something that I’ve noticed leading up to and through Act III is the imbalance in the relationship between Othello and Desdemona. On the surface, it is clear that Desdemona and Othello are in love. They speak of each other in flowery language in front of the other characters but there is hardly any instance (up to this point) where they are alone with each other where this fondness (especially on Othello’s part) is blatantly apparent.
For example, even when Othello returns safely to shore and Desdemona exclaims her affection towards him with, “The heavens forbid/But that our loves and comforts should increase,/Even as our days do grow” (2.1 lines 178-180) Othello cuts the conversation about his happiness to see love safe and sound short. He says, “I cannot speak enough of this content./It stops me here, it is too much of joy./And this, and this, the greatest discords be/ That e'er our hearts shall make!” (2.1 lines 181-184) Here it is not quite so clear that an imbalance exists in the relationship but it is the first hint that Othello does not know what to make of his emotions for Desdemona.  
The first real conversation between Othello and Desdemona is initiated by Desdemona on Cassio’s behalf and at this point Iago has planted the seed of suspicion in Othello’s head. The conversation seems pretty curt on Othello’s part, he does not portray much interest in Desdemona’s desire for Othello to reconsider Cassio’s situation and ultimately begs her to, “leave me but a little to myself” (3.3 line 85). It is only after Desdemona leaves the scene that he revisits the part of himself that claims to love her when he calls her an “Excellent wretch!” (3.3 lines 90). In other words, he appears to be more in love with her when she is absent.
I took this to potentially mean that Othello, like many of Shakespeare’s male characters is in love with some idea of love. In this particular case, Othello is in love with some idea of Desdemona, not necessarily the Desdemona that presents herself to him. He is more in love with the idea that she has claimed herself to him but is only able to trust that claim when he does not see her interacting outside of the world the two lovers have created between themselves.
Perhaps the line that really strikes me as evidence for Othello’s love for Desdemona being merely a result of his own personal insecurities is, “But I do love thee, and when I love thee not,/Chaos come again” (3.3. lines 91-92). This illustrates that Othello feels as though the world would stop making sense to him if he were to stop loving her. Despite these lines being foreshadowing for what is to come in the later portions of the play, they also show how Othello is holding on to this innocent idea of his love with Desdemona to keep himself grounded in the universe. However, after his first dose of suspicion, he has completely changed the current of his feelings towards his maiden without much evidence to support his actions other than skewed sight and hearsay (from Iago). Is this an accurate representation of one’s deep-rooted love for another?      


Christina_Joseph said...

I completely agree with your findings in this post. I feel that in all of the plays that we have read in class so far, all of the characters are in the most shallow form of love, whether a mere infatuation with one's exterior beauty or the lust for one's virtue. Othello seems to me as if he went for the first Venetian that really showed him any semblance of kindness and affection, since Desdemona was so enthralled with his stories and wept for his struggles and tribulations. Desdemona on the other hand might have just been interested in this stranger, this outsider from her community that moved her with his stories of lands she had never seen or heard of, as well as strangeness or exoticism that surrounded Othello. This mutual attraction was based more on curiosity or loneliness which led to their marriage, but it was not truly love.

Jess said...

I also completely agree with your assertions in this post. I find Othello and Desdemona's relationship to be a bit unusual. Even before Iago's scheming and lies, Othello and Desdemona can not be characterized as a couple who is madly in love, in my opinion. I agree that Othello is likely more in love with the idea of having Desdemona as his wife than he is actually in love with her. And Desdemona seems to be so focused on pleasing her husband, and not so caught up in being in love with him. In Romeo and Juliet, the two are obviously in love with each other and swoon over each other throughout the play; in Othello and Desdemona's relationship there does not seem to be any swooning.
Othello's reaction to Iago's lies about Desdemona is evidence of the weaknesses of their marriage and Othello's love. It does not take much for Othello to turn against his wife.

Stacy Carter said...

I think that Shakespeare explores many different types of love in his plays, and most are either superficial or entirely based on lust or infatuation. However, I find it difficult to pinpoint what kind of love Othello has for Desdemona in this play. We don't really get a whole lot of interaction between the two of them before Iago starts dropping suspicious remarks around Othello. I like to think that the love Othello claimed to have for Desdemona was true, but the points you made were interesting and will definitely have me reconsidering.

Cyrus Mulready said...

I'm fascinated by your idea that Othello is "in love with being in love"--similar to a character like Orsino (or even Claudio, in a way). I've never thought of Othello like this and would be curious to see that idea explored further. Othello frequently makes the point that he is more warrior than lover, but there also is a sense we get that he is captivated (possessed, even) by Desdemona. In that way he is perhaps most like Benedick, who seems to be surprised to find himself in love (though Desdemona is surely no Beatrice!!).