Presentation Of Destructive Love In Othello English Literature Essay

3009 words (12 pages) Essay

1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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Destruction is defined as ‘Causing great and irreparable harm or damage.’But then on the other hand love is being defined as ‘a strong positive emotion of regard and affection’. Based on just the definition of both words this is an oxymoron; how can love possibly be destructive and if so then is this love real to begin with? Arguably, in Shakespeare and Sylvia Plath destructive love is portrayed to be a product caused directly by external influences. This can be argued in ‘Othello’ when Iago manages to manipulate Othello’s once secure trust of his wife. Likewise in ‘Romeo & Juliet’ the external influence of their family’s long standing feud ultimately destroys their love. The way in which all three texts were written, the setting and the time period contribute to the varied presentation of destructive love. For example in Othello, published in 1603 and similarly in Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare suggests that the essence of trust, jealously and social standings play a vital role in the outcome of love. However contrastingly, Sylvia Plath’s poems written between 1956 and 1963 showing another aspect of destructive love through the use of characters in her poems such as ‘Daddy’. The relationship between her and her father is that she symbolises the ‘Nazi’ as being her father as he is a German and the ‘Jew’ being her which consequently relates back to her own personal life experiences as she states “Daddy, I have to kill you” suggesting that she has to kill his control.

In Sylvia Plath’s ‘Collected Poems’ a different type of love is shown in ‘Morning Song’; the love between a mother and a child. The beginning of the poem starts with “Love set you going like a fat gold watch” illustrating the conformity of how it has to be love to even begin the conception, the symbolic meaning of the “fat gold watch” suggests the precious time of human life where it is ‘gold’ which emphasizes the value of time and love. Plath uses a collective pronoun “our” to highlight the relationship being still together and the love after the baby is born is of a shared love between the mother and husband linking back to her own life of her relationship with her husband Ted Hughes. The relationship indicates how she had 3 children and that she felt more connected to them when the baby was inside of her and later on there’s a sense of confusion as she feels less attached as the “clear vowels rise like balloons” suggesting that the internal factor could be the baby inside of her and the external factor being when the baby is born and feeling less attached. The effect of the simile is that it paints a clear picture in the readers head indicating that these balloons are rising and that they could even possibly burst. The balloon could link to her love for her child and that she is feeling more distant the further the balloon rises.

However on the other hand, Othello is shown to be an innocent romantic love; but then over time seen to be a profane love as the façade has been removed with the aid of external influences such as Iago. Othello is only good at something’s such as battle,” for since these arms of mine had seven years’ pith,/ Till now some nine moons wasted, they have us’d”; their relationship has many flaws from lack of communication when he is about to kill Desdemona, and then to the lack of trust as she says very little to the accusation that she had an affair with Cassio and gave the handkerchief to him. The lack of communication is not an external influence but an internal one which is also to an extent a product directly causing a destructive love.

In Othello destructive love is directly influenced by external factors such as Desdemona’s father, ‘Brabantio’ as he is against their love and marriage. The reason why he is against it is because during the Elizabethan era witchcraft was common and consequently he accuses Othello of witchcraft. “Thou has practic’d on her with foul charms,/ Abus’d her delicate youth with drugs or minerals”. At the time during the Elizabethan era, blacks were considered to be barbarians, and murderous heathens. It is a very rare thing that a black man would be able to obtain the rank of general in a predominantly Caucasian army. It caused quite a bit of jealousy among the other officers serving under Othello. [3] However, Desdemona’s father, Brabantio and the mainstream of Venetians found it intolerable for Desdemona, a white woman of high class to marry a black man. Trifling acceptance was given to Othello because of his headship as the moor. Brabantio stated that Othello had a “sooty bosom” and a “foul thief”, which is evidence to prove his racism towards him that just because “he hast thou stow’d” his daughter he does not like him suggesting Brabantio being an external influence to their destructive love.

Desdemona says she has a “divided duty” toward Othello and as her father says “he would rather of adopt” due to him being embarrassed she has fallen in love with a ‘black’ moor. “Divided duty” highlights the fact that during the Elizabethan period, women had a duty towards men; they had to look after and be obedient towards them. Also, status played an important role within society as evidently portrayed by Brabantio suggesting how he would have rather adopted after he finds out Desdemona has fallen in love with Othello. Even after calling Othello a “foul thief” suggests further how people within society cause love to be pressurised; giving a bad image to the Protagonist which in this case is Othello leading him to destruction by other influences and attitudes of other characters within the play..

In Romeo & Juliet the families were not the main cause of destructive love as from the very beginning of the play, fate was constantly referred to by Shakespeare, starting with the prologue. “A pair of star crossed lovers take their life” where Shakespeare mentions that Romeo and Juliet were meant to die together because it was their fate. Consequently this is what destiny had intentionally planned for their lives, as it was crossed through the stars. So the audience recognises that the tragic death of Romeo and Juliet was something which was; inevitable. During the Elizabethan era this ideology of fate to the audience was not something new; that destiny overrides and if it’s meant to happen in life it will. This could be true but alternatively it could be interpreted that the families were the main cause for their destructive love; the Capulets and Montagues bring about destruction in the love between ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Escalus, Prince of Verona says “See what a scourge is laid upon your hate, that heavens find means to kill your joys with love”. The hate of the two families resulted in the deaths of the two lovers. The fact that due to both families not having the sense to end their feud has sent them a price to pay; their deaths are the outcome of the scourge that was laid upon the families due to the result of their thwarted love.

The love shown in each of the texts are portrayed in different ways by the authors; in Romeo and Juliet the first ‘love’ the audience is exposed to is ‘interchangeable’ love mentioned by Benvolio as he says, “by giving liberty unto thine eyes, examine other beauties”, suggesting quite openly that Romeo should check out other women. Benvolio states that a man should only love a woman for the duration of their marriage, and if however their relationship is to be destroyed then he should not feel any grief or remorse. In principle, men should have more authority and be in control over women who are symbolized as objects. In contrast Romeo is terribly in love with Rosaline but the love so he, “Shut up his windows, lock fair daylight out and makes himself an artificial night.” The imagery illustrates a dark and depressed atmosphere showing Romeo’s feelings towards love at the beginning. The fact that Benvolio has an external influence on Romeo highlights how society in the Elizabethan era saw women to be ‘obedient to their husbands and used to forge alliances’ [4] which clearly shows how Benvolio thinks love should be and how men should have the upper hand in all cases. This mentality at times clouds Romeo’s judgement and causes a pressurised destructive love.

Despite Benvolio’s attempts to advise Romeo, a reader could interpret this in another view that towards the end of the play Romeo would do anything for Juliet as he says “My life were better ended by their hate/ Than death prorogued, wanting thy love.” Which is completely the opposite of what Benvolio’s advice is to Romeo; as he states that he does not want to be without Juliet, and if it comes to it he would rather be dead. This shows how external influences could affect a relationship but ultimately it’s the decision of the character which determines what would happen in their relationship and again linking back to destiny within the Elizabethan era.

On the contrary, Possessiveness over loved ones can also cause or lead to destructive love. Othello’s marriage to Desdemona shows that although one can truly love a person, the need for human control can destroy any relationship causing destruction and turmoil. From the very beginning, Othello faces a dilemma of helplessness because of his marriage. ‘Eldred Jones’ has concurred stating that ‘Othello made himself available to public criticism and assaults on his character by marrying a young white girl’ [5] . This suggests that jealously is also another factor; Rodrigo is a main cause of this as he also is in love with Desdemona and due to Othello marrying this ‘young white girl’ he is opening himself up for an even bigger fall as he becomes jealous of Othello. Furthermore, the pair’s constant skirmish over power and control makes them vulnerable to destruction of their contentment. Even so, Othello seeks complete control over his wife, Desdemona. Othello claims this as he says, “O curse of marriage that we can call these delicate creatures our and not their appetites.” This highlights the fact that love should enable him to control her; due to not able to a seed of jealously begins to grow being described as “the green-eyed monster”. The use of the colour green symbolises jealously but with envy however the use of “monster” suggests an animalistic character with a personality cruel and uncontrollable. Othello is constantly linked back to this animalistic character where he is unable to control his actions. The significance of this frequent reference to animalistic character explains that possibly its Iago’s character of being that “monster” or that Shakespeare is trying to show that Othello always had this monstrous behaviour within him when he “smothers” his wife. The audiences view on Iago’s use of “green-eyed monster” is that they are aware of his plan and deceit due to his dramatic monologue therefore they see him as the ‘evil villain’ and that it’s just a matter of Iago’s opinion whether Othello has this animalistic character within him and whether this product of jealously grows and eventually becomes a product of destructive love.

During the Elizabethan era women were portrayed to be possessions by men; the first Senator, wishing Othello well when he gets married to Desdemona says ‘use Desdemona well’. The word ‘use’ seems to connote the phrase ‘look after’, but also supports the Venetian expectation of women – which they are to bow to the wills of their husbands who may utilise them as they wish. The possessiveness of characters also link to ‘Selected Poems’ by Sylvia Plath; in the poem ‘Daddy’ her father is symbolised to be an external factor which links to her contextual life with her husband being dependent; “Daddy, I have to kill you” explicitly showing that she has to kill his control, his possessiveness over her. By saying “have to kill you” also shows that the only way to move or to be free from this authority is to cause destruction; thus showing another angle of a relationship between a father and daughter.

Othello’s destructive love is caused by external characters such as Iago feeding the “green-eyed monster”. Throughout the duration of the play Othello’s relationship has changed immensely due to the manipulation of Iago. The malicious attempt in tricking his wife about the “handkerchief” as she is not able to produce is makes Othello’s seed of jealously begins to grow. Othello speaks to Desdemona using words with equivocal meanings. While he is suggesting one thing, Desdemona thinks he is talking about something else. “This argues fruitfulness and liberal heart. Hot, hot, and moist.” In this case, Desdemona turn a blind eye not thinking much of his statement. Othello however, is referring to her unlawful, lecherous nature as he begins to speak harshly to Desdemona as he questions the whereabouts of the special handkerchief. “It is words that shakes me thus. Pish! Noses, ears, and lips. Is’t possible? – Confess? Handkerchief? Oh devil!”. The use of “Oh devil” links back to the Elizabethan era where people believed in witchcraft and thus having an influence on the way in which the play was seen. In this dramatic monologue, the use of exclamations, questions and repetition of words link to the tension in this scene; Othello clearly has fallen in Iago’s trap of manipulation of how Cassio was supposedly boasting about sleeping with Desdemona keeping in mind that the audience knows the truth of Iago and his plot due to his soliloquy explicitly highlighting that he will “put the Moor/ At least into a jealousy so strong/ That judgment cannot cure”. This dramatic monologue indicates and brings about tension in the audience as we can see what Othello is actually thinking and the audience can feel a sense of his jealously coming out as mentioned by Iago being the “green-eyed monster”. The device used engages the audience and begins to fuel their envy for Iago which makes them feel more emotionally attached to Othello and feel sorry for him in the end when he “smothers” his wife which brings about more tension in his destructive love.

The reason for Iago’s manipulation and deceit is originally sourced from jealously; as he was not picked to be lieutenant. “Come, be a man. Put money in thy purse. Follow thou these wars it cannot be that Desdemona should long continue her love to the moor. If though const cuckhold him, thou dost thyself a pleasure me a sport” This shows the essence of why Iago is causing this destructive love being the external influence manipulating their relationship leading it to destruction. If for instance looking back at the Act 1 if Othello chose Iago to be lieutenant then his fuel of jealously and envy would not be there in the first place so this suggests that Othello instigated his own destructive love through another character. Alternatively, Iago was not the only character who had jealously for Othello, because Cassio had his own agenda as he was jealous of him and Desdemona. On the contrary to this one can argue that even though Iago did not get the position and “one Michael Cassio” did; that there is also another factor which could of instigated Iago’s jealousy which was the rumour of Othello sleeping with Emillia “twixt Iago’s sheets.”. This highlights the fact there is more than one incident within the play which could have added fuel to the fire already causing a destructive love between Othello and his wife, Desdemona.

To conclude although on a surface a façade of love is being presented, a more insightful interpretation that is bigger and showing an overview of products of external and some internal influences causing a destructive love conveyed in Othello, Romeo & Juliet and Select Poems. Destructive love is seen in different perspectives by each author at different periods of time in which they were set showing an influence that society had on the individual writers. In Othello the main cause of destructive love is the manipulation and jealously which ultimately leads to the “seed” and the “green-eyed monster” in Othello himself to come out and cause his own destructive love by killing his wife Desdemona. Likewise in Romeo & Juliet the continuous pressure from society and the “Friar” with the idea of pretending to be dead explicitly had a direct impact causing another destructive love. However from another angle of love Sylvia Plath highlights the effect of the relationship between her father and her in the poem ‘Daddy’ which had an impact on her actual life and the interpretations of her other poems also relate to the destruction of love in her life.

Word Count: 2,834

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