Shakespeare's Skepticism: Unconditional Love in Othello
Unconditional love is said by some to be the unobtainable but righteous goal of all living humans. When and if we are capable of generating unconditional love towards our fellow man but in particular those who are closest to us many believe we are capable of ascension to a better place, be it the Christian heaven which stresses unconditional love for one's fellow man and especially one's enemies as well as unconditional love for God and unconditional belief in his some the prophet Jesus Christ. (Walker 6) While in the Buddhist inclination it is believed that one can finally ascend to Nirvana after many trials and tribulations that free him or her from the material matters that often drive those urges that are not loving, jealousy and the desiring of the materials of others have, both examples of the opposite of unconditional love. There are many examples of the concept and theme of unconditional love as the goal of humanity within literature and one of the greatest examples can be found in Shakespeare's Othello.
Two individuals from different worlds and with seemingly nothing common that would allow love and especially unconditional love to grow meet and are drawn to one another by such love. The interesting aspect of the work that demonstrates the most foundational message is that the less likely individual Desdemona, culturally elite and driven by familial and cultural obligations, i.e. The one with the most to lose become the example of success in attaining unconditional love. While her husband Othello remains challenged regardless of the fact that he has received Desdemona's unconditional love and to some extent has more to gain by the union as a mercenary soldier outside of his own culture than anyone else, fails at unconditional love to the detriment of both their ends. The message associated with the theme of unconditional love and the twist of fate associated with its end, demonstrates an interesting conundrum, worth serious analysis as the message of the work becomes; one that the masculine fear associated with jealousy in the matter of love and to as the desire by an outsider to be accepted and even valued as a member of society and desired in the role of the unconditionally loved husband are inextricably at odds with each other and at least in this case the baser instincts dominate. (Bell) This work will analyze the text to discover proofs within it of the thesis of unconditional love as attained by Desdemona but not achieved by Othello.
Bell a consummate Shakespearian scholar, speaks of the jealousy experienced by Othello in her work dedicated to Shakespeare's Tragic Skepticism
Most dramatic representations seize upon and emphasize the way this condition, like a fatal disease, grows on the hero and destroys him until the recovery of sanity and dignity at the tragic end. The more directly we see and hear him the more we almost share the madness that mounts in his mind until it reaches a point in which he appears to hallucinate, seeing what is not there, writhing before the inner vision of his wife's betrayal. (Bell 80)
The manner in which Bell describes this jealousy clearly illustrates the message of Shakespeare's Othello, i.e. that the work is a demonstration of how in most cases the baser emotions rule over unconditional love, even in those most honorable. Yet, that same skepticism does not seem to transfer to women, at least in the case of Desdemona, as she in contrast to Othello is not only capable of unconditional love but she is also demonstratively capable of forgiveness as well. The character of Desdemona represents the greatest example of unconditional love within the play Othello. Though her fate is sealed through the avenue of propriety she is willing to follow Othello into battle on more than one occasion and is even roused by his tales of military might. Desdemona would be unlikely to have been asked by another man, perhaps of her own race and culture to step outside the fortifications of her home to follow him into battle, yet she is happy to do so when Othello requires it. She has after all married a mercenary soldier and her role has changed. (Smith PLL11) Desdemona has married an entirely unsuitable man, he is a Christian Moor, he is older than her and he and she eventually see the error of their ways brought on by their many differences, despite their love for one another. Most importantly marrying Othello in secret demonstrates a vivid detachment from the convention of a marriage choice made by her parents and abandonment that in part proves to be their undoing, but is clearly the greatest example of her unconditional love for Othello. (Stavropoulos 126) The theme of unconditional love even goes with her to her death as she entreats the audience and Othello of her fidelity, and expresses to Othello her love and her understanding of his madness. Yet, it seems she would rather die than live with the idea that Othello believes her unfaithful or live with the man she loves as such a changed being. Even as she is dying, at the hand of the insanely jealous Othello she forgives him, seeking to sing a song that represents the case of her own love and the forgivable madness of her husband.
The first example form the text I would like to offer is the extreme nature in which Desdemona's father (Brabantio) reacts to the news that the Christian Moor has married his daughter. He is certain that Desdemona was lied to, tricked and even goes so far as to claim against Othello that the later had drugged her.
O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?/Damn'd as thou art, thou hast enchanted her;/For I'll refer me to all things of sense,/If she in chains of magic were not bound,/Whether a maid so tender, fair and happy,/So opposite to marriage that she shunned/The wealthy curled darlings of our nation,/Would ever have, to incur a general mock,/Run from her guardage to the sooty bosom/Of such a thing as thou, to fear, not to delight./Judge me the world, if 'tis not gross in sense/That thou hast practised on her with foul charms,/Abused her delicate youth with drugs or minerals/That weaken motion: I'll have't disputed on;/'Tis probable and palpable to thinking./I therefore apprehend and do attach thee/For an abuser of the world, a practiser/Of arts inhibited and out of warrant./Lay hold upon him: if he do resist,/Subdue him at his peril. (Shakespeare 1.2.62-81)
Brabantio stresses that his daughter has always been so calm, loving and agreeable with him and that she has never had any interest in marriage, she has in fact spurned all the suitable partners of her nation as proof of her desire not to marry. There for he claims the only way that Desdemona would run to Othello: "to the sooty bosom/Of such a thing as thou" (1.2.70-71) Is if Othello had practiced witchcraft or drugged her into submission. Othello's answer comes later as he entreats the Duke of Venice on his case, "She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,/And I loved her that she did pity them/This only is the witchcraft I have used. " (1.3.167-169) To the Duke and to Brabantio, Othello stresses that Desdemona loved him of his own accord, and found her greatest source of reason for that love in the listening (over many nights at dinner in her father's house) to Othello's tales of military might. In other words she loved him not in spite of his station in life but because of it. Desdemona responds for the first time to the accusations of her father toward Othello by stating that she does "perceive here a divided duty" (1.3.181) when she thinks upon how much she owes her father and now how much she owes and loves Othello as her husband. When the issue of traveling to Cyprus with Othello, to go to war Othello asks the Duke for Desdemona's leave so she may travel with him, not because he desires it but because she does, "to be free and bounteous to her mind," (1:3.265) or in other words to respect her wishes. All these proofs and more are expressive of Desdemona's unconditional love for Othello.
Othello on the other hand, expresses his love for Desdemona to Iago just before Iago begins to attempt to sway Othello into believing that Desdemona has been unfaithful; "Excellent wretch! Perdition catch my soul,/But I do love thee! And when I love thee not,/Chaos is come again." (3.3.90-92) He also foretells of his own madness. Later in the same act and scene he expresses his deep jealousy and curses Desdemona and marriage; "O curse of marriage,/That we can call these delicate creatures ours,/And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad,/And live upon the vapour of a dungeon,/Than keep a corner in the thing I love / For others' uses./" (3.3.271-273) Expressinmg…