The Theme of Problematic Love in Shakespeare's Plays

Topics: Othello, Renaissance, Love Pages: 10 (3822 words) Published: March 23, 2014
The theme of ‘problematic love,’ which can be defined as love that faces obstacles or does not conform to conventions expected by the society in which it is set is a major theme explored in all three texts: Despite differences in genre, form and historical context, for example the impact of marriage on a relationship and the challenges to that institution. The idea is, for example, portrayed in Othello through the relationship of the ‘noble Moor’ and ‘fair’ Desdemona, exacerbated by the personified ‘green-eyed monster.’ As a Renaissance drama, the idea of a ‘monster’ would invoke fear and curiosity in audiences. With Renaissance audiences speculating whether or not a black man, Othello, has used ‘mixtures potent’ to seduce Desdemona, their belief of monsters is expected to be genuine. Additionally, Renaissance audiences would interpret the colour ‘green’ to be related to illness and death as well as jealousy. Perhaps also, Shakespeare suggests one of the central flaws in the relationship’s failure is Othello’s hubristic character and his inability to detect ‘honest Iago’s’ true nature: Warrior Othello, finding love in peacetime Venice through boasts of ‘the soldiers’ life’ to Desdemona is apparently unable to reconcile the two sides of his character. Arguably pathetic fallacy is used as a powerful foreshadowing technique when Othello takes the ‘jewel’ Desdemona to Cypress – a war-torn environment dictated by conflict, ultimately foreshadowing the relationship’s inevitable downfall. Additionally, exploiting the implicitly racist expectations of the 17th century further ructions in the relationship are foreshadowed when Othello is described as a ‘black ram’ to Desdemona’s ‘white ewe. ’ The two contrasting colours of ‘black’ and ‘white’ not only portray the physical differences of Othello and Desdemona but also explore a deeper meaning to their characters. The idea of Othello’s ‘black’ nature suggests that because he is black he can be associated with the satanic ideas of black magic and witchcraft, opposed to Othello’s ‘white’ nature which entails purity, innocence and virtue. This idea is further enforced by the opposing animal imagery in this quotation where Othello is a ‘black ram’ and Desdemona is a ‘ewe’. Othello being compared to a ‘ram’ suggests Othello is lecherous and perhaps has the horns of a ram which can either be linked to the devil or foreshadow Othello’s cuckoldry. Desdemona in opposition is an innocent ‘ewe,’ the animal imagery here potentially being interpreted as innocent and domestic, perhaps ever mother like. A contrasting problem of character causing problems in relationships is also explored in the Renaissance comedy, The Taming of the Shrew, as Shakespeare exploits the conventions of the genre to portray a witty battle between apparently similar protagonists Katharina and Petruchio, creating comedy through the contrasts with gender expectations to portray Katharina as a renowned scold, with a fiery temper and the other as a more conventional fortune seeking gentleman. Katharina as a woman is going against the typical expectations of a Renaissance woman by her almost masculine presence and presentation, rendering her initially as a poor womanly role model to audiences. Similarly, this is shown in the Renaissance tragedy Othello through the Moor and Desdemona’s relationship which is described as an ‘unnatural match’ because of their society-defying match that pairs the ‘jewel’ Desdemona to the ‘baboon’ Othello, leading to an inevitable downfall of character. This antithesis in Taming is portrayed at their first meeting in a heated confrontation where Shakespeare invokes similar animal imagery to that in Othello, as Katharina warns her suitor to ‘best beware’ her ‘sting’, which he quickly resolves by saying he will ‘pluck it out.’ The idea of having to ‘beware’ of Katharina demonstrates her power, with her ‘sting’ almost empowering her femininity and how despite being a woman she’s a bold and fierce...
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