Dating Othello

3 12 2012

othello-and-desdemona-in-venice-1850I’ve dated Othello in the past. Twice. Let’s call them Othello #1 and Othello #2, with the Othello of the play being just plain Othello. Well, ok, neither of the Othellos I dated were black (though Othello #2 was Asian, which gives a nice parallel with the racial issues), but they were jealous, and rather than confront their own jealousy, both of them decided to take it out on me instead. I don’t feel like talking much about my time with Othello #1 right now (though I quite possibly will at a later date), but seeing as Othello #2 was a particularly recent event, I would like to discuss instead how watching Othello has helped me to understand what I went through with him.

As with any good Shakespearean tragic antihero, Othello #2 had many fine qualities. I didn’t fall in love with his jealousy. I fell in love with the generous, intelligent man who I met before the jealousy came through. I was head over heels for him, yet as time went on, my love was destroyed by constant displays of jealousy and possessiveness. Furthermore, despite knowing that he had issues with jealousy, he insisted on seeking out situations that fuelled it, including, on one occasion, reading three year old Facebook conversations that I’d had with an ex. And though I did try to avoid arousing his jealousy, what I perceived to be trifles light as air were to him as strong as proofs of holy writ. After leaving him, I could deal with being apart from him (I watched Thor every day for a week after we broke up – it was great), but I could not help but wonder one thing. What the hell had he been thinking all this time?

Luckily for me, I had Shakespeare to come to my rescue. What drove Othello to jealousy was not the knowledge that Desdemona had played him for a cuckold, but rather the unfounded fear that she might be doing so. While he was possessed of a great amount of insecurity, this was primarily brought about because for much of the play he has Iago whispering in his ear. I suppose it must have been the same for Othello #2, who had the nobler inclinations of his character overwhelmed by jealousy, with the difference being that the Iago of Othello was an external force, while the Iago that Othello #2 dealt with was merely an extension of his own self. This makes me both pity and hate Othello #2 more than I would were he the victim of an outsider’s machinations, as was the Othello of the play.

And so I am left imagining what life is like when one always has a little Iago whispering in your ear. It must be a very difficult life indeed. Whatever one’s initial inclinations may be, your little Iago constantly taunts you with tales of bright and handsome Cassios, and how they have entranced the one you love. As the merest sound of discontent escapes your loved ones lips, you hear not a sign of communication, but rather a promise that they are ready to run away to the nearest Cassio, thus forsaking you. With Othello #2, this took the form of arguments devolving into, “Well, why don’t you go and marry a white guy then?” In his jealous fits, the West became a land populated fully of Cassios, as though the thought that my problem was with him, and not his race was anathema to him. For the jealous mind believes that the Iago whispering in his ear is always right: the thought of trusting his Desdemona, or reaching out to the Cassio he so mistrusts is beyond him. He listens only to his Iago, and the more he does so, the more lost he becomes.

If only he could have taken Othello’s own advice from Act III, Scene III: “I’ll see before I doubt; when I doubt, prove; And on the proof, there is no more but this,– Away at once with love or jealousy.” Of course, once under the control of their respective Iagos, neither Othello nor Othello #2 could do this. After all, if there is no cause for jealousy, there can be no proof, and as jealousy is not the kind of feeling that easily takes leave of its victims, both Othellos were stuck doubting, ever doubting, and with no hope of ever gaining release. Neither Othello of the play, nor my own Othello #2 ever actually saw any proof of their jealousy, and neither, once possessed of jealousy, chose to do away on love and jealousy both. Instead, they held on to love – or at least their own version of it – and left all the responsibility for it upon their Desdemona. For Othello, this meant murder. For Othello #2, this meant countless arguments, which began and ended at his pleasure.

As one who has been forced to play the Desdemona, I find that honesty is one of the first victims of jealousy. When you see your Othello in a jealous fit, there is a sense about him, where you just know that whatever you do will confirm the doubts that his Iago has planted in his mind. And so, when he asks any of the myriad other questions that could arouse his jealousy (such as whether or not you’d gone snorkeling with an ex before), what do you do? You lie, you delay, you change the topic. You do whatever you can to avoid telling him the truth, so that you can gain enough time to fix the problem yourself. Though I, like Desdemona, was innocent of any wrongdoing, whenever Othello #2 broke out into one of his peevish jealousies, he threw all restraint upon me. And so like Desdemona, I showed restraint – not by changing myself (and indeed, I often could not change myself, as Othello #2 was jealous of my past), but by making sure he was ignorant of anything he could be jealous of. Where Desdemona lied and claimed not to have lost the token of her and Othello’s love, I found lies slipping into every conversation with Othello #2.

The more I suffered from Othellos #2’s jealousy, the more I found myself listening to the little Iago inside myself, whispering, “Honesty’s a fool, and loses that it works for.” That little Iago within me became stronger and stronger – not because of any great desire for jealousy within me, but rather because I wanted to fight the Iago within him with one of my own. Fight fire with fire, fight Iago with Iago. I then saw myself becoming a person I did not like. As I looked into the mirror, I began seeing not an innocent Desdemona, but instead another tired Othello, with Iago ever-whispering in my ear. And so, though I had no proof that he had betrayed me, I had proof that he did not make me well. I saw but one choice available to me: “Away at once with love or jealousy.”

Ultimately, the joke was on him. As Iago warns Othello, jealousy is “the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Every time he showed his jealousy, and every time he tried to make me take the responsibility for his jealousy, rather than confronting it himself, Othello #2 made a mockery of himself. His jealousy made him ugly, and for all he tried to use it to keep me as he wanted me, in the end it is what drove me away from him, and if his jealousy remains unchecked, then it will destroy him, just as it destroyed Othello. For Othello #2, the resolution of any instance of jealousy merely made space for yet another Iago to rise up in his mind, whispering foul deceptions in his ear. I sincerely hope, both for his sake and that of any women he is with in the future, that he will be able to shake off his Iagos, but I fear that for a man such as him, who has shown such a tendency to indulge his jealousy, his Iago will only perish when he does.

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