Compare and contrast how the destructive nature of love is presented in Shakespeare’s Othello, Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi and Mcewan’s Enduring Love
Literature through the ages has presented love in many different forms; from friendship to lust or platonic love to romance. Be it love for another person, love for pleasure or love for power; love can be seen as an origin for a multitude of emotions and motivations. It is not uncommon in literature to show how love can be ultimately destructive. My selected texts all suggest that the destructive nature of love is evident. Othello is driven to madness and consequently murder out of the jealousy of his wife Desdemona; Othello loved her so much that he could not bear to accept the fact that his wife had apparently been unfaithful to him. This also occurs in The Duchess of Malfi; Ferdinand is a character with presumed incestuous desires and the jealousy of his sister’s unknown lover drives him to murder. Ian McEwan’s Enduring Love tells the tale of the hopeless stalker Jed Perry who becomes suicidal when he cannot be loved by the protagonist of the novel Joe Rose.
Jealous love is seen in all three texts. Othello is falsely persuaded into jealousy by Iago who states in act I scene I ‘I am not what I am’(A1 s1 l64); Shakespeare uses this as the basis of the dramatic irony throughout the play to show that Iago is deliberately going to abuse his friendship with Othello to meet his own ends. By making Othello believe that his wife is cheating with his friend and lieutenant Cassio, Shakespeare is showing the reader that Iago is relying on the destructive nature of love between Othello and Desdemona to exact his revenge. Iago does not believe in love or affection, ‘Heaven is my judge, not I for love or duty/But seeming so, for my peculiar end.’ (A1 s1 l58) he only desires his revenge on Othello for disregarding him as his lieutenant. In contrast to Iago, John Webster’s Duchess of Malfi has Ferdinand deal with his jealousy directly; he wants the Duchess for himself but when he finds she has remarried he turns violent ‘Go to, mistress,/'Tis not your whore’s milk that shall quench my wildfire,/But your whore’s blood!’(A2 s5 l47) Ferdinand calls himself a ‘wildfire’ to show his anger and to emphasise how destructive he is and states that he will only be satisfied when his sister is dead.
Love or the absence of love forces some of the characters to be violent. Othello and Duchess of Malfi are similar in the way that Ferdinand and Othello are dangerous characters as they are susceptible to the destructive nature of love. This makes them menacing in contrast to Enduring Love’s Jed because the audience are aware of their intentions. In act I scene I of The Duchess of Malfi, Ferdinand draws a dagger in front of the Duchess and says ‘I’d be loath to see it look rusty.’ Webster does this to show dagger itself is a phallic symbol which represents Ferdinand’s lust for the Duchess; additionally the threat of a weapon shows the reader how violent Ferdinand can be. Othello makes his intentions clear we he promises to ‘tear her all to pieces’, although Othello doesn’t show how destructive he is physically, the language that Shakespeare uses shows the reader that Othello is aggressive. ‘Tear’ is a physical notion that not only sounds painful but it indicates that ‘pieces’ will be separated much like he feels that him and Desdemona are becoming separated. On the other hand Jed is very mysterious because the reader is not shown his full capacity for violence until the later chapters of the novel. McEwan builds a climax by making Jed seem ‘harmless’ in the early stages of the play but eventually makes comments that could be interpreted as threatening such as “you started this and you can’t run from it. I can get people to do things for me- you already know that” McEwan use the word ‘people’ to emphasise the ambiguity to Jed’s threat. This is similar to Iago as it is opposite to Ferdinand’s and Othello’s direct approach, Jed forces Joe to acknowledge his power by saying he can get people to do things for him. Also by telling him ‘you can’t run’ shows how authoritive Jed is because of his obsession, despite his timid nature.