How can I connect Othello, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," "My Last Duchess," and one other work with the theme of love or jealousy?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way in which there can be a connection made in the works identified regarding love and jealousy is how both feelings converge within the individual to create a barrier between them and the outside world.  In each of the works, jealousy is shown as something that prevents full immersion and enjoyment. Rather, it creates a barrier that causes the jealous person to objectify that which they love.  Jealousy causes individuals to view those they love as means to an ends, as opposed to an end in their own right.

While there are many ways to describe the protagonist in Eliot's poem, jealousy is one reason why he is unable to fully interact with the world that is around him.  He is jealous about how women view him, wishing that they would view him in the same way, for example, that they speak of Michelangelo:  "In the room the women come and go/ Talking of Michelangelo." There is a free flowing immersion in which the protagonist notices how women speak of Michelangelo, something of which he is jealous for he is afraid how they will notice him:

To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?"/ Time to turn back and descend the stair,/ With a bald spot in the middle of my hair-/ (They will say:  "How his hair is growing thin!") My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,/ My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin-/ (They will say:  "But how his arms and legs are thin!")

The speaker's love of being accepted by a woman, presumably for a marriage proposal, is not something transparent and lucid.  Rather, it is blocked and opaque because of jealousy.  It creates a barrier between he and the rest of the world, evident in the punctuation of his thoughts as to what the women would say about him regarding his hair, arms, and legs. Love is shown to be punctuated by jealousy, a condition that causes the speaker to be trapped in the gaze of "the other."  In this case, the protagonist covets a state of being, a condition where there is full immersion, and his love for that predicament is evident in the barriers that exist between he and the outside world.  This can be seen in his initial description of the  "evening spread out against the sky" and then undercut with a "patient etherized upon a table." The juxtaposition of images is a reflection of how jealousy infects love, moving it from the initial poetic reality into one where there is a death and lifelessness.

The same barriers that jealousy causes can be seen in Browning's "My Last Duchess."  The manner in which the Duke describes his wife is a reflection of how jealousy creates a barrier between the Duke and the rest of the world. The notion of a painting, an object to capture the gaze of another, is an initial construction of this jealousy.  The Duke covets his wife and the power he has over her that he cannot have her seen as a full human being, only in the painting that he has commissioned by the artist of his choosing.  The manner in which the Duke describes his wife is another example of how jealous love creates a barrier between the individual and the world around them.  He sees his wife as “too easily impressed” and “her looks went everywhere.”  These are ways in which jealousy has divided a pure form of love between the Duke and his wife.  He looks at her as an object, something to be appropriated and controlled as a result of his jealous nature.  Love has become divided and separated as a result of jealousy.

Shakespeare's drama speaks to this quite powerfully.  Jealousy impacts individuals such as Iago and Othello to see others in a divided way, as a means to an end, as opposed to ends in their own right.  Shakespeare shows jealousy as being trapped in the gaze of another, a condition in which individuals think themselves to be free, but are actually imprisoned.  Iago represents this in his jealousy over Cassio and being "passed over:"

But he, sir, had the election:
And I, of whom his eyes had seen the proof
At Rhodes, at Cyprus and on other grounds
Christian and heathen, must be be-lee'd and calm'd
By debitor and creditor: this counter-caster,
He, in good time, must his lieutenant be 

"One Michael Cassio" is the source of Iago's jealous nature.  Iago's love for what he does and who he is becomes immediately impacted with the understanding that "One Michale Cassio" received what he sought.  In these lines, jealousy divides the individual from a true condition of love, creating barriers and entanglements within one's perception.  Othello shows himself to not be immune to this condition, as well.  It is interesting to see how Othello rejects the idea of being "jealous" because he understands its true implications:

Why, why is this? Think'st thou I'ld make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions? No; to be once in doubt is once to be resolved: exchange me for a goat, when I shall turn the business of my soul to such exsufflicate and blown surmises, matching thy inference. 'Tis not to make me jealous to say my wife is fair, feeds well, loves company, is free of speech, sings, plays and dances well; where virtue is, these are more virtuous: nor from mine own weak merits will I draw the smallest fear or doubt of her revolt; for she had eyes, and chose me. No, Iago; 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!

"Away at once with love or jealousy" is an example of Shakespeare's genius to show how close the line is between both realities.  Othello speaks of how jealousy is nothing more than "blown surmises," but yet also speaks of "proof" can reveal intent.  This shows how powerful jealousy is in the experience of love.  Individuals who fall in love find themselves susceptible to jealousy, and Shakespeare speaks of how the experience of both can create a reality where individuals become "trapped by the gaze of the other."  In the process of being "trapped," individuals objectify those they love, in the manner that Iago objectifies Othello and how he in turn objectifies Desdemona.

Another work where the power of jealousy and love can be seen is in Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.  Examining how jealousy and love impacts characters like Tom or George Wilson might be interesting in terms of examining the dynamic of division and alienation as a result of jealousy and love.

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