“the Success or Failure of a Marriage Is Determined by the Nature of the Love Which the Married Couple Felt for Each Other When Their Relationship Began.” Discuss with Respect to Acts 1-3 of Othello and Part 1 of Persuasion.
The outcome of a marriage is intrinsically linked not only with the nature of a couple’s love but also with the expectations that they have of one another regarding their respective roles in the marriage. Love assumes many different forms but is also variable. Therefore, the manner in which it evolves is significant in determining the outcome of a marriage. Both Jane Austen’s Persuasion and Shakespeare’s Othello explore how the emotions that a couple originally shared can be modified as time passes.
This could be due to a number of contributive causes such as: personal differences within a marriage and social pressures as well as interference from others or deterioration in communication. Conversely, in some instances, the nature of a couple’s love at the beginning of a marriage can be indicative of the future success or failure of it. Austen and Shakespeare, by means of Persuasion and Othello, both investigate the extent to which external interference – be it from family and friends or society – impacts the success or failure of a marriage.
Although they are not married, Anne and Captain Wentworth’s relationship, which flourishes on a warm and deep love at the beginning, falls victim to social pressures. They fell “rapidly and deeply in love” and it is reported that: “It would be difficult to say which had seen highest perfection in the other, or which had been the happiest” which illustrates the profound nature of their love from the very beginning. However, Lady Russell interrupts this “short period of exquisite felicity” as she expresses her disapproval of the match, echoing the general consensus with regards to the social norms.
In her opinion, in order for a marriage to be successful its foundations must be characterised by: “alliance”, “affluence” and “fortune”. Lady Russell is opposed to the match due to fact that she believes that he had “nothing but himself to recommend him, and no hopes of attaining affluence” being a “stranger without alliance or fortune”. Therefore, she persuades Anne to abandon her love for Captain Wentworth and refuse to marry him, thereby emphasising that they live at a time when love was most certainly not blind. Anne’s coping mechanism is to convince herself that refusing to marry him will benefit him.
This concerns her belief that being “prudent, and self-denying” was “principally for his advantage. ” Lady Russell epitomises the social context that surrounds the characters of Persuasion and Jane Austen herself, as she acts as an external obstacle impeding the course of true love. Throughout Persuasion Austen continually investigates the effects of society and the social norms that dictate what is meant by a “good connection”. This is the case of Anne and Captain Wentworth and another prime example of this is the marriage of Mary Elliot and Charles Musgrove.
The nature of their love for one another at the beginning of their relationship is not profound and passionate but rather one that reflects the precepts of marriage implemented by society at the time. This dictates the necessity for fortune, social status and ‘equality of alliance’ to supersede genuine love. Mary’s attraction to Charles was predominantly to his wealth and gentleman status. Although these were considered fundamental criteria for a successful marriage they did not constitute a solid foundation for theirs.
Mary’s constant yearning for attention and melodramatic tendencies places a strain on her marriage to Charles, as he does not pander to her self-indulgent nature. There is very little emotional substance to their relationship, which is illustrated by Charles’ lack of interest when Mary declares herself “very unfit to be left alone” due to illness – which he disregards and subsequently goes shooting in order to avoid her complaints. Furthermore, Austen explores the possibility of marriage “improving” a person, meaning a woman’s ability to strengthen and reshape her husband – something that Mary lacks.
Lady Russell and Anne believe this is because she is not a “woman of real understanding”. Had she been of this nature she could have given “more consequence to his character, and more usefulness, rationality, and elegance to his habits and pursuits” thus, highly valuing his worth as well as guiding him to channel his skills productively. Therefore, this implies that she is unable to fulfill the same role that her mother did with regard to her father who sacrificed her own happiness and instead “humoured, or softened, or concealed his failings and promoted his real respectability”.
Charles’ expectations of Mary insofar as her duties as a wife and mother are consistent with society’s view of women at the time in which Austen was writing, whereby they were expected to fulfill their traditional jobs. This is emphasised when his son is unwell and he leaves Mary to care for him as he questions: “what was there for a father to do? This was quite a female case, and it would be highly absurd in him, who could be of no use at home, to shut himself up. Although Mary pretends to be agreement with her husband when in his company, on this occasion – and many others – she complains about his lack of involvement in the family’s day-to-day life. In addition, Mary’s defiant attitude towards her husband in order to obtain what she wants displeases Charles and is another contributive factor to the unhappiness of their marriage. On numerous occasions he attempts to free himself of her in order to attend an engagement alone. This indicates that he regards her as somewhat of a burden. In fact, Mary angers Charles when she insists on accompanying him on a walk with Louisa, Captain Wentworth and Anne.
As a consequence of her having “shewn herself disobliging to him”, he engages himself in “dropping her arm almost every moment” – thus manifesting his displeasure at his wife’s behaviour. Therefore, it is evident through the scrutiny of their marriage, that without a solid basis consisting of genuine love that acts as a strong attachment between two people, it is difficult to maintain a successful marriage. In Mary and Charles’ case the criteria that Lady Russell prioritises such as fortune and social status, are not enough to prevent their marriage from failing.
Whereas the marriage of Mary and Charles is presented as an example of a troubled relationship; conversely, Austen portrays the criteria for a successful marriage and an image of the ‘ideal marriage’ through that of Admiral and Mrs. Croft. Mutual happiness is a crucial element of a successful marriage as it reflects a state of harmony and the warmth of a loving relationship. Austen depicts the Crofts’ situation as marital bliss as they seemed “particularly attached and happy” – a striking contrast to that of Mary and Charles.
Although the couple is introduced after the other main characters, it can be inferred that they had shared a profound love for one another since the beginning. This is because unlike Mary who does not proclaim her love for Charles as being anything stronger and more valuable than a necessity for wealth and social rank; she professes a deeper love resembling that of Desdemona for Othello. Mrs. Croft highlights this when she expresses that: “nothing can exceed the accommodations of a man of war (…) the happiest part of my life has been spent on board a ship.
While we were together, there was nothing to be feared” which suggest that they have enjoyed a long and happy life together. This is reminiscent of Desdemona’s proclamation of her love of Othello’s “warrior” status and her desire to accompany her husband overseas on the ship. This emphasises not only the profound nature of their love but also her devotion towards her husband. Therefore, despite the fact that the two previous couples’ marriages resulted in failure, Austen also explores the possibility of a strong love being maintained throughout the course of a relationship.
The marriages of Othello and Desdemona and that of Anne Wentworth bear a number of common factors, both in terms of the nature of their love and the obstacles that are in constant conflict with it. Firstly, Othello and Desdemona share a profound and instinctive love, which from the very start must overcome racist social stigmas as it is deemed “unnatural”. The nature of their love is exemplified when Desdemona passionately professes: My downright violence and storm of fortunes May trumpet to the world. My heart’s subdued Even to the very quality of my lord.
I saw Othello’s visage in his mind And to his honours and his valiant parts (Act 1 Scene 3) Desdemona, unlike Anne, defies the social constraints that dictate that a woman requires both financial and social security and instead remains with the man she loves. She expresses that she fell in love with his mind, bravery and honour and not superficial, less important attributes such as appearance. However, the profound love that is present at the beginning of their relationship is disrupted by the interference of Iago, which arouses in Othello strong sentiments of jealousy and mistrust.
As with Anne and Captain Wentworth’s relationship, Othello and Desdemona’s marriage is ultimately destroyed by external influences. In Persuasion Lady Russell plays such a role and in Othello Iago attempts to sabotage the couple’s marriage. Initially, Othello is reluctant to believe Iago when he reports that he being “cuckolded” by Desdemona who is having an affair with Cassio. He maintains his faith in the profound nature of their love and retains his trust in her as he states that: “Nor from mine own weak merits will I draw [t]he smallest fear and doubt of her revolt, [f]or she had eyes and chose me. The fact that Desdemona, having seen him, still chose him signifies to Othello that despite his flaws she still loves him and therefore there would be no reason for her to betray him. However, Iago’s words begin to instill suspicion and jealousy in Othello’s mind – which the latter inevitably eventually believes. Iago’s inconspicuous persuasion techniques target Othello’s jealousy, which is highlighted when he warns him: O beware, my lord, of jealousy: It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock The meat it feeds on. That cuckold lives in bliss Who certain of his fate loves not his wronger; But O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet fondley loves? (Act 3 Scene 3) Iago is effectively arousing suspicion in Othello’s mind that there is something that he should be jealous of. He maintains a sense of ambiguity surrounding the subject, but it is sufficient to accentuate the jealousy inside Othello, which is the driving force of the rupture of their marriage. Iago’s plan to capitulate on Othello’s jealousy is made explicit when he says that the most insignificant thing presented to a jealous man, is as convincing as a holy sworn truth (“I will in Cassio’s lodging lose his napkin [a]nd let him find it.
Trifles light as air [a]re to the jealous confirmations strong [a]s proofs of holy writ”). Furthermore, Othello expresses his distress at the fact that men can possess wives but yet they are unable to control their sexual desires. He subsequently articulates that he would rather be a toad than “keep a corner in the thing I love [f]or other’s uses. ” This highlights the transformation from love to resentment and hatred that occurs within Othello regarding Desdemona. In addition, Othello contemplates what may have caused the betrayal of their love – whether it was as a result of: lack of conversation, his race or his age.
Knowledge is a key aspect in determining the success or failure of a marriage in Othello. On the one hand, Desdemona’s lack of knowledge as to what she has done to anger Othello is crucial to the destruction of their marriage. On the other hand, Othello describes how his knowledge of her affair (or the knowledge that he thinks is correct) is detrimental to his sanity and his marriage. Instead, he believes that he would have been much happier had he been oblivious to his wife’s betrayal (“He that is robb’d, not wanting what is stolen, [l]et him not know’t and he’s not robb’d at all. ”).
Moreover, Othello’s loss of reputation as a result of being made into a “cuckold” is another destructive force in their marriage. Othello states that “Her name, that was as fresh [a]s Dian’s visage, is now begrim’d and black [a]s mine own face”. Therefore, her betrayal of him has caused him a loss of reputation, something that is fundamental in the failure of their marriage as honour and reputation are two main themes in the play. The marriage of Iago and Emilia is another example of a relationship that experiences turmoil as a result of destructive emotions such as jealousy and mistrust.
Although such emotions have a less catastrophic effect on Iago and Emilia’s marriage than in the case of Othello and Desdemona, they do nevertheless create tension within the relationship. It is in fact ironic that Iago feels the same insecurities and lack of trust within his own marriage while he is planting identical emotions in Othello. Iago projects his feelings for his wife on the entire female gender as he spitefully tells her that “you are pictures out of doors, bells in you parlours, wild-cats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries, devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds. He accuses women of acting impeccably when in the public eye but when they are alone with their husbands they are tiresome and abstain from sexual intercourse. This emphasises the tension within their relationship and the frustration that Iago suffers. His insecurity and jealousy come to the forefront once again as he angrily expresses his intention to take revenge for having failed to protect his “jewel” (his wife), after he irrationally suspects Othello of having “leap’d into my seat”.
Another example of the tension between Emilia and Iago and the difficulties that they encounter in their marriage is when Iago subtly asks his wife: “You have something for me? It is a common thing-“ in a slightly joking manner which hides the resentful undertone to his words. In fact, he is accusing his wife of having had sex with many other men. Furthermore, the play’s audience is provided with a woman’s view regarding the attitude of men towards women. Emilia expresses her disdain concerning their behaviour when she states: “They are all abut stomachs, and e all but food; [t]hey eat us hungerly, and when they are full, [t]hey belch us” thus, like her husband did, she bases her views on men on her experiences with Iago. Emilia objectifies women as she describes them as the possessions of men (“food” to be eaten by the “stomachs”). Therefore, Iago and Emilia’s marriage – as does Othello and Desdemona’s – effectively depicts how the love that could have been present at the start, can be distorted to a point where its original nature is barely recognisable.
In summary, there is no absolute rule that can predict the outcome of a marriage solely based on the nature of the love at the beginning of it. This is because each relationship is different and therefore the extent to which they are susceptible to external influences is also variable. Both Othello and Persuasion explore in their own manner the ease with which one can manipulate a couple and consequently have disastrous effects on a marriage.
When such manipulation occurs, even the strongest and deepest of loves such as that of Othello and Desdemona is destroyed – hence why external interference is such an important factor in both texts. However, Austen particularly shows how the criteria that traditionally constitute a successful marriage are not infallible – something which is demonstrated by Mary and Charles’ marriage. Thus, it is possible to infer that the outcome of a marriage is dependent on the evolution of the original feelings within a relationship as well as the nature of them.