The play Othello explores the theme of a conflict in love, which results from misconceptions and misunderstanding between the lovers. Similarly, the poems My Last Duchess by Robert Browning and How It Will End by Denise Duhamel also address the same motif. The artists of these literary pieces develop their works and convey the themes through the use of different techniques and devices. The word choice and the use of dramatic elements, figurative language, and other literary techniques enable the writers to develop the theme of conflict in romantic relationships. These literary devices share much in terms of development of the theme and also have several differences. The literary elements that the artists use breed the similarities and differences in their works depending on the intended effect on the audience. Using a formalist strategy, this essay will compare the way the theme of jealous love is developed in the three pieces.
In Othello, Shakespeare presents a perfect couple, who joins and lives by love, only to end up tragically. At the beginning, Othello and Desdemona elope without the bride’s father consent because they could not stand a disapproval of their love (Shakespeare 3). The playwright develops the theme of jealousy through the character Iago, who seeks to bring Othello to a downfall. The writer employs the use of monologue as well as the dramatic elements of conflict, contrast, climax, and tension in order to unfold and portray this motif. The play depicts two cases of jealous love united by the fact that the characters seek the destruction of what they consider a threat to their love. Shakespeare uses these two cases antagonistically to create suspense and invoke emotions in the audience.
Shakespeare employs conflict throughout the play. The playwright builds the foundation of the theme on the crisis between Othello and Iago, as well as the one-sided love of Roderigo towards Desdemona (Shakespeare 3). As the play begins, the writer presents Iago milking money from Roderigo to arrange a relationship between him and Desdemona. At the same time, he presents the marriage of Desdemona and Othello, placing Othello and Roderigo on opposite sides of the conflict. Furthermore, the appointment of Cassio as the lieutenant, bypassing Iago, who was eying the position, makes him the main antagonist of the conflict. Shakespeare sets the play crises from the beginning, letting them develop throughout the drama. In fact, the crises are the source of the love conflict between Othello and Desdemona.
In addition, tension ensues when Iago succeeds to plant the seed of suspicion in Othello. The scheme of Iago and Roderigo creates suspense as the audience awaits to see whether Othello will fall into the trap. For example, when Iago requests Othello to hide as he talks to Cassio, tension mounts because the audience cannot tell whether he will recognize the four plays. When he is caught in the scheme, tension increases because readers are uncertain of what the climax brings.
Timing and contrast come in handy when Othello demands an explanation from Desdemona of the whereabouts of the handkerchief, which is placed in contrast to her pleading for Cassio’s position. The contrast in the subjects of couple’s discussion furthers the theme of conflict by misconception. Moreover, the contrast and timing when Iago and Cassio are talking, Othello in hiding and the appearance of Bianca with Desdemona’s handkerchief, further the theme (Shakespeare 26). Othello is convinced that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio based on the timing contrast of events, while that is not the case.
The mood of the play at different occasions helps develop the theme. During the monologue where Iago talks about his plan to split Othello and Desdemona by implying an affair between Desdemona and Cassio, the mood foresees the evil in the scheme. The rage with which Othello approaches and treats Desdemona shows the way he perceives her and perceives the truth about her. The sorrow at the end of the drama when Othello learns the truth emphasizes the extent of damage of the conflict in love resulting from misconception.
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Lastly, the climax of the play is at the end, when Emilia uncovers Iago’s truth. Desdemona takes the blame for Othello’s murder by saying that she committed suicide (Shakespeare 41). She does so in innocence, as she does not understand the reason behind the husband’s accusation. Although Emilia dies, she manages to let Othello know that the whole conflict was created by Iago by making him misunderstand the events and actions of Desdemona. When Othello, commits suicide, the playwright shows the inevitability of clarity as couples conflict to avoid a tragic ending like this.
My Last Duchess presents the theme of jealous love through the persona’s monologue. The poet develops the theme through the use of the narrative structure, lyrics, the word diction, and the figurative language. The poet begins the poem with words which present treasuring of the Duchess by the Duke. The use of the phrase “That’s my last Duchess” conveys a message of ownership (Browning 1). The Duke considers the painting as a representation of his Duchess. The last word also implies that he does not plan to replace her with another, which insinuates treasuring. In addition, in lines eight and nine, the poet says “But to myself they turned (since none puts by / The curtain I have drawn for you, but I)” (Browning 9-10) showing the possessive nature of the Duke. Even if the Duchess is in a portrait form, only as if she was alive, he cannot have others look at her, which emphasizes his obsession and jealousy.
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The monologue in the poem allows the persona to express his ideas without interaction, telling the audience of his personality and what he thinks of others. The persona in the poem talks continuously to him, as he recounts of the incidents and character of his Duchess. The memories allow the readers to review the life of the Duchess through the mind of the persona. Through monologue, the poet creates a character of the persona from his point of view. Thus, the reader is on the same page with the person, since it is the persona who describes himself and others to the readers. The possessive nature of Duke’s love to the Duchess, which leads to the tragic conflict, is evident throughout the monologue. Moreover, the unproven infidelity suspicion is revealed through the monologue. The Duke cannot prove that the Duchess is unfaithful, but his fear and ego, which he clearly acclaims in his speech, could not allow him to let her continue smiling at all. The poet uses monologue to show the flow of thoughts of the persona concerning the subject. In this poem, monologue lays the building blocks of the jealous theme, which breeds in the persona’s mind.
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The diction of the poem explicitly brings to light the tragic jealousy of the Duke. The wording of the title suggests that the Duke is making a point that the Duchess belongs to him only. This word choice implies a sense of ownership, which the Duke feels threatened. He needs to affirm that the Duchess is only his, which is a depiction of jealous love. The words that the poet uses, when the persona is describing his Duchess, show suspicion and insecurity in the relationship, but do not denote infidelity. The Duke is driven to jealousy by the fact that the Duchess is kind towards other men. When he says, “She had A heart—how shall I say?—too soon made glad, / Too easily impressed; she liked whate’er / She looked on, and her looks went everywhere,” the poet creates the impression that the Duke is insecure because the Duchess shows appreciation for other men (Browning 22-24). Furthermore, the poet states “She thanked men, – good! but thanked / Somehow – I know not how,” which shows the Duke’s rage because of the Duchess’ conduct (Browning 31-32). The words “she thanked men” clearly emphasize the jealousy and fury the Duke is harboring. Besides, the use of the phrase “I choose / Never to stoop” brings to light Duke’s pride, which is emphasized by the phrase “I gave commands” (Browning 43-45). The poet uses these words to communicate to the audience that the persona is not only jealous because of the lady’s actions, but his ego is wounded by her deeds. The egoistic nature of the Duke and the jealous love of insecurity, as his wife is pleasant to all men around her, lead to the tragedy in the poem. As the poem approaches to its end, the jealousy of Duke’s possessive love for his Duchess is crystal clear.
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The narrative structure of the poem provides the flow of the poem. It begins with an introduction, where the persona tells the audience that it is about his last Duchess. In line one and two, he gives this information and then moves on to explain the source of the portrait. This information gives ground to build the theme of jealousy in order to allow the readers to follow the rest of the issues. The poet also informs the readers about the beauty of the Duchess, laying the base for the anxiety of the Duke when the wife behaves warmly with other men. The poem unfolds in a story format, explaining the events bit by bit as if in paragraphs. The persona expresses the light heart of the Duchess, which is why he has to silence her, then his pride, as he leaves the topic of the Duchess. The narrative structure takes the audience through the portrait from its origin and reasons for its existence to the end of viewing it. There is also the depiction of jealousy in love, as the Duke is extremely possessive of the Duchess and egoistic.
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In the poem How It Will End by Denise Duhamel, the theme of conflict in love surfaces, as a couple quarrels and another pair watches from a distance. The persona in the poem is the observing female, and through her, the poet reveals the misconceptions and misunderstanding which result in fights between lovers. Duhamel employs symbolism, figurative language, the narrative structure, and melodrama to present the theme.
The poem unfolds as if it is a story narrated to the audience. The readers experience the fights of the quarreling couple through the perspective of the persona. Duhamel further develops the narrative structures by allowing the observing couple to participate in the argument of the subjects. Thus, the poet creates a story within a story, stressing the theme of conflict between couples. Interestingly, at first, the persona and her husband are just observers, but later they become part of the quarrel. Through this development, Duhamel implies the universal nature of the conflict between lovers, stemming from baseless misconceptions. The persona takes the audience through the conflict from its beginning to the end, as the couple resolves the misunderstanding and walk to their house hand in hand. This beginning-to-end nature of the poem is a feature of the narrative structure. The poet allows the readers to follow through the story in the poem, developing the theme from scratch to the end.
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The poet employs melodrama, as the observing couple imitates the fighting one. Since the audience cannot hear what the couple is disputing about, the poet incorporates other characters to help the readers understand that. Through the words that the observing couple uses, the readers understand that the fight is based on misconceptions. The parallelism that Duhamel creates emphasizes the theme of conflict in love, resulting from misconceptions.
The use of symbolism adds effect to the way the audience understands the poem. The poet writes, “The red flag that slaps against his station means strong currents,” creating a relationship between the red color and the slapping of the flag and the heated argument between the couple (Duhamel 17). The red color and the slapping aspect suggest the intensity of the conflict. As the poem ends, the poet says “then out of the blue the couple is making up. / The red flag flutters, then hangs limp” emphasizing the relationship between the aggressiveness of the flag and the argument between the couple (Duhamel 46). When the flag calms, it signifies the resolution of the dispute between the couple. By creating this correlation, the poet communicates that the same way the flag swings because of the passing wind, the couple’s disagreements stem from no rational sources, but a passing wave of misconception.
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The diction that Duhamel uses develops the theme. When the persona says “not as though she’s Miss Innocence,” the poet shows the image the husband has about the wife. On the same note, the persona says “can’t admit he’s a jerk,” making the impression that the husband is no good (Duhamel 45). The words that the poet uses show the perceptions of the spouses about each other. The couples feel that the other is not doing enough to support them and is susceptible to flirting with potential lovers. The suspicion of infidelity and the feeling that the other is doing nothing for the good of the relationship is revealed through the poet’s word diction. The word diction tells the readers all about the theme of baseless conflict in love.
Conclusively, the theme of conflict in love emerging from misconception runs through the three pieces of literature and unfolds differently. Through the use of dramatic elements, Shakespeare develops this theme, presenting a tragic end of a couple that was truly in love. The misconceptions in Othello are instigated by a third party, who seeks to ruin him. By aligning contrast, tension, timing, conflict and climax, the playwright creates a scenario where Othello believes that the wife is unfaithful and kills her. The poems, My Last Duchess and How it Will End, employ the use of literary devices, such as diction, the narrative structure, and figurative language to develop the theme. The couples in the poems dispute because they hold misguided perceptions of each other. The Duke kills the Duchess because he believes she was unfaithful, but it is all in his mind, as it is evident from the diction and the monologues in the poem. Overall, misconceptions in relationships cause conflicts which are tragic if not resolved.