Josh Rosenberg
The Incongruence of the Lover and the Soldier in Othello
It is often the case that the themes of Shakespeare have everyday
practicality and such is the case of Othello. From the initial
introduction of Othello, he is characterized as a brave and honorable
soldier. He notes, “My service I have done the signiory… I shall
promulgate- I fetch my life and being/ From men of royal siege, / and my
demerits.” (I, ii, 19-22) But as we see, the norms of militarism are
incongruent with those of romance. Originally, the relationship between
Othello and Desdemona avoids this issue. Despite the unfamiliar-
uncomfortable accommodations, she journeys to Cyprus with him (that her
love has overcome her anxiety1), and despite the sleep-arousing brawl of
Act II scene 3, they remain consummate in their relationship. However,
this harmony declines after Othello’s last instances of a soldier; where he
remarks, “This fortification, gentlemen, shall we see’t?” (III, ii, 5)
After the defeat of the Turks there is little left for Othello to do.

His self-image recedes alongside his military career. As such the
relationship between the two also fades; Desdemona is no longer obsessed
with his heroism and Othello is no longer content with the nuance of
Venetian high-culture. But rather than focus his energy on rekindling
their lost passion, Othello is possessed with the loss of his military
identity. In spite of a sour meeting with Desdemona, he remorses,
“Farewell the plum’d troops and the big wars, / That make ambition virtue!
/ Oh farewell…2″ Thus we can identify the incompatability of the two
identities; that it is difficult to be a lover and a fighter. This
incompatibility is also exemplified in his remark, “The turant custom, most
grave senators, / Hath made this flinty and steal couch of war, / My thrice-
driven bed of down. I do agonize, / A natural and prompt alacracity, / I
find in hardness; and do undertake.” (I, iii, 227-31) Shakespeare, through
Othello, contrasts these two identities; the “flinty and steel” qualities
of militarism and the homely comforts of marriage (“bed of down”).

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In many ways these themes correlate to those purported by modern
intellectuals. In the seeking of mates, women typically prefer men who
resemble Othello in social dominance and status3. However, as
relationships extend beyond the passions of a short-term relationship their
expectations for companionship change considerably. According to social
psychologist Dr. Kenrick, “Women in long-term relationships with
traditionally masculine men are less satisfied than women in relationships
with more ‘feminine’ or androgynous men.” (201) In relevance to
Shakespeare, we can see that as the relationship between Othello and
Desdemona stretches out, she is no longer content with his heroics. Her
preference is for a man more enthralled with the intimacy of their
relationship. In contrast, Othello continues to be obsessed with the
youthful virtues of militarism and not those expected of him by Desdemona.

As such their relationship is doomed, for each is pursuant of different
things.

———————–
1 “That I love the Moor to live with him, / My downright violence, and
storms of fortunes, / May trumpet to the world my heart subdued.” (III,
iii, 353-359)
2 “Farewell the neighing steel and the shrill trumpet. / The spirit
stirring drum, th’ear piercing fife, / The royal banner, and all quality,
/Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!” (III, iii, 353-359)
3 Kenrick, Douglas T. Social Philosophy. Allyn and Bacon Publishing.

2002. (260)