NATURE OF LOVE:
LITERATURE, CULTURE, EVOLUTION
By MARCUS NORDLUND
Northwestern University Press
INTRODUCTION Page 3
3 – Tolstoy said good art should be intelligible to anyone. So he trashed Shakespeare.
When Darwin described why he had an interlude from his early love for Shakespeare to his distaste to love of Shakespeare in his last years he wrote, “My mind seems to have become a kind of machine for grinding general laws out of large collections of facts.”
Being modest, he assumed the problem lay with him and not Shakespeare.
5 – Seeing man as a member of a species will help us understand love best. Arts always play a balancing act of satisfying and frustrating our expectations. We lose interest in that which is too predictable, but also that which is too strange.
He will argue that Shakespeare “deliberately violates a familiar aspect of human nature as a means of involving the audience emotionally and inviting us to reflect critically on the nature of love.” If a reviewer uses this angle to analyze, it of course means that they believe there is ‘human nature.’
[He uses the term ‘biocultural.’]
6 – As the book is about love, he assumes that Darwin is not only about competition.
7 – In Samuel Johnson’s description of Shakespeare he praises S’s having found universal truths about man; ‘Shows man just as hi is’. Norlund says this is ironic because only Johnson’s generation was especially obsessed about the universal.
Now ala New Historicism, we have switched to the opposite wherein nothing is universal and all is particular. Queer theory celebrates ‘almost any (politically acceptable) exception from any norm.”
8 – Love is taken to be a heteronormative construct.
9 – We have sameness and difference. In S’s time, this was understood via Aristotle’s distinction between the ‘essential’ and the ‘accidental.’
S, historically, “has outdated ideas about sex and an incomplete grasp of democratic principles.”
10 – We must distinguish between an absolute and a statistical universal. Biological principles are not predictive of each individual.
11 – S’s work is both Elizabethan and homo sapiens.
12 – Our objective is not to reconcile literature and human nature, but to map the relationship between them.
14 – His aim is to complicate, not end analysis of humans in literature. Birdsong can be analyzed on the Functional / phylogenetic / developmental and immediate (changes in hormones) levels.
Chapter ONE will discuss what love is. It also looks at biology and gender. In the plays he looks at ‘love is under siege.’ In comedies, love conquers all, in tragedy, it is doomed.
Chapter TWO looks at parental love Titus and Coriolanus.
Chapter THREE looks at filial love.
Chapter FOUR looks at Shakespear’s conflicted view of love.
CHAPTER FIVE will look at Othello.
CHAPTER ONE: THE NATURE OF LOVE
18 – Constructivism hates essentialism. Though it is motivated by good inentions, it is harmful.
There is weak constructivism: that does not dispute the agency of nonlinguistic realities and simply argues that human perceptions, emotions, and identities are shaped by particular languages, conceptual systems, social practices, and so forth.
19 – Normal strong constructivism says that emotions are social inventions.
21 – In creating a definition, he is going to limit love to a love of persons. [But, love of self and mankind, God, tribe and nation are thereby knocked out. ]
Demasio has argued for a distinction between ‘emotions’ and ‘feelings.’ Feelings are private, conscious mental experiences, emotions cover a broad collection of bodily responses.
22 – But love is not just an emotion, but behaviors, sexual, nurturing, caring. His definition will also include neurophysiological processes, facial behaviors and other characteristics.
23 – We must pay special attention to the fact that felt love is not always acted upon for a variety of reasons.
25 – The idea of love as a western invention, confuses the actuality with the invention. It was popularized in reference to Medieval misogyny. By Howard Bloch.
Love is blind in that we emphasize the object’s good and overlook flaws. But people in such situations can see each other’s flaws too.
Shakespeare used the term ‘love’ more generally than we do. He shows via emphasis on the love of a young patron.
27 – From a Darwinian view, he’ll look at the disposition towards love, rather than the concrete emotions or the actions associated with it.
Social Darwinism is one of the ”objectionable relics of the past.”
28 – That emotions are chemical no less reduces its value than by saying my girlfriend is chemicals.
30 – He looks at a debated between Levin and Charnes. He notes that they both looked at the same phenomenon and declared it constructed or essential.
32 – Evolutionary Psych sees behaviors in the nexus of emotion and behavior. Love feels good and leads to behavior promoting procreation.
33 - And, herein we have a constant back and forth between older parts fo the brain and newer parts.
34 – Are descriptions of baboons acting ‘coyly’ really just anthropomorphizing?
We think we feel; ie filter our emotions via thought and how we should feel.
35 – Love is a biological potential. Infant pair bonds and adult ones share structures. Caressing, smiling, etcs.
36 – We could see this as Freudian. It would be inefficient of the brain to make new structures for such similar events. But, Feud confused attachment and sexuality too much.
MRI scans show romantic love, attachment and sex to be in different yet overlapping structures.
37 – But, perhaps in this discussion, it is better to call it ‘passionate love’ than romantic love. This partially detached nature can somewhat explain why same sex happens.
S’s time was characterized by passionate attachment to friends of both sexes during adolescence.
38 – Romantic love was found in 147 of 166 (85.5%) of cultures surveyed by Jankowiak and Fischer.
The author did a survey of folk tales with Jonathan Gottchall and also confirmed the universality of romantic love.
The view of romantic passion as a way to get sex partners to make babies seems troubled because it also leads to adultery.
39 – We’re now moving to serial monogamy. So perhaps it was to get people back into committed subsequent relationships after they raise kids in their first relationships. This is a self-serving interpretation.
In the last chapter he’ll note that we’re social and individual. In the West we’re experimenting in a way that is allowing the individual desire to reign sans control. And, that in itself goes against human nature.
We have intrasexual competition (same sex for mates) and intersexual (wherein both genders work to get opposite gender mates.”
41 – Similar and yet distinct, humans and animals have shown sex influences on emotion, memory, vision, hearing, processing faces, pain perception, navigation, neurotransmitter levels, stress hormones, and disease states.
Sexi differentiation happens in the 6th week of a fetuses development.
42 – Like men are taller than women, we’re talking about statistical averages.
43 – But these differences give us normative guidelines? But we don’t need to be identical to be equal.
44 – What of Shakespeare’s constant gender inversion?
It is true that homosexuality is rife in nature. But to go from the descriptive to the prescriptive is herein the opposite of what the left would have us do for gender differences.
44 – Our social and individual natures create tension. We are fairly aggressive, yet we want company. We love those around us, yet like independence and wandering. We like permanence ,but are curious.
45 – Culture adds a complex symbolic regulation of the needs and dsires of its members. This process involves frustration and gratification. Thus culture reveals our dispositions and what needs curbing. Marriage, for example, shows we need relationships and restrains us from leaving them.
46 – There is a differentiation between individualistic and collectivist cultures. But, of course, individualistic cultures also have conformity and collective ones, have individuals.
IN a survey, whereas Italians and Americans tended to see romantic love as associated with happiness, the Chinese tended to view it as something more negative. This is not surprising as they have a long history of arranged marriage and relationships are meant to be approved of by family.
47 – Paul Heelas identified ‘hypercognized emotions which are culturally identified; and hypocognized which receive much less conceptual attention.”
“It is likely that an increasingly individualistic Western culture has hypercognized many pleasurable personal emotional states at the expense of collectivist ideals..” We stress being ‘true to our feelings.’ This is at the expense of social bonds.
48 - The Medieval courtly ideal just redefined love as religious (as opposed to its denigrated ideal in Christianity previously), didn’t invent it. By the 15th century the church had again reigned in sex as sin. Petrarch writes about this tension. Thus the culture pulls and pushes on pre-existing feelings.
49 – As Melford Spiro notes, there is a difference between learning a culture (acquiring its propositions) and becoming enculturated (internalizing its propositions as true).
There is often a conflict between what the culture demands and the person wants.
51 – As other have noted, just because eating is different in different cultures doesn’t mean it isn’t universal.
CHAPTER TWO: PARENTAL LOVE IN TWO ROMAN TRAGEDIES
52 - This chapter will look at parental love in Shakespeare’s Roman plays Titus Andronicus (1594) and and Cariolanus (1608). In both plays duty overshadows parental love, but not to extinction.
53 – As Joseph Carroll has said “Culture is a subordinated term within nature; culture is that form of nature that has been regulated and elaborated by collective human efforts.”
Question: Is parenting universal? When we strip all away, life is for reproduction. And, our offspring need to be nurtured for a long time for to make it to reproductive age.
54 – But we’re not parental machines. But he and his wife found babies troubling and used wet nurses.
In 1983 historian Linda Pollock came up with the idea that childhood was an invention. Mostly by looking at paintings.
55 – Those who say there was ‘no concept’ of such and such, confuse the idea (ie concept) with the emotion / behavior set.
57 – Of course, from the bio-cultural perspective, there are desires and there are cultural moldings of them; and not all individuals adhere to all.
58 – Is there a universal drive to have kids? Well for most of history, just a drive to have heterosexual sex would have taken care of making babies happen.
Dissanayake has shown universal parent behaviors like baby talk.
And Sarah Hrdy says there is a strong evolutionary disposition to care for offspring – but this tendency itself needs nurturing; and in the harsh world, leaving kids was sometimes required, so flexibility was needed.
59 – While we more care for our own kids; Hrdy points out that adoption of others would have meant some level of kin in violent close knit early societies.
60 – Hrdy found three situations in which parental care is elicited:
1) Long-standing familiarity with the immature;
2) The nearby infant is urgently in need of rescue; and especially
3) The male has a relationship with the mother.
61 – But of course we must distinguish between direct and indirect investment in the kid.
Women’s options have been restrained, historically. But, as Carroll notes, knowledge of our ancestor’s situation should “prevent us from reconstructing this history too crudely as a simple, melodramatic narrative in which the main characters are female victims, heroic female liberators, and wicked male oppressors. The proportion of historical truth in this commonplace is, I think, something less than half.” (evolution and literary theory page 362 – 363)
63 – George Peele co-authored Titus.
64 – Boyd thinks Peele wrote the early parts wherein Titus is indifferent to the death of his children. Norlund disagrees.
65 – If we look closely synonyms for honor are used 35 times in the first 482 lines. This is a counter to Titus’ caring for his kids. And while honor is used in all of Shakespeare’s plays; the two being profiled herein account for nearly 30% of the uses of dishonor. Dishonored is even more.
66 - Words referring to place are ‘loconominative.” So Rome and honor get associated herein via repetition.
67 – While we can imagine how others see us, honor is not unique to humans or a ‘social construct.’
In any given society there will be rules for the allocation and loss of honor. But it is not just an invention.
C. L. Barber has found a gradual shift from outside honor to interior honor in 17th century England. Shakespeare brings this to the forefront in All’s Well That Ends Well.
Now that courts allocate revenge, the concept of honor has diminished. But while the code of honor is diminished, honor continues.
68 – Both Titus and Tamora love their children; she equates the strength of revenge and mothers love.
Shakespeare often uses animal examples. One writer suggested God put them here to serve as moral examples for us.
69 – Now Titus will even revenge the death of a fly. What a change!
71 – Even Aaron the Moor loves his offspring that must die as it is the wrong color and came via an affair between him and Tamora (not her husband Saturnine).
74 – Then Titus kills his daughter for honor and loses his mind again. Honor and love fighting.
75 – Coriolanus:
He is a Roman military hero whose excessive individualism, pride, and contempt for the masses, leads him to banishment and to marching on Rome, but wavers at the end.
76 – In this play he returns to the clash of honor and parental love. But here the depiction focuses on constancy - a virtue. Herein the terms innate, acquired, natural and cultural get even more entwined.
77 – His wife Volumnia also prizes honor over her child’s life.
78 – In discussing parental influence over kids’ personalities, Norlund cites the idea that children cultivate distinct niches for themselves. This is in Frank Sulloway’s Born to Rebel.
79 – Martial virtues are herein, all. It is frequently argued that uncompromising individualism is the theme of Cariolanus. And, indeed, he will not compromise his integrity or change.
83 – Coriolanus gives into pleading not from the opposite general (a father figure to him / but not really kin) but from his wife in an argument based on the parental bond to his grandson. And, it is not arguments, but seeing them, instinct which pulls him back.
85 – Raised by his mother to value honor above life, he supplicates himself to her when she asks him not to fight. And, this is done by the culturally idiosyncratic mode of kneeling.
86 – His individualistic pride and honor now give way to honoring another and the needs of the city.
CHAPTER THREE: FILIAL LOVE IN KING LEAR
89 – Parental love is stronger than filial love. Learning filial love requires prolonged contact with at least one loving and nurturing caretaker.
This is perhaps why the bible contains commandments to honor they father and mother, but not to care for offspring. It’s not required.
90 – There is nearly no end to the nurturing children will try to elicit, so parental child conflict happens as well as sibling rivalry.
91 – We must train children to moderate their requests.
94 – To this page we get an overview of the history of child rearing to limit their wants. And, we hear of how tragic parenting is.
And men forsake their parents and cleave to their wives.
Ever since the 14th century the nuclear family has been the economic and reproductive backbone of England – little commonwealths. But, in recent times, mobility has loosened connections and increased conflict.
96 – Lear is originally set to divide his kingdom equitably to fend off sibling rivalry. Though contemporary mores said, ‘don’t divide your kingdom.” Primogenitor was the way.
This makes sense in Darwinian terms. The son can make lots of offspring and raise them well. The landless son, not so much. And, daughters can marry up. So no need to give them the land.
Lear has no sons and is egalitarian. Whereas the even land distribution stops sibling rivalry, the love condition incites it!
100 – Of all his flaws, Lear’s greatest is that he is infantile. And this reflects senile dementia.
101 – 106 supports the dementia claim.
107 - This biological claim is in opposition to the structural political claim popular as of late. But it adds pathos. And, a senile absolutist king was a concern to S’s contemporaries. His is not a moral failing; it is a biological failing.
108 – Folks have noted Lear fails to separate his personal and public duties. Norlund thinks the connection between love and duty is more fundamental. Love implies duties.
109 – Is there a duty to love?
110 – Cordelia’s words do not convey love. But, as Antonio Damasio has shown words and feeling are not great indicators of each other. Love is, in a sense, limbic and unconscious. When we ‘fall in love’ we are in a state deeper than our conscious mind wills.
Cordelia says “Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave my heart into my mouth.”
111 – The love Cordelia speaks is feudal; it is of duty. She first addresses her father as ‘king.’
112 – And she notes that as her sister’s claim all love is to him, she doesn’t know how they’ll give to their husbands.
Cordelia’s love is of action and duty. The others pure words. Should love be measure for measure or unbound?
113 - After this scene, Lear only asks for kindness and gratitude.
Gratitude too is a tit for tat. Yet it is, at base, emotional. It has no legal backing.
114 – And Lear does not divvy property as a matter of love, but of keeping political order and balancing out rivalry in his dotage.
115 – Gloucester severs bonds and follows power. But, in the end, when separated from duty, his emotions do bond him to the King.
Edmund manages to turn his father against his legitimate half-brother Edgar by convincing him that the latter has sought his life. And Edmund then casts himself as the defender of bonds between parents and child.
116 – Edmund understands the values of his culture, but refuses to be enculturated by them. Edmund is a social Darwinist realist. That which is not dictated by nture is necessarily unreal and arbitrary.
117 – But why is he so cold?
119 – Edmund is the result of a fling with a beautiful whore. But he has been loved. So his heartlessness, doesn’t get explained by not being loved.
At the end Edmund feels filial love – as Aaron did before. Herein S reaffirms, via inversion, faith in parental love as a norm.
122 - And, Cordelia accepts Lear’s apology with no compunction saying there is no cause for offense, from her pov. Why?
123 – Cordia’s love for her father is not moving because it is unconditional, transcendental, causeless, or an instance of imitatio Christi (all suggested before) but because it is irreducible. She loves him because he is her father, because he is senile and weak and because he has suffered immensely. Even so, all of these together do not calculate the depth of her love for him.
Being limbic and an adaptation, love is not rational or tit-for tat. It gilds the lilly. And, even is even aimed at abusive people.
CHAPTER FOUR: ROMANTIC LOVE IN TWO PROBLEM PLAYS
125 – Romantic love is a universal potential. But there are differences in individuals and cultures mediate expression.
126 – This in turn modifies the way love is felt.
Romantic love is relatively unchanging, but marriage is a social institution that can have different definitions depending on the culture, epoch, social class and so forth.
127 – So the choice of a marriage partner and who to fall in love with are two different choices. Is the second inscrutable?
Both Troilus and Cressidea (1602) and All’s Well that Ends Well (1603) play with the conflicts therein. The first asks if Helen was worth the Trodan war. The second asks the characters to admit they underestimated Helena.
128 – Troilus is cynical. It sees us as sizing up relative social value unconsciously. All’s well looks at distinctions between our desires and social norms.
128 – In romantic comedy, the women have all the choice and the men look blundering. Partially this is explained by romantic comedy focusing on the earliest part of romantic attachment and love.
The social restraints are there for dramatic / comic tension. We already know all will be resolved.
When people say gender is a social construct the author denounces the division between nature and culture and then, denounces the dismissal of nature.
Social construction critics see S as purposefully doing carnevalesque for gender inversion.
130 – He comes back to ‘men are ardent, women are choosy,’ but he dodges normative assumptions by saying it is not ideologically suspect or misogynistic if we don’t say ‘all women are or should be coy, sexually passive, etc.
And female choosiness gives them agency, subjectivity, they’re not objects by this account.
In S’s time, women were constrained by roles defined as dutiful except in two instances: widowhood and courtship / betrothal.
In betrothal, they could climb ranks. They could make demands.
131 – Prior to sex, they could break it off at any time.
132 – Ideological readings deny individual characters individuality.
133 – Cressida notes women are overvalued during wooing. A theme he explores is that of value and value being social; what we think of ourselves is even social.
134 – Food and religiosity are seen as overvalued.
135 – Troilus is Hector’s brother. Hector says Helen was too expensive. Troilus says things are as valuable as they are valued (more or less). And we like something more when others want it.
136 – Cressida fears her value is down after she sleeps with Troilus. Is this right?
137 – This is countered by a speech wherein Troilus seems to, not idealize marriage, but understand it pragmatically, and honor it as a social institution with a sense of duty. Once, Helen is taken, she cannot be second guessed or returned.
138 - Hector says, “There is a law in each well-order’d nation To curbe those raging appetites that are most disobedient and refractory.”
139 – Accepting our marriage choice keeps us from constantly asking if we got the best, prettiest, etc., We got the one we got.
140 – Cressida thinking Troilus cold after sex has sex with Diomedes.
In Much Ado, Balthasar says, “men were deceivers ever.” But evolutionarily, this means of themselves too, not just women.
141 – Troilus’ guilt gets pinned on his rush to leave the morning after. But this is standard in S. Men have the outside world to tend to.
Norlund explains one plot twist by S not wanting to give Trolius two dramatic speeches. This saves the steam for later. I love it.
143 - Cressida is sent to Greece, but will not due to her professed attachment to Trolius, but then is unfaithful shortly thereafter! Why? Making it dramatic, says Norlund.
144 – This is identity shifting as freely as love.
145 – So again, we can choose marriage partners, but not who we love.
146 – Overvaluation is a theme here. The other is all, then forgotten. It is not a lie, but an ephemeral truth.
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL
So we move from overvaluation to undervaluation. Helen gets the right to choose her husband, but he doesn’t want her. So he steals to war. She follows him and gets him between the sheets.
The man, Bertram, lies to woo a woman (Diana) into quick encounters. He is a dog / Diana is leery.
149 - Helena works against the stereotype by being a dogged lying woman, who tricks Bertram into bed by pretending to be Diana. Helena is a heroin to many feminists and they hate Bertram.
150 – But this does NOT reverse gender roles. Bertram is not choosy. And, in fact, Helena is choosy with a vengeance.
Helen is not portrayed as bad by S. But, she is more in love with Bertram’s social position than with him.
151 – We can understand Helen’s obsession though as romantic love is a strong drug, that can make one insane.
152 – This makes sense of her total disregard for whether or not Bertram wants her. She is going to get him.
153 – We can afford to idealize our romantic emotions because we do serial monogamy, not absolute. This means our decisions are not permanent. Our lack of considering the situation would have been unthinkable to S’s audiences.
Bertram rejects her love, but agrees to marriage when the king insists. Helena, at this sees his side a bit and goes into exile.
155 – Bertram is too young to go to war and not able to choose who he marries. The other men Helen approaches say yes (but possibly out of fear). He alone is willing to thwart social conventions (at least until the king personally demands).
156 – His will can be commanded for the honor the King promises; but his feelings cannot be commanded. Bertram will subsume one for the sake of the other.
157 – The older generation herein is angry at Bertram’s failure to appreciate Helen.
160 – As in Lear, a king herein is trying to elicit feelings, when he should stick to asking for fealty.
161 – We cannot command Bertram’s love or fault him for undervaluing.
Trolius is suspicious of social conventions harnessing love, herein love stands helpless before the march of time. All’s Well is suspicious of a lack of love controlling all.
Bertram must learn to structure his feelings to be worthy of Helen.
162 – This plays look at how we’re social and individual means it will be messy and is. The king, at the end promises Diana a lord.
CHAPTER FIVE: JEALOUSY IN OTHELLO
Emilia tells Desdemona that Jealousy is born on itself, not reason. This has been called standard in S’s jealousy plays (The Winter’s Tale).
164 – Jealousy is the opposite of envy (which wants what others have).
Most modern books say that jealousy, like gender, is a construct of patriarchy.
165 – In this formulation, culture generates cultural constructs which generate culture – circularly. We’ll focus on male jealousy, which is more over sexual infidelity than women’s focus on emotional infidelity.
167 – In many species males go a long ways to prevent their partners from having sex with other men.
Claustration practices developed independently on all five continents and still happens in the Islamic world.
168 – 60% of female primates have hidden ovulation. Two
responses: gorillas are big enough to fight rivals and dominate a harem of
women. And, in Chimps, whose
females mate 138 times with 13 males for every child, large testes have
This also accounts for the Gorilla’s small testes and nearly all Chimps being the same size.
Human males are 15% bigger and have moderate scrotums.
Parental investment has likely been pretty high through out our species.
Still, today, 9% of children are not their fathers, so to speak.
169 – Constructivists say jealousy reflects male dominance in resources. Why, we must still ask, do males dominate in resources?
170 – The same neuropeptide – vasopressin – underpins both attachment to females and aggression toward rival males.
Claustration increases with family status. And, it happens more in more stratified societies.
In early modern England, people left home at 15 and got married between the ages of 25 and 30.
171 – But 10 % of men did not marry and 42% left no surviving children. A lack of resources and enjoying single life likely explained much of this.
Enforced marriage was a system of benevolent patriarchy, not authoritarianism. English women had more freedom than those in Catholic nations.
Men who did sex outside of wedlock were charged with ‘fornication.’ Women, the more serious crime of adultery. This was justified via paternity certainty. [logical and prescriptive. Still Norlund calls it ‘injustice.’].
172 – English law said all children born to a married women (even one month married) were legitimate. So jealousy wasn’t about property (as constructivists claim) since property was protected.
But men’s shame and syphilis and not liking cuckolding probably did exaggerate jealousy.
174 – So why jealousy? From nothing as Emilia says?
175 – Iago provides so many reasons for his hate for Othello, that we don’t know why he hates him. Othello says it is not words that have struck him thus. But it is words, Iago’s, we must think.
Four times in this play, main characters as “is it possible?” about other’s intentions.
177 – What of Othello’s killing over racism? He gives three reasons for the her unfaithfulness, that he is black, that he’s old, that he’s not eloquent. He rejects all three as ‘not much.’
178 – 9 – Furthermore, Othello is loved and
admired by just about all, all the time. And, Othello is aware that he’s well loved.
181 - Others say gender hierarchy is the key. And, gender norms were likely emphasized by S as this does take place in Italy. The question is, ‘is that sufficient to explain Othello’s killing?” No. And, the text doesn’t support it.
182 – Perhaps his love is flawed? Actually self-regarding? Well that assumes we know a normative brand of love. And, not agape? It would be strange if his love wasn’t at all possessive.
183 – Also he is not possessive prior to the onset of his jealousy. And he regards her well.
184 – One final explanation prior to moving on is that he is moonstruck. There is textual confirmation and Elizabethan Brits believed in astrology.
185 – The Winter’s Tale is S’s other jealousy play. In it, the jealous man has no Iago and the couple has kids.
186 - Leontes is the jealous character in The Winter’s Tale. And, he is afraid of having been cuckolded.
189 – Leontes is also jealous of his wife, Hermoine, because she is so gorgeous and perfect.
190 – He conflates his love for his best friend and wife as indicating their closeness. And, as he is powerful, no one can stand in his way. He also feels betrayed because his wife was the closest person to him. The mere possibility torments Leontes.
And, like Lear, he fears Hermoine and his friend’s love is shallow. And, she does not help when asked because she replies in terms of duties.
191 – A rich person has something to lose.
192 – And Othello and Leontes are not beasts as their jealousy is rooted in love.
It is comforting to think that Othello’s jealousy is due to racism or sexism; but he is only different from us by degree.
And, again, not even Desdemona will stand up to Othello, she responds to his charges in a way that won’t offend his honor and standing.
193 – The solution to the question is that Othello is successful and Desdemona is beautiful. And, so many other men would also want her. He loves her and so has much to lose.
Jealousy has always unfolded in history, not outside it.
194 – What turns jealous men into murderers? We must not answer this question for three reasons.
1) This is an artificial story, a tragedy. As Storey reminds us, tragedy educates its readers in three ways: it invites empathetic identification, it creates ambivalence about the emotional allegiance that results; and it enables a vicarious experience of catastrophe.
So while the moralist stands on the outside, a tragic reader explores how it feels to be on the inside. Tragedy, by putting us inside, allows us to look at things we must moralize about. But, Othello is unsettling because it does not lend itself to easy explanation.
We have a cognitive imperative to explain atrocities like Desdemona’s to make the world intelligible. Othello plays on it but refuses to satisfy it.
This goes for Iago’s malice too.
Thus it makes sense that there are mountains of explanation theories written about.
195 - The error of recent attempts are because people stick to text and forget our biological / emotional nature.
This is everyday jealousy, a universal, gone extreme. It cannot be cleanly explained. Therein lies its perennial horror and fascination.
As Dryden said in 1668: Shakespeare ‘read Nature.”
Two groups have responded to this. One likes it but leaves nature unexamined and out of a cultural context.
The other hates all mention of nature and tradition.
198 – But nature is not a form of culture.
The 1st premise of this book is that human nature is a necessary concept that is best conceptualized in terms of an interaction between genes and environment.
199 – Romantic love is not a construct.
Troilus and Cressida is more than a symbolic expression of love. “It also becomes a desperate attempt to infuse our honest desires with a moral, social, and rational permanence that our feelings themselves cannot supply.”
The 2nd premise is that fictional works are characterized by a paradox of mimesis and make-believe. Mimesis dictates that plays must mirror reality-as-other-people –understand – it in order to be intelligible as well as dramatically effective.
So Othello is an exaggeration, but believable. Common sense needs to come back into literary criticism.
Othello is really in love; it is not a discourse. Lear is going senile, raising the question of whether or not our kids will be there for us.
The make believe is the exaggeration that we see, for example, in Titus – the intense pull between parental devotion and honor. The extremity of Othello’s actions; the quickness of Cressida’s betrayal.
The 3rd premise is that the study of literature should be rescued from ideological reductivism. Not all is a political speech in the name of progressivism. He even doesn’t like those on the right that want to make Shakespeare edifying.
202 - “Politics and morality are vital subjects for the humanities since they raise the question of how we should live. BUT, . . “ it can overwhelm our reading.
We must avoid dogmatic ‘culturalism”!! yay!
We can do this “once we acceptthat all aspects of human experience have a strong biological as well as cultural components – regardless of our personal views in matters of politics or morality.”
“In the long run, this may also help us bridge the regrettable gap between the academic study of Shakespeare and the surrounding world where human beings continue to live, die, and fall hopelessly in love with each one another.”