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Shakespeare on Jealousy

Jealousy and the suffering it inflicts on lovers is at the heart of Shakespeare's later romances, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale. Few moments in Shakespeare's plays are as intense as that in which Posthumus comes to believe that Imogen has slept with Iachimo (Cymbeline, 2.4). Although they bring us to the brink of tragedy, Cymbeline and The Winter's Tale end with the defeat of jealousy, and so they are considered comedies. This is not the case with Shakespeare's best-known exploration of the "green-eyed monster" -- Othello, which ends with the murder of Desdemona and the moral destruction of our tragic hero. The theme of jealousy appears, to a lesser extent, in many other plays. Enjoy the following collection of quotations on jealousy and please click on the play to see explanatory notes and facts about each play.

You must not stay here longer, your dismission
Is come from Caesar; therefore hear it, Antony.
Where's Fulvia's process? Caesar's I would say? both?
Call in the messengers. As I am Egypt's queen,
Thou blushest, Antony; and that blood of thine
Is Caesar's homager: else so thy cheek pays shame
When shrill-tongued Fulvia scolds. The messengers!
Antony and Cleopatra (1.1)

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?--a note infallible
Of breaking honesty--horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?
Why, then the world and all that's in't is nothing;
The covering sky is nothing; Bohemia nothing;
My wife is nothing; nor nothing have these nothings,
If this be nothing.
The Winter's Tale (1.2)

Iachimo. If you seek
For further satisfying, under her breast--
Worthy the pressing--lies a mole, right proud
Of that most delicate lodging: by my life,
I kiss'd it; and it gave me present hunger
To feed again, though full. You do remember
This stain upon her?
Posthumus. Ay, and it doth confirm
Another stain, as big as hell can hold,
Were there no more but it.
Iachimo. Will you hear more?
Cymbeline (2.4)

Though age from folly could not give me freedom,
It does from childishness: can Fulvia die?
Antony and Cleopatra (1.3)

How many fond fools serve mad jealousy?
The Comedy of Errors (2.1)

That hath made him mad.
I am sorry that with better heed and judgment
I had not quoted him: I fear'd he did but trifle,
And meant to wreck thee; but, beshrew my jealousy!
By heaven, it is as proper to our age
To cast beyond ourselves in our opinions
As it is common for the younger sort
To lack discretion.
Hamlet (2.1)

To my sick soul, as sin's true nature is,
Each toy seems prologue to some great amiss:
So full of artless jealousy is guilt,
It spills itself in fearing to be spilt.
Hamlet (4.5)

O, how hast thou with 'jealousy infected
The sweetness of affiance!
Henry V (2.2)

As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,
And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy!
The Merchant of Venice (3.2)

For that I do suspect the lusty Moor
Hath leap'd into my seat; the thought whereof
Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards;
And nothing can or shall content my soul
Till I am even'd with him, wife for wife,
Or failing so, yet that I put the Moor
At least into a jealousy so strong
That judgment cannot cure.
Othello (2.1)

As, I confess, it is my nature's plague
To spy into abuses, and oft my jealousy
Shapes faults that are not.
Othello (3.3)

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.
Othello (3.3)

Trifles light as air
Are to the jealous confirmations strong
As proofs of holy writ.
Othello (3.3)

My foolish rival, that her father likes
Only for his possessions are so huge,
Is gone with her along, and I must after,
For love, thou know'st, is full of jealousy.
Two Gentlemen of Verona (2.4)

Why should I not, had I the heart to do it,
Like to the Egyptian thief at point of death,
Kill what I love?--a savage jealousy
That sometimes savours nobly.
Twelfth Night (5.1)

There may be in the cup
A spider steep'd, and one may drink, depart,
And yet partake no venom, for his knowledge
Is not infected: but if one present
The abhorr'd ingredient to his eye, make known
How he hath drunk, he cracks his gorge, his sides,
With violent hefts. I have drunk,
and seen the spider.
The Winter's Tale (1.2)

Oberon. How canst thou thus, for shame, Titania,
Glance at my credit with Hippolyta,
Knowing I know thy love to Theseus?
Didst not thou lead him through the glimmering night
From Perigouna, whom he ravished?
And make him with fair Aegles break his faith,
With Ariadne and Antiopa?
Titania. These are the forgeries of jealousy.
A Midsummer Night's Dream (2.1)

How to cite this article:
Mabillard, Amanda. Shakespeare on Jealousy. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2013. < >.


Quote in Context

O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on.
                                    Othello (3.3), Iago

We are all familiar with the above quote, as it is one of Shakespeare's most famous. But what exactly is the green-eyed monster? It seems every editor has a different take on this passage, with many trying to make the lines work around the concept of green as sickly. Some editors have even changed mock to make in order to fit their annotations - Hanmer and Hudson being the most famous. Others have listed off surprising candidates for the monster, including a dragonfly and an ape. It all becomes a bit silly and would no doubt give Shakespeare himself a good chuckle.

It seems very simply that Shakespeare was imagining a cat (known for its giant green eyes), delighting in tormenting (mocking) its victim (meat) before devouring it. What a vivid picture this interpretation gives us of jealousy, tormenting the mind of the jealous man with a barrage of suspicions before it consumes him completely. A similar vision was in the poet's mind when he constructed The Rape of Lucrece:
Yet, foul night-waking cat, he doth but dally,
While in his hold-fast foot the weak mouse panteth:
Her sad behavior feeds his vulture folly. (254-256)

More to Explore

 Daily Life in Shakespeare's London
 Shakespeare's Wealth and Income
 Back in Time: Visit the Globe
 What Did Shakespeare Read?

 Life in Stratford (structures and guilds)
 Life in Stratford (trades, furniture, hygiene)
 Shakespeare's Scandal in 1601
 Shakespeare's Allusions to his Profession

Did You Know?...

Many of Shakespeare's plays have fallen in and out of favour throughout the centuries, but Othello has remained one of his most popular. One performance of Othello, produced in 1660, starred an actress by the name of Margaret Hughes in the role of Desdemona. This production is of particular importance because it marked the first time a woman was accepted on the English stage. Before this, all the characters, whether male or female, were played exclusively by men. Read on...

Shakespeare acquired substantial wealth thanks to his acting and writing abilities, and his shares in London theatres. The going rate was £10 per play at the turn of the sixteenth century. So how much money did Shakespeare make? Read on...

The famous Victorian era poet Algernon Charles Swinburne declared Cymbeline to be "the play of plays." "Here," he writes, "is depth enough with height enough of tragic beauty and passion, terror and love and pity, to approve the presence of the most tragic Master's hand... and subtlety enough of sweet and bitter truth to attest the passage of the mightiest and wisest scholar or teacher in the school of human spirit." (A Study of Shakespeare)

Director Michael Almereyda and Ethan Hawke are teaming up to bring us a modern-day film adaptation of Shakespeare's masterpiece, Cymbeline. Hawke will play the mischief-loving villain, Iachimo. Please click here to read more and view the trailer.

Twenty-four of Shakespeare's sonnets are addressed to a woman. We have little information about this woman, except for a description the poet gives of her over the course of the poems. Shakespeare describes her as 'a woman color'd ill', with black eyes and coarse black hair. Thus, she has come to be known as the "dark lady." Find out...

Known to the Elizabethans as ague, Malaria was a common malady spread by the mosquitoes in the marshy Thames. The swampy theatre district of Southwark was always at risk. King James I had it; so too did Shakespeare's friend, Michael Drayton. Read on...

Shakespeare's Treatment of Jealousy

"[In Othello] the task lay before the Poet to exhibit the passions of jealousy to that extent in which the lover can be thought capable of destroying the object of his love. We think a man of inflamed sensibility, of heated blood, of the most violent irritability, especially capable of such a deed; and even him only in the frenzy of intoxication, in the sudden incentive of opportunity, in the feverish excitement of a fit of rage. But such a deed would never be a subject for art; such a man, acting in an irresponsible condition, would never win our sympathy for his tragic fate. But could it be conceivable that such a deed could ever be committed by a man of fixed character and steadfast disposition, who, indeed, before the act had captivated our interest? in whom this passion, one of the lowest which actuate a man, could appear so ennobled that he, even in spite of and after such a deed, could engage our sympathy, ay, even excite our pity? It would appear improbable. And yet the Poet, in Othello, has made such a man commit such a deed; or, rather, he has made it even there be committed by a man who united two natures, calmness with ardour, rashness with circumspection, the traits which make the murder possible, and those which allow us to admire and pity the murderer." (G. G. Gervinus. Shakespeare)