Othello, Notes on a Scandal and The Yellow Wallpaper

In Othello, ‘Notes on a Scandal’, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, there is a theme of obsessive love. The writer presents obsessive love through the characters’ speech and actions. All texts present love through different periods of history, ‘Othello’ written in 1602, ”The Yellow Wallpaper” written in 1899 and ‘Notes on a Scandal’ written in the late 20th century. This shows us that obsessive love has always been a major theme in society and will continue to be as ‘Notes on a Scandal’, the most recent novel shows.

Obsessive love will also have consequences and these consequences may always be dangerous to those concerned. In ‘Othello’ we learn that Othello was ‘one who loved not wisely, but too well’. He allowed his heart to control his mind. A Shakespearean hero always leads directly to suffering and destruction. Here the destruction comes from Othello’s jealousy, which has led to his obsessive love with Desdemona.

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Othello at the start of the play is portrayed by Shakespeare, as a man with great calmness and control. Keep up your bright swords, for the dew will rust them’ Othello says when Brabantio orders his men to arrest him. Othello is also portrayed as a man who is knowledgeable and has a great amount of education, we know this by him saying ‘Rude am I in my speech And little blessed with the soft phrase of peace’ this is ironic as the audience knows that Othello is well educated for his time as he is the general and he is greatly respected as, one as his arms have’… had seven years pith… they had used their dearest actions in the tented field’.

In the 17th century Europe, black people were not well educated or even of such high rank, as Othello. Black people were either servants or slaves, so for Othello to be at such a high status he must have been incredible in the battlefield in Europe. However Othello is not educated in terms of understanding women and love, and this is another one of Othello’s flaws. Othello being a man of action, is able to lead an army to war, but he cannot lead his own heart. Othello becomes obsessively in love with Desdemona, when Iago makes it his priority to ‘set down the pegs that makes this music’.

Iago is a staff sergeant, but wants to become a Lieutenant and is willing to do anything till he gets there and as we, see Iago does do everything he can in his power. His plan is to ‘Abuse Othello’s ear that he (Cassio) is too familiar with his wife’. In Act3, Scene3 Iago puts doubt in Othello’s mind. As Cassio walks away from Desdemona he tells Othello that he ‘Cannot think it, that he would sneak away so guilty-like seeing you coming’. Othello on numerous occasions calls Iago ‘Trustworthy’ ‘Good’ and ‘Honest’. Not only Othello but also everybody in the play sees Iago as a good honest man except the audience making this dramatically ironic.

This is a key scene as we notice Othello’s speech and actions change for the worse. We no longer see a calm or peaceful man, we see a man who is annoyed and full of anger. From lines 391-505, we see how Othello’s mind is slowly overruled by his heart. Othello claims to have ‘been happy if the general camp… had tasted her body’ so long that ‘… he knew nothing’. This point can be looked at in two ways: Here we see Othello really heart broken by hearing of Desdemona’s unlawful actions or we see Othello becoming obsessive to the point where what he feels is not love at all, but obsessiveness and pride.

It can be argued; at this point that Othello’s love for Desdemona is not healthy. Is Othello annoyed that Desdemona has been unfaithful, and that he would not care if he didn’t know? If so, is this love? From lines 460-506 the audience, witness Iago lying about Cassio’s dream, immediately without thought he wants to ‘tear (Desdemona) all to pieces’. This image here is animalistic, again we notice the consequence of his obsession has led to him being animal-like, and not as controlled as he was at the start of the play. At the end of the scene, Othello wants to ‘hear thee (Iago) say that Cassio not alive’.

Othello wants to kill one of his best men, who is a Lieutenant because of the obsessive love he has for Desdemona and because he believes the lies, Iago has told him. A man of such high status and proven ability as Othello, the audience would think, would not to mix his personal life with business, but again we see how his emotions over ride his mind as he makes such a rash decision. In Act3, Scene4 we see Othello change again, he now puts on two faces to get Desdemona to confess by saying her hand ‘requires A sequester from liberty, fasting and praying, Much castigation, exercise devout’.

Othello here is saying that Desdemona needs self-control, needs to pray and is in need of self-restraint. Here Othello is speaking to Desdemona in an indirect and confusing way to see whether she admits the sin of adultery. Othello here is not in a rational state of mind, he is overwhelmed by jealousy and obsessiveness. I believe here although he is jealous and obsessive, his love for her asks her to pray for forgiveness. Another audience may interpret this is a moment of pride and power; it is as if Othello cannot believe that Desdemona is trying to ‘cuckold’ him, of all men.

Othello is blinded by his jealousy and obsessive love that he cannot see his own faults, or the true intentions of Iago. In the last scene of Act5, there is a re-eco of the old Othello, again he sounds tranquil. He compares Desdemona’s ‘whiter skin of hers’ than snow. By his calmness the audience realises that he’s figured out what to do, rather than before where he didn’t know what to do and was therefore in an emotional state, Othello says he ‘would not kill thy unprepared spirit’, he does not want to kill her soul without her asking god forgiveness of her sins.

By this, we realise that Othello is going to kill Desdemona, not because she hurt him but because it is the moral and just thing to do. In his eyes, this in his view is not a moment of passion or anger. In Emilia telling Othello that Iago is a ‘pernicious caitiff’ and that the ‘hankerchieft thou speak’st of I found by fortune and give my husband… he begged me to steal it’, Othello finally realises what a mistake he has made and accuses Iago of being a ‘precious villain’. Othello at the end of this scene returns to his noble, valiant self.

In lines 395-418 Othello talks about himself as he did before, he asks the state to ‘speak of me as I am: nothing exenute’ Othello goes on to talk about his travels and ‘beating a Turk’ and finishes off by stabbing himself. The consequences of Othello’s obsessive love, was him losing the love of his life, whom he killed with his own hands. He became so obsessive with his wife that he didn’t question Iago’s lies and took them all in as proof, even when asking for ‘ocular proof’, Othello settled in for a dream which he hadn’t even seen.

If we now turn to ‘Notes on a Scandal’, we can see that, in comparison with Othello, Heller portrays Sheba as a woman who feel that she married and settled down with kids too early, and as a result she feels that she didn’t enjoy life as a typical youth. In this novel, there are two characters who love obsessively, and each for their own reason: the characters being Sheba and Barbara. Sheba, it can be argued, really is in love with Connolly as he brings back past feelings for Sheba, the feelings which she never had time to experience as she married as mentioned before at a young age.

Barbara is in love with Sheba also obsessively, Barbara is the woman who also writes the diary based novel. Barbara feels that she needs someone in her life that she can love as well as control and for them to love her back, she wants to be the only friend that they have, and at the end she may be the only friend Sheba has as the end Barbara says that ‘she (Sheba) knows, by now, not to go too far without me’. In Sheba’s first encounter with Connolly, she was ‘touched by his child like posture of concentration’ and that ‘his upper body had a solid, triangular look’.

This I believe could have been what sparked Sheba’s interest in Connolly at the beginning of her obsessive love affair. This is also very similar when compared to Othello, to the fact that Desdemona came to listen to Othello’s stories with a ‘greedy ear’. This was too what sparked Othello’s interest in Desdemona. It can be argued that Connolly played an equal part in the love affair as he came to see Sheba ‘every day that week’ when Sheba was trying to avoid him. Connolly, when coming to see Sheba out of school hours ,was ‘simply anxious to please’; Connolly had ‘observed that Sheba liked him best when he was saying sensitive things’.

Here the writer depicts Connolly as a typical teenage boy who will ‘trick out his stall with an eye to what would please the customer’. It can be said, therefore that Connolly manipulates Sheba to get what he wants. Barbara’s first encounter with Sheba was when she was dealing with Connolly for creating trouble with Sheba, but she had seen Sheba beforehand and described her hairstyle of one ‘film actresses wear when they’re playing sexy lady doctors’ and on finding that Sheba was a pottery teacher she described it as being ‘too perfect’.

This image is very sexual but as a reader, we think nothing of this and put it down to spite only later realising because of her obsessive love Barbara has a darker side, which leads to the obsession with Sheba. As we later find out Sheba gives up and surrenders to Barbara, and she now becomes the one in power maybe not at the start but certainly later. Sheba begins to become obsessive about Connolly when he protests he ‘wouldn’t grass on you (Sheba)’, Sheba corrects him that it is not ‘you’ its ‘us… ou would be in a lot of trouble too, you know’. This I believe is an obsessive moment: it seems as if Sheba is threatening Connolly, as if the secret does get out about their love affair Sheba would be the one to get into trouble. Sheba and Connolly then have a sexual relationship, which leaves Sheba ‘satisfied’ as when Barbara asks. Because of obsessive love, Sheba, like Othello, is not thinking with her brain, but with her heart, Sheba has a lot to lose: she has a husband, children, job and her reputation.

She, like Othello, does not think logically and loses everything in the end, which she took for granted at the beginning of her obsessive relationship. However, in comparison Sheba’s obsessive love for Connolly is not dangerous like Othello who kills Desdemona before realising the truth about the lies Iago told. Barbara begins to obsess about Sheba up to a point where she keeps a diary, and it is this very same diary that we read.

A diary is a private account of the writer’s hidden thoughts and feelings, a Diary only gives us one person’s viewpoint and no-one else, this in comparison to Othello where the audience knows the characters thoughts and feelings. As the reader, we are guided through Sheba’s and Barbara’s personal conversation, that Sheba thought no-one would ever know. The style of this Diary is very personal, therefore gossip like, it’s a piece into both Barbara’s and Sheba’s lives. Barbara adds ‘gold stars’ when things are going well, and takes out hours of her time to write in her diary.

When Sheba and Barbara’s peers begin to notice how close the two of them become ‘the implication was that Sheba and I (Barbara) were engaged in some sort of Sapphic love affair’ Barbara ‘was not distressed by this’ as she loves the idea that she is being associated with someone, and that now people are beginning to recognise her. This to an extent would have been great motivation as we later find out when Bangs tells Barbara that he fancies Sheba, she replies that Sheba ‘likes much younger men’ and adds about her ‘unusually close relationship’ with Connolly.

I believe here Barbara must of felt threatened as Connolly likes Sheba and now so did Bangs, so what better way would it be to kill two birds with one stone and as it so happens neither Connolly or Bangs get Sheba . At the end, Sheba surrenders to Barbara, who is now in control. Barbara believes ‘she knows, by now, not to go too far without me’ this shows that Barbara has won; she is now able to dictate Sheba’s life, which is what she wanted. In ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, Gilman presents a husband who is a physician and his wife living in a rented home because the wife is suffering from nervousness.

However as we find out it could be postnatal depression as the wife ‘cannot be with him (the baby), it makes me so nervous’. Near the end of the novella, we realise that the wife is in need of psychological treatment, which she could have received in the beginning if only her husband would come to terms with her condition. This is similar to ‘Notes on a Scandal’ in a sense that if only Barbara took more notice of Sheba’s relationship with Connolly as a good friend would do, Sheba may have been able to escape imprisonment.

Instead, Barbara focuses on herself and Sheba and in finding out about the two, and she tells Bangs, as mentioned above. The husband as we learn is very obsessive of his wife, as she cannot ‘stir without special direction’; by this we know the husband controls her normal daily activities. The writer presents the husband as an over protective and obsessive man of the late 1800’s, but because of this the consequences are that his wife wants to escape what is expected of her from society and she does this by writing.

The wife writes secretly as on many occasions she ‘must put this (diary) away, — he hates to have me write a word’. Some readers may argue, that the wife does love her husband dearly, the husband does love the wife dearly too, but it is not as dangerous as Othello’s love for Desdemona. Here the husband is being obsessive in her having to write, he seems very controlling. The husband, it can be argued loves his wife, as someone may love his or her child as the husband patronises his wife by calling her a ‘blessed little goose’ and saying that she is his ‘little girl’.

On the husband congratulating the wife on her ‘gaining flesh and colour’ she disagrees and believes she does not ‘weight a bit more’ and suggests she’s ‘better in body perhaps’. The husband ‘stopped short… sat up straight and looked at me with such a stern look… I could not say another word’. I believe that there is more behind the husbands obsessive love than the wife lets on, there are continuous images on the bed being ‘nailed down’ and her not being able to move it. Could it be right to suggest she has a duty to provide sex?

In Victorian England the man had nuptial rights, which meant he could have sex whenever he wanted, and the women had no right in saying no, she would have had to obey this. The wife I believe did not agree with right, but did so nevertheless out of her love for her husband. The husband, here, releases a dark side, which we know by the wife’s lack of speech, must be terrifying. This is a shock to the reader as the husband seems very calm and considerate although controlling, and because of his obsessive actions, the wife suggests that ‘it does not do to trust people too much’.

Here it can be argued that because of her husband’s obsessiveness, the wife may have lost all trust in him. I believe that the husband being a doctor, he must undoubting trust his diagnosis, and made a wrong decision here. The husband is very similar to Othello, Barbara and Sheba as he allows his heart run his mind, he is a doctor and should therefore be thinking logically but he does not which feeds to his obsessive love for his wife and for her mental illness to deteriorate. As the diary is written from the wife’s point of view, could it be argued that because of her mental illness could paranoia make her an unreliable narrator?

Therefore makes her think that there is a lady stuck in the wallpaper, when it was actually her, as the wife says she ‘shall have to get behind the pattern when it comes night’ this is also an image of captivity and inability to change her situation. In conclusion, to my essay, the writer’s present obsessive love as having dark, dangerous, disturbing consequences for the main protagonists. We learn by looking at the texts that in ‘Othello’, Othello kills Desdemona because of Iago’s lies. The wife in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ becomes mentally ill because of the lack of love and understanding of her condition at the beginning.

In ‘Notes on a Scandal’, Sheba is looking at imprisonment when she finally surrenders her actions, which was due to Barbara for telling of her love affair to Bangs. All the women, in the texts, were misunderstood by their lovers, because of the control and obsessiveness each man/women had over them. Obsessive love has had extreme outcomes, as Othello, Barbara, Sheba and the Husband’s heart controlled their minds and destroyed their relationship in the end, each character in turn looses there love either through death or through mistakes of their own.

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