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 anxiety[TU1] [1]), 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”).

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 status[3]. 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)