Shakespeare’s Othello and Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair

‘Othello’ and ‘The End of the Affair’ are fundamentally very different in their treatment of jealousy due to the genre and form in which they were created. ‘Othello’ is a 17th century play written in the genre of dramatic tragedy, and therefore has, to a certain extent, to abide by the rules that govern tragedy. ‘The End of the Affair’ on the other hand, is a novel written in the 20th century and as a result has extended character treatment and complexities of character not available to Shakespeare within the style in which he was writing.

Shakespeare was writing during a period of orthodox Christian belief, this can be seen in his play where frequently Othello and Desdemona utter phrases such as “by heaven! ” Religion was a clear influence on his work, and the idea of Othello’s jealousy being a “monster” has strong satanic connotations that lead us to question his state of mind and morality. As Shakespeare’s play is of the tragic genre the treatment of character is far simpler than in ‘The End of the Affair’, as this enables the audience to easily understand characters sentiments that cannot be described as in a book.

This is also one of the differentiating factors between Greene and Shakespeare’s treatment of the theme of jealousy. Shakespeare has to be a lot bolder and less subtle than Greene when stating emotion, as is shown when Iago says, “O beware my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster, which doth mock The meat it feeds on”. Here Shakespeare is clearly addressing the issue of jealousy to make his audience fully aware of its implications.

Greene on the other hand can describe in detail how his characters are suffering the emotions of mistrust and jealousy. A clear example of this is when Bendrix talks of his unhappiness, “In misery we seem aware of our own existence, even though it may be in the form of a monstrous egotism: this pain of mine is individual, this nerve that winces belongs to me and to no other. ” Here Greene shows Bendrix’s pain and unhappiness but does not clearly show us that it is as a result of his jealousy, we are left to contemplate the issue ourselves.

This extended character treatment gives the characters in ‘The end of an affair’ a complexity that is lacking from those in ‘Othello’. Bendrix’s character is a combination of that of Othello, and that of Iago. He schemes and plots behind people’s backs like Iago yet we can see through his thoughts that he is morally an upright and good individual, simply torn by love like Othello. Bendrix’s character is therefore much less clearly defined as either good or evil than characters in Othello.

Greene wrote his novel in a period of post war rationalism, which is why the novel contains a sophisticated analysis of religion, and what it is to be good or evil, leaving the reader pondering over the characters’ moral dilemma. This era that he was writing in heavily influences his treatment of jealousy and religion, juxtaposing and confusing the two at various stages in the novel. Bendrix’s jealousy is more abstract than that of Othello, as he is unsure to whom his jealousy should be directed.

After reading Sarah’s diary he discovers his rival is actually God, which means that his jealousy becomes more of a philosophical issue than of pure rivalry. Othello’s jealousy is directed at Cassio and therefore is less complex and more physical than Bendrix’s mental turmoil. Both authors use a psychological dynamic to portray jealousy, mainly through characterisation, although Greene through Bendrix is able to talk more directly about jealousy. He writes, “Jealousy, or so I have always believed, exists only with desire. The Old Testament writers were fond of using the words ‘a jealous God’.

Here Greene is relating the emotions of Bendrix to his religious beliefs, in a way trying to justify his bitterness to himself. This idea of a need for justification for jealousy crops up at another stage in Greene’s novel when Mr Savage says, “There’s nothing discreditable about jealousy Mr Bendrix. I always salute it as the mark of true love. ” Greene uses this rather insincere statement to put the same doubt in the reader’s mind, as Bendrix is feeling, so that we are able to relate to his emotions better and question our own characters.

As ‘The end of the Affair’ is a novel we are allowed an insight into Sarah’s mind, a possibility not available to Shakespeare in play format. This also alters Greene’s treatment of jealousy, as we are able to look at it from the innocent party’s point of view. Sarah says of Bendrix’s jealousy, “He is jealous of the past and the present and the future. His love is like a medieval chastity belt: only when he is there, with me, in me, does he feel safe. ” This allows us to view jealousy from a completely new perspective, something we are never shown in the case of Desdemona.

Character’s emotions have a much more tangible effect on others in Greene’s novel as a result and so jealousy seems to be less of a one-sided emotion in ‘The End of the Affair’ than in ‘Othello’. The two authors different treatment of the theme of jealousy is as a result of the different societies in which they were writing, the form in which they were writing and therefore the characterisation that ensued, and the ideology that they were trying to convey.

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