Othello complex

As soon as I wrote the prescription, I knew I wanted to post about this. “Othello” said the writing on the yellow square of paper and when I handed it to him I was smiling.

“Is it a DVD?” he asked.
“Well it’s a Shakespeare play. But I’m sure they have it on DVD.”

I didn’t ask him whether he’d ever seen a Shakespeare play or whether he knew who Shakespeare was.

“I have a friend who puts things on DVD so I’ll ask him.”
“Great. You can let me know what you think.”

Earlier I was trying to explain what Othello was about.

“Well there was this guy, a military guy. Othello. He was a black general and he was very successful. And the world at that time was dominated by whites. Anyway, he had a beautiful wife called Desdemona and there was this evil guy called Iago who tried to make Othello believe that Desdemona was having an affair. He stole her handkerchief and then Othello got really jealous and he was so convinced that Desdemona was having an affair that he killed her.”

My client looked a little confused so I added by way of an afterthought, “It’s a tragedy.” I worried a bit that he might think I was indirectly suggesting that he kill his wife but I dimissed that idea as too far-fetched. Just to clarify my intention and to try and sell the play a little more I added, “But it shows the power of jealousy in taking over your mind.”

It’s not everyday that I get to bring Shakespeare into the consulting room and I was rather pleased with my intervention. (I’m also aware that a psychiatrist would have opted for an SSRI like Prozac but I believe in tragedy as treatment here at the Couchtrip.)

Of course it could totally confuse my client and be totally irrelevant to him. Perhaps I need to find a more modern (and accessible) DVD which relates to romantic jealousy and which will not encourage him towards violence.

I also realised that at the very least I could probably get an article out of this, especially since it connects up with another of my pet subjects, projective identification.

Turning to the Net I quickly find two leads. Here and then Wikipedia

This looks like a helpful quote:

“Romantic jealousy is here defined as a complex of thoughts, feelings, and actions which follow threats to self-esteem and/or threats to the existence or quality of the relationship, when those threats are generated by the perception of a real or potential attraction between one’s partner and a (perhaps imaginary) rival.” (White, 1981)

What would you suggest as a more accessible (and modern) book or movie on the theme of romantic jealousy?


10 Responses to Othello complex

  1. David says:

    I can’t think of anything better than Othello , either.

  2. ted says:

    I think Othello is an excellent choice. Iris Murdoch immediately came to mind as an author who sifts through strong human impulses exploring their many facets and their consequences. The Black Prince and The Sea, the Sea both rise to the top as examples of that.

  3. sandy says:

    Unfaithful is a movie about infidelity and the tragic consequences of jealous rage. If I remember correctly, that is. Preview to make sure. It stars Diane Lane and Richard Gere.

  4. I think Othello is a good one. At the very least it exposes him to a master playwright.

  5. doctordi says:

    Othello is perfect, Pete. Especially because the infidelity is imagined rather than actual. And I’m with Lilian – it’s a cracking play. Iago is one of my all-time favourite villains.

  6. litlove says:

    I’m waiting now for the follow-up post. Would love to know what he makes of Othello and how you can then use it in discussion!

  7. Pete says:

    David – I hope he manages to find it. It will certainly make for an interesting discussion of unfounded jealousy.

    Ted – Hello and thanks for the suggestion re Iris. I’ve just googled The Sea, The Sea and it does look very interesting. Probably not exactly right for this client but a good read for me!

    Sandy – What a scary looking movie. My client’s jealousy is apparently completely unfounded so this movie will probably confirm his worst fears but I was intrigued to read up about it and I like Diane Lane (and was terrified by Fatal Attraction) so this looks like a good scary Saturday night DVD.

    Lilian – So true.

    DoctorDi – I know. There’s something so diabolical about Iago that one has to admire his cunning. He’d make a great psychological case study.

    Litlove – I’ll definitely try and do a follow-up without betraying any patient confidentiality. I think projective identification (as difficult as that concept is to understand at first) is the key here. He projects his insecurities onto her and then behaves towards her as if they’re completly true. So difficult to un-entangle but we’re really going to try (or I am).

  8. doctordi says:

    ‘He projects his insecurities onto her and then behaves towards her as if they’re completly true’ – that’s a bit frightening, Pete, and very reminiscent of Othello’s fatal doubts. Ostensibly concerned with Desdemona, ultimately those fears were all to do with himself. Follow-up post? Yes, please!

  9. tobeme says:

    I loved that you used Othello in this way! You are correct, it may be best to use or at least have another book/movie as an option. Can’t think of any off the top of my head.

  10. […] We were studying Othello. Here’s a layman’s summary of the play’s plot that I found on a therapist’s website: […]

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