Jealousyand Mistaken Identity in ShakespeareWilliam Shakespeare’s life is somewhatof a mystery to scholars due to the fact that most information that isknown is very scattered and sparse. No one knows the exact date ofShakespeare’s birth, but his baptism occurred on Wednesday, April 26, 1564. His father was John Shakespeare, a tanner, glover, dealer in grain, andtown official of Stratford. His mother, Mary, was the daughter ofRobert Arden, a prosperous gentleman-farmer.
William Shakespeareand his family lived on Henley Street. A bond dated November 28, 1582 stated thatWilliam Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway entered into a marriage contract. The baptism of their eldest child, Susanna, took place in Stratford inMay of 1583. Hamnet and Judith, their twins were christened in thesame church one year and nine months later. In May of 1597, Shakespearepurchased a residential property in Stratford called New Place.
Due to the fact that his father had suffered financial problems prior tothis date, it is assumed that Shakespeare must have achieved success byhimself. On March 25, 1616 William Shakespeare revised his last willand testament. He died on April 23, 1616. There are certainly many things in whichscholars cannot explain about the life of William Shakespeare, howeverthe facts that do exist are enough to identify him as a real person.
He was a writer who, for the last three hundred years, has continued tobe a major influence on drama and poetry. Shakespeare wrote thirty-sevenplays that are all very unique in their style and subject matter. The themes vary anywhere from extreme jealousy to silly humor. Twomajor themes that are apparent in a lot of Shakespeare’s works are mistakenidentity and jealousy. The idea of mistaken identity as a plotdevice in comedies dates all the way back to the writers, Menander andPlautus, in the Greek and Roman times. Shakespeare borrowed thatdevice and used it to further his plots in his comedies.
His artisticuse of mistaken identity is brilliantly used in many of his plays. In Shakespeare’s comedy, The Comedy ofErrors, mistaken identity is the sole story line of the play. Theidea of asking how one really knows who one is, is introduced, but theproblems that will occur between appearance and reality are not totallyrealized. As Shakespeare begins to write more about mistaken identity,his comic style using this ploy begins to develop more and more. In a very simple form, mistaken identityis shown in Twelfth Night.
The twins are mistaken for each otherand this brings about a comic conflict throughout the play. Thissimple form of the plot device is extended when it becomes known that onetwin is actually a girl who would not normally be mistaken for her brother. This is a result because she has resorted to a disguise. Viola disguisingherself as Cessario is a beginning to the double meanings throughout thedialogue that Shakespeare uses as comedy within the playing of the words.
When her twin brother, Sebastian, arrives her passive nature is mistakento be his and he is married to Olivia who thinks he is his disguised sister. As an audience member, part of the fun of mistaken identity is the soleenjoyment of trying to keep who is who straight and knowing something thatthe actors do not. Disguise is one of Shakespeare’sfavorite devices, found in many of his works. Through it he altersthe identity of an individual, which creates an elevated irony, a developedtheme, and an enhanced comic element to the story.
In As You LikeIt, Shakespeare, by having characters in disguise, creates an outlet fornew ironies and comic twists throughout the work. The shepherdesswho is in love with the “shepherd” Ganymede who is really a girl (Rosalind)is one of the comic twists, as well as Orlando sharing feelings of loveto Ganymede who is really Orlando’s love Rosalind in disguise. Onceagain the hidden and mistaken identity constructs this plot and furthersits comedy. The entire purpose of mistaken identity can only be accomplishedwhen a disguise is shown in the way to say and experience things in theone identity that can only be accomplished by the altar identity: thisis what composes the comedy within the words. For example, in MeasureFor Measure, the Duke uses disguise and mistaken identity to reveal thetruth about Angelo, while simultaneously providing comic moments when Luciospeaks of the Duke to the Duke unaware of his true identity.
Another re-occurring theme throughout Shakespeare’splays is jealousy. Perhaps the most outstanding form appears in Othello. It is a classic story of boy meets girl and the jealous lover, only withan extremely tragic ending. Othello and Desdemona are in love witheach other. Iago, the antagonist, wants Desdemona for himself andis extremely jealous of Othello. He plots a scheme to make Othellobelieve that Desdemona was having an affair with Cassio.
Withouteven asking Desdemona if it is true or not, Othello kills her by smotheringher. Then, after becoming cognizant of the truth, he kills himself. Jealousy is a hard subject to write and read about because it is an emotionof terror, meaning that it can be extremely dangerous in any situation. Jealousy can produce tragic denouements. Iago says in the play, “Ohbeware, my lord, of jealousy. It is the green-eyed monster whichdoth mock the meat it feeds on.
” Perhaps the theme of Othello isthat it is wise to find out the truth before jumping to conclusions becausejealousy can eat away your heart. The theme of jealousy throughout Shakespeare’splays is a great plot device because it is a very universal emotion, whereasmistaken identity is exactly the opposite; it is something we can lookat and know that it would never happen, therefore we laugh. Bothdevices are efficient and produce extremely different reactions. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream the jealousy is very differently portrayedthan it is in Othello. Hermia and Lysander are in love, however Demetriusis in love with Hermia as well.
Helena is in love with Demetriusand very admirable of Hermia. “O, teach me how you look and withwhat art you sway the motion of Demetrius’ heart. ” The jealousy inthis play is in its simplest form. Helena is jealous of the lovethat Demetrius has for Hermia and wants his attention turned toward her. This type of jealousy is not even close to the extreme it was in Othello,however it produces the same reaction that it is a universal emotion. Helena’s jealousy is more of an admiration, whereas Othello and Iago’sjealousy is more of a desperation.
Shakespeare’s use of the two literary devices,mistaken identity and jealousy, are only a suggestion of everything elsehe wrote about in his literature. They are elements within his worksthat reoccur and help in furthering the plot within the story. WilliamShakespeare wrote with many different approaches and about many differentsubjects. The devices he used within his literature are only an additionto the words Shakespeare wrote so beautifully.