Prioritizing Relationships: The Male Bond in Shakespeare and Otway
Of all the characters in Otway’s Venice Preserv’d, or a Plot Discover’d, Jaffeir appears the most contemptible to modern audiences. This wishy-washy, namby-pamby man can barely be called a man. His inconstancy to his wife, his best friend, and the conspirators demonstrates a lack of stability, and the play’s conclusion indicates that his killing Pierre before Pierre is tortured and then killing himself are noble deeds, though they leave his wife and child unprovided for.
But I have been educated.
Filtered through the homosociality norm of pre-Victorian England, Jaffeir’s relationships reflect the Renaissance ideal of the non-sexual male-to-male relationship as part of a social order that exalts male friends’ relationships over all other relationships and contrasts with the modern, Western view that places the romantic relationship between a man and woman first (Stanley 115). Jaffeir is still inconstant, but his inconstancy to Pierre can be explained by the Renaissance notion that women change men into fools; according to Stanley, talking of Two Gentlemen of Verona, it is the woman who has changed the man into a fool; “Romantic love interfer[s] with true friendship by making men inconstant” (121). It is not until “the Victorian deep freeze” that male emotional expression is limited (117), but Otway, writing in the Restoration, understands that a proper gentleman has to keep his word at all costs, “particularly with his homosocial relationships” (116). We can, thus, better understand the relationships in Shakespeare’s and Otway’s plays with the knowledge that “Homosocial love … was an easy path to happiness; [while] romantic love required deceit, labor, and foolishness, and might not lead to happiness at all” (119). Since the Restoration stage reuses and recreates Shakespeare’s plays (“Class Lecture” 24 July 2017), then Otway re-works the relationships of Antonio, Bassanio, and Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Brabantio and Iago in Othello into the relationships of Pierre, Priuli, Jaffeir, and Belvedira in Venice Preserv’d.
Otway continues the Renaissance ideal of the male relationship found in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and alluded to in Othello. Both Jaffeir and Othello are welcome guests in Priuli’s and Brabantio’s households and are, indeed, treated as if the fathers had mentored the younger men. Priuli tells Jaffeir that he was “a Youth of Expectation; / [that he] … received [Jaffeir] / Courted, and sought to raise [him] to his Merits: My House, my Table, nay, my Fortune too, / My very Self was [his] …” (Venice Act I, p. 10). Othello, when Brabantio tries to have him arrested, tells how he won Desdemona’s heart, beginning with “Her father loved me, oft invited me … [to tell] … the story of my life” (Othello I.3.128-9). This friendship to a younger bachelor presents itself in The Merchant of Venice when Antonio is “so sad” (Merchant I.i.1) knowing that Bassanio pursues a wife (I.i.122) but supports Bassanio in his quest to win Portia even at the risk of his own life. Antonio tells Bassanio that his “purse, [his] person, [his] extremest means / Lie all unlocked to [Bassanio’s] occasions” (I.i.141-2).
But Otway complicates this older male widower - younger bachelor mentor-like relationship. In Othello and Venice Preserv’d, the relationship fails when Othello and Jaffeir marry the daughters. Brabantio tries to have Othello arrested, and Priuli curses Jaffeir and his family. In Venice Preserv’d Otway introduces a bachelor of Jaffeir’s age, Pierre, who happily funds his friend Jaffeir so that the three do not starve. Pierre tells Jaffeir that “Thou shalt smile too … We’ll all rejoice … Marriage is chargeable” (Venice Act II, p. 23). Marriage is business and difficult; homosociality is effortless and simple as the “natural inclination between similar personalities” (Stanley 119) to the exclusion of women because they are a commodity to establish male dominance (115). Jaffeir will be happy because he has Pierre who proclaims Jaffeir “the honest Part’ner of [his] Heart” (Venice Act I, p. 12). Belvedira does not appear beside Jaffeir after Jaffeir’s argument with Priuli as one would expect (“Class Lecture” 26 July 2017); instead, Pierre appears and later confesses to the conspirators that Jaffeir is his “All” and “one Friend” (Venice Act II, p. 29). Pierre privileges his relationship with Jaffeir enough to share him with his other male friends.
Shakespeare and Otway introduce complications in the homosocial order that destroy Othello and Jaffeir. When the social order allowing homosocial love is inverted and romantic love is placed ahead of homosocial love, the types of love become competitive and result in loss (Stanley 118). Othello’s male bond to Iago turns tragic because Othello fails to honor it by giving Iago what Iago believed to be his due: a lieutenancy in Othello’s army (Othello I.i.8). Not knowing that he had broken that bond, Othello believes Iago to be a man “of honesty and trust” (I.iii.282), and following Iago’s machinations, Othello commits murder and suicide. As the friendship with Iago cannot be redeemed, the murder-suicide is not a noble act as in Venice Preserv’d. Instead “[t]he object poisons sight,” and an officer of the state orders the dead Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello hidden (V.2.369-370).
Otway’s complication of the homosocial order involves Belvedira’s commodification after marriage. He commits her as collateral to the conspirators in Act II; homosociality requires the subversion of the romantic relationship because it is a “social expediency … [not an] … emotional completion” (qtd. Stanley 118). The conspirators’ acceptance of Jaffeir depends upon the primacy of Jaffeir’s relationship to the men, and Jaffeir’s offering of his richest treasure in the economic structure combined with the offer of his own life satisfy the conspirators of his fidelity to their cause (“Class Lecture” 26 July 2017). And Jaffeir may have kept his relationship to the conspirators as his primary relationship for he tells Belvedira that he’s “engag’d / With men of Souls” (Venice Act III p. 41). Homosocial love was effortless and simple; it was the “natural inclination between similar personalities” (Stanley 119). Jaffeir found men who had cause to hate the Senators just as he had cause to hate Senator Priuli for wishing for his family’s death and refusing to play patriarch. But once Belvedira reveals Renault’s falsity to the homosocial order, revealed earlier when Renault says he “never loved these Huggers,” these men who embrace their “Hearts … as if [they already] knew him” (Venice Act II, p. 30), Jaffeir follows Belvedira’s plan to reveal the plot against the Venetian senators in Act IV. In context of homosocial order, Pierre is able to forgive Jaffeir because romantic love caused a man to lose self-control (Stanley 121). When Jaffeir replaces his relationship with Pierre first and Belvedira second, Belvedira still refers to Jaffeir as “My Life,” but Jaffeir refers to her as “My Plague” (Venice Act V, p. 73). Belvedira immediately sees her fate, what she calls her “Ruin” and that she must die (Venice Act V, p. 73). Killing Pierre and murdering himself shows Pierre that “Now [he] hast indeed been faithful” (Venice Act V, p. 80). Pierre is inconstant, but it is because he failed to keep the contract of the homosocial society.
Jaffeir’s inconstancy troubles modern audiences. He is ruled by his heart (“Class Lecture” 26 July 2017) and is easily swayed. He does not choose to act on his own until the final act, and the actions he takes confuse and anger those unfamiliar with the pre-Victorian notion of the homosocial norm. When Jaffeir inverts the homosocial norm by placing Belvedira first, tragedy results. First, he loses Priuli’s sponsorship and gains Priuli’s curses, even after Belvedira and Jaffeir have a son. Second, he risks Belvedira’s life by obeying her demand that he reveal the plot to the Senate; as surety for his fidelity, Jaffeir’s double dealing could result in both of their deaths. But Jaffeir returns to the primacy of the male bond, acting nobly and deceiving the Senate by preventing Pierre’s torture and redeeming his inconstancy by exacting the surety his bond to the conspirators demanded: His own life.
“Class Lecture” with Mark Lussier on 24-26 July 2017. The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Oxford Study Abroad, Summer 2017.
Otway, Thomas. Venice Preserv’d, or a Plot Discover’d. Special Collections, Douglas Library, Queen’s University at Kingston, venicepreservdor00otwauoft.pdf.
Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Norton Critical Edition, edited by Leah S. Marcus, pp. 3-75.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Norton Critical Edition, Second Edition, edited by Edward Pechter, pp. 6-123.
Stanley, Diana Ireland. “The Two Gentlemen of Verona: The Homosocial World of Shakespeare’s England.” Journal of the Wooden O Symposium, vol. 8, Jan. 2008, pp. 115-124. Academic Search Premier, EbscoHost.