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 emoter barely deserves the name man. His inconstancy to his wife, his best friend, and the conspirators demonstrates a lack of stability, and the play’s conclusion approves as noble deeds killing Pierre before torture and then killing himself, though they leave his wife and child unprovided for. Filtered through the 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 remains inconstant, but the Renaissance notion that women change men into fools explains his inconstancy to Pierre; according to Stanley, talking of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the woman changes the man into a fool: “Romantic love interfer[s] with true friendship by making men inconstant” (121). “[T]he Victorian deep freeze” limits male emotional expression (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). Following romantic love dooms Jaffeir and Othello. Since the Restoration stage reuses and recreates Shakespeare’s plays, then Otway re-works the relationships of Brabantio, Othello, Iago, and Desdemona in Othello into the relationships of Priuli, Jaffeir, Pierre, Antonio, Renault, Belvidera, and Aquilina in Venice Preserv’d.

Walter Benjamin, writing from the 1920s to the 1940s and resurrected in the late 1960s (Bronner 15), examined the minutiae of the everyday life (16) to show how symbols are stronger than reality; redeeming everyday moments becomes the goal of criticism (30). By examining the small moments of the everyday life, a critic “recalls what history forgets” to allow an audience to make “ever-changing connections and interpretations” (32). Benjamin points out one of society’s binaries requiring examination: the duality of civilization and barbarism and how to differentiate between the two (58). But Benjamin fails to provide the criteria for evaluating binary concepts.

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick builds on Benjamin’s work in binaries to develop structural criteria for evaluating societal norms that exist as binaries, but she refuses to make sense of what does not make sense in a “bifurcated discourse” (Sedgwick “Epistemology…” xvii). She shatters society’s supposed need for binary definitions by looking backward in order to move forward (Koestenbaum loc. 52). Sedgwick accomplishes this by looking at the framework, or structure, of male homosexuality by introducing women and men’s use of them to fulfill their own desires (loc. 67). Sedgwick “scrutinizes male-male relations through the zoom lens of feminism”(loc. 83) and uses language as symbol itself (loc. 98) to think through the body (loc. 114) to disable the patriarchy that “use[s its] incomprehension as a bludgeon” (loc. 144) for those who do not fit into its framework. Sedgwick writes her way into a world with less suffering and without shame (loc. 160) and “lead[s us] away from duty” (loc. 190) and into a “life of a different kind” (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 233).

Homosocial desire strategizes a means of discussing “the structure of men’s relations with other men” (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 307). But it means discussing how men and women differ in accessing power (loc. 307) since women’s ignorance “is ignorance of a knowledge … [that] … correspond[s] to particular knowledges and circulate as part of particular regimes of truth” (Sedgwick Epistemology 8). It also means discussing how the homosocial bond of male-to-male relationship today breaks with the homosocial bond in pre-Victorian literature. Our own society cannot imagine nonhomophobic patriarchy (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 341). The idea of men promoting other men fractures once the hetero / homosexual definition enters Western modes of thought at the end of the nineteenth century (Sedgwick Epistemology 1). As Benjamin noted with civilization and barbarism, categories presented as “symmetrical binary oppositions” require that the first term (term A for Sedgwick) in the duality subordinates the second term (term B) and “actually depends for its meaning on the simultaneous subsumption and exclusion” of the second term (Sedgwick Epistemology 9). According to Sedgwick, “the question of priority between the supposed central and supposed marginal category of each dyad is irresolvably unstable, an instability caused by the fact that term B is constituted as at once internal and external to term A” (9-10). Without the second term, neither term can have symbolic meaning.

But we do not have in the continuum of male homosocial desire a simple binary. Instead, as men’s relationships to men almost always involve traffic in women, we have a triangle. The bond between the two men “is as intense and potent as the bond that links either of the rivals to the beloved” (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 707). Assymetrical power relations predominate erotic male triangles (loc. 732), with one relationship functioning as primary. That primary relationship should be the male homosocial relationship, but, again, the introduction of the hetero /homosexual dyad at the end of the nineteenth century broke the continuum of accepted male-to-male homosocial relationships, and so the continuum of male homosocial desire remains startlingly contrasted to the continuum of women’s homosocial relations because of that break in men’s permissible actions in modern patriarchy (loc. 760).

Renaissance and Restoration plays, metonymized here by Shakespeare and Otway, retain the homosocial male bonds and their attendant premise as the primary societal bond that subsumes women into a culture that promotes male desire. Jaffeir is no weakling; he is, though, ruled by his heart. “[M]y Soul / Is fond of Belvidera,” he tells her father, Priuli (Venice Act I, p. 11), and when Priuli tells Jaffeir to go home, Jaffeir admits he would go “if my Heart would let me—/ This proud, this swelling Heart” for he has no money and the creditors literally bang on his door (p. 11). His friend Pierre recognizes that Jaffeir's heart rules him when he first calls to him with “Good morrow, / How fares the honest Part’ner of my Heart?” (p. 12). Pierre and Jaffeir continue the Renaissance tradition of homosocial relations we find in Shakespeare. Society accepts men talking about their hearts, their desires, about and with each other.

A highly structured example exists in classical Greece of a nonpermanent bond between a boy and a man. The bond existed for educating the boy in Athenian citizenship, a bond which may have included an erotic element (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 360). Maintaining patriarchy requires heterosexuality but need not require homophobia (loc. 360); for Sedgwick the continuum of accepted male behavior permits a variety of male sexual behavior with male-to-male relationships as primary. But we have asymmetry of currently accepted female-to-female bonding and male-to-male bonding. The female continuum remains; few in America today question women living together, hugging each other, even kissing on the cheek. The opposition of hetero- and homosexual “seems to be less thorough … for women, in our society, than for men,” Sedgwick explains (loc. 318). But the male continuum breaks with Freudian psychoanalysis. “Sexuality functions as a signifier for power relations” (loc. 412) but means availability “on male terms” (loc. 426). In the last third of the nineteenth century the word homosexual, which already had a rich history, enters the language as symbol, and as had occurred with assigning every person a male or female gender, the mapping of homo- or heterosexual orientation onto the term made sexuality a binary matter (Sedgwick Epistemology 2). One exists either as male or female, and one exists either as heterosexual or homosexual. For men, especially, no continuum of acceptable middle ground exists. Western culture places sexual identity in a privileged relationship above individual identity, truth, and knowledge (3). To understand the appropriateness (or inappropriateness) of all characters’ actions we must reconstruct the “symbolic economy” (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 480) of male desire in the Renaissance and Restoration, indeed, in every pre-Victorian Western setting.

Thus, we have Othello, who despite his ethnicity, 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.iii.128-9). Brabantio will not admit it, due to Othello’s race, but he had a homosocial relationship with Othello, a relationship that found Othello often enough at his home and telling his history that Desdemona fell in love with him. Brabantio incredulously says, “But words are words; I never yet did hear / That the bruised heart was piercèd through the ear” (I.iii.216-7). Brabantio artlessly tries to break with the power system by claiming that the symbol system of language itself contains no power. Sedgwick, though, reminds us that Lacan identifies “power, language, and the Law itself” with the patriarchal structure of society (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 760), that the words men use access a power women do not have as called forth in “the name of the father” (Richter 1112). Women are ignorant of “the relations of the closet — the relations of the known and unknown, the explicit and the inexplicit …” (Sedgwick Epistemology 3). Women lack the power of “speech acts” (3) that, as already mentioned, “correspond to particular knowledges and circulate as part of particular regimes of truth” (8).

Otway continues the Renaissance ideal of the male relationship found in Shakespeare’s Othello. Priuli and Brabantio welcome Jaffeir and Othello as guests and treat the men as their mentors. 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] …” and “like an open Friend / I treated, trusted you, and thought you mine” (Venice Act I, p. 10, emphasis added). Notice that Priuli prioritizes his relationship to Jaffeir in even stronger language than Othello explains the closeness he perceived with Brabantio (mainly because Othello is not white). Based on Othello, one would think that in Venice Preserv’d that Priuli functions as the older mentor to the young man in love, but Otway emphasizes Brabantio’s disgust by turning Priuli into the aggrieved father of a runaway daughter, a man slighted that a young charge should gain the love of his daughter by saving her life (p. 10). Unlike Brabantio who grudgingly accepts the Senate’s judgment that Othello won Desdemona fairly (Othello I.iii.285-290) and who eventually dies from grief (V.ii.210-1), Priuli curses Jaffeir and Belvidera to their graves (Venice I, p. 11).

As male, Othello accesses that power with Brabantio and wins his daughter. But in Othello and Venice Preserv’d, the relationships fail when Othello and Jaffeir marry the daughters. The daughters’ acts of romantic love require deceit: running away without their fathers’ permission. Brabantio tries to have Othello arrested, and Priuli curses Jaffeir and his family for this blatant assumption of power. Jaffeir and Othello should not have this new power over their daughters because the fathers have not given it to them. It matters not what the daughters desire; the desires of the father matter in all points.

The unanswered question remains: Would Brabantio and Priuli have agreed to the marriages if Othello and Jaffeir had asked? Brabantio would not because issues of race cloud the homosocial relationship. He tells Rodrigo, “O, would you had had her” (Othello I.i.172) even though several lines earlier he had “charged [Rodrigo] not to haunt about my doors … [for] My daughter is not for thee” (I.i.93-5). Brabantio refuses to believe that Desdemona loves Othello, but the Duke tells Brabantio that “Your son-in-law is far more fair than black” (I.iii.288) and admits that Othello’s narrative “would win [his] daughter too” (I.iii.170). The Duke recognizes that prior male-to-male relationship while acknowledging Othello’s change. Othello tells the Venetians that “I am charged withal — / I won his daughter” (I.iii.93-4). With Desdemona’s confession that she has “a divided duty” (I.iii.179) to her father and her husband, the Duke disallows Brabantio’s fatherhood claim, for he needs the civilized barbarian Othello to fight for the father state of Venice. The Duke attempts to mend Brabantio’s and Othello’s relationship by telling Brabantio to get over the loss of his daughter for “He robs himself that spends a bootless grief” (I.iii.207). If Brabantio does not maintain his male bonds, he will suffer. Indeed, at the end of Othello, Gratiano explains that the marriage “was mortal to [Brabantio], and pure grief” killed him (V.ii.211). Isolated and without standing in the (all male) Senate, for the Duke overruled him, Brabantio died.

Priuli may have eventually agreed if Jaffeir had asked to marry Belvidera. Priuli, after his daughter admits to “My Disobedience” of acting on her own to marry (Venice Act V, p. 68) and shares how Jaffeir tries to exact the penalty for betraying the traitors (p. 69), acts to save the traitors to save his daughter’s life. He acts, though, because she has restored him to his position of father. Priuli says, “I’ll henceforth be indeed a Father” (p. 70). Priuli returns to his position because Jaffeir has returned to his, a man almost (for he did not kill Belvidera when he had the chance) fully committed to upholding the homosocial male bond he made with the traitors. Priuli acts now because his daughter returns her commodification to him in order to save her life and the life of Jaffeir’s friend, Pierre.

Otway’s complication of the homosocial order involves Belvidera’s commodification after marriage because, like Desdemona in Othello, Belvidera has escaped jointure in favor of the man who saved her from drowning. Through jointure, the father determines his daughter’s value and to whom she belongs with in marriage. In fact, Brabantio’s and Priuli’s ire stems from Othello's and Jaffeir’s perceived thievery, of their not properly participating in a jointure. Othello and Jaffeir fail to comprehend the need for continued bonds with potential fathers-in-law, and by circumventing the norm of the father choosing the daughter’s husband break the homosocial bonds they had with their mentors. “Oh thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter?” Brabantio yells at Othello (Othello I.ii.62), and in his opening salvo Priuli screams that Jaffeir “stole [Belvidera] from my Bosom” (Venice p. 10). Notice the fathers do not consider the daughters’ actions; they only consider that the sons-in-law violated the male bond by marrying the daughters and defied custom. Desdemona and Belvidera act against jointure and marry whom they will; they encourage Othello and Jaffeir against homosocial relationships, thus disrupting acceptable societal practice. Othello’s reprieve comes solely because of his prowess as a general; for Jaffeir only a spiral into failed homosocial relationships occurs.

Othello and Jaffeir have much in common in respect to their relationships to their wives’ fathers, but Jaffeir as a Venetian citizen instead of a religiously converted military leader important to the state has more agency than Othello. Both men commit murder-suicide, but only Jaffeir’s meets the criteria of a noble act that reclaims a male homosocial bond. Othello cannot reclaim a bond where one participant (Brabantio) refuses to admit to the bond (or is no longer alive to claim it), but he also cannot reclaim a bond he does not see has been broken. Othello’s relationship with Iago shatters before the play opens, and Iago, from the start, masks himself to seek revenge for not being promoted to Othello’s lieutenant. “I follow him,” Iago says, “to serve my turn upon him” (Othello I.i.39). But Othello, who performs the state’s business “With all [his] heart” (I.iii.276) and leaves “A man … of honesty and trust. [And t]o his conveyance [he] assign[s his] wife” (I.iii.282-3), believes that Iago, his ancient, or closest confidant, epitomizes the honesty of the male-to-male homosocial relationship. In determining who attacked whom in the fight between Cassio and Montano, Othello asks that Iago “Speak. Who began this? On thy love, I charge thee” (II.iii.168). Othello believes that Iago and he still maintain the same homosocial bond. To Rodrigo Iago counts himself as one of “These fellows [who] have some soul,” those who “throw… but shows of service on their lords” and “will wear [his] heart upon [his] sleeve” (I.i.51-62). But Iago mocks the male homosocial bond, and though Rodrigo does not immediately recognize it, Iago makes clear that “I am not what I am” (I.i.62). Iago further alienates himself from the male homosocial bond by pitting Rodrigo and Cassio against each other to destroy both them and Othello. He manipulates to punish Othello for a perceived break in the homosocial bond, bypassing him as a lieutenant, and, potentially, getting married and placing that relationship (as well as the relationship with Cassio) before their own. Iago then falsely “professed me thy friend” to Roderigo, Desdemona’s former suitor (I.iii.334). Shakespeare complicates the homosocial bond by having a dishonest Iago profess close relationships to Othello, Rodrigo, and Cassio. This leads to dishonorable action that “poisons sight” (V.ii.369) when the bodies of Desdemona, Emilia, and Othello remain on stage covered from view.

The men’s homosocial relationships in both Othello and Venice Preserv’d traffic in women and literally occur across women’s bodies. In Othello, Iago stirs up Brabantio by saying, “You have lost half your soul” (Othello I.i.84). Desdemona no longer belongs to him, warns Iago, and Brabantio wonders “How she got out” (I.i.164) for fathers “guardage” (I.ii.70) their enclosed daughters, who are not free to act on their own. Even after Desdemona marries Othello, Othello controls her. “I assign my wife” to Iago to be brought to him in Cyprus, Othello tells the Duke (I.iii.283). But we learn that, as Sedgwick explains in Between Men, a triangle of relationship exists with Othello married to Desdemona, Othello and Iago in a homosocial bond, and Iago eventually claiming, “Now I do love her too” (II.i.285). Iago plans to be “evened with [Othello], wife for wife” (II.ii.293), believing that he has been cuckolded by Othello (II.ii.278-9). Iago believes he has two slights against Othello, not being promoted despite faithful service and being cuckolded. Men act using women’s bodies for their own purposes; Iago will revenge himself through Desdemona. Earlier Othello appeals to the father state of Venice that the Duke “Let her have your voice” (I.iii.258), that she have the language of the male Senate to determine where she lives while Othello goes to war. For Iago, using women exacts revenge. He calls Desdemona a “white ewe” (I.i.86), a fertile farm animal, and requires his own wife’s aid in convincing Desdemona to take up Cassio’s cause (I.iii.371) and in getting Desdemona’s handkerchief (III.iii.305-320). Othello, too, uses Emilia, by asking Iago to “Set on thy wife to observe” Desdemona (III.iii.242). But Othello curses marriage, “That we can call these delicate creatures ours…” (III.iii.271). Inhuman, not women, men “tasted [of their sweet bod[ies] (III.iii.347) and watched as others “topped” them (I.i.86; III.iii.397) and tore them to pieces (431).

The idea of cuckolding appears in Venice Preserv’d but in an even more sinister form.

Not all of the conspirators believe in the primacy of the homosocial relationship with Jaffeir. Sedgwick describes the unequal and triangular relationship of the male cuckold. The cuckold forms but one way of men “attempt[ing] to arrive at satisfying relationships with other men” (Sedgwick Between Men loc. 1351). One man beds his friend’s wife without the friend realizing it, resulting in increased power for the uncuckolded man. Paramount is that the friend has no idea of the transaction with the wife; the friendship remains intact. Renault does not simply try to cuckold Jaffeir, though. Renault “never loved these Huggers,” these men who embrace their “Hearts … as if [they already] knew him” (Venice Act II, p. 30). He may believe in the conspiracy, but his failure to honor a homosocial bond to Jaffeir by protecting Belvidera results in Belvidera acting instead of being acted upon. Once Belvidera reveals Renault’s falsity to the homosocial order by attempting to bed her, Jaffeir’s knowledge forces him to follow Belvidera’s plan to reveal the plot against the Venetian senators in Act IV. In context of homosocial order, Pierre can forgive Jaffeir because romantic love causes a man to lose self-control (Stanley 121). But Otway’s complication of the complication (Renault’s attempted rape of collateral complicates Jaffeir’s newly restored homosocial bond) forces agency on an object of desire (Belvidera), further destroying male bonds. Jaffeir’s relationship with Belvidera again has primacy, a violation of the accepted social order.

According to Emilia, she and Desdemona feed the men who “when they are full / They belch us” out (Othello III.iv.101-3). Emilia asks if when men “change us for others? Is it sport? / I think it is” (IV.iii.98-9). Men exchange women, view them as animals or objects that bring wealth as part of a bride price (denied to Brabantio when Desdemona snuck away to marry), and exist as sport. Women have no voices of their own for Othello must ask that the state grant Desdemona the right to words and Emilia confesses without her husband’s permission (V.ii.231-235). To discredit Emilia, Iago yells for her to “hold your peace!”, “Be wise, and get you home,” “villainous whore!”, and “Filth, though liest!” (V.ii.224-37). But Emilia realizes what Iago has done. She has knowledge, and no matter that “heaven and men and devils, let them all, / All cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak!” (V.ii.227-8). Her knowledge of men’s actions (specifically Iago’s machinations) unravels Iago’s revenge but results in her death at Iago’s sword. Gratiano, shocked at Emilia’s claims and Iago’s sword-wielding, tells Iago, “Fie! Your sword upon a woman?” Yet male knowledge leads to violence that Emilia cannot defend against for, in many ways, she has no sword of her own or the full knowledge to wield one.

The business of marriage is difficult, but “Marriage is chargeable” (Venice Act II, p. 23). Homosociality remains effortless and simple as the “natural inclination between similar personalities” (Stanley 119) to the exclusion of women because they are commodities to (re)establish male dominance (115). Shakespeare and Otway complicate the homosocial order in ways that destroy Othello and Jaffeir. When Othello and Jaffeir invert the primacy of the male homosocial order by placing romantic love ahead of homosocial love, the types of love become competitive and result in loss (Stanley 118). Not knowing that he has 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). The object isn’t even the women; it is Othello, the Moor, whose acts failed the homosocial order by placing his love for Desdemona ahead of the bond formed with Iago during war.

In Venice Preserv’d Priuli argues with Jaffeir, telling him that he “stole [Belvidera] from [his] bosom” (Venice Act I, p. 10), but Jaffeir counters that he “redeem’d [Belvidera’s] life with half the Loss of [his]” when he saved her from shipwreck while Priuli saved himself (p. 10). Jaffeir says, “Like a rich Conquest, in one Hand I bore her, / … I brought her, gave her to your despairing arms,” and she “paid me with herself” (p. 10). She is “my prize,” Jaffeir continues. Jaffeir won Belvidera, a prized object. But she is not just a prize; she exists to give him life. “My Life feeds on her,” he tells Priuli (p. 11), and while he may love “her for herself, / Not as the Heiress of the great Priuli” (p. 12), she functions not as a person but as a part of Jaffeir’s “little State” (p. 12).

Men own women as objects in a separate sphere from the men’s world of friendships for Jaffeir says that he will “partake the troubles of [Pierre’s] Bosom” (Venice Act I, p. 15); he will join with Pierre’s cause, forgetting the cause of his wife and child. Pierre feels Jaffeir’s care but knows Jaffeir values Belvidera. He shares the ransacking of Jaffeir’s home and does not mention Belvidera but the marriage bed instead. Men threw “amongst the common Lumber” to be sold to pay Jaffeir’s debts “The very Bed, which … Receiv’d thee to the Arms of Belvidera”(p. 16). Jaffeir says he “will revenge my Belvidera’s Tears” (p. 17); he will not revenge her disgrace but a part of her. Objectified as part of a place, Belvidera’s bed no longer offers Jaffeir a “Harbour? / Where [can he] ease [his] loaded Heart?” (p. 18). “Nature,” Jaffeir cries, made Belvidera’s body, not her mind or her soul, “to temper Man” (p. 18). She exists for his use in taming himself, and he “wonder[s] how [Nature] made her” (p. 19). It should not be so wondrous; men and women are made the same, but Jaffeir believes that as a woman Belvidera exists differently, as something other than (hu)man.

From prized possession to place of refuge, Belvidera becomes “A Pledge, worth more than all the World can pay for” (Venice Act II, p. 30), and Jaffeir uses her as a commodity bequeathed to the conspirators (p. 31) and not to be seen again (p. 32). Belvidera realizes that she is “sacrfic’d! I’m sold!” (p. 37) and deplores how Jaffeir “that should guard my Virtue, has betray’d it” (p. 37). Belvidera, as a wife, should no longer have been a commodity beyond that of the father-husband relationship, but Jaffeir uses her to solidify his relationship with Pierre and the conspirators. But he waivers. Jaffeir, though warned not to see her again, finds Belvidera and says, “’tis vain to struggle with Desires” (p. 37). Women undo men as Jaffeir, because he loves Belvidera, breaks his arrangement with the conspirators, sees Belvidera, and learns that Renault assaulted her. “Why was I last Night deliver’d to a Villain?” Belvidera asks Jaffeir, continuing “[M]ust I / be made the Hostage of a hellish Trust? (p. 39). She admits that “all [her] Value … by the Love and Loyalty [she] owes Jaffeir” binds her to him alone, but he has bound her to the conspirators (p. 33). Now Belvidera belongs to Renault.

But Belvidera is no passive Desdemona or slow-to-react Emilia. She uses her knowledge to affect action. Had Jaffeir not violated his oath not to see his wife, he would not have known that Renault had “approached [Belvidera], loose, unbutton’d, / Ready for Violation” (Venice Act III, p. 41). If Jaffeir had not known of Renault’s assault, he would not have followed Belvidera’s advice to tell the Senators of the plot. No matter the outcome, if the conspiracy succeeds or fails, the men’s actions occur across Belvidera, the bond Jaffeir gave as surety for being faithful to his male friends. Belvidera must die because men’s actions occur at women’s expense. Pierre at first chides Jaffeir for “What feminine Tales hast [Jaffeir] been listening to” for women cannot be trusted to tell the truth (p. 43), but Jaffeir soon convinces him that Renault has accosted Belvidera, breaking the trust Jaffeir and Pierre had placed in him to keep her safe. And when Renault tells them that “The Hostage of your Faith, my beauteous Charge, is / very well,” Jaffeir, in echo of Othello, tells Renault “But thou art honest” (p. 44). Pierre’s backing does not last, though. He reprioritizes his relationship with Jaffeir, saying that Belvidera’s failure to understand her position as Renault’s for her and her husband’s lives depend on it wreaks havoc on the homosocial bond. Belvidera’s failure as object, placing fidelity to her husband before fidelity to his cause, breaks Jaffeir’s bond with the conspirators, specifically Renault. But Pierre does not allow Renault’s falsity pass; he tells Renault, “Had Jaffeir’s Wife proved kind, he’d still been true” and rebukes Renault with “how that stinks? / Thou die! thou kill my Friend” through falsity to the homosocial bond of the conspirators (p. 49). Pierre determines that Jaffeir will remain true to the cause because he’ll “bring that Man … / And you shall see him venture for you fairly” (p. 49). Pierre believes in Jaffeir’s constancy, in their male bond, realizing that Jaffeir “shall die, if you will take him from me” (p. 50). Pierre supports Jaffeir, and without that friendship Jaffeir has no other friend to help him. The other conspirators realize the primacy of Jaffeir’s and Pierre’s relationship. They break with the beastly Renault who had spurred the conspirators to “sheathe your Swords in every Breast you meet,” the Senators and women and children (p. 46). To “kill the very Name / Of Senator” the conspirators must kill the women, too, the bodies that birthed the men, “[t]o make a Spectacle of Horror” (p. 46-7) that gives them the power over the city. The conspirators offer to crush their swords to show fidelity to this proper homosocial relationship, and they prefer friendship over exacting the bondage on Jaffeir or Belvidera (p. 50).

But Belvidera reminds Jaffeir of that “beastly image” of Renault accosting her, and Jaffeir tells her “Name it not again” when she reminds him of how her own husband deceived her (Venice Act IV, p. 51). When he complains that “a Woman’s Tears, / [made him] Forg[e]t his Manhood, Virtue, Truth, and Honor,” Belvidera calls him “Inconstant Man!” and tells him to “return back, and replace [her] in [her] Bondage” and to “Tell all thy Friends how dangerously thou love’st me, / And let thy Dagger do its bloody Office” (p. 51). Belvidera recognizes that her fate depends on the homosocial bond and provides Jaffeir a means to fully regain the bond and solidify his relations with the conspirators, but Belvidera has so changed Jaffeir, made him so in love, that he seeks other means. He inverts the male bond when he accepts that he “hast [not] a Friend more dear than Belvidera?” (p. 52), and at her insistence, he becomes “Friends to the Senate, and the State of Venice” (p. 53). But redeeming his honor to the State requires that Jaffeir “Unfold the Truth, and be restor’d” by betraying his primary homosocial male bonds, namely his friendship with Pierre, and attempting to (re)establish bonds with the Senate and Priuli (p. 54).

When Jaffeir consciously equates Belvidera with Pierre, “Belvidera, that dear Friend, / Who next to thee was all my Health rejoiced in” (Venice Act IV, p. 62), Jaffeir has a “divided soul” for he does not know whether to save Belvidera or keep his honor by killing her to maintain his male homosocial bonds (p. 62). Jaffeir realizes peace lies, in all that implies, not with Belvidera but “in that Friend I’ve lost / All my Soul’s Peace” (p. 63). Jaffeir realizes too late that the male bond should be the primary one and that Belvidera’s wishes “mad’st me [a Villain]” (p. 63). He repeats that she caused him to violate the homosocial order with “What [she] hast done, and whither [she] hast brought me” (p. 65). She is a “Traitress … / [and] Thanks to [her] Tears, and false persuading Love” she bewitched him into betraying his friends (p. 65). But because of his love for her he cannot exact surety and “throws away the Dagger” (p. 66, stage direction).

But the traffic in women occurs not just in getting married. Pierre’s claim to Jaffeir must be stronger than Belvidera’s, and the conspirators accept Jaffeir based on the primacy of his relationship to Pierre and to them through Belvidera’s life. Men were not to form emotional and intellectual bonds with women because men did not think women capable of such bonds; the intellectual strain of such a relationship would harm women (Stanley 120). Allowing Pierre to sway Jaffeir to the conspiracy plot returns Jaffeir to a proper homosocial relationship with men where women exist as economies within the State. 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 Belvidera 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.

Priuli likewise “Curs[es] … the fatal Minute when I got her” (p. 66). “Beasts are happy in their Offspring,” Priuli muses, “While only Man gets Traytors, Whores, and Villains” (p. 67). But once Belvidera restores him to his position of father by having him hug her so that his “Heart runs o’er with Fondness” (p. 68), she changes him away from his abuses and requests that “If I was ever then your Care” go help Jaffeir and his friends avoid torture and death (p. 69). Aware of how women’s tears may unman men and referring to Belvidera’s persuasion of her father, Jaffeir tells Belvidera to “keep in thy Tears, / Lest they unman me too” (p. 74). Belvidera even asks that he “Leave they Dagger” with her, but Jaffeir refuses, leaving her nothing, and goes to Pierre.

Belvidera’s having Jaffeir reveal the plot to the city fathers literally destroys the conspirators despite Belvidera’s belated reunion with her father who claims “I’m still thy Father” at the start of Act V (Venice Act V, p. 68). When Priuli learns of Belvidera’s commodification as collateral for Jaffeir’s acceptance into the conspirators’ society, he goes to the Senate to plead for the conspirators’ lives to save Belvidera from death by a potentially unknown conspirator bound to recall the mortgage on her life. He retakes his place as family father at Belvidera’s insistence, but it should be Jaffeir acting as he now commands her commodification. Otway’s complication of who has agency tangles the familial bonds and sets up Jaffeir’s return to Pierre as his primary homosocial bond instead of returning to Priuli. When Jaffeir replaces his relationship with Pierre first and Belvidera second, Belvidera still refers to Jaffeir as “My Life,” but Jaffeir refers to her as “My Plague” (p. 73). Belvidera immediately sees her fate, what she calls her “Ruin” and that she must die (p. 73). She remains the collateral for the conspirators’ acceptance of Jaffeir; when learning of her husband’s and his friend’s deaths, she must ask, “Who has done this?” (p. 82). Realizing the homosocial order has been again usurped, Priuli asks the maid to “guard me from the Sight on’t” (p. 82). Priuli knows the homosocial order’s structure forced Belvidera to act, but it also forced Jaffeir to betray his wife by commodifying her and then betraying her by replacing her for a second time with Pierre as his primary relationship. Had Jaffeir followed the will of the fathers, the patriarchal demand that fathers give permission for their daughters’ marriage or had he kept as prime his relationship with Pierre, Belvidera may have survived. Killing Pierre and murdering himself show Pierre that “Now [Jaffeir] hast indeed been faithful” (p. 80).

Once Jaffeir leaves, Priuli has his servants “Run, seize, and bring her safely home, / Guard her as you would do Life: Alas, poor Creature!” To her father, Belvidera is not a woman with a husband and child; she did not act to save the state of Venice. She is a creature to be caged again. Pierre, though, does not allow Jaffeir to exact the bond on Belvidera, which may be what Priuli fears and so guards her from being the bond’s payment. Instead, when Jaffeir says that “I have a Wife, and she shall bleed: my Child too … T’ appease thee,” Pierre whispers to Jaffeir (Venice Act V, p. 80). Jaffeir stabs Pierre and then himself, believing they have deceived the Senate and satisfied the conspirators. But Belvidera dies at seeing Jaffeir’s and Pierre’s ghosts, and Priuli tells his servants to “guard me from the Sight on’t: / Lead me into some Place that’s fit for Mourning” (p. 82). The officers consider Jaffeir’s and Pierre’s deaths noble. “Heav’n grant I die so well,” one says (p. 81), but Priuli hides from the dead Belvidera. Women’s bodies — Belvidera’s, Desdemona’s, Emilia’s — function as commodities and possess no nobility in death.

The only female body that remains in either play is Aquilina, the courtesan who is “The dearest Purchase of [Pierre’s] noble Labours!” (Venice Act I, p. 14) but whom Senator Antonio has “spoil’d my Quarry” by acquiring the woman with his hefty purse (p. 14). Aquilina tells Pierre she “force[s herself] t’endure and suffer him … For he has already made me Heir to Treastures” (p. 20-1). Unlike Emilia, Desdemona, and Belvidera, Aquilina lives by selling her body. She chooses Antonio because “the Beast has Gold, / That makes him necessary” for her continued survival (p. 20). For Pierre “When a Woman sells / Her Flesh to Fools, her Beauty’s lost to me” (p. 20). Pierre accepts that she sells herself to him (and perhaps to other men who share her equally, an upholding of male equality in homosocial relationships at the expense of a woman), but for Aquilina to be solely enjoyed by Antonio and to exercise his senatorial privileges as privileges over women galls him. Pierre tells Jaffeir that he was “summon’d to appear” before the Senate “and censured basely, / For violating something they call Privilege” despite his military service to the State (p. 14). As a single woman with no means of her own, she must secure an income, and becoming Antonio’s widow would do that for her. This angers Pierre, and like Othello with Desdemona and the conspirators (of whom we know of no female engagements), he leaves Aquilina out of the conversation of men saying, “I’ve Friends to meet me here to Night” (p. 21). When Aquilina asks to “be of [Pierre’s] Council” he acts surprised, saying, “How! A Woman ask Questions out of Bed!” (p. 21). She may be the one he loves, but she shall not share his friends or their knowledge of how men act and conspire against the city fathers. This saves Aquilina from Belvidera’s fate. In fact, Pierre calls the city “the Adriatic Whore” (p. 29), and after his arrest, to explain his actions, he denigrates to Venice as the Duke’s “Wife … plough’d / Like a lewd Whore” by other men (p. 57).

Pierre keeps his council away from Aquilina, and that saves her from Belvidera’s fate. With no knowledge to act against the state, Aquilina cannot be made to pay though she is used by the men around her. But Aquilina has some knowledge of men and uses what she knows. Antonio’s repeated reduction of Aquilina to a body part, calling repeatedly for his “Nacky, Nacky, Nacky” and his “Naquilina” and asking it, instead of her, how it is doing (p. 33) strikingly contrasts with Belvidera as a safe harbor and spring of life. Aquilina lives by her vagina, not her virtue, and Antonio’s beastly antics make this clear. She is no “Madona” (p. 33), but Antonio commodifies Aquilina by not seeing her as a person. He buys her unwilling participation (for he disgusts her) in his animal antics, shaking a purse of gold while he tries to “gain Reception for [his] love” and ironically calling her a rebel (p. 34). Aquilina takes the money, calling it his “Honor” (p. 34), and Antonio returns to referring to Aquilina by her vagina. “Nacky up and I down,” he says before engaging in role play, acting as various beasts that the conspirators surely claim the Senators to be. When Aquilina uses a whip on him, Antonio protests, again calling her “Nacky.” Here Aquilina refers to herself as Nacky, calling Antonio a “Cur; What, bite your poor Mistress Nacky?” (p. 36). Unwillingly, Aquilina commodifies herself to gain a living, but she is aware of her objectification and uses that commodification as best she can to eventually become Antonio’s rich widow.

When the Duke orders that the conspirators be found at the house of the “fam’d Grecian Courtezan, / Call’d Aquilina” (Venice Act IV, p. 56). She is not even a loose Venetian woman who successfully cuckolds a husband; she is other, a Greek. But in Act V, Aquilina bests Antonio by drawing her own dagger. “O Laud, a Dagger! Oh! Laud! it is naturally / my Aversion, I cannot endure the Sight on’t; hide it / for Heaven’s sake,” he cries (p. 71). Women wielding manly power, for the dagger symbolizes throughout the play man’s phallic prowess, is unbearable for Antonio. Women wielding such power is also untenable. When Aquilina pushes for Pierre’s life, Antonio reveals that he is to be tortured and killed (p. 72). Antonio has unmanned Aquilina and returns to calling her Nacky, manning her himself and pretending to die from the encounter (p. 72).

Othello and Venice Preserv’d metonymize social structures at work in the pre-Victorian social order. The result of not making the male homosocial relationship the primary relationship destroys the men and those closest to them: Othello, Desdemona, and Emilia die while Iago goes silent and runs; the conspirators, Pierre, and Jaffeir die while Belvidera dies from shock. The male homosocial bonds between Othello and his men and between Jaffeir and Pierre and the conspirators reify patriarchal authority and power. Though Iago views Othello as a threat to his own claims to power, Othello seeks to amplify Iago’s power by appointing him his ancient, a position that places Iago in charge of Othello’s wife, commodifying Desdemona as a member of an asymmetrical triangle which Iago uses to destroy Othello. Similarly, Jaffeir, at Pierre’s urging, pledges his wife to the conspirators, commodifying her in an asymmetrical triangle with Renault as representative for the conspiratorial group. In each case, the mini-state of matrimonial love increases tensions in the male homosocial bonds as the women exert influence (either passively as with Desdemona or actively as with Belvidera) on their husbands. It matters little; at the end of each play the women are no more hu(man) than they were when unmarried and bound to their fathers. When Belvidera and Desdemona ignore their fathers and marry without permission, the fathers decisively sever the bonds with Othello and Jaffeir, wishing ill on each son-in-law for destroying their own “little State[s]” (Priuli, insulting Jaffeir in Venice Act I, p. 12). Jaffeir’s inconstancy troubles modern audiences. 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 Belvidera first, tragedy results. First, he loses Priuli’s sponsorship and gains Priuli’s curses. Second, he risks Belvidera’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.

Works Cited

Bronner, Stephen Eric. Critical Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Oxford, 2011.

“Class Lecture” with Mark Lussier on 24-26 July 2017. The Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Oxford Study Abroad, Summer 2017.

Koestenbaum, Wayne. “Foreword: The Eve Effect.” Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, Columbia University Press, 2016. Kindle.

Otway, Thomas. Venice Preserv’d, or a Plot Discover’d. Special Collections, Douglas Library, Queen’s University at Kingston, venicepreservdor00otwauoft.pdf.

Richter, David H. “Psychoanalytic Theory and Criticism.” The Critical Tradition: Classic Texts and Contemporary Trends, Bedford / St. Martin’s, 2007, pp. 1106-1122.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Thirtieth Anniversary Edition, Columbia University Press, 2016. Kindle.

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Epistemology of the Closet, University of California Press, 2008. ACLS Humanities E-Book.

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.

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