Our adventure through The Winter’s Tale continues in our Truth, Beauty, Goodness Co-op. I like to introduce each act with some interesting information that will enhance the students’ reading. We began this play by discussing King Leontes’ major problem – jealousy. I introduced the idiom “the green-eyed monster” and we talked about the devastating consequences of a life lived with jealousy, citing other literary and biblical characters that have displayed this attribute. Things got a little interesting when a thoughtful face asked, “But isn’t our God a jealous God?”
Turns out Shakespeare doesn’t actually use the term “green-eyed monster” in The Winter’s Tale, so imagine my surprise when I came across the etymology for this phrase and discovered that he was the first to use it in print in Othello! I found this information while reviewing the book Why You Say It by Webb Garrison. Here’s Garrison’s brief explanation for the “green eyed monster”:
Casting about for a vivid way to describe jealousy, the Bard of Avon remembered that many cats have green eyes. Not necessarily correctly, he seems to have considered cats to be cruel and vindictive.
Therefore, in Othello (Act III), he called jealousy the green-eyed monster – comparing it with a cat that to a human appears to play with the bird or mole it has captured and is about to eat. p. 8*
Since I enjoy and collect books on etymology, I was happy to review Why You Say It for Thomas Nelson Publishers. When my copy arrived, I sat down to dig into its self-described “fascinating stores behind over 600 Everyday Words and Phrases.” Soon, I fell asleep.
The entries are brief and easy to read and will make fine copy for both car and bathroom trips. They are also a bit shallow and more than once I was wishing there was much more information. Then again, Mr. Garrison himself states that this isn’t intended to be a scholarly work and hopes that you have lots of fun and perhaps learn something along the way. Maybe, as in the case of the green-eyed monster, but maybe not…
Happy St. Patrick’s Day,
*In looking up this expression, I found explanations ranging from oriental jade powder to green complexions. While the above post information is true, I will go with the Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins by Henrickson which states, “However, before this (Othello reference), in The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare wrote of green-eyed jealousy without any reference to a feline. We must mark the ultimate origin unknown.” Sigh.