Rethinking Medieval Literature
December 12th, 2022
More Loyalty in Literature!
The texts we read in the second half of the semester continued to overlap with other texts more than I expected. This includes texts from both the first and second half of the semester. For the sake of this project, I only focused on the second half. My first project focused on the theme ‘loyalty’, and how it presented itself across the texts. For this project, I thought it would be interesting to do the same thing with the texts we’ve read since then. Like the first, in this essay I’ll be discussing where loyalty lies and how it showcases itself within the texts: “Paradise Lost” by John Milton, Shakespeare’s “Othello”, and “The Blazing World” by Margaret Cavendish.
Religious Loyalty in “Paradise Lost”
“Paradise Lost” contains the theme of loyalty, met with a crossover with religion throughout the poem. It illustrates the connection between obedience and loyalty, just in specific reference to God. The poem focuses on man’s (dis)obedience (towards God). Milton sees value and importance in loyalty’s various forms, and showcases character morality be determined through obedience to God and their individual man-to-man loyalties. Essentially, we can use where a character’s loyalties lie and what they do with them to judge whether they are considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Milton illustrates that loyalty lent a hand in man’s first fall (of many).
“Paradise Lost” focuses on disobedience (disloyalty) to God and one’s own morality. It also illustrates, through Satan, that disobeying those who you’re supposed to be loyal to can be catastrophic. At the same time, it illustrates through Adam and Eve that your wrongdoings can be corrected and forgiven. It also proves the latter to be more favorable and considered (morally) right. In the poem, God explains a crucial distinction between the two, stating he must “change Thir nature, and revoke the high Decree Unchangeable, Eternal, which ordain’d Thir freedom, they themselves ordain’d thor fall. The first sort by thir own suggestion fell, Self-tempted, self-deprav’d: Man falls deceiv’d By the other first: Man therefore shall find grace, The other none: in Mercy and Justice both, Through Heav’n and Earth, so shall my glorie excel, But Mercy first and last shall brightest shine” (“Paradise Lost”, 3.125–134). Essentially, Adam and Eve fell victims to deception, whereas Satan intentionally degraded himself and his morality. Because of this, Adam and Eve will be shown mercy (by God), unlike Satan.
By attempting to realign (correct) their moralities and loyalties with God, Adam and Eve also show their obedience to God. Fish believes that “obedience is an affirmation of loyalty” (Fish, pg 155), and this distinction showcases true loyalty. It shows that straying may occur, but true loyalties will always realign and shine through.
(Lack of) Loyalty in “Othello”
“Othello” illustrates very strong examples of both loyalty and betrayal throughout the play. It showcases a lack of loyalty, as well as results of deceptive loyalty. The most detrimental results playing out against Desdemona and Emilia regarding their deaths. Throughout the play we are shown various forms of loyalty within various characters.
In the beginning of the play, Emilia showcases a strong loyalty to her husband, Iago. She has known her husband has long yearned for Desdemona’s handkerchief, although the reasoning behind it remains unknown to her. Once Emilia is given an opportunity to snatch the handkerchief, she does so for him, claiming “I nothing but to please his fantasy” (“Othello” 3.3.343). However, by the time the play comes to an end, Emilia has abandoned all loyalty to Iago, in favor of Desdemona. She defends Desdemona after her death by telling on Iago and his evil acts, which he, of course, in turn tries to silence her. She explains she will always speak the truth and defend Desdemona, stating “No, I will speak as liberal as the north. Let heaven and men and devils, let them all, All, all, cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak” (“Othello”, 5.2.262-264). You could say that Emilia remained loyal to a fault considering Iago then kills her for telling everyone his secret.
Speaking of Iago, he is the picture of disloyalty or betrayal. He showcases an immense disloyalty to Othello, participating in multiple things to act upon his betrayal while simultaneously using his alleged loyalty with Othello to get his own selfish revenge against Cassio. Throughout the play, Iago does not display loyalty to anyone. If anything, Iago did a great job illustrating Crabbe’s belief that “so much evil has occurred in the name of loyalty” (Crabbe, pg 25).
Emilia shifted her loyalty off her husband and onto Desdemona, but Desdemona never shifted her loyalty off of her husband, Othello. This was despite her father’s prejudice and disapproval of him, his suspicion of infidelity, and him murdering her. Desdemona remained loyal to Othello up until the end of her life, even telling Emilia that she killed herself and that Othello is not to blame at all. Desdemona also felt it was her fault that Othello was upset, and apologized for an act she didn’t even commit. She also felt the way he was treating her was fair, saying “‘Tis meet I should be used so, very meet” (“Othello”, 4.2.125). Crabbe, referring to Emilia, believes, “In the end, while this loyalty costs her life, it is the men, specifically Othello and Iago, who are to blame” (Crabbe, pg 51-52). Although Crabbe is talking about Emilia, which I totally agree with, I think the same can equally be said about Desdemona.
Speaking of the way Othello treated Desdemona, his overall loyalties were totally misaligned. When it boils down to it, Othello threw out all his other loyalties and showcased Iago was his top trustee. He was disloyal to Desdemona, calling her names (whore) and hitting her in public. He had previously been showcased as extremely loyal, confiding in Iago, giving Cassrio the lieutenant position, and being honored for his successes in battle. However, his immense loyalty is what assisted in his demise by feeding into Iago’s maniacal tendencies. Similar to Emilia, Othello could also have been considered to be loyal to a fault, just while simultaneously being just as disloyal.
Importance of Loyalty in “The Blazing World”
Loyalty within “The Blazing World” is shown as a crucial aspect of life and with supplying happiness. It illustrates the connection between love/friendship and loyalty, including a stress on its importance. Cavendish shows this through the relationship between the Empress and the Duchess.
In the story, the Empress literally conquers the world and the concept of knowledge. Like she has actually achieved it all. Regardless, she just wants to be with the Duchess. This shows the Empress values her relationship with the Duchess highly, over power, money, and fame.
This feeling is both mutual and reciprocated by the Duchess. Her relationship with the Empress resembles very closely to her relationship with her husband, the Duke. This shows that loyalty can be shown in different forms, including different relationships. The Duchess showcases her ability to be loyal to both the Duke and the Empress when they seem to click: just as well as the Duchess does with the two of them. She reaffirms her trust and loyalties to them both, claiming that “no Adultery could be committed amongst Platonick Lovers, and that Platonism was Divine, as being derived from Divine Plato, cast forth of her mind that Idea of Jealousie. Then the Conversation of these three souls was so pleasant, that it cannot be expressed” (“The Blazing World”, 1.109-110).
Cavendish has love/friendship and the loyalties that lie within them at the front and center of “The Blazing World”. This suggests that they’re crucial or parts of the backbone that make up our lives and our happiness. That without solid, trustworthy, loyal people around you, what is the point? Where is your happiness coming from? Well… artificial happiness. It can’t be real and true without those people.
Loyalty is definitely a consistent and recurring theme throughout the texts we read this semester. It does come out in various levels of importance, and in various ways. In “Paradise Lost” we say loyalty’s connection to (dis)obedience, and its religious connection with God. In “Othello”, loyalty was a strong theme, but so was betrayal. It illustrated being loyal to a fault, and how deceptive loyalty can be catastrophic, and fatal. In “The Blazing World”, we saw loyalty within love and friendship, and saw the true value and importance of it within one’s life.
Cavendish, Margaret. “The Blazing World (1668) – Scholarly Edition.” Digital Cavendish Project, 16 Apr. 2019, http://digitalcavendish.org/complete-works/the-blazing-world-1668/.
Crabbe, Heather. “The Women of Othello.” The Falconer 11.1 (2009): 49-59 Web. 12
Fish, Stanley. “Surprised by Sin.” Google Books, Macmillan Press Ltd., https://books.google.com/books?id=NuZa609vj8gC&lpg=PR8&ots=ofTxYeBDEC&dq=loyalty+in+milton%27s+paradise+lost&lr&pg=PR4#v=onepage&q&f=false.
Milton, John. “The John Milton Reading Room.” Paradise Lost: Book 1, Dartmouth Edu, https://milton.host.dartmouth.edu/reading_room/pl/book_1/text.shtml.
Nuyen, AT. “The Value of Loyalty.” Taylor & Francis Online, Philosophical Papers, 21 Jan. 2010, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/05568649909506589.
Shakespeare, William. “Othello, Entire Play.” The Folger SHAKESPEARE, 12 Nov. 2019, https://shakespeare.folger.edu/shakespeares-works/othello/entire-play/. 13