Green-Eyed Monster: Meaning, Overview

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  • 0:01 Meaning of 'Green-eyed…
  • 0:53 The Power of the Idiom
  • 1:51 The Merchant of Venice
  • 2:53 Othello
  • 4:09 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ann Casano

Ann has taught university level Film classes and has a Master's Degree in Cinema Studies.

The green-eyed monster can lead even the most respected and beloved men to murder. In this lesson, we will take a look at the meaning and origin of the phrase, plus William Shakespeare's take on the perils of the green-eyed monster.

Meaning of 'Green-Eyed Monster'

Jealousy can lead even the nicest people to do awful things. That's why it's often referred to as the 'green-eyed monster'. Because it's so universal in human nature, jealousy is a common theme in storytelling. It's one of the rawest human emotions, and if left unchecked, it will most likely result in devastating consequences.

Jealousy is typically used to reflect a person's feelings about another person who is typically a romantic partner. This is opposed to the similar but slightly different word 'envy', which usually results when a person becomes resentful of what another has or has accomplished.

So if you're in a relationship and your girlfriend is talking with her ex-boyfriend again, you may become jealous. But if you've been working at a company for ten years and someone who just started six months ago gets promoted over you, you would be envious of them.

The Power of the Idiom

The phrase 'green-eyed monster' is considered an idiom. An idiom is a figurative expression that uses words in an unusual and imaginative manner and goes beyond literal meaning. It also adds a little spice to our everyday language. Sure, we could say that someone is 'really jealous,' but think about the image that is conjured up in your mind when you think of a 'green-eyed monster.' Perhaps we see a large, scary beast with huge claws and two deadly green eyes that stare right through you.

It is said that the phrase originated from the idea that when a person was sick, their skin turned a yellow or green color. In addition, unripe fruit (which will make you sick when you eat it) is also the color green.

No one knows for sure who first came up with the term 'green-eyed monster' or when it was first used. However, William Shakespeare is often credited with being the first author to use the phrase in his written work.

The Merchant of Venice

The first time Shakespeare uses a derivative of the term 'green-eyed monster' is in his play The Merchant of Venice. Note that in the following excerpt he uses 'green-eyed jealousy' instead. He's not turned jealousy into a beast just yet.

Portia says:

How all the other passions fleet to air,

As doubtful thoughts, and rash-embraced despair,

And shuddering fear, and green-eyed jealousy! O love,

Be moderate; allay thy ecstasy,

In measure rein thy joy; scant this excess.

I feel too much thy blessing: make it less,

For fear I surfeit.

The actual play The Merchant of Venice is a comedy about bitterness, love, money, arranged marriage, friendship and shady dealings with a moneylender. The quote from Portia is more about being overcome with love than it is about jealousy. Its personification of jealousy seems to be just a way to describe the characteristics of being in love.

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