#1: Othello and Desdemona
Romeo and Juliet is, without a doubt, one of the most instantly-recognizable cases of lusty love (or love-like lust) leading to two people rushing into things too quickly. That being said, while R&J are without a doubt one of the most famous (and famously-tragic) couples of all-time, Othello and Desdemona have an even more tumultuous relationship.
To begin with, Othello and Desdemona violate one of the Golden Rules of Relationships: Don’t start a relationship on the foundation of lies and mistrust. Othello, a “Moor,” is an uncommonly-accomplished man, someone who has gone from servitude to the status of General, all amidst the scrutiny and racism of Renaissance Venice.
In short, he doesn’t need to inflate his already-astounding success story with tall tales of fantastical creatures—and yet he does, impressing Desdemona with just that.
In turn, Desdemona lies about misplacing a token of Othello’s affection, the handkerchief he gave Desdemona, which Iago plants on Cassio, with disastrous results. Iago is one of Shakespeare’s greatest masterminds and villains, and so it’s no surprise that he’s a liar, or that the play itself revolves around lies and jealousy (the description of which as a “green-eyed monster” comes from this play.)
All of this comes back to a fundamental theme Shakespeare tackles throughout his works when it comes to relationships—lies, mistrust, jealousy, and how to handle them in a relationship. Othello and Desdemona represent one of the worst ways to handle this. Both lie about what they’re doing or thinking, Othello out of jealousy and mistrust planted by Iago, and Desdemona acting out of fear (which is itself a huge red flag and sign you’re in extraordinarily unhealthy relationships, but we’ll touch on that more a little later.)
In Shakespeare’s comedies, people act petty or jealous or downright silly—that’s part of what makes it a comedy—but by the end, both parties to the lie, more often than not, have to either reveal the truth themselves or be revealed and then sort out their true feelings and affections for one another, and thus All’s Well That Ends Well. There’s a reason that title and phrase is attached to a comedy, and not a tragedy, as there are few relationship tragedies greater than withholding the truth from one another, or letting feelings of jealousy, mistrust, fear or anger take root without openly (yet ultimately peaceably) confronting your partner first.
Throughout the play, Othello increasingly shows himself to have little to no trust in his wife—never a good sign.
After he strangles Desdemona—add physical abuse to the growing list of ways in which this is a truly unhealthy relationship—Othello laments that he is “one that loved not wisely, but too well” and we’re inclined to agree with at least the first part of that statement.