In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I wanted to blog about something green. All the usual things came to mind – green grass, spring green, green eggs and ham, green with envy, the green eyed monster …
My mind began to ask questions though. It refused to settle on one thing or another, as seems to be so often the case with MY middle aged brain cells. I knew there would be no new Dr. Seuss poem from yours truly today or even something insightful or narrative about the green isles of Ireland or the remembrance of childhood bedtime stories. I was just too unsettled.
So this is what I’ve got.
Why do we associate colors with emotions or states of being? Why is it “green with envy” and the “green eyed monster” instead of “purple with envy” or the “mauve eyed monster”? Who decided? Where did it come from?
Drum roll please …
In literary usage, it comes from none other than the illustrious Bard known as Shakespeare. Ta da! The Merchant of Venice, 1596:
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.
And then: Othello, 1604,
O, beware, my lord, of jealousy;
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on; that cuckold lives in bliss
Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger;
But, O, what damned minutes tells he o’er
Who dotes, yet doubts, suspects, yet strongly loves!
But green isn’t the only color we associate with an emotion. Red is a color of passion and power. In writing when we are angry we “see red” or our arteries pop out or our skin turns red. Yellow is joyful and happy. Blue brings peace and calm.
And then there’s green again.
Sometimes green doesn’t mean jealousy at all. Sometime green is seen as good luck as in a four leaf clover. Ever pictured one of those in a color other than green? I did actually when I was in third grade. I colored it purple. (Don’t ask me, I was 8 years old. Why do 8 year olds do anything that they do?) Other times it’s associated with wealth … the color of money. It’s funny though … only in America is money all green so that is a very American idea.
In Othello Shakespeare is actually referring to the color of a cat’s eyes as Iago is talking about a cat stalking a mouse as the green-eyed monster. But he has equated it to jealousy and ever since it stuck tight.
Writers have that power. They create a new version of reality, form it with words in a way we can see it in our minds and forever the terms are known. (Did you know the term World Wide Web came about from a novel too?)
Writers have the power to create a new reality. Good writers will. But will I? Will I ever have the stuff of Shakespeare that will grip someone else in such a way that it will transform them, even if only a little bit?