Internet Shakespeare Editions

Author: Robert Cleaver
Editors: Danika Sihota, Jessica Slights
Peer Reviewed

A Table of Human Passions (Modern)

1From Nicholas Coeffeteau, A Table of Human Passions. Trans. Edward Grimston (1621)

[Nicholas Coeffeteau (1574-1623) was a prominent French theologian. He acted as vicar general of the French congregation from 1606 to 1609, served as preacher to the king under Henri IV in 1608, and later held the titles of Bishop of Dardania (1621-23) and Bishop of Marseille (1623). Coeffeteau was celebrated during his lifetime as a particularly beautiful prose stylist and as an articulate critic of Protestant reformation. In addition to authoring a number of religious pamphlets, he wrote a major history of Rome and the book on human emotions from which the following excerpt has been drawn. In 1621, just one year after it first appeared in France, Coeffeteau's Tableau des passions humaines, de leurs causes et de leurs effets was translated into English as A Table of Humane Passions. With their Causes and Effects by the English historian Edward Grimeston. Coeffeteau's discussion is engaging on its own account, but it is also a useful point of comparison for the explorations of jealousy and love in Othello.]

The vulgar sort think that as the sun runs not his course without light, so love cannot be without jealousy; and they add that as lightning is an infallible sign of thunder, which breaks forth, so jealousy is a certain sign of love, which desires to show itself powerfully. But they that have a more exact and particular knowledge of human passions maintain that as the sun being come to the south—which is the point of the perfection of his light—casts no shadow but spreads his beams all pure upon the earth, so a true and perfect love is not subject to the inclinations of jealousy.

And they say, moreover, that this unjust passion is not more a sign of love than storm and tempests are shows of fair weather. This opinion is more probable: for to begin with the proofs: How can jealousy subsist and remain with love unless we will overthrow the laws of nature, which suffer not two contraries to subsist in one subject? Is there anything more contrary to love than jealousy? Can the world see a greater antipathy than that which is observed in these two qualities, whereof the one doth participate with the condition of monsters, and the other is the very idea of perfection? Love unites the wills and makes that the desires of them that love strive to take, as it were, the same tincture, to the end they may resemble one another. And contrariwise, what doth so much distract the wills and divide the hearts as jealousy? Love binds us to interpret favorably of all the actions of the party beloved, and to take in good part that which we ought to believe she hath done with reason, whereas jealousy makes bad interpretations not only of her actions but even of her very thoughts. Is there any innocence that can be sheltered from the outrages of this inhuman fury? If the party beloved hath any joy, it then presupposeth a rival; if she be pensive, they are suspicions of contempt; if she speaks to another, it is infidelity; if she have wit, they apprehend practises; if she be advised, they imagine subtleties; if she be plain, they call it simplicity; if she be well spoken, it is affectedness; if she be courteous, it is with a design. So as jealousy is like unto those counterfeit glasses, which never represent the true proportion of the face—and what more sinister judgements could the most cruel enemy in the world give of the party beloved?—but not content thus to blemish the particular perfections of that she seems to love, she seeks to deprive it of the sweetest content in this life, which is by communication with men of honor and merit who do not visit her but for the esteem they make of her virtues. So as many times to please an importune, who is himself a great burden to them that suffer him, she must forbear all good company. What justice can force a soul well bred to endure this brutish rigor? Love is a lively fountain of joy and contentment, which banisheth all cares and melancholy; but jealousy, what is it else but a nursery of griefs and waywardness, whereas we see thorns of despair and rage to grow up among the sweetest and most pleasing flowers that nature can produce? How then can any man believe that these two contrary passions can subsist in one subject? If they oppose hereunto experience and the testimony of many persons worthy of credit which protest that they have loved sincerely and yet were never without jealousy, and will thereby infer that, at the least, jealousy is a sign of love, which is the second thing we must encounter, to satisfy that which hath been formerly propounded: it sufficeth to answer that although for respect we yield to those personages what they publish of their passions, yet as one swallow makes no spring, so that which happens to particulars cannot prescribe a law to the general. But to contain ourselves within the bounds of our first proposition, we say that these persons are much deceived in this subject, and their error grows for that they cannot give proper names to things, for that of a respective fear compatible with love, whereof it is full, they make an unjust jealousy, with the which love can no more subsist than water with fire. They that love entirely are, in truth, full of respect to the party beloved, honor her with all the passions of their souls, fight for her honor, and hold it a punishment to offend her. But these are not the effects of jealousy, which contrariwise violates the honor which is due to the party beloved, and, by a prodigious manner to blind the world, will have her favor by wronging her, treading her merits underfoot. We must then put a difference betwixt a respective fear, which always doth accompany those that love perfectly, and jealousy, which is never found but with an imperfect passion, which cannot judge of the perfections of the party beloved. They which know that these things are diverse, and as remote one from another as the earth is from heaven, will easily pass on this side and yield that jealousy is neither compatible with love, nor is any sign thereof. Yet if we shall yield anything to the opinion of the vulgar, we may freely confess that jealousy in truth is a sign of love but as the fever is an argument of life. It is unquestionable that a fever is a sign of life seeing the dead are not susceptible of this bad quality. But as a fever showing that there are some relics of life in the patient that is tormented accompanies him to his grave, so jealousy is I know not what sign of love, seeing they which love not cannot have any jealousy. But it is certain that if we expel it not, it will in the end ruin love, like unto a thick smoke which smothers the brightest flame. This is all we can yield unto the vulgar, so as according to this opinion which we have held the most probable, jealousy is to love as thick mists are to flowers, hail to harvest, storms to fruits, and poison to our lives.