Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve

“I have found the perfect paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love. – Mother Teresa”

Nun’s say it best right? This quote from Mama T is not the topic of this post but rather a scene setter, aptly describing the tumultuous nature of that enigmatic creature that is love.

Love can be simultaneously the greatest feeling in the world, and yet it can be the most painful soul destroying experience.

So if love itself is bad enough, what’s it like for those among us who fall in love hard and fast? I’m talking about the romantics, the poets, some would say- the fools. Those who give all they’ve got right at the start, running into enemy lines with guns blazing.

So what is love , and where did it derive from, for those who ” Wear their hearts on their sleeves?” 

I like this idiom because it has both a historical past but also, as always, is somehow related to Billy Shakespeare.

( Surely by now I should just resign to the fact that most modern day sayings are in some way related to him, I have after all immersed myself in the incestuous world of quotations. )

Historically men were believed to be better soldiers if they were bachelors. Without the hold of a woman, man could inflict testosterone infused violence  upon whatever enemy he was commanded to attack.  Emperor Claudios Gothicus of the Roman Empire sealed the deal by making marriage illegal . Now don’t worry, we all know Romans enjoyed the finer things in life, so good old Claudios had his boy’s backs.  Men were allowed to – during the annual festival celebrating the goddess Juno – draw the name of a woman who would become his – what is now –  friend with a benefit. He would then wear this lady’s name on his sleeve and would *ahem* be with her for the coming year. ( Facebook status : It’s Complicated ??)

Away from Italy and in England at the same era, men once again, in their quest for displays of dominance, took part in jousting.  And what impresses a woman more than watching a man with a massive lance on a horse. ( Tone lowered..?) Now this desirable knight would dedicate this romantic scene to his beloved by wearing something of hers around his arm.

So these two are  figurative examples of men  literally wearing – in some way-  their “hearts” on their arms. However it is Shakespeare’s use of the phrase that  is used in modern day.

In his play Othello it reads :

“For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.”

Here the character Iago is telling Roderigo that his perceived loyalties to the Venetian general, Othello, are indeed a masquerade. ( This boy be frontin.)  He is saying that when one displays their true emotions and intentions outwardly ( the native act and figure of my heart) it leaves them vulnerable to birds to peck away at. So when you wear your “heart”, that is your feelings and your hopes, so outwardly and visible, it leaves you vulnerable to others , who can – like so often occurs in the madness of love – take slowly away from you, without returning what you first gave them . And so sadness can only ensue.

Iago describes a pessimistic world.  But perhaps we don’t have to go sleeveless just yet, we don’t have to hide our feelings entirely but maybe it’s time to roll up our sleeves,  put on the arm bands, and jump into the deep end.

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