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I've been looking for the origins of green as the colour of envy.

So far all I can get is "green-eyed monster" from Othello and vague, hand-wavey remarks about ancient Green ideas about bile.

The Othello line strikes me as being a bit too specific (in "green-eyed") to be an entirely original thought. If green skin had been the prevailing association until then, then why not "green-skinned monster"?

To put it another way, could Shakespeare have expected his audience to connect green eyes with envy? The green of eyes is far more literal than the "green" of skin, which is more grey/pallid.

I suspect there's something in between, perhaps a myth or fable which isn't ranked highly in Google results.

Anyone know what it might be?

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1 Answer 1

OED mentions envy in passing under green and intriguingly it introduces yellow:

3. Of the complexion: having a pale, sickly, or bilious hue, indicative of fear, envy, ill humour, or sickness (also in green and wan, green and pale). Also in extended use. See also green sickness n.

  • With reference to envy, chiefly in green with envy (also jealousy), green eye n. (yellow being the traditional colour of jealousy).

OED gives earliest citations, and Merchant of Venice and its "shuddering fear" appeared before Othello, but nothing before them:

2. fig. In and after Shakespeare.
a. Describing and alluding to jealousy. Cf. green adj. 3.

1600 Shakespeare Merchant of Venice III. ii. 110 Shyddring feare, and greene-eyed ielousie.

b. green-eyed monster n. (usu. with the) jealousy.

a1616 Shakespeare Othello (1622) III. iii. 170 O beware ielousie. It is the greene eyd monster.

Green with envy is a lot later:

1863 C. Reade Hard Cash xliii, The doctor was turning almost green with jealousy.

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