Othello-Role Of Women Essay, Research Paper
Shakespeare’s Othello is commonly regarded as a work depicting man’s ability to use his reason towards evil intentions. A lowly ancient in a general’s army is able to destroy him through manipulation and deceit. But although Iago’s deceit of Othello is undoubtedly a central theme in the play, another theme regarding the nature of the man towards woman is apparent. Shakespeare’s Othello suggests that men mistreat women because women, as a sex, allow themselves to be mistreated.
The mistreatment of women by their men occurs throughout the play. The main characters view their wives or significant others as inferiors and usually merely as objects of lust and physical desire. This misogynistic view is reflected in some form or other by all of the main characters. Iago is the most misogynistic of the men. He considers love to be “merely a lust of the blood and a permission of the will.” (1.3.377-378) He also believes all women are whores who “rise to play, and go to bed to work.” (2.1.127) Iago’s misogyny is manifested in the treatment of his wife. He seems to have only unkind words for his wife, and even kills her when she exposes his double-dealing plot at the end of the play. The other two male characters also mistreat their women. Cassio appears to have no real feelings for Bianca. He is a lady’s man, and therefore cannot be concerned with such things as true love. Even Othello, the one character who truly loves his wife, mistreats Desdemona. He ends up suffocating her because he believes she has been unfaithful to him. The fact that Othello, a noble and loving husband, mistreats his wife illustrates the general contempt and misogyny that the men feel throughout the play.
But though the men regard the women as inferiors, the women never confront or resist their mistreatment. On the contrary, they remain subserviently loyal to their spouses. One such example from the play is Emilia’s stealing of Desdemona’s handkerchief. Although Iago mistreats Emilia and detests her, Emilia remains more loyal to him than to gentle and caring Desdemona. She gives the handkerchief even after Iago calls her “a foolish wife” and “a good wench.” Another female character, Bianca, also allows herself to be mistreated. Bianca believes that she is in love with Cassio and will therefore do anything for him. But Cassio does not reciprocate Bianca’s feelings. He states to Iago “Alas, poor rogue, I think i’ faith she loves me.” (4.1.128) Cassio essentially uses Bianca’s love to his own means. He gets her to willingly do chores for him (e.g. copy the embroidery from Desdemona’s handkerchief) and goes to her house for dinner and other entertainment whenever he pleases. However, neither Emilia nor Bianca’s mistreatment is as tragic as Othello’s abuse of Desdemona. At the beginning of the play, Othello and Desdemona are completely in love and it is impossible to believe Othello capable of hurting her in any way. By the end of the play however, Othello is determined to kill Desdemona. When Desdemona learns of Othello’s intentions, she resists feebly, but accepts her fate. When asked who her murderer is, Desdemona says, “Nobody. I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell.” (5.2.152-153) No where is the submissiveness of the women to their significant others more apparent than in this scene. Desdemona’s last words are to clear her husband of the blame in her murder, though he is the one who carried out the deed. Thus, not only are women mistreated, they seem to accept their mistreatment with little resistance.
The fact that men abused women without consequence was a common one in Shakespeare’s day and age. Despite the Chivalric Code during the Middle Ages and the ideal of the Courtier during the Renaissance, there was no real societal consequence for husbands that mistreated their wives. On the contrary, women were regarded as the property of their men and thus, could be treated in anyway the husband saw fit. The concept of equality among both of the sexes is one that truly emerged only at the start of the 20th century. Change in the society’s view of women only came about when women began to speak out against their mistreatment and inferiority.
Thus, through his play, Shakespeare comments on a generally accepted societal view of his day. Through the interactions of his characters, Shakespeare brings to light the mistreatment of women by men and also shows how women did not resist this mistreatment. Shakespeare’s extremely progressive view on women in society is another testament to his genius and talent as a playwright.