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Presentation of Women in Othello

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Introduction

The Presentation of Women in Othello Shakespeare's portrayal of Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca in Othello comes, generally, in two forms which reflect the prevailing opinion of women in Elizabethan times as mysterious and angelic or, whores, determined to cuckold their husbands. When Othello was written a patriarchal society was the norm. Women had clearly defined roles, as housewives and mothers; they were viewed as inferior, not only physically, but also emotionally. It was thought that they needed a male to protect them, if they were married this responsibility would fall to the husband and if the woman were single, it would be the duty of her father or another male relative. References to any of the three women, Desdemona, Emilia or Bianca, by the other characters, seems always either to praise them for their virtue and beauty, or else condemn them as whores that manipulate men to achieve their own ends. All three are rejected by their respective partners/husbands; they love them almost unconditionally, even when confronted with indifferent and callous behaviour. They are engaged in unbalanced partnerships: they feel more for their self-centred men than the men are capable of reciprocating. Bianca serves to represent the latter of the two opinions; she is a courtesan in Cyprus (''Tis such another fitchew' IV.i.145). She is a contrast to Emilia and Desdemona as she is not a part of the domestic world in which they belong; this immediately casts her from the kind of femininity that Desdemona is said to possess. ...read more.

Middle

Emilia is all too aware that Iago's behaviour towards her is undeserved, she explains to Desdemona in Act 5 how women often suffer this treatment, and what happens as consequence ('Then let them use us well: else let them know, / The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.' V.1.101-2), this suggests to the audience that although women were legally and religiously bound to a subservient position, not all women behaved in a subservient way. In the final scene Emilia is quite prepared to reveal Iago's deceit, however, interestingly, she is fully aware that she is not, by social convention, supposed to, she actually apologises to those present when she disobeys him ('Good gentlemen, let me have leave to speak. / 'Tis proper I obey him - but not now.' V.ii.192-3). This disobedience does not pass without penalty, Iago stabs and kills Emilia, proving to the audience just how unbalanced their relationship was. Desdemona is spoken of by the other members of Othello as saintly, kind and virtuous, Cassio goes so far as to describe her as 'She is indeed perfection' (II.iii.25), and indeed, in Elizabethan times, if a women was not viewed as a whore, she was likely thought to be angelic (Queen Elizabeth I, for example). Shakespeare however was able to characterise women as real people, and take them from their pedestal. ...read more.

Conclusion

He cannot believe that Desdemona could possibly love Othello and when talking of the couple does it in the most debasing manner ('Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / Is tupping your white ewe!' I.i.87-8), always with sexual inferences and often with reference to animals, believing their love to be no more than lust 'whereof I take this, that you call / love, to be a sect or scion.' (I.iii.331-2). A good example of Iago's firm opinion of Desdemona can be seen in a conversation with Cassio who believes Desdemona to be saintly, 'She's a most exquisite lady', 'And I'll warrant her full of game' (II.iii.17-18). Although Iago may have an extreme opinion of women, it was not too dissimilar from that of other men in the play. Men felt that there was something mysterious about women which they could not understand, they inhabited a different world, the domestic world of house and home, and a more physical world (eg. pregnancy, menstrual cycle) than men. It was felt that they were dangerous, temptresses who would lead them astray, needing to be controlled. The women of Othello do not always conform to the norms set by male opinion, but they are often constrained and held back because of them, and the men's fear that they will disobey sets the scene for much of the tension within the play, resulting in the many tragic deaths. Emily Shah ...read more.

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Here's what a teacher thought of this essay

4 star(s)

There is some good analysis in this essay that at times could be further explored to show a deeper understanding of the effects Shakespeare is trying to create.
There is a lot of textual evidence used in the essay which is good but it is important to embed this type of support and not just list it.

4 Stars

Marked by teacher Laura Gater 03/05/2013

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