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Presentation of Women in Othello

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The women in the play are presented as stereotypes: Desdemona the goddess, Emilia the wife, and Bianca the prostitute. How far do you agree? The 'stereotypes' that this question addresses are initially supported quite well when the female characters are first introduced in the play, however when the play develops we see complexities to the female characters emerge, thus the 'stereotype' that each of the character has been assigned does not fit comfortably with the presentation Shakespeare gives us of these characters. In Desdemona's case before she even is on the stage we are immediately taken with the idea that she is a goddess, as Iago describes her as a 'white ewe', which tries to portray her innocence to Brabantio, as in contrast he describes Othello with the animal image 'black ram' who is 'tupping' her. This vulgar image not only is intended to strike a chord with Brabantio by trying to portray her as pure , but also illustrates the Elizabethan idea that the colour 'black' is associated with the devil and 'white' is heavenly, thus we immediately get the impression of what a 'goddess' Desdemona is. This is shown through other men's presentation of Desdemona as well, as Othello describes her as his 'soul's joy', adding to the heavenly imagery surrounding Desdemona, and Brabantio describes her as his ...read more.


Ironically, the only character to not call Iago 'honest' in the play is his wife, which highlights the tension in their marriage. Whilst Emilia does seem a strong character when she immediately defends herself by saying 'You shall not write my praise' when Iago describes his perfect woman as someone who will 'ne'er disclose her mind', however the scene is quite light and comic, thus the effect of the exchange is more of a bickering couple rather than a serious comment on Emilia's character, thus the first time we see her she does seem to fit the role of 'wife' quite well. Additionally, despite the clear tension between her and Iago she gives the handkerchief without question to Iago, even while knowingg that Desdemona will 'run mad' without it, and also denies ever seeing it when confronted about it 'I know not madame', which altogether illustrates that ultimately her loyalty is to her husband. However, Emilia does do the right thing in the end when she realizes who is behind spreading 'lies' about her mistress, thus reveals her husbands dishonesty with her own honesty, showing that she is willing to disobey her husband. This provokes Iago to really show that he is a misogynist by describing her as a 'villainous whore' and even stabs her in an attempt to silence her, which reflects Othello's own actions in the same scene when he smoothers Desdemona with a pillow. ...read more.


It is under this influence of Iago that Othello's presentation of Desdemona changes dramatically, as she changes from 'fair warrior' to 'fair devil' showing how Iago's misogyny has changed Othello. However, it should also be noted that we do not see Cassio interact with Bianca until he is under Iago's influence, thus it is arguable that by referring to her as a 'customer' he too is illustrating his change in character. The label of 'prostitute' is also disproved when Bianca thinks that the handkerchief is a 'token from a newer friend' showing that her jealousy stems from her fear that she is losing her loved one, and also mirrors 'noble' Othello's actions, thus would suggest that she may be a higher status than just a 'prostitute' would suggest. In conclusion, I believe that the stereotypes of goddess, wife and prostitute work well when the men are presenting the women as shown through their descriptions of them, however when we delve further into the play we realize there are too many complexities in the women's characters to fit these roles well enough to be convincing. At the end of the play, it seems that nearly all of the female characters are silenced by their men no longer listening to them, and in Desdemona's case death, thus showing that Iago's misogyny has triumphed with tragic consequences in the play. ...read more.

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