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The women in Othello lack power and importance; they are purely used as dramatic devices to offset the tragedy of the main character. How far do you agree with this statement?

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Introduction

"The women in 'Othello' lack power and importance; they are purely used as dramatic devices to offset the tragedy of the main character." How far do you agree with this statement? In Othello, a play dominated by strong, high-ranked combatant males, female characters are the minority. Critics have argued that Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are mostly, if not only, seen in their relationships with men, whereas the male characters are also seen in their professional roles. This feeds the view that the women in Othello are employed as devices to help manipulate the men as part of Iago's plan. The mixed-race marriage between Desdemona and Othello, in context, would have been very controversial. Their relationship would stand out to an audience, not only simply for their relationship but also because of their apparent equal standing at the start of the play. When their relationship is revealed, Othello highlights their mutual respect for one another when he asks the Duke to 'send for the lady to the Sagittary, and let her speak of me before her father', challenging patriarchy and expressing that he believes his wife should be allowed to speak for herself. ...read more.

Middle

She is a symbol of purity, ironically embodying the 'white ewe' metaphor Iago uses at the beginning of the play. Her naivety, innocence and insistence that she would not commit adultery 'for the whole word' increase the dramatic effect of the tragedy. Despite this, Desdemona cannot be described as purely a dramatic device to highlight Othello's demise. Out of the three women, she undeniably holds the highest status and, as well as emphasizing the tragedy in the play, exists as a character in her own right. In Act 2 Scene 1, she affirms her individuality when she says 'I am not merry but I do beguile the thing I am by seeming otherwise'. In this simple phrase she paints herself as a character of the same complexity and prominence as Iago; drawing parallels with the famous quote 'I am not what I am'. She also challenges the stereotypical Elizabethan view of woman in submissive roles when she holds her own in a battle of wit with Iago with 'O heavy ignorance, thou praise the worst best. But what praise couldst thou bestow on a deserving woman indeed?'. ...read more.

Conclusion

To conclude, the fact that women are mainly used to offset action and tragedy in the play does not, however, subtract from their importance or the power they hold as they act as catalysts without which the development of the plot would not be possibly - surely a massive amount of power. It could be argued that even though the women are mostly seen through their relationships, they hold power in that the reputation and status of their men can almost be said to rely on them. While Shakespeare does use women to heighten the dramatic effect of the plot, the same could be said for the men in the play such as Roderigo - a character used to show how easily Iago can manipulate people. As individual characters, these women hold their own within the play. All three challenge stereotypical Edwardian views of submissive women, however eventually they are dominated by their men. Desdemona is killed, Emilia becomes aware that her husband has used her in his malicious plot and Bianca has to keep her relationship a secret. Shakespeare could be making the point that women, like these characters, however strong in nature are always overshadowed by men. ...read more.

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