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'The women in Othello lack power and importance; they are used purely 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 used purely as dramatic devices to offset the tragedy of the main character.' How far do you agree with this statement? Women in Othello fulfil various roles in the play. A crucial role they take on is as a dramatic device. Othello shows us how a woman's character, reputation and power can be manipulated and distorted by men, most notably Iago who orchestrated he demise and fall of Othello the protagonist. The relationship between Desdemona and Othello is very peculiar, and would have been considered even more so at the time at which Shakespeare was writing, it therefore stands out in the play, not least because it is a mixed-race marriage but also because at the start of the play they appear to be on an equal standing, they have a mutual "respect" for one another. We are presented with a very powerful image of women at the start of the play; Desdemona has disobeyed her father and taken her chosen husband, although Desdemona does acknowledge that Othello is her "Lord" and that it is her "duty" to obey him. However, in their marital state, Desdemona does act as a dramatic device, bringing Othello into a domestic situation where he is inexperienced and ingenuous. ...read more.

Middle

However, Desdemona does not act purely as a dramatic device to draw attention to Othello's demise. She undoubtedly holds the highest status among the three women and as well as enhancing the tragedy in the play she exists as a character in her own right. In Act 2 Scene 1 Desdemona asserts her individuality in her aside: "I am not merry but I do beguile/ the thing I am by seeming otherwise-" She also does not appear to fit into the meek depiction of women who "say nothing" as she challenges Iago's point of view by calling "O fie upon the slanderer!" This image of a powerful woman would not have been commonplace in Elizabethan times, making her authoritative role even more outstanding in the play. Conversely, Shakespeare could have possibly been using Desdemona to show how difficult it was for women to uphold a commanding position because of the strict and stereotypical views of women prominent in the late 16th century; Iago exhibits this fixed view as he states that women are "players in [their] housewifery, and housewives in [their] beds". Emilia and Iago's volatile relationship mirrors the loving bond between Othello and Desdemona, Iago refers to Emilia as a "foolish wife" and the couple are constantly "chiding". ...read more.

Conclusion

Essentially, Emilia shows the potential power, which women have, however, although this appears plausible both women who appear to do so are killed at the hands of men. Bianca is used to create a dramatic effect on stage, throwing Desdemona's handkerchief at him claiming that it is a "minx' token", Othello sees this and is distraught. It is the proof, which incites his jealousy, and her relationship with Cassio further convinces Othello that Cassio is disreputable because of his "unwholesome" sexual relationship with Bianca; the whore. In Bianca's case, she really is only used as a dramatic effect to catalyse Othello's demise, although it is arguable that she does assert her individuality in her outburst over Cassio keeping a mistress or "hobby-horse". Shakespeare has used women in the play not only to heighten the dramatic effect of the plot as in the case with Bianca, but also to highlight the different facets of characters within the play; Desdemona fulfils the role in her attractive portrayal of him. However, the women are not solely represented for this purpose and their individual characters and opinions hold status within the play. The fact that women are mainly used to offset action and tragedy in the play does not, however, detract from their importance or the power which they hold because as they act as the catalysts without which the development of the plot would not be possible. Arabella Llewellyn 1 ...read more.

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