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An exploration of Desdemonas transgression of social norms within Shakespeares Othello.

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Celeste Ngooi Y4 An exploration of Desdemona?s transgression of social norms within Shakespeare?s Othello. In Othello, according to the expectations of the Elizabethan patriarchal society, women were expected to be obedient to the men in their lives, be it their fathers or husbands, in other words to be subservient. However, Shakespeare allows for some deviation from this social matrix through the female character of Desdemona. This essay will explore the extent of Desdemona?s successful transgression of social norms within Othello through the ways in which Desdemona disrupts social conventions. Desdemona is first objectified and possessed by her father within the play. After Desdemona decides to elope with Othello, Iago cries, "Thieves! Thieves! Thieves! / Look to your house, your daughter, and your bags," clearly equating Desdemona to Brabantio's property (Oth. I.iii.76-9). Furthermore, Brabantio?s strict control of Desdemona is apparent, he refuses to accept that she decided to carry out her elopement, attributing her actions to "spells and medicines bought of mountebanks" that Othello must have used (I. iii. 61), ignoring her role in the romance and courtship. Indicating that if Desdemona were to carry out actions he disapproved, she was not in the right frame of mind, believing his daughter to be completely obedient and subservient to his whims, refusing to comprehend her own choices. ...read more.


It is not only the absence of her father?s permission for Desdemona?s marriage to Othello that is problematic. The fact that she chooses for herself, choosing a man outside her class, culture and even race further disrupts the social order within Othello. In the Venetian society within the play, it is extremely unnatural for a white woman to marry a black man. To elope with an upstanding senator of Venice poses one kind of threat to the civic order, but to elope with an immigrant redoubles this threat That Desdemona should so disjoin from nature indicates her transgression from social norms. The subscription that Desdemona?s desire for a man outside of her class, race and culture is so deeply seated within the males? psyche in Othello that even Othello himself observes such a moving away from nature within Desdemona, ?I do not think but Desdemona?s honest.[?] And yet, how nature erring from itself-??(III.iii.259, 263) when Iago, first tells him of Desdemona?s infidelity. In response, Iago replies ?of her own clime, complexion, and degree, whereto we see in all things nature tends?Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural?( III.iii.263-266), driving home the fact that Desdemona has successfully transgressed some sort of natural order. ...read more.


Desdemona refuses to be returned to her previous objectification at the hour of her death. Thus, it can be seen that despite her death serving to restore the social order within the play, Desdemona continues to fight against patriarchal notions as long as she is capable. In conclusion, despite various societal pressures being exerted upon Desdemona to conform to patriarchal notions, as seen through the men in the play, Desdemona does transgress such pressures. She asserts her own identity, refusing to be defined in accordance to the men in her life, even defying the Venetian law through the presence of her feminine voice in the Venetian court. Desdemona further transgresses the social order by making her own choices and standing up when faced with patriarchal pressures. She also wields power over Othello and knowingly employs it, representative of a strong and willful woman, clearly going against the patriarchal system within Othello. However, despite these successful transgressions, Desdemona is unable to maintain her success as seen through her death within the play, which restores the social order and making her previous transgressions null. Thus, Desdemona?s success in transgressing social order is great but the extent to which she is able to maintain it, is small. Word count: 1510 ...read more.

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