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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“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.  At the beginning of the play, Desdemona depicts the image of a powerful woman. She has publicly disobeyed her father using confident speech such as ‘my noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty’ which contrasts her father’s misconception of her innocence when he addresses her as ‘gentle mistress’.

It could be argued, however, that even in this instance, Desdemona still fails to assert herself: although she disagrees with her father, she merely switches her ‘duty’ from father to husband. This is as her mother did, ‘and so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father’ so, realistically, it could be said that Desdemona doesn’t show and independence or power in this disobedience, rather she is following what she is following a path she has been brought up to adhere to. Also, in their marital state, Desdemona does act as a dramatic device as she brings Othello, a man who has lived his life at war, into a domestic situation where he is inexperienced. The uncertainty he feels in his position as a husband allows his obsession with Desdemona to grow as she becomes his whole world, the one person he can cling to and depend on. Because of this, Iago finds it easy to manipulate circumstances because Othello is unaccustomed to domestic life. 

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Desdemona acts as a dramatic device to highlight Othello’s status, and her acceptance of him represents his admirable qualities as a courter and a husband. To be with Othello ‘She forsook so many noble matches, her father, and her country, and her friends.’ When Othello talks of wooing Desdemona he is portrayed as an eloquent storyteller and lover with phrases like ’she gave me for my pain a world of sighs’. It is because of this acceptance and romance that Othello’s demise is truly demonstrated to the audience, for example when Desdemona’s previous ideal is compromised when she realises that ...

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