Free Essay About Feminine Power: An Analysis Of Women In William Shakespeare’s Othello
Whether they are depicted as shrewish, clever cross dressers, or are the picture of feminine tragedy, Shakespeare had a way of writing women characters. William Shakespeare’s Othello is one of those works that is often studied because of its display of gender differences. The play takes place in the Elizabethan society, where expectations of women were rather lower than those of men, and their place in society may be considered miserable. As a result of these ideals, female characters in Shakespeare's Othello are mostly represented as typical Renaissance ideal women. In that age women were believed to be weaker than man both physically and psychologically. They were submissive to men and their only responsibility was to get married and raise children. The purpose of this paper is to examine the submissive, possessions of men, yet powerful characters that the women play in William Shakespeare’s Othello.
“Whate’er you be, I am obedient” (3.3.1726). During the Elizabethan age, it was acceptable for women to be obedient and submissive to their husbands. In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the most prominent female character is Desdemona, the wife of Othello and daughter of Brabantio. This young and beautiful girl is portrayed as the perfect and ideal woman. She is described as “divine” (2.1.849) and “she is indeed perfection” (2.3.1159). She plays the role of the submissive and dutiful wife. When compared to the male characters in the play, her role is the lesser role even though she becomes the pawn in Iago’s plot to bring down Othello. A good example of Desdemona’s submissiveness to her husband can be seen in Act IV Scene 3. Othello tells Desdemona to go to bed and she responds “I will, my lord” (4.3.3028) then later to Emilia she says, “He hath commanded me to go to bed” (4.3.3032).
Despite the love of Othello, Desdemona is always treated as a thing. It can be said that she is seen as nothing but the possession of her beloved husband. A good example of Desdemona being portrayed, as a possession is when the First Senator says to Othello: “use Desdemona well” (1.3.648). This not only shows that she is not Othello’s equal-right spouse, but also that she has a lower status than that of her husband. Another example of Desdemona being portrayed as a possession is when Othello says to the Duke of Venice “I won his daughter” (1.3.434) and later to his wife “The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue” (2.3.1140). Although he loves Desdemona, these statements prove that Othello may not think of their marriage as a mutual decision between both of them, but as a business deal that has ended with good results. Desdemona is a female and therefore is not to be treated as an equal despite the fact that she is from a higher class than he is.
“‘Tis proper I obey him, but not now” (5.2.3534). Outside of the women in the play being seen as submissive and the possessions of their male counterparts, we can also see a strong feminine power of these women as well. In the very first scene in the play we witness Desdemona’s defiance of her fathers wishes when she marries Othello. Desdemona is not only able to hide the affair from her father, but she is clever enough to sneak out of the house without his knowledge and elope with Othello. Here we see that the divine chaste girl can also make her own decisions regardless of the views of her father, who because of her behavior feels dishonored. A strong female character in the play is Emilia the servant companion of Desdemona and wife of Iago. These two women are very different from each other. Although Emilia can be seen as the dutiful obedient wife, she also represents a strong feminist aspect in the play. She understands the role that she must play in a largely patriarchal society. She explains her decision to defy her husband by saying that although she understands that it is her duty to obey him, she will not do so as she reveals his plot to destroy Othello. She also explains in a private moment to Desdemona that women are no different than men:
Let husbands know,
Their wives have sense like them; they see and smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour
As husbands have (4.3.3121-3124)
Here it may also be appropriate to quote Desdemona saying, “nay, we must think men are not gods” (3.4.2343). Shakespeare presents Emilia as a very obedient and dutiful wife who, at the same time, is a strong feminist character. However, it is important to observe that although Emilia takes a powerful stand on the role men play in society “To eat us hungerly [men], and when they are full, /They belch us” (3.4.2285-2296), she never voices these opinions on front of anyone but Desdemona. Thus emphasizing that men in this era are controlling, and that women play a lesser role than the men. Even Bianca who has been rejected by Cassio defends his actions
In William Shakespeare’s Othello we observe that female and male characters are very different. Shakespeare’s description of women during the Elizabethan age is a representation of the way women were seen and treated. This largely patriarchal society wasn’t a place where women were accepted as figures of strength. Even Bianca (the prostitute who is the only woman to survive the play) defends Cassio’s rejection of her by saying, “I must be circumstanced” (3.4.2406). Although the women in this play are portrayed as submissive and as nothing other than the property of their male counterparts, they do have some aspect of feminine strength.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. Open Source Shakespeare. George Mason University,
2003. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.