Othello And Desdemona: Not Defying Stereotypes Essays Examples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Othello, Shakespeare, Women, Gender, Men, Family, Gender Roles, Warrior

Pages: 4

Words: 1100

Published: 2020/12/26

Gender roles are consistently changing in society. Whereas women in Western society today have the opportunity to make their own choices, including their own career, who they will marry, and whether to have kids, this was not true in Shakespeare’s Othello. Women were property men were allowed to abuse. Men were expected to act certain ways as well, by being the strong warrior. While the play speaks to gender stereotypes in a way only Shakespeare could, the characters Othello and Desdemona both defy gender roles, and yet manage to fit them perfectly.
The character of Othello is what we would call a man’s man in today’s society. He is a general of the armies of Venice, physically strong, and universally respected. Despite his achievements, Othello does not come from an aristocratic background, and is plagued by constant self-consciousness. Desdemona is the daughter of a senator, and has been raised to be meek and maintain her purity. Despite this upbringing, she has a warrior’s spirit and wants to be with her husband even if it is the middle of a war.
The story begins because Othello decides he is going to take Desdemona and elope with her. It is in this act where we see just how lowly women are viewed. Upon finding Desdemona has been taken, Iago says, “Awake! what, ho, Brabantio! thieves! thieves! thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! Thieves! thieves!” (Shakespeare, 2003, 1.1.79). By accusing Othello of thievery because he stole Desdemona, Shakespeare makes clear a women’s role as property of her fathers until marriage. Iago speaks of Othello and Desdemona eloping further, saying:
'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on your gown; Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul; Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise; Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you: Arise, I say.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 1.1.86).
Iago paints Desdemona as a white ewe, dwelling on her purity versus that of Othello. He brings up Othello’s race, since a women of Desdemona’s stature should not have relations with a black man in that time. Once again, this reasserts a women’s role as less than men and property of men.
Despite her apparent and expected weakness, Desdemona defies the female stereotype placed upon her. When Othello is speaking of how Desdemona fell in love with him, he says, “she wish'd That heaven had made her such a man:” (Shakespeare, 2003, 1.3.163). While on the surface this may seem to be saying that she wished heaven had made her a man like Othello to marry, it can be interpreted another way. It could be that she wished heaven had made her a man so she would not be subject to the limitations of a women. When Othello was going to war, she wanted to go with him, and was unafraid of facing war to do so. Othello recognizes the strength in Desdemona, even referring to her as his “fair warrior” (Shakespeare, 2003, 2.1.175).
Just like Desdemona defies her gender role, so does Othello. While Othello is supposed to be the hero and a strong man both physically and mentally, he is so insecure he is easily manipulated. The manipulation begins with Desdemona’s father saying, “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 1.3.292). Although Othello does not immediately react to this, it planted a seed. Later, Iago begins manipulating him. Iago tells Othello, “She did deceive her father, marrying you” (Shakespeare, 2003, 3.3.206), and Othello replies “And so she did.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 3.3.209). This is the beginning of Othello showing what a weak man he truly is. Iago continues with his slick words, trying to convince Othello that Desdemona was unfaithful to him. Since men in the play almost all make the assumption that women are unfaithful, Othello was easy prey to Iago. Iago says to Othello:
Look to your wife; observe her well with Cassio; Wear your eye thus, not jealous nor secure: I would not have your free and noble nature, Out of self-bounty, be abused; look to't: I know our country disposition well; In Venice they do let heaven see the pranks They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience Is not to leave't undone, but keep't unknown. (Shakespeare, 2003, 3.3.197).
Iago plays on the stereotype that women cannot be faithful, while also using the true weakness of Othello to achieve his goals.
Ultimately, Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona has been unfaithful. It comes clear that Othello is no better than other men, and he views Desdemona as property just like other men do. Othello says, “I had rather be a toad, And live upon the vapour of a dungeon, Than keep a corner in the thing I love For others' uses.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 3.3.271). The thing he loves that he is referring to is Desdemona. He sees her as something of his that others could use. This is a far cry from him calling her his fair warrior.
Even Desdemona perpetuates gender roles. In a conversation she has with Emilia she says, “Dost thou in conscience think,--tell me, Emilia,--That there be women do abuse their husbands In such gross kind?” (Shakespeare, 2003, 4.3.31). She is asking if women really cheat on their husbands. In her mind, women would never do something like that because women do not have the same needs that men do. Not only that, she becomes a weak women towards the end instead of the warrior she once was. She says to Emilia of Othello’s command, “It was his bidding: therefore, good Emilia,. Give me my nightly wearing, and adieu: We must not now displease him.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 4.3.15). Where she once would have stood up for what she wanted, she falls into the expected gender role, and caves in to Othello’s command.
The gender roles that Othello and Desdemona fall into comes to a head, with Othello accusing Desdemona of infidelity. Othello, coming to the assumption that Desdemona had been unfaithful, murders her. He says, “What noise is this? Not dead? not yet quite dead? I that am cruel am yet merciful; I would not have thee linger in thy pain: So, so.” (Shakespeare, 2003, 5.2.89). For Desdemona’s part, she speaks out against being murdered, but does not fight Othello when he strangles her. Ironically, in Desdemona’s death, both Othello and Desdemona fulfill their gender roles as dictated by their society. Desdemona is the weak women, while Othello is the strong man.
Shakespeare does an amazing job of exploring Gender Roles in Othello. He weaves a story that shows both the typical stereotypes of the day, as well as those who fought the stereotypes. Desdemona is looks to be a strong women, but dies meekly at the hands of her husband. Othello appears to be the strong male hero, but is subject to his insecurities and willing to listen to lies as a result. In the end, gender roles are bent but not broken as the two characters live up to the expectations of the time.


Shakespeare, W. (1993). The tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. New York: Washington Square Press.

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WePapers. (2020, December, 26) Othello And Desdemona: Not Defying Stereotypes Essays Examples. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.wepapers.com/samples/othello-and-desdemona-not-defying-stereotypes-essays-examples/
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Othello And Desdemona: Not Defying Stereotypes Essays Examples. Free Essay Examples - WePapers.com. https://www.wepapers.com/samples/othello-and-desdemona-not-defying-stereotypes-essays-examples/. Published Dec 26, 2020. Accessed August 12, 2022.

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