Female Empowerment in 'Othello'

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Shakespeare gives daunting power to female characters in the classic story of "Othello". In a time where society viewed women as property whose purpose was primarily to serve and obey men, Shakespeare shows the rebellious strength in women throughout the scenes of "Othello". In the Elizabethan era the expectations of men and women were clear. Generally, men were to be the bread winner for his family and the women were meant to be mothers and housewives."Women were expected to be silent, chaste, and obedient to their husbands, fathers, brothers, and all men in general. Patriarchal rule justified women's subordination as the natural order because women were thought to be physiologically and physiologically inferior to men"(Roles of Women, literary-articles) Elizabethan women of all classes were raised to believe that they were subordinate to men. Even the protestant church valued this notion, and in order to insure further obedience the protestant leader, John Knox quoted the bible and wrote: "Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man." With such strong societal views on women in the time, the most scandalous thing Shakespeare could have written about was a young Venetian women defying her father and marrying into a interracial union. As well as a brave women who defy's her husband and tells people of his evil ways. With these strong female characters varying in social status the reader can see the contrast between the way they were expected to behave and how Shakespeare portrayed them to act. Throughout this essay, the expectations of Elizabethan women in the time of "Othello", will be compared to the actual behaviors of the female characters in the story.

In the Elizabethan era there was clear expectations for women of all social status. Women of a higher class, like Desdemona were only sometimes given the chance to have an education. Girls from noble families were taught by tutors from ages five or younger. The curriculum they were taught consisted of different languages, English and music. However, girls who were not wealthy did not receive education. The only thing they were taught were house hold duties and how to look desirable in hopes of attracting a potential husband. Weather they were from a rich family or a poor family a girls life goal in the Elizabethen era was to marry as soon as possible, sometimes as young as twelve. "Single Elizabethan women were sometimes looked upon with suspicion. It was often the single women who were thought to be witches by their neighbors. All Elizabethan women would be expected to marry, and would be dependent on her male relatives throughout their life."(Alchin, L.K. Elizabethan Era, 2005) Iago sets the tone for the view of women in "Othello" also by stating how he feels women should act and what he believes their purpose is in act two scene one. "She that was ever fair and never proud, had tongue at will and yet was never loud, never lack'd gold and yet went never gay, fled from her wish and yet said 'Now I may,' she that being anger'd, her revenge being nigh,bade her wrong stay and her displeasure fly, she that in wisdom never was so frail to change the cod's head for the salmon's tail; she that could think and ne'er disclose her mind, see suitors following and not look behind.She was a wight, if ever such wight were,—"(Othello, 2.1. 936-946) With such strong opinions being so apparent and known by everyone , it isn't at all surprising that society's views of women were that they were weak and not as important as men. " Elizabethan society was patriarchal, meaning that men were considered to be the leaders and women their inferiors. Women were regarded as "the weaker sex", not just in terms of physical strength, but emotionally too. It was believed that women always needed someone to look after them. If they were married, their husband was expected to look after them. If they were single, then their father, brother or another male relative was expected...
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