Ideals of Women in Othello
What is the ideal woman? The response to this by today’s society might differ to that of Renaissance society. In the Renaissance, women were seen as possessions. Their duty was to marry a man and show obedience and chastity. These expectations of women are shown in the play Othello, by William Shakespeare. In the play, the two prominent women, Desdemona and Emilia, both recognize the expectations of women at the time. However, the two women disagree in their views on the topic. Desdemona tries to be the ideal wife whereas Emilia takes a more feminist approach. In Othello, Desdemona and Emilia’s views on the role of women explains the traits of each character and are involved in major themes of the story.
Both Desdemona and Emilia have different views on the concept of chastity. In Act 4, there is a scene where the two are having a private conversation. This conversation starts off with Desdemona asking Emilia if she would cheat on her husband for the whole world. Emilia answers by saying “The world’s a huge thing. It is a great price for a small vice.” (4.3.54). In contrast, Desdemona answers her own question by saying “I’d never do such a bad thing, not for the whole world!” (4.3.58). Emilia’s answer is saying that she would consider cheating on her husband if the reward was large enough. Desdemona’s answer contrasts this by saying that she would never cheat under any circumstances. This part of the play shows the disagreement between the two characters on the topic of chastity. Emilia chooses a more feminist answer which acknowledges that she has the choice of cheating on her husband. Desdemona’s answer is more traditional of the time, showing that there is no choice.
Desdemona and Emilia also disagree on the idea that women are equal to men. In the same conversation, Emilia tells Desdemona:
Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them. They see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,...
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