Infidelity and Murder

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Ruth Vanita, the author of “Proper” Men and “Fallen” Women: The Unprotectedness of Wives in Othello, explains how Elizabethan and Jacobean writers included the murder of an adulterous wife by her husband in a majority of their plays. She attempts to prove that Desdemona and Emilia both died as victims of spousal abuse due to their alleged infidelity. According to the accepted social norms, both Desdemona and Emilia deserved their murders because of their infidelity to their husbands. Emilia betrayed Iago by blatantly defying him in order to prove Desdemona’s innocence; while Desdemona, although always faithful, betrayed Othello through her supposed infidelity with Cassio. Since men regarded their wives as property, they had to discipline them and could resort to violence in order to teach them a lesson. Next, Ruth Vanita demotes the argument that Desdemona’s death resulted from Othello’s behavior because he felt inferior living in such a racist society. According to her, Shakespeare contests racism in Othello by portraying the black protagonist like any other white man. Other white male protagonists such as Leontes from The Winter’s Tale share Othello’s jealousy and violence toward their wives. The fact that Othello’s intense love for Desdemona drives him to murder her after Iago convinced him of her infidelity causes the audience to empathize with him. Therefore, Othello combats racism instead of promoting it by portraying the main character similar as any other man and extracting sympathy from the audience for his lost cause. Although Othello and Iago had major roles in Desdemona and Emilia’s deaths, Vanita explains that Lodovico, the audience and all the male spectators who failed to intervene also took part in the two women’s murders. Lodovico personally witnessed Othello verbally and physically abuse Desdemona. The men present in the room during Emilia’s murder did nothing to stop it although Emilia clearly needed protection after exposing her...
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