The Role of Women in Othello: a Feminist Reading

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The Role of Women in Othello: A Feminist Reading
William Shakespeare's "Othello” can be read from a feminist perspective. A feminist analysis of the play Othello allows us to judge the different social values and status of women in the Elizabethan society. Othello serves as an example to demonstrate the expectations of the Elizabethan patriarchal society, the practice of privileges in patriarchal marriages, and the suppression and restriction of femininity. According to Elizabethan or Shakespeare's society built upon Renaissance beliefs, women were meant only to marry. As their single occupation, marriage held massive responsibilities of house management and child rearing. Additionally, 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 psychologically inferior to men.

As we go through Othello we find that the women characters are presented according to this expectation of the Elizabethan society.There are only three women in ‘Othello’: Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca. The way that these women behave and conduct themselves is undeniably linked to the ideological expectations of Shakespeare’s Elizabethan society and to the patriarchal Venetian society that he creates. These notes will explore some of the ways in which the female characters are presented in the play.

Women as possessions

Following his hearing of Brabantio’s complaint and Othello’s defence, the Duke eventually grants permission for Desdemona to accompany Othello to Cyprus. Othello speaks to his ensign Iago, ironically describing him as a man of ‘honesty and trust’, informing the Duke that ‘To his conveyance I assign my wife’ (I.3.283). Desdemona, as Othello’s wife, is treated as his possession: he implies that she is a commodity to be guarded and transported.This is, however, by no means peculiar to...
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