In this paper I have tried to analyse the female characters of Shakespeare’s Othello in the light of Elizabethan Era, and status of women in 12th century, the age from which the character of Othello is taken. I have also discussed the status of woman in Christianity in Shakespearean times. The main purpose of this research article in the analyse the female characters of Othello that they were not different from the real life of Shakespearean times nor alien from the women of 12th Century.
Othello a black Moor, a warrior, won many battles, becomes a victim of jealousy and conspiracy of Roderigo. Who hates Othello not due to racial prejudice but rather jealousy that Othello has won fair Desdemona (1-1)
Shakespeare’s primary source for Othello was Un Capitano moro, (A Moorish Captain), one of the One hundred short stories in the collection. Gli Hecatommithi published by the Italian, Cinthio (web) (1566-Venice). Cinthio’s story provides the backbone for Shakespeare’s plot although he changed and introduced some minor characters e.g; Brabantio and Roderigo. In Cinthio’s episode Iago’s motive for revenge against Othello was that he loved Desdemona, who out rightly rejected his proposal.
The tragedy of Othello takes place in Venice and Cypress, Iago uses Desdemona through Emilia and inflames a good man with jealousy. In the beginning of the play the seed of conflict are sown when Roderigo shouts in dark at Brabantio’s house, the news of Desdemona’s elopement that she: hath made a gross revolt,
Tying her duty, beauty wit and fortunes.
In an extravagant and wheeling stranger
Of here and everywhere”
Brabontio thinks that it was due to some black magic that was used by Othello, the black moor, we see that there are hints of hostility within the play about Othello’s Moorish origin and his differences in religion and culture when Othello relates his story of love before the Duke in the Venation Senate and he convinces all of them that he never used magic or drugs. Barbantio demands that Desdemona should testify, she affirms her duty to her father (I. iii) (179-180). Who gave her life and education, but asserts she has a higher duty than this to Othello, as he is her husband. My Noble Father
I also perceive here a divided duty;
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; your are the lord of duty;
I am therefore your daughter; but here is my husband. (I. iii. 180-185) Desdemona is presented as a true Christian character possessing all the virtues of honourable woman. She respects her father, admits his love and vows to obey her husband. She suffers more than any other character of the play.
Othello also loves Desdemona from his heart in the beginning and utters it as: But that I have the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into circumscription and confine
For the sea’s worth
(I. ii. 25-28)
The love of Othello is corrupted by Iago’s conspiracy and Othello is trapped in his jealousy inflamed by handkerchief plot. His loves turns him mad and he uses the weapon of violence against the fair Desdemona. His hate is so much for Desdemona that he says to Lodovico: Ay; you did wish that I would make her turns.
Sir, she turns, and turns and yet go on,
And turn again; and she can weep, sir, weep;
And she is obedient, as you say obedient,
(IV. iii 252-257) Thus Othello implies that Desdemona is available to Lodovico or to any one else, also, because she is as obedient that she can obey any one. What is the significance of handkerchief of Othello?
In Othello there are two accounts of handkerchief, in the first Othello warms Desdemona that his handkerchief is love charm with “magic in the web” given to his mother by an Egyptian. In the record account Othello tells Grantiano it was “an antique token/ My father gave my father”. Othello’s two different versions make readers/audience baffle that which one is true. The fatal handkerchief is very important in the play (Andrews) In the beginning in of the play Desdemona is shown as an adventurous spirit when her husband Othello is called for military duty in Cypress, she begs to go with him and cannot think of remaining alone at home without her husband. Even Othello woos Desdemona by telling adventurous stories of actions and danger. She heard all these tales with “Greedy ears” Desdemona wishes that “The leavens had made her a man like Othello” (I. iii) Desdemona is very expressive about her love for Othello she is bold and beautiful in expressing her love for Othello even before her father and the duke and she also openly announces that she will go to Cypress, which shows that she was pretty frank about her sexual desire for her husband. Desdemona suffers much more than any other character of the play. She is a good natured young and beautiful lady ,and possesses all good qualities and Christian virtues. Then why she suffers so much? Shakespearean conveys the possibility that God’s deeds in the play, a work that prompts playgoers to believe that she deserves happiness (her taking Cassio’s case as her own), directly leads to her death” (Hunt 2004). The character of Desdemona is that if an “ideal wife” as Carroll Camden calls her in Iago on woman (2004). In Othello Desdemona disobeying her, back chatting with Iago (II. i), lying Othello of her death (V. ii), admiring Lodovico as a “Proper Man” (IV.I) and pressing Cassio’s suit to Othello. It is important to note that several critics cite Desdemona for violating Elizabethan or Jacobean law and propriety by denying her father and running off with the Moor (Kolin). Desdemona is one the most beautiful heroines of Shakespeare, when Brabantio arrives to confront Othello, he says that if it is impossible that “a maid so tender, fair and happy” (I. ii 66). Would ever love a scary black man like Othello. Cassio describes her beauty “That paragon description and wild fame” (II. i), here he means to say that Desdemona is more beautiful than any possible description of her beauty, more beautiful than the wildest story of any woman’s beauty. She is indeed the “most fresh and delicate creature” (II-iii-19). When Othello saw his handkerchief is Cassio’s hand, Iago encourages Othello’s murderous mood by reminding him that Cassio gave the precious handkerchief to his whore, Bianca. Iago continues to subtly increase Othello’s fury through his use of sexual innuendo as he tells Othello that “Cassio has the handkerchief and implies that he has confessed to sleeping with Desdemona” (Bate & Rasmussen 2009). Othello was still uncertain; his disjointed language shows the breakdown of his self-control (IV-i). He falls down unconscious as Cassio arrives and Iago tells him that Othello has epilepsy, warning that he breaks into savage madness if woken from fit. It is interesting to note in Othello, Shakespeare uses female characters through Iago for the downfall of Othello. The conspiracies are woven with the help of women. All the three woman characters of Othello and theare used against Othello. It is true that Othello is all male- world- play of Shakespeare.Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are rejected by their male partners and all three love their men unselfishly, even when confronted by behavior that we would deem grounds for divorce at the very last. All the women are engaged to unequal partnerships.They feel more for their self-centered men than the men are capable for reciprocating. However, the women also display genuine emotions toward each other that is not reflected in any of the male characters. Besides Desdemona, Emilia is an important character, she is elder and cynical than Desdemona. She develops a close relationship with the young married Desdemona. They form a bond of relationship over husband trouble. It is interesting to note that Emilia’s one dishonest act towards Desdemona is the stealing of handkerchief, she did not know the plot of Iago, her act of stealing turns out to have devastating consequences. (IV ) Unfortunately Emilia’s little theft ends up causing her friend’s death. Emilia realizes the importance of handkerchief and when she discovers about Iago’s evil plot against Othello and she relives the truth. She washes the bad name of Desdemona. She also sacrifices her own life so that Desdemona won’t be remembered as a whore. Iago and Emilia are married but their relationship is not based on mutual understanding. Iago always talks trash about woman in general. Emilia is eager to please him. She steals Desdemona’s handkerchief in order to please Iago. “I nothing but to please his fantasy” (III-iiii). She tries to gratify Iago’s thirst for power and wishes without involving into any evil designs which are in Iago’s mind: who would not make her husband
A cockold to make him a monarch?
I should venture purgatory for. (IV-iii)
Like Desdemona, Emilia craves for affection. She is very submissive like Desdemona and Bianca. It was common in the Elizabethan woman to be submissive and devoted to male figures whether father or husband.
Emilia’s bitterness boils over in the final scene during which she says that husbands are usually to blame when their wives cheat on them. After all, men cheat on woman all the time. Why shouldn’t woman have an equal right to infidelity? Although, Shakespeare wrote Othello in the early 1600’s. Emilia’s monologue is about as close as we find in later feminist manifesto.
Third female character is that of Bianca, a Venatian courtier, who is in love with Cassio. Cassio always uses her as a laughable nuisance. Bianca’s character is very sympathetic and Cassio uses her for his sexual needs and treats her like a garbage. why is she presented as a prostitute in the play? when there are only three woman characters. Actually Venice was famous for prostitution and promiscuity. She is a foil to the chaste and ever fatithful Desdemona. But hardhearted soldier in Othello does not recognize the difference between these women. He is easily cheated by ‘gentle’ Iago that Desdemona is having extra-marital sex with Cassio.
It is also very interesting that all three woman, Desdemona Emilia and Bianca, are accused at some point or another of being promiscuous Each one of these women are rejected by their male partners.
It was an error of judgment on the part of Othello that he was not able to understated Iago’s plot to ruin Othello. The woman, especially Desdemona, suffers most in the play. Emilia and Bianca also suffer, and Othello takes revenge and kills Iago when he comes to know about the reality.
The play ends with a great loss, the death of Desdemona is the most tragic one, because she was the “the sweetest innocent/that ever did lift up eye”. (V-ii).
In the fits of jealousy Othello was blind to all love and affections of a human being, he acts like a beast when he says: O, she was foul!
I scarce did know your, uncle;
there lies your niece.
Whose breath indeed,
these hands have newly stopped.
I know this act shows horrible and given(5)
Iago stabs Emilia and when Othello was told the truth of handkerchief and Iago’s plot by dying Emilia. Who announces the innocence of Desdemona to Othello:
Moor, she was chaste; she loved three cruel Moor;
So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true;
So speaking as I think, I die, I die. (Dies)
Othello was almost mad after knowing the truth, he comes to know that his wife was innocent, when Gratiano enters into the bedchamber he requests him:
O cursed, cursed salve! Whip me, ye devils
From the possession of this heavenly sight!
Blow me about in words! Roast me in sulpher!
Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire!
O Desdemona! Dead, Desdemona! Dead! O!
The agony and remorse of killing was felt at heart by poor Othello, he stabs himself and gives a proof to world that never allow jealousy over come reason and also washes all the stains from the name of beautiful Desdemona. Othello utters his last words:
“I kissed thee ere I killed thee:
No way but this (falling upon Desdemona)
Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. (Dies)
Lodovico, a kinsman to Brabantio, asks Gratiano, Brother to Brabantio.
“Myself will straight aboard; and to the state
This heavy act with heavy heart relate”
.Andrews, M. C. (2004). Honest Othello: The Handkerchief once More. Studies in English Literature.
camden, C. (n.d.). Iago on women.
Hunt, M. (2004). Shakespeare's Religious Allusiveness. ashgate.
Kolin, P. C. (n.d.). Othello:new critical essays.
Rasmussem, J. B. (2009). William shakespeare. Palgrave Macmillan.