Elizabethan Attitudes to Women, Race and Transgression in Othello

Pages: 4 (1113 words) Published: November 25, 2011
How does Shakespeare explore Elizabethan attitudes to women, race and transgression in the first three scenes of Othello?

Throughout Shakespeare’s Othello, the concepts of race, gender and transgression are continually explored and employed to reflect the characteristics of Elizabethan values and attitudes expressed in Elizabethan society, through rejection and acceptance of gender and racial stereotypes in the first three scenes of Act One - the pinnacle of this being the marriage between Othello and Desdemona. Shakespeare forces the audience to challenge these stereotypes by portraying the African Moor, Othello, with a high level of status, authority and power within the military, and challenging the social conventions of the Elizabethan era by creating a marital union between two people of different races. By doing this, Shakespeare confronts the norms and values of society through use of Elizabethan attitudes, scrutinizing what it considered to be normal and acceptable within society and the reasons for this.

Shakespeare first explores Elizabethan attitudes towards women when Desdemona is first mentioned in scene one. Iago calls to Brabantio to ‘look to your house, your daughter, and your bags’ claiming ‘you’re robbed’ by ‘thieves’. This immediately implies Desdemona is her father’s physical possession, much the same as Brabantio owns his ‘bags’ or his ‘house’. This identification is supported by Brabantio’s exclamation ‘how got she out?’, suggesting that women are objects that belong and are controlled by men. Similarly, Iago states to Cassio that ‘[Othello] hath boarded a land carrack’, stressing the sexual connotations associated with Desdemona being presented as an object that Othello can just ‘board’. However, Desdemona then contradicts this classification when her true self is revealed later in the play through Othello’s account of their initial meetings and the beginning of their courtship, whereby Desdemona would listen to Othello’s tales ‘with...
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