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Female Characters in Othello

By Jmcfadden10 Nov 14, 2011 1111 Words
ENG 152
March 15, 2011
Othello Essay D

Shakespeare only presents three female characters in Othello, however, each of

these women play a crucial role in developing the plot line. Desdemona, Emilia, and

Bianca are all significant woman in Shakespeare's Othello, but they each play their own

important role. Desdemona's character represents purity and devotion, while Emilia's

character models the exact opposite. Emilia represents a witty, smart-mouthed woman

who is not afraid to let others know what she thinks. The last female, Bianca, represents

the vulgar and risque courtesans of the lower class. Each female seems like a small

character, but Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca each play a vital role in Iago's scheme.

The character of Desdemona is suppose to represent a woman of the 17

century who surpassed the norms of sexual morality set for Venetian woman of

that time. Her name "desdemona" has multiple meanings. In greek, disdemona means

ill-fated. (Which is forshadowed in Othello's line "O' ill-starred wrench" (V.ii.) ).

It is also said that the word "demon" is in the middle of her name which aludes

to how Othello, who has "hell" in the middle of his name, really sees her Desdemona

is a venetian beauty who is estranged from her father when she elopes with the moor,

Othello, who is several years her senior and not of the same race. When Desdemona

left her father, Brabantio's, house to elope with Othello, it began redefining her role

as just another female in a story. When Othello names Cassio his lieutenant, Iago

uses Desdemona to bring about Othello's downfall. Iago sees that Desdemona and

Cassio are friendly towards each other, so he plants the seed in Othello's head that

an affair is going on. He uses scenes in which nothing happens and exaggerates

what Othello sees to make things worse than they really are. Desdemona's

character is the epitome of innocence. In Act 4, scene 2 Othello charges

Desdemonda with being a whore. After Othello leaves, Desdemona is speaking

with Iago and can not even bring herself to say the word whore. "Am I that name,

Iago?" (IV. ii. 608). No matter what Othello has done to her, she remained a loyal

and loving wife throughout the entire play. Desdemona represents good in a good

vs. evil tragedy.

Emilia is Iago's wife and unknowingly, his accomplice. "My Desdemonda must

I leave to thee./ I prithee, let thy wife attend on her, (I.iii.545). Othello asks Iago to have

Emilia tend to Desdemona while he is away in Cyprus. This is Emilia's chance to get close

to her. Emilia plays a very important role for Iago. She picks up Desdemona's

handkerchief after Desdemona drops it, and gives it to Iago; securing Desdemona's fate

without understanding what she has done. Emilia represents the sassy side of women who

is more than willing to cause confrontations. "O, the more angel she,/ And you the blacker

devil!" (V.ii.626). When she discovers Othello has smothered Desdemona, she does not

hesitate to scream, threaten and even call Othello rude names. "She was too fond of her

most filthy bargain." (V.ii.627). Here, she is confronting Othello about what he has done.

Even when he holds a sword to her throat, Emilia is not tempted to hold her tongue. "Do

thy worst!" (V.ii.627). Women of this time were taught to listen to what their husbands

tell them to do, and keep quiet when instructed to do so, "Tis proper I obey him, but

not now,"(V.ii.628).Emilia represents a woman that does not follow those standards.

"I will not charm my tongue; I am bound to speak" (V.ii.627). In the final scene, she

explains the handkercheif to Othello,even though her husband is yelling at her to go home.

She stands up for what she believes is right, and does not let anything get in her way.

Bianca has very few lines throughout the play, but her part is still very crucial.

Bianca is a courtesan who is in love with Cassio, even though Cassio only sees her as a

laughable nuisance. Shakespeare's portrayal of Bianca is sympathetic – when Cassio treats

her like garbage, it's clear that Shakespeare's making a point about how women get used

throughout the play. Bianca's prostitute character is a foil not only to Desdemona's loyal

and innocent character but also to the jealousy constructed by Iago in Othello's

imagination. Bianca reflects the anger and hurt in the play felt by all the other characters.

Her lines are short and very few, but she models a majority of things such as; the low

and problematic status of women in this time period, what it means to love someone who

doesn't love you, and the nature of real and imagined jealousies. Othello is jealous over

little things Iago has planted in his head, but he has not seen ocular proof. Bianca finds

the handkerchief in Cassio's room planted by Iago, and get extremely jealous and upset.

She loves Cassio and wants to marry him, but he treats her like a joke. Cassio even

laughs about Bianca with Iago (while Othello listens thinking he is speaking of

Desdemona). Bianca wants nothing more than to marry Cassio, but Cassio tells Iago he

would never even consider it, calling her a "perfumed one" (IV.i.599), meaning a

prostitute. "I marry her? What? A customer? Prithee, bear some charity to my wit; do not

think it so unwholesome." (IV.i.599). While Cassio and Iago are having this conversation,

Bianca storms in in a jealous rage over the handkercheif, thinking it belongs to another

one of this girlfriends. This best show the realistic jealousy throughout the play. Bianca's

character is absolutely necessary for this portrayal.

Women are often over-looked in literature. Upon first glance, their characters are

just there to unfold a more interesting plot. However, even women with the smalled

amount of lines are very crucial and significant in their own way to the play or storyline

in general. Desdemona is there to represent good and innocence, Emilia models the

opposite of what women in that time were like; a mouthy, daring lady, and Bianca shows

the reader the lower class of the play, a foil to Desdemona's character, an example of

justified jealousy. Without each of these ladies, Iago's plot line would not have been as

successful. Women are rising up in society and contributing to the importance of literature

in the world.

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