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By natashayoung1 Mar 12, 2014 1524 Words
Towards the ends of Othello both Emilia and Desdemona are confirmed as tragic heroines. Throughout the play, Emilia is beaten down by Iago, as a result of the gender inequality of the time and her low status as a woman. In the last scene though, she finally breaks through this and finds her voice and stands up to patriarchal domination, which leads her to her death, confirming her to be a tragic heroine. Differently, Desdemona starts off as being independent; standing up against her father by marrying Othello against his will. But throughout the play she becomes innocently complicit and naïve to Iago’s scheming and in addition, her marriage encourages her to behave as a woman of the time should and be submissive to Othello. Therefore, despite her innocence at the end of the play, she succumbs in tragic obedience.

The character Emilia’s perepeteia during Othello is in giving the handkerchief to Iago during the middle of act three. During this scene she shows herself as the typical Venetian woman when she says ‘what will you give me now for that same handkerchief? Highlighting, that her loyalties to her husband come before her loyalties to Desdemona. Furthermore later on in the scene when telling the character Iago of the handkerchief ‘that which so often you bid me to steal’ this is the audience’s first hint of Iago letting someone in on his plan. Which is also the audiences’ first hint that Iago has Emilia fooled, as similar to the character Roderigo he’s managed to fool her into following his plan, with no clue of what he is intending to do/cause which later when Roderigo is killed my Iago foreshadows Emilia’s impending doom. This is reinforced by ‘if it be not for some purpose of import, give’t me again. Poor lady, she’ll run mad when she lack it’. As she begins to question Iago’s intentions it foreshadows to the audience that Emilia will stand up to Iago by the end of the play. And realises the pain this will cause Desdemona she regrets what she has done. In addition Emilia’s character being shown as a tragic heroine is reinforced when she stands up to the patriarchal domination, once she became fully conscious of Iago enough to reveal his plan. Which for a Jacobean audience this would be unusual due to her low status and the fact she’s a woman this could be Shakespeare’s intention in trying to highlight that all women could possibly be like Emilia in the way that they are the only ones intelligent enough to work out what is actually occurring, but unlike Emilia they choose to stay quiet as they know what will become of them if they do so. This reinforces Emilia to be a tragic heroine as she knew she would die if she spoke out the truth but did so anyway as she wanted it to be known. Emilia being shown by Shakespeare differently than that of other women is then again shown from ‘but did you ever tell him she was false?’. Shakespeare’s intention of this would be to highlight to the audience that Emilia is the only one who knows how to organise her wording in order to get the truth from Iago. This is shown from ‘But did you ever tell him she was false’. Shakespeare’s intention of this would be to highlight that she is the only one who knows Iago well enough and is intelligent enough to ask a question and get the truth from Iago’s character. And due to this she is a tragic heroine as she is the only one able to unveil Iago’s actions This also shows that not only did Shakespeare portray her as the only one who worked out the plot but she is also one of the characters most aware of status and where she places in society, with her character being not afraid to break those status boundaries. This is highlighted from ‘I care not thy sword- I’ll make thee known’ showing to the audience that she would rather die than not have the truth be told.

Furthermore the fact she is not afraid to break those status boundaries is again shown from ‘I obey him, but not now. Perchance Iago, I will ne’er go home.’ This shows her character physically and directly challenging Iago’s character; which goes against the Jacobean stereotype in which she is supposed to follow. But also foreshadows her characters death that will come later on as she will ‘ne’er go home.’ The use of this creates dramatic tension as it foreshadows to the reader that she is breaking free of the rules Venetian woman must follow in society. This also foreshadows her death as now she has broken free from the rules of society there is no place for her, which was Shakespeare’s intention as it highlights to the audience that in that time women were restricted in their lives, so the character Iago kills her for her act of disobedience and disloyalty. A Jacobean audience would agree with Iago’s action of killing her, as although her disloyalty was for a greater cause, she is his wife and her place in society is to serve him and obey him, and from Emilia’s character straying away from this they would be shocked and horrified. However a modern audience would commend the character Emilia and her actions, as she is showing that women will not be submissive and obey when something is needed to be said even if doing so results in death. Differently from Emilia’s character, Shakespeare portrays Desdemona’s character’s downfall due to her ignorance and naivety which is highlighted from ‘That there be women do abuse their husbands in such gross kind?’ highlighting that she would never cheat on Othello as she sees it inconceivable for any woman to do such a thing. This shows how innocent and pure Desdemona’s character is which in turn makes it more shocking to the audience that Othello doubts her. However the fact that her characters views are so straightforward, fitted in with society and Venetian women which could also be the cause Othello’s doubt as she appears to follow society so rigidly, if the women in her society cheat, she might follow and do so too. Furthermore the fact that Desdemona’s is devoted and obedient to Othello throughout the play, even when his character strikes her; she just states her innocence and how she has ‘not deserved this’. Highlighting how decent and understated she is. For a modern audience this would be unusual for them to watch and they would question why she never asks what she has done to deserve it; rather than just stating that she has not ‘deserved this.’ However for a Jacobean audience the fact she never questions him of his actions would be normal for a Jacobean audience and the only reason they would be outraged by his actions would be due to Othello’s colour. Her obedience is then again reinforced by the fact that even after Othello murders her, in her dying breath she says ‘Nobody; I myself. Farewell.’ Reinforcing her to be a typical Jacobean woman, as even after being falsely killed by Othello, her character still wants to remain loyal and protect him reinforcing that her downfall was in her succumbing in tragic obedience. Moreover, it also reinforced her innocence as it shows to the audience that even after everything she still loves him, showing how pure and kind she is. Alternatively the fact she just accepts everything the character Othello calls her and does to her, even when he murders her, could be the reason why he doubted her in the first place, as from the earlier quote ‘nobody; I myself. Farewell.’ It gives a sense that she brought it upon herself. Which goes against the view that Desdemona was a tragic heroine. This would have been Shakespeare’s intention as it allows the audience to see how Othello could doubt her, and from this, in his characters perspective she is admitting her wrong doings to him. Which in turn is the reason for her death and results in her being a tragic heroin. In conclusion both characters attain the status of tragic heroines at the end of Othello in order to get across a status criticism to the Jacobean society at the time. Both Female characters in the play were killed due to the strict rules of society and how woman were supposed to act and behave. With the character Desdemona’s death ultimately resulting because she only knows how to act according to society’s rules and unable to go against it or realise the situation as she knows no better. With Emilia’s characters death ultimately resulting due to the fact that she didn’t conform to society’s role going against the Jacobean stereotype along with challenging her husband as she wouldn’t do what he told her to do.

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