Discuss the representation of women in the patriarchal world of Othello
Shakespeare’s play, Othello, represents women as victims of the patriarchal society in which they live. Early modern England, founded on Christian theology, viewed women, daughters of Eve, as sexual temptresses who needed to be ruled over by men in order to have their innate tendency of lasciviousness restrained (Marriot 10). Consequently, social expectations were placed on women to be chaste, silent and gentle in demeanor and submissive and obedient to male authority (Ranald 131). Othello portrays women in such a society as victims abused by men who take advantage of their position of authority, powerless to change the oppressive ideological structures, and forced to either conform to the ideal image of the perfect woman or face a tragic fate for challenging the system. Through the character of Emilia, Shakespeare represents women as victims of the patriarchal society in which they live, mistreated by men who abuse their position of authority. Grennan (283) contends that despite Emilia conforming to the image of the perfect wife, she still is an ‘abused victim of patriarchal authority’, being treated cruelly by Iago as nothing more than an ‘object to be used and disregarded’ at his own pleasure. This is demonstrated as Iago humiliates Emilia by publically berating her as a ‘nagging wife’, when in reality, as Desdemona points out, up to this point in the play she fits the image of the perfect wife in having ‘no speech’ (Othello 247). Emilia’s victimization is further shown when Iago uses his position of authority, knowing that as his wife Emilia must obey him, to attain Desdemona’s handkerchief. After Emilia obediently steals the handkerchief, Iago silences her queries with a perfunctory, ‘Go, leave me’ (301). This reveals how Iago views her merely as a tool to be used in his evil machinations, neither someone he loves or for whom he cares. Further, Shakespeare represents women as victims of the patriarchal society in which they live, subject to harsh treatment by men who abuse their position of authority, as Emilia seemingly reveals, through the raw intensity of her speech, what appears to be a painful personal experience of sexual mistreatment. She reflects, ‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man: They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; they eat us hungerly, and when they are full they belch us’ (Othello, 319). This graphic metaphor presents women as sexual objects, free to be used by and disposed of by men who misuse their positions of authority, using women to satisfy their sexual desires. This metaphor illustrating the abuse women suffer under the authority of men is further illustrated through Bianca’s character. Neill (177) contends that Cassio abuses his position of authority, exploiting Bianca as a ‘mere customer’ to satisfy his sexual desires, disregarding her feelings and worth as a human being who holds ‘genuine love’ for him. She further is portrayed as abused by men as she is denied a position of humanity by the names men call her (Grennan 282). To Iago and Cassio she is monkey, bauble, fitchew, trash or strumpet. Additionally, Shakespeare represents women as victims of the patriarchal society in which they live as they are forced to either conform to the ideal image of the perfect woman or face a tragic fate for challenging the system. Marriot (33) argues that the only sin the women in Othello are guilty of is not conforming to society’s ideal image of woman. She further suggests that in not submitting to societal expectations, and thus challenging male authority, that each woman becomes a victim of the patriarchal world that saw ‘violence as necessary to maintain control over women’ (Marriot 34). Corbett (15) contends that Desdemona becomes a ‘victim of the male ego’, as Othello is tricked by Iago to believe that she has failed to carry out her ‘duties as a female’, to be faithful to her...
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