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Shakespeare's "Othello" Women's Role

By jpod Nov 16, 2005 800 Words
In the play "Othello", Shakespeare presents us with another male dominated society where women are inferior. Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca are rejected by their partners, but love them completely and unselfishly. All three women are in unbalanced relationships, feeling more for their self-centered men who appear unable to reciprocate. Nevertheless, these women display genuine feelings toward each other unlike any of the male-male friendships. Desdemona and Emilia are both married to career military soldiers. Newly wedded Desdemona is inexperienced (innocent) in the "real world" despite being raised by a prominent Venetian Senator. In contrast, Emilia appears to have been married for some time. She is knowledgeable to the ways of a soldier, yet only believes a portion of what her husband tells her. Although Emilia has been Desdemona's attendant since the play's start (maybe much earlier), we really don't get an intimate view of their relationship until Act 4, Scene 3. During this scene, Emilia is truly concerned for Desdemona and her problems with Othello. Desdemona tells her, "Even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns – prithee, unpin me- have grace and favor in them (line 21)." She also tells Emilia if she should die before her to wrap her body using the sheets on the bed. At first, Emilia thinks this is only "talk", but Desdemona begins to tell her about the song she learned from her mother's maid Pieseski 2
(Barbary). This becomes an intimate moment between the two, as Emilia is unpinning Desdemona's hair and preparing her for bed (like a mother helping her young daughter). This showing of affection is strictly among the women of this play. The men are the ones who are committing all the violence and most of the distrust. This conversation continues intimately throughout the rest of the scene, but heightens when Desdemona says, "O these men, these men (line 67)!" She can't believe women cheat on their husbands, and asks Emilia if she would cheat on Iago. Emilia attempts to soften her answer, and realizes Desdemona's view of love is "pure romance" and taken seriously. Act 4 ends with Emilia asking for equality between both sexes (this theme also appears in the other plays we read). If women don't receive respect and fidelity from their husbands, they aren't required to be obedient and faithful. Even though Emilia asks for equal treatment among the sexes, she is fully aware this will not likely happen. All they can do is confide in each other. Unfortunately, Bianca doesn't have this luxury. Bianca is a woman who traveled from Venice to Cyprus (the same as Emilia and Desdemona) to be with Cassio. Like Emilia, she appears worldly and loves her partner without any reservations, but fully aware of her place in a male-dominated society. After Iago kills Roderigo in Act 5, he attempts to blame Bianca for Cassio's attack. Bianca is obviously upset by Cassio's injuries, but immediately responds to being called a strumpet. "I am no strumpet, but of life as honest as you thus abuse me (line 142)." Bianca is more honest than Emilia (who lied about the handkerchief that ultimately costs Desdemona her

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life), and Iago (who accused her of being involved in Cassio's attack). How can we believe any of Iago's statements regarding Bianca when he is unreliable throughout the play? Bianca also seems to be fully aware of her relationship with Cassio. They are both uncommitted to each other, and Bianca knows nothing will ever evolve. Cassio never talks with her about his demotion from Lieutenant, something you would confide in with your partner. Bianca also appears to break off her relationship with Cassio when returning the handkerchief to him (Act 4, Scene 1, line 177). *One thing that may shed some light on the many references to Bianca prostitution (even though there is no real evidence in this play that she is one) is at the beginning of Act 1, lines 20-22. "One Michael Cassio, a Florentine, a fellow almost damned in a fair wife." This is the only reference to Cassio's wife. Maybe he is a cheating husband. This could be the reason Bianca is viewed as a prostitute, a home wrecker. This would also explain why they have an uncommitted relationship. The three women of "Othello" are similar to other female characters in Shakespeare's plays. They seek (or strive for) respect and equality between both sexes, and fall short in a male-dominated society. Again, Shakespeare allows us to view women as they did during the Elizabethan period. With this in mind, it isn't surprising our three women face a grim future by play's end: two die, and the other will be forgotten.

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