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**English Class Notes**
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The Role of Women in Othello
12th Grade English -1st Period
December 18, 2009
The Role of Women in Othello
by William Shakespeare, the role of Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca portray how women were during the 15th century. Women were portrayed as being loyal to their husbands; doing what they are told, and not going against their husband’s judgment or actions. These women represent three different characteristics in which women are being recognized in
The women in
represent various levels of class, virtue, and intelligence
. Desdemona is aristocratic, virtuous, and makes her own decisions; Emilia is the middle class, a maid, manipulated by Iago and loyal to Desdemona; and Bianca is the bottom of the line, being represented as a strumpet. Iago states how women are weak, lazy, and inane and only desire physical pleasure.
Throughout the play Desdemona symbolizes innocence and helplessness. The first encounter with Desdemona, Shakespeare describes her as being mature and quite perceptive of events around her, especially when we meet Desdemona and how mature she is when she defends her love for Othello to her father Brabantio. Iago often tells Othello that she is unfaithful because Iago is implementing into Othello’s head that Desdemona is committing adultery with Cassio. She has a tendency to be sympathetic towards other people's situations, like Cassio. This also further inspired Othello's jealousy when Iago pointed out they were speaking in privacy. She often pays attention to other people’s thoughts yet remains cynical if they differ to her own. She’s loyal to her husband in all aspects of life, whether it is mental or physical.
Desdemona is like a peacemaker because when Othello wanted to “fire” Cassio, she wanted peace between them. Therefore she talks to Cassio in private, which this leads to her husband accusing her of cheating. After the fight between Othello and Cassio, Desdemona wants to make peace between them. In today’s society, Desdemona is known as a housewife who cares for her husband and is behind him every step of the way. However, when it comes to the arguing with Othello, she becomes a woman being emotional abused by her husband, leading her death by her own husband at the end.
Emilia is Iago's wife, which says something about her submissive character already. She is also Desdemona's handmaiden; this is a vital part in her role in the play. She is the wife of pure evil, Iago, and the maid of the most kind, Desdemona. Emilia unknowingly plays a large role in Iago’s plan and is never suspicious. Emilia is, in some cases, the opposite of Desdemona. Even though women should be faithful and loyal to their husband, she considers that women should have a voice; be more independent and not relying on their husbands’ all the time.
Emilia gets angry at the fact that Othello calls Desdemona an unfaithful wife, hence her stating, in Act 4, Scene 3, “But I do think it is their husbands' faults/ If wives do fall. Say that they slack their duties, /And pour our treasures into foreign laps; /Or else break out in peevish jealousies, /Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us, /Or scant our former having in despite: /Why, we have galls; and though we have some grace, /Yet have we some revenge…” (217). Here Emilia is questioning men and how men can’t be without women. Yes, men say that women are lazy and this and that, but women have more of a saying in this world then men do. The speech that Emilia gives talks about how women should not be a “slave” to their husbands. All women have a voice and that we should be independent and be respected.
Bianca is very obedient and sweet-tempered, leading her to have a good number of suitors. Bianca is the strumpet who Cassio is with; her role seems small but significant. Bianca, even though called a strumpet, she is also considering as a woman with a goal. Her goal is to feel love and trusted by a man, but she is deceived as a whore, especially from Emilia. Bianca is brought into this play as Cassio's jealous mistress; he gives her Desdemona's handkerchief, not realizing whose handkerchief it really was. She was aware of the great risk involved when she married a moor. All three characters feel that they, as women, should not be judge nor treated with any less respect as a man does because women have a voice and they need to be heard.
Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca live in a society where women can't do the thing men do. Desdemona generously nature tries to help Cassio retrieve his spot as Lieutenant back. Emilia had illusions about men or love or marriage vows, even after Desdemona explains the importance of the handkerchief. But, these three women live by their own wills. As Iago reminded Othello in Act 3, Scene 3 the faithless wife is a well-known member of Venetian society. Somewhat like Iago, Othello also see women as strumpets and unfaithful after the Iago convinces Othello in the adultery that Desdemona is committing.
In Act 4, Scene 2, Othello says “Was this fair paper, this most goodly book, /Made to write "whore" upon? What committed? /Committed? O thou public commoner. /I should make very forges of my cheeks, /That would to cinders burn up modesty, /Did I but speak thy deeds” (197).
As mentioned in this quote, Othello see women as being unfaithful and mostly consider them as whores, especially his wife.
Both Desdemona and Emilia are loyal to their husbands, however, Desdemona is more of a person who hides her true self because she feels that a women should not argue with her husband, the one she loves because during the Renaissance women were seen more as being the house wife and do agree to every decision and action their husband make. Hence the reason why she doesn't defend herself as well as she suppose to when Othello believes that she has committed adultery. Emilia is also respectful and loves her husband Iago, but when Othello calls Desdemona a whore we see another side of Emilia in which she thinks that calling his own wife a whore, is basically crossing a line. She questions the role of men because once you're married a trust and loyal bond is born; there shouldn't be any type of disrespect within "soul mates". Bianca is just a woman who is looking for some affection, but is independent to be with whoever she wants because she is not really committed with anyone.
Women during the 15th century were considered more as being a house maid/house wife. Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca represent the three different sides of women: the noble and loyal one, the one who believes in having a voice, and the one who wants affection from a guy who is easy (strumpet). These stereotypes, women are still being compared to in today's society. We learn something about each of these female stereotypes. Over a period of time, women have fought for the respect and equality; even though these stereotypes still exist today, women are stronger in defending themselves and more respected. I believe Shakespeare brings the theme of women roles because we learn how women felt during that time and how history brought women to be equal to men.
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