To appreciate the role of women in Othello, one may examine the play from a feminist perspective. This way, an individual can pass judgment on the various social values as well as the status of the women in the backdrop of the Elizabethan age. Othello is an archetypical depiction of the expectations of the highly patriarchal Elizabethan community.
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This is on the premises that many of the female characters irrespective of their perceived importance are diminished and objectified by their male counterparts. This essay discusses in detail the perceptions of society about women in the context of the play.
How female characters are perceived in the play
A woman’s chastity and fidelity are held in high regard. When Desdemona is perceived to be unfaithful, the consequences are integral in driving the action and ultimate tragedy of the play, although the perception was an erroneous one. The men in the play appear to have different opinions on women. Iago appears to despise them while Cassio and Othello assume a more conventional approach because they idolize them. However, for the majority, a woman does not appear to have much value beyond her femininity and beauty.
In fact, from a feminist viewpoint, it is a double tragedy since the actual tragedy of the needless death of Othello and his wife would have been avoided if Emilia and Desdemona had previously been allowed a voice. It is apparent, however, that in the play a man is judged by his actions. He also has to answer for those of his wife. As a result, Othello passes fatal judgment on both himself and his wife, albeit based on a misconception.
Women, on the other hand, are not allowed to prove or even defend themselves. Desdemona, for instance, is judged not by virtue of her character, but what others think about her. This is self-evident in the fact that even when there is a dispute about her, she is ironically not called in to give her evidence. Her father determines that she has been forced into marriage with Othello and starts planning to rescue her without first attempting to consider she may want to have a say on the matter.
When she claims to love him, Brabantio is convinced she must have been bewitched. He does not believe her capability of making an independent decision about loving Othello. It is apparent that when the virtues and personalities of women are held in high esteem, their roles are restricted and diminished by the inability of men to perceive them on an equal or objective basis.
Emilia, Iago’s wife, is another woman in the play who engenders the diminished role that has been ascribed to the fairer sex by the dominant one. Her voice is constantly silenced by her husband, who has made abundantly clear that he does not respect her intellect. He speaks with such spitefulness and rudeness to Emilia that Desdemona appears confused whether the woman had a right to express her feelings. On several occasions, Iago puts Emilia down and rudely dismisses her.
In the scene, she gives him a handkerchief he arrogantly refuses to tell her why he wants it. However, she is still willing to lie for him, although she is ignorant of what he is plotting. The arrogance of men in the face of their women is satirized by the fact that Othello has the answers that would have enabled him to see reason, but he dismisses them because they were supplied by Emilia. , because she is a woman, according to him, she is simple-minded and could be easily coerced to lying for Desdemona.
It appears that the primary role of women in the play is for them to act as a basis on which men are evaluated. The chastity of the woman is used as a means through which men are measured in the eyes of society. The promiscuity of a woman is seen not so much as a moral failure on her part, but foolishness in her man that drives Othello into a murderous rage. In a way, women are also used to keep score and determine the social class. For example, Othello is seen as undeserving of the white woman because of his inferior race.
In conclusion, women have been diminished in the face of men. Even the main female character, Desdemona, is introduced as intelligent and self-assured, but after she becomes Othello’s wife, her independence and self-assurance diminish.
She is relegated to the role of a silent wife who dies due to her husband’s folly. Ironically, even when she is killed, she does not dare to impugn his reputation. The honor of a man is far more important than the life of a woman. Judging from the treatment and perception of women in the play, it is abundantly clear that in the Elizabethan period, women are meant to be seen and not heard.