Themes in Othello: Racism, Jealousy, and More

Themes

Othello is the most famous literary work that focuses on the theme of jealousy. It runs through an entire text and affects almost every central character. One might even say that jealousy is the main theme of Othello. However, the exploration of racism, sexism, and deception is essential to the play.

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In this article, our writers elaborate on every Othello theme and explain why Shakespeare included them.

Othello themes: racism.Othello themes: jealousy.Othello themes: appearance vs reality.Othello themes: women and sexism.
RacismJealousyAppearance vs. RealitySexism

🏴 Racism in Othello

Othello themes: racism.

The fact that Shakespeare made Othello black is a crucial thematic element of the play. Many critics argue that Othello’s race does not matter. Nevertheless, it cannot be true. Our relationship with racism is very different from the time Othello was written. Racism in the 16th century was a widespread phenomenon.

Unlike the rest of Europe, Venice was a very cosmopolitan city, a hub in which Europeans, Africans, Asians all lived together in relative peace. However, it does not mean it was a tolerant and inclusive place, and there is a lot of textual evidence of that in Othello.

Othello starts not with Othello himself but with Iago talking negatively about Othello. Only in the second scene, the audience sees Othello and hears the main character speaking for himself. Before that, the audience depends on the descriptions that are coming from Iago, Roderigo, and Barbantio.

The three characters express race prejudice towards Othello and offer a sneak peek of how race relations in Elizabethan England looked like. In these first lines, which produce an immense effect on the audience, Othello is being called “the Moor,” “the thick lips,” “a lascivious Moor,” and “an old black ram.” Iago tells Barbantio:

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“an old black ram
is tupping your white ewe.”

The Elizabethan audience was not prepared even to imagine an interracial couple, but because Iago is such a malicious character, the audience is on Othello’s side.

This scene, at the very beginning of the play, is penetrated with racial commentaries. Barbantio, Desdemona’s father, is Othello’s long-term friend, but he strongly opposes this marriage. He invites Othello to his house, he respects him as a soldier, but Barbantio can’t imagine Othello as his son-in-law.

He even thinks that Othello used some witchcraft to attract Desdemona because, otherwise, it would be impossible or unnatural for a fine white lady to fall in love with “the Moor.”

Desdemona loves Othello, but she makes some racially insensitive comments as well. She says, “I saw Othello’s visage in his mind.” Here she accepts that her love for him is alienated from his appearance. She has to justify to the audience why and how she was able to overcome Othello’s blackness. She states that she is “color-blind,” which is, in fact, a subtle form of racism.

“Blackness”/ “Whiteness” Opposition

There are other characters that, without an intention to offend, express hidden racism not towards Othello per se but towards black people in general. For instance, the Duke says that Othello is “far more fair than black,” implying that being “fair” is more desirable than being black and that an educated black man loses his blackness and transcends the race.

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Throughout the play, Iago purposefully places “blackness” in opposition with “whiteness.” He even influences other characters to approach this matter in a similar manner, including Othello himself.

It is interesting that Iago never questions Othello’s ability as a leader or a soldier. He always targets Othello’s skin color and Othello’s cultural identity. Iago does not mention Othello’s name and calls him “the Moor” to reduce Othello to his skin color. He is the voice of racism in Othello.

When Othello goes to the Senate to defend himself and his marriage in front of the Duke, it is not his love that helps him save the situation but Othello’s important and influential status in Venice.

Othello that the audience sees on the stage for the first time is not the same Othello that kills Desdemona. At the beginning of the play, Othello is confident, and he knows he deserves Desdemona. His reply to Iago is calm and noble:

“Let him do his spite.
My services, which I have done the signiory,
Shall out-tongue his complaints; ’tis yet to know –
I fetch my life and being
From men of royal siege, and my demerits
May speak unbonneted to as proud a fortune
As this that I have reach’d; for know, Iago,
But that I love the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into circumscription and confine
For the sea’s worth.”

Barbantio’s racial prejudice does not allow him to understand the relationships between Desdemona and Othello, but Othello is not offended by that. It shows the immense self-confidence and self-worth that Othello has. He even says, “haply, for I am black.”

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Iago speaks about Othello and Desdemona’s relationships as a form of violence. He also eroticizes Othello even before Othello sets foot on the stage. Othello explains the basis of their love by stating:

“She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d,
And I lov’d her that she did pity them.”

It is contrasted to the eroticized explanation Iago gives about their marriage. Iago believes that their love is not more than “merely a lust of the blood, and a permission of the will.”

Othello’s Self-Identity

The theme of identity in Othello is present throughout the play. Iago influences Othello’s own perception of himself, which later results in Othello’s insecurity.

Even in the name of the play, Othello’s otherness is highlighted. The Moor of Venice embodies two opposing concepts – alienation and assimilation. Othello will always be an outsider for the Venetians. However, it also implies that Othello lost his “Africanness.”

Othello’s identity is not very clear. His cultural and geographical background is not mentioned in the play as if it is not essential. Othello is rootless and, in a way, it shows a lack of interest and a lack of information Elizabethans had about African nations.

Othello has been a soldier since he was a boy; it is a great part of him. However, when Othello arrives in Cyprus, he learns that the war with the Turks is over before it even started. Without these military achievements and battles, Othello feels insecure about himself and becomes an easy target for Iago.

Several attempts later, the audience realizes that Iago’s manipulations were successful because Othello starts doubting Desdemona’s sincerity and even her love for him.

Iago starts by attacking Othello’s cultural otherness. He reminds Othello that he does not know Venetian women because he is an outsider. Then, he goes on and attacks Othello’s blackness. He says:

“She did deceive her father, marrying you;
And when she seem’d to shake and fear your looks,
She lov’d them most.”

Here, Iago hints that Othello is inferior to white men.

From now on, the audience will see how Iago accomplishes the dismantling of Othello’s racial identity and forces Othello to see himself through Iago’s racist lens.

“The Noble Moor”

Several characters continuously positively refer to Othello. They call him “the noble Moor,” “brave Othello,” “noble Othello.” The audience itself is very sympathetic to Othello.

By doing that, Shakespeare tries to dismantle a stereotype that the audience has about black people. Othello is one of the noblest characters that Shakespeare ever created. The attitude that Iago, Roderigo, and Barbantio have towards Othello contrasts with the ones who love and respect Othello. The theme of race in Othello centers around this division.

“The Black Devil”

Othello’s last speech is very different from his first one in the Senate. The protagonist, who was once very proud of himself, is now humiliated. He even reduces the significance of his military achievements by saying, “he has done the state some service.”

In his last speech, Othello compares himself with “a circumcised dog,” reducing himself to the lowest of the lowest. It drastically contrasts with the way Othello describes Desdemona in this last speech. He says:

“a pearl away
richer than all his tribe.”

Othello also compares himself with a savage who is not able to understand the value of the pearl. He calls himself “Indian” and “The Turk” in the last lines of the play. By doing that, Othello supported and reinforced racial prejudice against others.

💬 Quotes about Racism

“Even now, now, very now, an old black ram
Is tupping your white ewe. Arise, arise!
Awake the snorting citizens with the bell,
Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you.
Arise, I say!”

– Iago, Act 1 Scene 1

“Ay, there’s the point. As, to be bold with you,
Not to affect many proposèd matches
Of her own clime, complexion, and degree,
Whereto we see in all things nature tends—
Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank,
Foul disproportion thoughts unnatural—
But pardon me—I do not in position
Distinctly speak of her, though I may fear
Her will, recoiling to her better judgment,
May fall to match you with her country forms
And happily repent.”

– Iago, Act 3 Scene 3

“Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Judean, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe; of one whose subdued
eyes,
Albeit unused to the melting mood,
Drop tears as fast as the Arabian trees
Their medicinal gum.”

– Othello, Act 5 Scene 2

🌱 Jealousy in Othello

Othello themes: jealousy.

At the very beginning of the play, readers see two characters that are completely consumed by that feeling. Iago, the actuator of the plot, is jealous and hateful towards Othello because he did not get the position of Lieutenant. Iago cannot stand others being more successful than he is, and that is why he comes up with a plan of revenge. Besides the professional jealousy that Iago has towards Othello, he is also jealous of Cassio, the solder that was promoted ahead of Iago. He claims:

“I know my price. I am worth no worse a place.”

He feels that Othello was unjust for choosing Cassio to be a lieutenant.

The second character who is driven by jealousy is Roderigo. He is in love with Desdemona, and he is upset about her marriage to Othello. He is even ready to pay Iago to have a chance to be with Desdemona. Obviously enough, Roderigo is jealous of Othello as well.

The difference between Iago and Roderigo, which becomes apparent in these first scenes, is that Roderigo’s motifs are based on his love for Desdemona, while Iago’s motifs are coming from the place of hate. Besides, Iago enjoys triggering this emotion in others. His whole plan of revenge is based on the fact that Othello is naturally jealous, Roderigo is naturally foolish, Desdemona is very naive, and Bianca is very liberated.

Iago masterfully creates lies about Desdemona’s unfaithfulness till Othello is convinced that Desdemona has an affair with Cassio. Othello becomes downright furious and blinded by the destructive force of his own emotions. However, Iago is different. Despite having such strong hate, he is able to approach his plan with a cold heart. He is pragmatic, reserved, and able to control his emotions to a great degree.

Nevertheless, Iago and Emilia as well become the victims of Iago’s jealousy. Iago’s reasoning, just like Othello’s, is entirely overtaken by the desire for revenge. His whole life is paranoically centered around this scheme.

In the middle of the play, the audience learns that Iago also has several personal reasons for jealousy. Firstly, Iago suspects that Emilia, his wife, has had an affair with Othello. Secondly, Iago himself may be in love with Desdemona. There is no evidence or any material proof in the play that both of these reasons are true.

Desdemona dies because of Iago’s plan, and he does not tell the audience why he believes Emilia has had an affair. He says, “I hate the Moor,” and it is thought abroad that “twixt my sheets he’s done my office.” The last phrase means that Othello did something that only Iago is allowed to do. There is a great chance, Iago simply tries to manipulate the audience to get them on his side.

Bianca

Bianca is another peculiar character that serves as an excellent example of the theme of jealousy in literature. She is a secondary character and can be viewed as a parallel to Roderigo. Both are desperately in love with people who do not love them back.

However, Bianca is a mere object in the eyes of men. Cassio does not love her and has no plans to marry her. In his conversation with Iago, he claims:

“Tis the strumpet’s plague
To beguile many and be beguiled by one.”

She suspects that Cassio has an affair when she sees the handkerchief but still offers him supper and rushes to help him when he was stubbed. She truly loves him, and her jealousy does not search for revenge. Instead of planning how to hurt her lover in secret, she speaks to him and asks him directly.

“Jealousy Is a Green-Eyed Monster”

In the middle of the play, when the destructive force of jealousy starts to kick in, Iago tells Othello, “O beware, my Lord, of jealousy! It is a green-eyed monster!” This metaphor perfectly describes jealousy as a potent and destructive emotion.

Othello is a jealousy victim himself. At the beginning of the play, Othello is a strong and determined man who is sure that he deserves to be with Desdemona. However, in the second part of the play, Othello doubts himself and feels inferior to others. He says, “haply for I am black, and have not those soft parts of the conversation that chamberers have.” He feels so insecure. He convinces himself that Desdemona is unfaithful to him due to him being black and less eloquent than the Venetians. He does not have any solid proof that Desdemona has an affair with another man. Therefore, he invents it.

Another victim of the “green-eyed monster” is Desdemona. At the beginning of the play, Desdemona is a romantic character, but she becomes a tragic one because of the monstrous effect of jealousy. Some critics, such as Coleridge, argue that it was not Othello’s jealousy that killed Desdemona but Iago’s envy.

Iago keeps personifying jealousy throughout the play by saying that “jealousy is a green-eyed monster.” He also compares jealousy with a plague or a fatal disease. He says that he will put the Moor “into a jealousy so strong that judgment cannot cure.” Emilia, Iago’s wife, also calls jealousy a monster:

“But jealous souls will not be answer’d so;
They are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous for they’re jealous.
It is a monster Begot upon itself, born on itself.”

Love and Jealousy

Love and jealousy are deeply intertwined in Shakespearean tragedies. However, more emotions are triggered by Iago’s plan. Envy, hate, passion, desire to restore one’s dignity, a desire for justice create a mix of feelings that turned the protagonist into a monster. Othello breaks when he sees Bianca with the handkerchief he gave to Desdemona as the first gift.

To conclude, Othello is a play that can be seen as a battle between love and jealousy. On the one hand, the audience sees Othello, who is losing his mind due to jealousy. On the other hand, Desdemona continues loving Othello despite everything he has done to her.

The audience sees how possessive and corruptive love could be as Othello’s murderous jealousy becomes stronger than any other emotion. Desdemona’s love is based on trust. It is forgiving; it is Christian-like. Desdemona’s ability to forgive Othello at the end of the play helps the audience forgive Othello.

💬 Quotes about Jealousy

“Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see.
She has deceived her father, and may thee.”

– Brabantio, Act 1 Scene 3

“I hate the Moor,
And it is thought abroad, that ‘twixt my sheets
Has done my office. I know not if ‘t be true,
But I, for mere suspicion in that kind,
Will do as if for surety.”

– Iago, Act 1 Scene 3

“O, beware, my lord, of jealousy!
It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock
The meat it feeds on;”

– Iago, Act 3 Scene 3

“But jealous souls will not be answered so.
They are not ever jealous for the cause,
But jealous for they are jealous. It is a monster
Begot upon itself, born on itself.”

– Emilia, Act 3 Scene 4

🔮 Appearance vs. Reality in Othello

Othello themes: appearance vs reality.

One of the most fundamental philosophical questions of western philosophy is the question of how things seem to be and the way they are. As one of the greatest thinkers of all time, Shakespeare was preoccupied with this question as well.

Appearance versus reality is a major theme in Othello, the Moor of Venice, because almost every character has two sides to their personality. Iago is the antagonist of the play. Shakespeare demonstrates the difference between certainty and illusion, shadow and substance, stability and fluidity through him. In a way, he is the “literary device” that exposes the contradiction between reality and how it appears.

At the beginning of the play, both the reading and the viewing audience sees some sort of stability. A perfect marriage, which is based upon true love, a noble hero, who is honest, brave, and virtuous. Othello is confident that Desdemona loves him for who he is; he is a military hero who everyone well respects.

This world of order and peace gets distorted by Iago, who does not believe in ideal love, friendship, loyalty, or absolute truth. He believes in the fluidity of all things, and he himself does not have a stable identity of his own.

Iago

In Act 1 scene 1, the audience witnesses a multitude of Iago’s personalities. He is a friend to Roderigo and a dark shadow telling Barbantio about Desdemona’s marriage. Yet, he is a loyal servant of Othello. In this scene, Iago presents factual truth to both Barbantio and Othello. However, each character receives a different version of the events. This first scene is an excellent example of the contrast between appearance and reality.

Iago easily adopts a new identity and abandons the old one. He tells Roderigo that he is:

“Trimmed in forms and visages of duty,
Keep yet their hearts attending on themselves.”

Iago claims here that he is not the only one who mixes up reality with appearance. He is convinced that people do that to pursue their own agenda all the time. Till this point, the audience can still relate to Iago. He did not lose his humanity in their eyes yet.

He explains the reason why he does not like Othello. He promoted a man named Cassio in front of him. At the end of the same scene, the audience gets to hear two more reasons why Iago is so full of hatred towards Othello.

However, as he continues with his plot, the readers start seeing him for what he actually is:

“For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In compliment extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at. I am not what I am.”

Desdemona

Iago is not the only one who mixes appearance with reality. Desdemona is a good example of that.

She falls in love with Othello through the stories about his heroic past. In a way, she falls in love with the representation of Othello and not with Othello himself. She does not know him very well. Therefore she cannot immediately understand what causes this sudden change in Othello’s behavior.

Iago, on the contrary, knows Othello really well. He is also a great manipulator and psychologist. Like a good manipulator, Iago understands that he needs to remain patient. He tells Roderigo:

“How poor are they who have not patience!
What wound did ever heal but by degrees.”

Iago waits for an opportunity and only then acts.

Honesty

Iago makes Desdemona appear untrustworthy while Iago seems righteous. It is crucial to note that almost every character in the play calls Iago honest. In total, the word “honest” is applied to Iago more than 50 times throughout the play. For instance, Othello says:

“This fellow’s of exceeding honesty
And knows all qualities with a learned spirit
Of human dealings.”

Othello has no reason to think Iago is not honest. Nevertheless, he trusts him but does not believe Desdemona.

Othello says about his wife:

“I do not think, but Desdemona is honest.”

He states that he does not believe Desdemona would have an affair. However, the synthetic structure here is fundamental. Othello uses double negation to say that Desdemona is honest, which means that he does not believe in it. Iago brings up another powerful argument by saying:

“She deceived her father by marrying you.”

By reminding Othello that Desdemona was not honest before, he makes him doubt her even more.

When Iago provides “an ocular proof” (the handkerchief), and Desdemona lies about it, Othello will believe anything Iago tells him. The level of trust Othello puts in “honest Iago” is also shown through the scene in which Iago suggests a script for Desdemona’s murder. Othello agrees with him.

Cassio and Roderigo

It is very peculiar to see how Iago manipulates Roderigo and Cassio. He also uses their weakest point.

Iago understands that for Cassio, his reputation plays an essential role and that Cassio truly loves and respects Othello. So he makes sure all of it is being used against Cassio.

With Roderigo, Iago uses a similar technique and exploits his love for Desdemona. He feeds Roderigo with ideas about Desdemona’s immorality to make sure Roderigo believes he has a chance.

Emilia

Emilia is another character that has a double personality. On the one hand, she is very loyal to Desdemona. On the other hand, she played a crucial role in her husband’s scheme. It makes her the first one to realize that Iago is the one responsible.

Her husband exploited their marriage and her obedience to succeed with his plan. But Emilia eventually saw the whole picture and influenced the outcome, accusing Iago of his crimes and making the reality evident for the others. Furious, Iago stabs her, thus, commits his first murder in plain sight and shows his true self.

Othello’s Farewell Speech Analysis

One of the most important scenes that show appearance vs. reality is Othello’s farewell. In this speech, he asks the audience to see the events with a positive outlook. He tells them to see him not as a villain who just killed his innocent wife but as a husband who loved his wife too much.

There is a lot of contradictions in this speech. For instance, he states that he is “not easily jealous,” and in the following sentence, he adds, “wrought/ perplexed in the extreme.” It shows that Othello actually cannot accept reality. He tells the audience “to speak of me as I am.”

He shows very little emotion about Desdemona’s murder and is very focused on restoring his reputation in the audience’s eyes. One of the ways in which he tries to do it is by speaking beautifully.

Othello uses a lot of metaphors to mask what has happened. He says:

“Indian, a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe.”

This metaphor shows that Othello did not understand what a horrible thing he committed. He speaks so poetically and beautifully about killing an innocent person. The audience sees that this speech is an inaccurate narration of the play’s events, and it emphasizes this great disparity between appearance and reality.

💬 Quotes about Appearance vs. Reality

“For, sir,
It is as sure as you are Roderigo,
Were I the Moor I would not be Iago.
In following him, I follow but myself.
Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty,
But seeming so for my particular end.
For when my outward action doth demonstrate
The native act and figure of my heart
In complement extern, ’tis not long after
But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve
For daws to peck at.
I am not what I am.”

– Iago, Act 1 Scene 1

“O heaven! How got she out? O treason of the blood!
Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters’ minds
By what you see them act. (1.1.)”

– Brabantio, Act 1 Scene 1

“So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true.
So speaking as I think, alas, I die.”

– Emilia, Act 5 Scene 2

♀️ Sexism in Othello

Othello themes: women and sexism.

In Shakespeare’s time, women did not possess the same type of freedom modern women have. Elizabethan society was extremely patriarchal, meaning that men were considered superior to women in all regards: intellectually, physically, emotionally. Women were born to be objectified by men, serve them, and be treated as their subordinates or, even worse, their possessions. The Bible supported this point of view, and disobedience was seen as a crime against God.

This belief was deeply ingrained into the fabric of Elizabethan society. Not surprisingly, Shakespeare’s plays reflect this belief as well. The question of the gender roles in Othello becomes one of the most important in the entire play.

There are only three female characters in Othello—Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca. All of them are maltreated by their partners. These three females have different socioeconomic statuses, and it dictates the way male characters approach them and the level of freedom and respect they get.

In the play, men respect the boundaries of married women as they belong to their husbands. However, Iago believes all women are “whores,” and there is no difference between a housewife and a street lady. He claims:

“Come on, come on, you are pictures out of doors, Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens, Saints in your injuries, devils being offended, Players in your housewifery, and housewives in … Your beds!”

An analysis of the three women in Othello will allow readers to see that even though all three women in Othello have strong personalities, they have been oppressed by culture and male dominance. This systemic oppression made women content with their secondary status in society and their families. The way Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca are portrayed in Othello could not be more contrasting. This contrast between them forms the core of the female theme in Othello.

Desdemona

Desdemona is the first female character readers encounter in the play. From the first pages, readers see that she has very little control over her destiny. She tries to resist her father’s authority, but not because she wants to regain her freedom or find her voice. She fights it because she is in love. She wants to marry Othello and live an adventurous life with him.

Desdemona’s first words in the play show the deep respect for her father and his dominant position in her life:

“My noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty. To you, I am bound for life and education. My life and education both do teach me how to respect you. You are the lord of my duty, I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband, and so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord.”

This speech shows Desdemona’s intelligence, her emotionality, her eloquence. In fact, she sounds more eloquent than her father or Othello himself. It is also peculiar that the issue of “duty” remains unchallenged by Desdemona. She sees herself as a possession that should be transferred from one man to another. Desdemona cannot imagine herself being alienated from men completely. She thinks that she only exists in relation to them.

After she is approved to get married, she is treated as a possession by her husband, Othello. She has to ask for permission to go to Cyprus with him, but Othello views her as a commodity that needs transportation and protection. A little bit later in the play, the Duke tells Othello to “use her well.” It can be interpreted in two ways: the first one is to take care of Desdemona. Well, the second one is to take advantage of her, to use her literally.

In Elizabethan times, marriages, especially in higher society, were strictly pre-arranged. Desdemona breaks all the societal norms when she chooses her husband. Iago tells her father, “hath made a gross revolt, tying her beauty, wit, and fortunes in an extravagant and wheeling stranger.” As a result of her actions, Barbantio disowns her.

Later in the play, Desdemona realizes her entrapped position, but it is already too late. She suffers abuse in Othello’s hands, and he verbally abuses her by calling her “whore.” She has no place to go back as her father does not want to see her again.

Desdemona realizes it, saying, “this is my wretched fortune.” She accepts her destiny, even if it is to die.

Emilia

Emilia, another woman in the play, is Desdemona’s only faithful supporter. She explicitly questions the world’s injustice, “Hath she forsook . . . / Her father, and her country, all her friends, / To be called a whore?”

Emilia does realize that the position women have in society is unjust. In their private conversation, she tells Desdemona that all the problems are coming from men. She is the voice of feminism in Othello. However, Emilia speaks her mind only in front of Desdemona. When it comes to speaking for herself or defending herself, she is not able to do that.

Emilia is Iago’s wife. She obeys him and unknowingly helps him in his scheme. However, Iago does not show any love or respect for her. He is jealous and upset with her as he thinks that Emilia and Othello had an affair. Iago claims that Othello:

“Twixt my sheets
He’s done my office.”

Iago objectifies his wife and deprives her of humanity by calling her “seat,” “sheets,” or “office.”

The audience does not feel that Iago has any feelings for Emilia. She is merely a possession for him. He kills her without hesitation because she reveals his evil plan and decides to stay loyal to Desdemona. In a way, in this last scene, she behaved unfaithfully to her husband, and therefore she deserves to be killed.

Her death is very spontaneous and symbolic at the same time. Once Emilia finds her voice and speaks up, Iago uses violence to make sure she keeps silent. Most of the women are silenced in Othello.

Men, who are witnessing the argument between Emilia and Iago, are all armed. It would be reasonable to take a stand and defend an unarmed woman. However, no one intervenes, and she has no means to defend herself.

Bianca

At the beginning of the play, Iago tells the audience that Bianca is a whore. However, there is no evidence in the text that supports this claim. After all, Iago is not the most reliable source of information in the play.

Bianca is a crucial character because she creates a parallel with Othello, a parallel with Desdemona, and a parallel with Emilia. She is not involved in scheming, Iago is not trying to use her in his plot, and she has the authority of her own.

Besides Othello, Bianca is the only other character in the play who gets jealous. How she reacts proves that Othello’s actions could be prevented. Her love for Cassio does not change after she suspects him of having an affair with another woman. She does not want revenge. She just wants to know the truth.

The way Cassio and Bianca communicate does not look like they are in a prostitute and client relationship. Cassio calls her “my most fair Bianca,” “my love.” They address one another so sweetly that it sounds like two people that are in an equal power partnership.

Bianca is judged and accused by other characters for having an intimate relationship outside of marriage. However, Cassio does not get the same type of judgment for having premarital sex. It proves that there are double standards in Othello’s presentation of women.

For many years, critics and the audience were unfair to Bianca as well. However, she is simply a financially and sexually independent woman. Her life belongs to her and not to her husband or her father. She is aware of her sexuality and challenges the norms.

There are a lot of sexist remarks in Othello that penetrate the text. Iago is a misogynist, and throughout the whole play, he keeps calling Bianca names. He calls her – “strumpet,” “trash,” “creature,” and etc. All of this harassment happens behind her back, so she cannot defend her dignity. Only when Emilia calls her “strumpet” in her face, Bianca responds:

“I am no strumpet
but of life as honest as you, that thus
abuse me.”

Unlike Desdemona and Emilia, she can speak for herself.

Female Sexuality

Alongside the female oppression in Othello and continuous female abuse in Othello, Desdemona has power over her husband due to her sexuality. Desdemona is not afraid to use her sexuality to persuade Othello. For instance, when she decides to talk about Cassio’s case, Desdemona knows how strong her influence on Othello is. Otherwise, she would not agree to talk to Othello about that. She is beautiful, she is young, and Othello desires her.

The sex theme and sexual remarks are present throughout the play. Mainly, Iago is the one who brings these conversations up. However, even Othello himself talks about sex on multiple occasions.

At the beginning of the play, Othello tells Desdemona, “Come, my dear love,/The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue.” This comment shows that Othello views marriage as a “purchase” and “the fruits” as sex. A woman is expected to fulfill the sexual desires of her husband. However, a woman who shows her sexuality is immediately labeled as a “whore.”

Throughout the play, the word “whore” has been used more than ten times and towards all three female characters. However, most of the time, it is being used in regards to Bianca, the third heroine.All women in Othello are innocent and, nevertheless, suffer verbal and physical abuse. The audience sees these women through the prism of masculinity and male judgment, but it is evident that these women have stories of their own. They have minds of their own, feelings of their own, and voices of their own. Those women are not weak or passive, as many critics believe. They are simply oppressed.

💬 Quotes about Women

“Come on, come on. You are pictures out of door,
Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens,
Saints in your injuries, devils being offended,
Players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds.”

– Iago, Act 2 Scene 1

“O curse of marriage,
That we can call these delicate creatures ours
And not their appetites! I had rather be a toad
And live upon the vapor of a dungeon
Than keep a corner in the thing I love
For others’ uses.”

– Othello, Act 3 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. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them. They see and
smell,
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is. And doth affection breed it?
I think it doth. Is ‘t frailty that thus errs?
It is so too. And have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well. Else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”

– Emilia, Act 4 Scene 3

Thank you for reading till the end! Check other articles that explore Othello’s characters and meaning.

🎓 References

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"Themes." IvyPanda, 22 June 2021, ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/themes/.

1. IvyPanda. "Themes." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/themes/.


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IvyPanda. "Themes." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/themes/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Themes." June 22, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/lit/othello-study-guide/themes/.

References

IvyPanda. (2021) 'Themes'. 22 June.