Literary Analysis Of Drama Essay

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¶ … Role of Women in Othello The Conflicting Female Role in Shakespeare's Othello

In Shakespeare's Othello, women are in a state of turmoil. On the one hand, the women in the play have to remain obedient to the subservient standards of life as a female in the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe. Yet, on the other hand, there are signs of a new, strong and independent female emerging within Shakespeare's characters. In Othello, Shakespeare juxtaposes the characteristics of the traditional, obedient woman with a new, more independent one. Desdemona's willing death at the hand of her husband illustrates Shakespeare's suggestion that strictly following these outdated gender norms will only lead to individual destruction; while Emilia, and her more independent ways stands up against her husband's ill will.

To understand the role of women in the play, it is first important to see how they are viewed by the men in Othello. From a male perspective, the women of the play are pretty black and white. They are either beautiful creatures to be idealized, as Cassio does with Desdemona, or spiteful demons to be hated, as Iago seems to hate women so much. Iago even goes as far as to say that woman are "pictures out of doors, bells in your parlors, wildcats in your kitchens, saints in you injuries, devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds" (Shakespeare 2.1.111-114). When the women behave as they are supposed to, the male characters are content with them in the context of the play. Othello is happy with his new wife while he thinks she is behaving. Yet, when the women get too far from their expected role, the men turn against them fiercely. Othello even goes as far as to murder his wife when he thinks she has cheated on him and brought shame and scandal to his name. After killing his wife, he says, "O curse marriage, that we can call these delicate creatures 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...


Yet 'tis the plague of great ones; preogatived are they less than base. 'tis destiny unshunnable, like death" (Shakespeare 3.3.272-279). Thus, the male characters of the play are suspicious of a new, more powerful female role that is developing throughout the play. Iago's extreme hatred of women, especially Desdemona, reflects an insecure male role being threatened by an evolving female role. Rather than embrace these new developments in the female's character, the men act out against it. Iago and Othello are both guilty of being unable to cope with the evolution of the female role into a more independent being.
The female role in the play is thus in constant conflict. According to the research, "women in Othello are portrayed with complexity and an obvious tension between feminist and anti-feminist ideals" (Evans 1). There are incidences of both an emerging independence, but also a foolish reliance on the man as dominant. No other character experiences this conflict as much as Desdemona. As is seen as "the ideal woman" (Evans 1). Her beauty, brain, and manners lead her to embrace the perfect and ideal female role at the time period. Cassio even describes her as "the divine Desdemona" (2.1.74). "She is indeed perfection," and plays her role to the extreme (2.3.25). On one hand, she is much more independent than some of the other females in Shakespeare's plays. She takes a stand against her father to follow her heart and marry Othello, despite the obvious reservations her father held because of Othello's race. She is independent enough to choose her own husband, and to choose out of love despite the fact that Othello is a Moore. She is strong and intelligent, yet is still held back by outdated gender stereotypes. Yet, from a feminist perspective,…

Sources Used in Documents:


Evans, Ed. "Gender and Race in Othello." University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. 2011. Web.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. Saddleback Educational Publishing. 2011.

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