Othello -- the Tragedy of Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Iago paints for Othello not simply a negative picture of Desdemona, but of an entire society where men are cuckolded: "that cuckold lives in bliss/Who, certain of his fate, loves not his wronger...I know our country disposition well; / in Venice they do let heaven see the pranks/They dare not show their husbands; their best conscience/Is not to leave't undone, but keep't unknown" (3.3). Iago, ironically, even uses the fact that Desdemona loved and married the Moor against her chastity, echoing Brabatino's rhyme: "She did deceive her father, marrying you" (3.3). However, Iago adds a terrifying, seemingly strange reading of Othello's wooing with words of Othello's military deeds: "And when she seem'd to shake and fear your looks, / She loved them most" (3.3). In other words, women really crave a strong military man who is violent towards their bodies, rather than a tender and loving man who is respectful of their honor, and if they do not have a violent man, they will seek this male violence through infidelity.

This suggestion is belied by Emilia's misery, as she cries out against the injustice "say they strike us" and uses male oppression as a justification for her own possible or simply imagined infidelity to Iago: "have not we affections, / Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?" (4.3). In response to Emilia, Desdemona makes a plea, not based in the rhetoric of gender but humanity. This makes her unique of almost all of the characters in the play, as even Cassio shows a lack of respect towards a woman who loves him, Bianca, simply because she is a prostitute. "...heaven me such uses send, / Not to pick bad from bad, but by bad mend!" says Desdemona, in other words, let me heal rather than turn against my husband in vengeance, as Emilia counsels me to do. (Emilia's vengeance makes her a good 'match' for Iago, even though she is basically a positively portrayed character in the way that she exposes her husband's plot at the expense of her life -- the play suggests that an endless economy of revenge simply breeds more violence.)

However, Desdemona's pacific attitude ultimately cannot heal a society that is entirely grafted towards the rhetoric of war, and to making division between male war-makers and female "moths of peace" (1.4) the play suggest that one of the tragedies of war, and a warlike culture that is the result of a continually mobilized society is the loss of softer, more feminine values such as the Christian ethic of forgiveness expressed by Desdemona. The society is characterized by an almost complete breakdown in communication between husbands and wives, daughters and fathers, and men and women. Othello can only relate to Desdemona effectively before marriage, when the two of them are not allowed to engage in a sexual relationship and she is a passive, eager listener. Women are either prostitutes like Bianca who follow the soldiers and are considered incapable of real, loving feeling toward men, or they must be pure and chaste, and treated like objects of honor, rather than human beings. In a society that sees men and women as so polarized, and where the cultural roles for women are so limited, a constant state of suspicion and mistrust between the genders that ultimately results in violence seems inevitable. While some people read the play as a tragedy that could be averted, if only, for example, the handkerchief had not been lost or Emilia intervened sooner to reveal her husband's treachery to Othello, on a larger level, because of its misaligned cultural values, yet another crime against a woman would be waiting to happen, at the hands of a military man in this society.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. "Othello." Shakespeare Homepage. 5 May 2007. http://shakespeare.mit.edu/othello/index.html

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