A Feminist Perspective of Othello
Throughout the length of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello there is a steady undercurrent of sexism. It is originating from not one, but rather various male characters in the play, who manifest prejudicial, discriminatory attitudes toward women.
In the opening scene, while Iago is expressing his hatred for the general Othello for his having chosen Michael Cassio for the lieutenancy, he contrives a plan to partially avenge himself (“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”), with Roderigo’s assistance, by alerting Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, to the fact of his daughter’s elopement with Othello: “Call up her father, / Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight [. . .] .” Implied in this move is the fact of a father’s assumed control over the daughter’s choice of a marriage partner. Iago’s warning to the senator follows closely: “'Zounds, sir, you're robb'd; for shame, put on your gown; / Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul.” This statement also implies that the father has authority over the daughter. Brabantio’s admonition to Roderigo implicitly expresses the same message:
The worser welcome:
I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:
In honest plainness thou hast heard me say
My daughter is not for thee [. . .] . (1.1)
Iago’s continuing earthy appraisals of the situation all seem to bestow upon the father the power to make decisions for the daughter. Roderigo even calls Desdemona’s action a “revolt” against paternal authority: “Your daughter, if you have not given her leave, / I say again, hath made a gross revolt [. . .] .” Upon verifying the absence of his daughter from the home, Brabantio exhorts all fathers to “trust not” their daughters, indicating a predisposition among young ladies to rebel against authority:
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)
Othello, the general and protagonist, seems initially to be totally lacking in sexism. He loves Desdemona as an equal and accepts her with no preconditions:
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. (1.2)
When Brabantio has finally located Othello, with torches on another street in the middle of the night, the senator exclaims loudly his right of ownership: “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow'd my daughter?” With the Turkish campaign against Cyprus in motion, the Duke of Venice scarcely has time for Brabantio’s protestations. Furthermore, the duke recognizes Desdemona’s right to marry whomever she prefers. In exasperation the senator disowns his Desdemona, not permitting her to stay at home while Othello is away at Cyprus. So she goes with the...