Contradictory Characterisations of Women in Shakespeare's Othello
Othello opens with a discussion between two men concerning the fate of a very beautiful woman named Desdemona. One of the men is distraught, having tried to win her love but miserably failed, and the other agrees that she is quite a prize. A prize is not just a name for Desdemona, as her humanity is lost somewhere along the way and she ceases to be anything but a prize to be won. Both men are angry and want to seek revenge against the man who won her, slandering Desdemona’s name in the process. Their superior and rival, the man who won Desdemona, is none other than Othello. Othello has proven the two men inferior, obtaining what they could not. The two other mistreated women in the play are Emilia and Bianca, all three viewed as nothing more than objects of lust.
Desdemona was born from a high-class Venetian family; Emilia is a servant; Bianca is a “whore,” incidentally a word that Desdemona refuses to use. Although they all belong to completely different classes, they are all abused by men and become the objects of their sexuality, forced to suffer by the cruel hands of those whom they hold most dear. Each one is shown in relation to a particular man, (Othello, Iago and Cassio) and is contrasted with the other women, which reveal how the stereotypical version of womanhood impacts their lives, (in Desdemona and Emilia's case, their deaths). The three women's eventual destinies are interlinked with the plays central symbol: the handkerchief.
Women are major characters in Shakespeare's plays. In "Othello" women are treated no different. They are defined rather uniquely. These definitions inhibit upon Shakespearean society. Women in that era were supposed to be obedient, silent and chaste. If a lady were not any of these aforementioned characteristics, then she would not be acceptable by the norms of the Elizabethan society.
Desdemona disobeys the standards set by Elizabethan society, she is not silent and obedient at the questioning of Othello. She, in fact, disobeys her Father to be with her husband. She speaks up for Othello at the hearing and implores the Duke to allow her to go to Cyprus, something that women just do not do. In the end, her quality of being chaste would be questioned by Othello. By his own method he determines that she is guilty of infidelity.
Desdemona occupies contradictory positions in "Othello", she is both "half the wooer" (an active female who makes her own choices to marry Othello and to defend Cassio) and the passive prey or victim. Her husband, Othello, truly loves her, yet he thinks less of how she feels and more of how she makes him happy. The moment Iago whispers the slightest suspicions into Othello's ear, Othello no longer thinks of Desdemona. He confronts her my saying that he knows what she has done, and then leaves; he does not listen to her or ask any questions for clarity. Othello believes that Desdemona has betrayed...