Desdemona: A Renaissance Woman Essay

1614 words - 6 pages

In the play Othello by William Shakespeare the role Desdemona plays has been greatly argued. Several critics say that Desdemona is a pawn, that she is submissive and may even be responsible for her own death. However; even if Desdemona appears to be fragile at the end of the play when Othello becomes aggressive and later when he kills her, Desdemona proves that she is much smarter, stronger, and even has a certain power over those who around her, than the women in the time period that Shakespeare wrote Othello. With further investigation of Desdemona’s character considering the role of women in the Renaissance age in England, Desdemona more than surpasses the expectation and the authority that women were allowed at that time.
Women in the renaissance era did not have much power in society, their gender roles were very “clearly defined with men reigning superior over women” (“The Life and Roles of Elizabethan Era Women”). In the book Wooing, Wedding, and Power: Women in Shakespeare’s plays Irene Dash believes that Desdemona "is a woman slowly tamed in the crucible of marriage." Dash argues that more is expected from Desdemona than from Othello and that in the play she is made weak and overly passive to her husband (103). In the beginning of the play after Desdemona and Othello are married in secret, Desdemona reasons with her father saying although she owes much to him "for life and education" Othello is her husband "And so much duty as [her] mother show'd/ To [her father], preferring [him] before her [own]father,/ So much [she] challenge that [she] may profess/ Due to the Moor [her] lord"(1,3,530-37). Desdemona not only uses logic to present her argument but she is listened to by the Duke, senators, officers, and her father both when defending her love for Othello and when requesting to go with him to Cypress. Although her father may not agree with her decision, he understands that she is no longer under his authority. Desdemona demonstrates her persuasive skills. She is respectful and despite how she undermines her father’s authority, she is obedient to her husband as women in the Renaissance era were. Because women in the Renaissance time “were made to become dependent on a male,” the assumption Shakespeare made by making Desdemona compliant to her new husband, should not be considered in a derogatory manor towards women (“The Life and Roles of Elizabethan Era Women”). Shakespeare created Desdemona’s character based on the women in that were of his time and the idea that women owed submission to men was just a cultural norm.
In a 17th century typical marriage, women tended to be more restricted than men were, but because Othello was a moor and Desdemona was a white Venetian woman, in Othello’s mind she was in a higher social class. Throughout the play Othello and Desdemona’s race difference is noted. Iago tells Brabantio how a “black ram/ is tupping [his] white ewe.” Referring to Othello and Desdemona as black and white animals...

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