Feminism In Othello And The Twelfth Night

1083 words - 5 pages

Othello serves as an example to demonstrate the expectations of an Elizabethan society, the practice of privileges in patriarchal marriages and the suppression and restriction of femininity. According to Elizabethan beliefs, women were vassals for both marriage and breeding, seen as passive subordinates in comparison to the patriarchy of male domination. Patriarchal rule justified women’s subordination as the natural order, because women were thought to be psychologically and physiologically inferior to men In terms of Othello, representations of women clearly conform to the expectations of an Elizabethan society. For instance there are three female characters in Othello: Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca, with each of these characters behaving and conducting themselves in ways that are linked to the ideological expectations of men. This is demonstrated through the character of Desdemona who as Othello’s wife is the embodiment of passitivity and vulnerability. This is illustrated through her submissive nature, which represents her as passive throughout, regardless of whether she has done wrong or not. For example her use of language defines her passive nature, where she states ‘ I am obedient’, reflecting her subservience to masculine rule ( act 3 scene 3 p.g. 89). Alternatively it could be argued that the use of the pronoun ‘I’ is authorative suggesting that the sentence has a double meaning ; she is obedient yet an individual in her own right. It infers that although she does fit the stereotypical convention of a passive female, she will also stand up for herself when it matters. However a critique of this viewpoint is that throughout she continues to conform to masculine rule and is faithful, even when she is being victimized. This can be seen in her final scene, where she praises Othello for his unjust treatment of her ‘ commend me to my kind lord’. Not only does Desdemona willingly accept death at the hands of her ‘lord’, but she also portrays the ideological female of the time, a woman who is tame, meek and mild , ready to serve her lord unto death.
In contrast the Twelfth Night questions the supposed supremacy and Patriarchy of men. For example Viola dresses up as a male , in order to not only subvert gender norms but also to secure a coveted position in society, that her sex cannot obtain. In turn her dressing up as a man - Cesario – is both comedic and catastrophic – comedic because she is playing the part of a man when she is in fact a woman and catastrophic because it releases a chain of inevitable events. For example Viola falls in love with Orsino but cannot tell him, because he thinks she is a man, while Olivia, the object of Orsino’s affection, falls for Viola in her guise as Cesario. There is a clear homoerotic subtext here: Olivia is in love with a woman, even if she thinks he is a man, and Orsino often remarks on Cesario’s beauty, suggesting that he is attracted to Viola even before her male disguise is removed. Orsino’s...

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