Gender roles and racism play a big part in Shakespeare’s Othello. “Othello is unique among Shakespeare's great tragedies. Unlike Hamlet, King Lear, and Macbeth, which are set against a backdrop of affairs of state and reverberate with suggestions of universal human concerns, Othello is set in a private world and focuses on the passions and personal lives of its major figures. Indeed, it has often been described as a "tragedy of character" (Locklear). Adding well-developed female characters to the play Othello creates a dimension of gender conflict and feminist views. The play’s behavior towards sexual differences as well as gender roles both solidifies Othello’s racist tones and complicates ethnic tensions.
Women played an important part in Othello, seeing as Desdemona was a part of the reason for Othello’s fall. “The chastity of a woman is highly values, and Desdemona’s perceived infidelity helps drive the action of the play ultimately leading to the deaths of many characters, including herself and Othello” (Evans). “Desdemona’s disobedience and willingness to disrupt the social order (by marrying outside her class, culture, and even race) are both edges of the sword that Iago uses, and therefore both must be discussed” (Peters, Dunlop and Relihan).
Desdemona remained subject to Othello all the way to her death, even covering for Othello by telling Emilia that she had killed herself, rather telling Emilia Othello had killed her. Desdemona was perfect to the effect that she was chaste and virtuous throughout the play. She also appeared intelligent and was even willing to stick up for herself and defend her love for Othello against her own father. However, in her relationship with Othello, she was passive and submissive. She acted like the stereotypical meek wife, despite her previous bravery and ability to stand up for herself. When Iago and Rodrigo informed Barbantio of Desdemona’s marriage to Othello, Iago constantly referred to Othello in terms of animals; ‘an old black ram in tupping your white ewe’ and ‘your daughter is covered with a Barbary horse’; this undoubtedly illustrates their regard towards Othello as they obviously cannot see the ‘man’ inside Othello but rather regarded Othello as a talking animal” (Singh). Iago described women as “Pictures out of doors, bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries, devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and housewives’ in your beds”. Othello was judged harshly simply because he was black. The female characters were judged by some characters, such as Othello and Iago, as unfaithful and deceptive, simply because they were women.
The play’s treatment of feminist tension and gender difference only serves to add to the racial overtones. Iago, as well as other characters in the play, treat Othello just as harshly as women are treated throughout the play. The female characters in Othello are assumed to be unfaithful, even by Othello...