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Non Masculine Roles In Othello Essay

2131 words - 9 pages

Non-masculine Roles in Othello  

 
   In William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello the three women characters have interesting roles. Through the dialogue and action other roles are stated or implied as applying to women.

 

In “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello” Valerie Wayne presents Desdemona’s reaction to Iago’s verbal expressions concerning women’s role as sexual objects:

 

Iago instead claims that four different kinds of women are sexually wanton: either their beauty or intelligence help them to bed, or their ugliness or foolishness get them there anyway. Fair or foul, wise or foolish, women are all whores to him. Desdemona dismisses this ‘miserable praise’ as ‘old fond paradoxes to make fools laugh i’ th’ alehouse’ (136-7), but it is a particularly rank form of such mockery that dilates in every instance upon women as objects for sexual use and then blames them, as whores, for a use constructed by that discourse. (163)

 

At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. This is the initial reference to the role of women in the play – the role of wife. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar descriptions of Desdemona’s involvement with the general, Brabantio arises from bed. Iago’s bawdy references to the senator’s daughter present a second role of women – that of illicit lover. With Roderigo’s help, he gathers a search party to go and find Desdemona and bring her home. The father’s attitude is that life without his Desdemona will be much worse than before:

 

It is too true an evil: gone she is;

     And what's to come of my despised time

     Is nought but bitterness. (1.1)

 

Here is seen another role or function of women in the drama – that of comforter for the aged. Brabantio is the old father, and he hates to lose the comforting services of his Desdemona. The daughter’s husband Othello expresses his sentiments to Iago regarding his relationship with the senator’s daughter, saying

 

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)

 

In other words, he greatly appreciates his Desdemona in the role of wife. Once that Brabantio has located Othello, the father presses charges publicly in order to have Desdemona returned:

 

     To prison, till fit time

     Of law and course of direct session

     Call thee to answer. (1.2)

 

The proceedings which take place before the Duke of Venice cause the young wife to assume a heretofore-unheard-of role for herself – that of barrister. She is compelled by the situation to stand before the senators and duke, members of the City Council of Venice, and present...

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