"Othello": Women Breaking Through Societal Roles

2974 words - 12 pages

Women have more rights and freedoms in today's society than in previous eras. The lines between social classes are more relaxed, expectations have been lowered, and a woman speaking out has become more accepted. Today, women are allowed to do whatever men are. This, however, was not always the case. Take, for example, William Shakespeare's play Othello. There are two main female characters in the play: Desdemona, Othello's wife; and Emilia, Iago's wife. Both of these women fit into a certain social category from the time, each category with its own specific expectations and requirements. Throughout Othello, whether or not these women take action to break through the societal expectations has a great effect on their ends.Desdemona is one of the many characters whose attitude evolves throughout the play. She begins the play by speaking out against her father, which was generally unacceptable, and ends they play exhibiting blind obedience to her husband's wishes, which results in her death. Desdemona is the wife of a noble warrior and daughter of a senator, Brabantio, who calls her "...a maid so tender, fair, and happy.../ [one of] the wealthy curled darlings of our nation..." (1.2.85-87) There is much expected of her "wealthy", elevated class of nobility. Women of the highest class were expected to be beautiful ("fair"), and "never proud". They had to "have tongue at will", but never speak too much, and when they were angry, they were not allowed to take revenge on their enemies. They were expected to be able to think for themselves, but "ne'er disclose her mind", and not pay attention to any courtship besides that of their husbands (2.1.163-172). This is all, however, according to Iago, Emilia's husband, so it is what men expected from their women, and they expect many things, including loyalty.One of Desdemona's principal responsibilities is loyalty to the men in her life, her father and her husband. This is shown in the third scene, where Desdemona says tells us that she senses a "divided duty" between her father and Othello. She feels that to Brabantio, she is "bound for life and education", and those two things teach her to respect her father, because he is "the lord of duty". (1.3.210-214) This passage shows us that women in that time period always had a duty to men, and were even expected to perform their duty "divided" or not. Desdemona originally mentions here that her father is the "lord of duty", putting him above all other possible receivers of Desdemona's respect. But Desdemona then declares that her real duty is to Othello, saying that her mother showed more duty to her husband, "preferring you [Brabantio] before her [Desdemona's mother's] father", and therefore she would do the same for Othello (1.3.214-218). In these consecutive passages, we learn where Desdemona feels her duty lies, and it is to her husband Othello rather than her father . It is interesting that the word "duty" is repeated three times in these passages ("Divided...

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