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Two Interpretations Of Othello: A Feminist Reading, And A Reading Based On Class And Power

1434 words - 6 pages

Shakespeare's tragedy Othello has been brought to the stage hundreds, thousands of times with many different interpretations and readings due to its vast history of literary debate and analysis. Its thematic concerns are expansive and open to interpretation: they range from tragedy, love, power, jealousy, trust, class and race, and the actions of its characters often provoke controversy and harsh criticism, from Othello's "fatal flaw" of envy, to Desdemona's trivial persistence and Iago's sinister and deadly plotting. Modern audiences, too, have certain expectations and ideas about the play, and it is vital, when producing a play like Othello to take these expectations into consideration. For these reasons, I am proposing two potential readings, or interpretations of the play, a feminist reading and a reading based on the themes of class and power.FEMINIST READINGA feminist reading would give voice to the play's three female characters: Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca (the play's only female survivor), provoking sympathy within the audience for them and portraying them as the true victims of the avoidable tragedy. A feminist reading stems from the fact that in Shakespeare's times, women, whether married or not, fell roughly into two categories: that of a fair, innocent and virgin, or a cuckolding whore. A feminist reading also recognises that it is the men's deplorable attitudes in regard to women and gender that in part caused the tragedy, for instance, Othello's response to Emilia insistence that Desdemona is honest, "She says enough; yet she's a simple bawd/That cannot say as much" (Act 4 Sc 2). The three focus scenes here are Act 1 Scene 3, Act 4 Scene 3 and Act 5 Scene 2. Attention must also be paid to Bianca, who plays an unknowing role in Othello's jealousy. She receives Desdemona's handkerchief from Cassio and gives it back to him when she discovers it is another woman's. Her outburst at Cassio gives the on looking Othello what he thinks is proof of Desdemona's infidelity while displaying her strong character and standing up to a man, behaviour which does not follow the stereotypical expectations of women of the time.Act 1 Scene 1 establishes the context of a patriarchal society, and this is continued in Act 1 Scene 3 with Desdemona summoned to the Senate to defend her new marriage. She clearly outlines the nature of women's status: "You are lord of all my duty, / I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my husband;/ And so much duty as my mother showed/ To you, preferring you before her father, / So much I challenge..." In doing this, Desdemona shows simultaneously her strong will by "challenging" her father, and her reliance on the patriarchal structures inherent in her life. The only way she can gain independence from her father is by submitting to another man, her husband. By doing this, she ultimately pays a price: her life. She, as a woman, is a designated prize or asset to her father (owner), and then husband, as reflected Brabantio's...

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