Othello Essay

The plot of the Othello tragedy, as well as the plots of other works by Shakespeare, was not invented by the author. It is a very accurate arrangement of the novel by Giraldi Chintio “The Venetian Moor” from his collection “One Hundred Stories” (1566), which became known to Shakespeare, apparently in someone’s retelling or in an English translation that did not reach us (the Italian language Shakespeare did not knew), the tragedy of Shakespeare nonetheless in the main radically different from its original source.

In his retelling, this plot acquired a more elevated and harmonious sound. With amazing skill, the English playwright painted the vivid, lively characters of his characters. Shakespeare consistently reveals the psychology of his characters, their feelings and thoughts, pushing for further actions.

Example 1: Depiction of Female Characters in Shakespeare’s Othello

“It is their husbands’ faults, if their wives do fail”. Othello, a play about race, power and gender is one of the best works of Shakespeare, and highlights few of the major societal issues of his time. On the one side is Othello, who is caught in his racial inferiority, fighting the prejudices his society has heaped upon him. And on the other side is Desdemona, who has transgressed her gender lines to marry the Moor, but is ultimately pushed into the sphere of submission and obedience – the traditional place where a woman should keep herself.

We are made to wonder then: Whose tragedy is Othello really about and who was the real victim, Othello for his racial inferiority or Desdemona for her gender? If Othello makes himself appear to be a victim of Iago’s plans, confessing “nought I did in hate, but all in honor”, then he had too had once made Desdemona his victim. And not Desdemona alone, the other two women in the play, Emilia and Bianca face similar consequences. Emilia is another chaste, obedient and loyal wife to Iago – the malignant conniver, worser than Desdemona, she is never treated as a wife.

And the last Bianca is, in fact, a fallen woman – a prostitute. The treatment of women in the play and the assumptions made about them removes the curtains drawn and triggers the single question in the minds of the readers – How true is the depiction of women in the play, and did Shakespeare’s society treat women in the same manner? As a matter of fact, seventeenth century England did not reserve a grand place for women, and feminist writings on women’s deplorable lives have come up mostly during Shakespeare’s time.

This paper will study the three women characters and emit some light on the injustice faced by them and how they have been mere projections of male prejudices – they are assumed to be what men think them to be. The protagonist of the play is the beautiful, fair-skinned Venetian Desdemona. As her name would stand to mean ‘ill-fated’, Desdemona proves to be the most-affected victim of Iago, as until Othello comes to smother her, she was unaware of the cruel game played against her. Innocently in love ith Othello, she has been extremely loyal and supportive to her husband. When the play first introduces Desdemona, she is a different person from what she will become in Cyprus. Bold in her approach and almost fearless, she does not resemble the Venetian women of seventeenth century; by leaving her father’s house and marrying the Moor, thus committing miscegenation she takes her first step in redefining her role as a ‘woman’. She confirms Othello’s speech and accepts Othello as her husband.

With her cunning, she smartly handles the situation and adeptly performs her “divided duty” – to her father for “life and education”, and to Othello for being her husband and companion; she admits her wifely behavior descending from her ‘mother’, who had also once preferred her husband to her father. Her love is not affected by Othello’s racial difference as she could overlook Othello’s physical ugliness and fall in love with the man inside him; she saw Othello’s “visage in his mind”.

She also subverts feminism by unflinchingly asserting her sexuality and her love affair with Othello, and firmly says, “I did love the Moor to live with him”, and decides to follow him to Cyprus. That is the only time we see Desdemona’s vigor to stand for her defense. The shift of the play from Venice to Cyprus is not just spatial, it also has symbolic overtones. As from then onwards, Desdemona is reallocated to the position she tried to transgress, although in a different form – this time, playing a wife.

Without any relatives or acquaintances, in Cyprus Desdemona is all on her own and all the more vulnerable. Her marriage becomes a scandal, “not in her failure to receive her father’s prior consent but in her husband’s blackness. That blackness- the sign of all that the society finds frightening and dangerous- is the indelible witness to Othello’s permanent status as an outsider”, and to convince him the truth in Desdemona’s love is impossible. Being a self-fashioner, he is always in need of symbols and signs to believe in Desdemona’s idea about him as her hero.

First, her confirmation speech becomes the symbol of her love, then, to continue the trust-game Othello gives her a handkerchief – his ancestral property, received from his mother, who in her turn had received it from an old witch as a blessing to her marital life. The appearance of the handkerchief is believed to be a white cloth with a red strawberry imprinted on it. Symbolically it represents the bedspread of a married woman, with her virginal blood-stains on it, and also becomes the symbol of Desdemona’s chastity, purity and her loving, civilizing sexual power.

With the loss of it she loses Othello’s trust, and as Carol Neely puts it – “The handkerchief is lost literally and symbolically not because of the failure of Desdemona’s love but because of Othello’s loss of faith in that love”; love is not sustained through symbols and signs but through conviction. This brings out the frail nature of Othello’s love for Desdemona, held not by his heart but by the handkerchief. Othello’s fear of being deceived and cuckolded rises from the flaw that is inherent in him; the self that would never grow out of the uncertainties for being racially inferior looks upon Desdemona as the’ strumpet’.

A chaste wife, being killed by her husband because he lacked self-identity and the power to recognize the devil inside him is universally acknowledged as the most appalling crime committed against an innocent woman. Another woman is Emilia, wife to Iago and the only companion of Desdemona in Cyprus. As the play progresses, she emerges from a common maid to a heroic individual. Dismissing Iago’s complains about Emilia’s noisiness Desdemona says: “Alas! She has no speech”. Desdemona seems right until the middle of the play. Emilia has no existence apart from her “instrumentality to the plot”.

She passes the handkerchief to Iago, unaware of his plans: “what he will/ Heaven knows not I. / I nothing but to please his fantasy”. Emilia is heard speaking elaborately only in Act IV, scene iii also termed the ‘willow scene’, which stages the conversation between Desdemona and Emilia. In this scene, Emilia comes across as a realist with her ideas like: “The world’s a huge thing: it is a great price / For a small vice” and when she says that wrong and right are relative terms, and wrongs can easily be transformed into right by the power-wielders.

The most striking words are when she says that a husband is liable for his wife’s infidelity, as their neglect or envy or suspicion egg on the woman to commit treachery. According to Gayle Greene: “Emilia’s is a perspective to which we wholly ascribe, entrenched as it is in a material reality, but her vision complements Desdemona’s and represents some of the bawdy and toughness that Desdemona lacks”. He further continues saying Emilia’s clarity of ideas can be attributed to her social class: she has never been adulated, she is no one’s jewel and has remained clear-eyed and without illusions.

Although she did nurture her husband’s fantasies like Desdemona. However, her previous error, unknowingly committed can be easily forgiven because of her sorority ties with Desdemona. She has not only been a friend in Desdemona’s loneliest times, but also becomes her voice in Act V, scene ii after her death: “O. the more angel she, /And you the blacker devil! ” Like Desdemona, she too faces disillusionment about the man she has tied knots with on realizing Iago’s misdeeds, pronounced by her diversely inflected reiterations of “my husband”.

Desdemona, even on her death-bed made her last attempt to protect Othello from his guilt by replying “Nobody, I myself” to Emilia’s “Who hath done this deed? ” and spells her last words of loyalty “Commend me to my kind lord”. Emilia inverts her role as a wife and commits herself to her duties as a loyal maid to her mistress: “’Tis proper I obey him – but not now. / Perchance, Iago, I will ne’er go home”, until she is abruptly dispatched by a stab from Iago. Of the two women in the play, two are killed by their husbands after being despised as whores; the third woman, Bianca is actually a whore.

She survives not through her own endeavor to appropriate herself to fit in the men’s world, but simply because “she is not central enough to be pulled into Iago’s plot”. Women here are objects of men’s “horrible fancies’, fancies which are “projections of their own worst fears and failings”. They are either silent spectators throughout their lives, never retaliating, or else immediately silenced if they ever make an attempt to over-rule men’s scheme of things.


1. G.K Hunter’s ‘Murdering Wives in Othello’.
2. www.guttenberg.com/Othello
3. www.projectmuse.com/Othello and Desdemona
4. Introduction and Chosen essays from Norton edition.

Example 2: Shakespeare’s portrayal of Othello

In Shakespeare’s time black people were classed as second-class citizens. They were often looked at as devil-like and evil. This was, however, a stereotypical view, often accepted by the people of Shakespeare’s day.

People looked at the Bible to show that black people were devil-like and evil. The Bible tells the story of Noah and the Ark. In the Ark it was forbidden to have children, as there would not be enough food. However, Ham, one of Noah’s sons, decided to disobey these rules, as he wanted to have the son who would be ruler of the world. When Noah found out and they returned to land, Noah banished Ham to Africa. Ham had committed sin and was evil and devil-like because he had disobeyed his father for his own self-interest, risking the lives of others in the Ark. As black people were said to have originated form Africa, where Ham was banished, they could be descendants of Ham, who was evil, and therefore black people were evil and devil-like too.

Black people were also said to be over-sexed, unstable, irrational, suffer from fits, and be devil-like. In the prejudiced mind, Shakespeare presents Othello to match all of these stereotypical categories that black people were said to be. People with an open mind, however, can simply see that Othello is a man in love.

In Act 4, Scene 1, line 40, Othello has a fit. This matches with the stereotypical view that back people have fits. However, Othello has a fit because he was in a rage. The reason being that he had become so disturbed by the stories of his beloved wife having been unfaithful. It is possible for anyone, white or black, to have a fit if they were as distressed as Othello was.

Othello may be seen as over-sexed. He talks in a very passionate manner. Shakespeare presents Othello to have a glorified situation of his and Desdemona’s affection for each other. It is more likely; therefore, that Othello is infatuated in their love than over-sexed. The depth of his passionate language, in which you can see that his love is more than a hallucination, is shown throughout the beginning of the play. “Amen to that, sweet powers/ cannot speak enough of this content/ it stops me here: it is too much joy”(II i 188). Othello declares this after he and Desdemona are reunited after their journey to Cyprus. Othello is talking passionately to Desdemona, however, this does not immediately prove him of being over-sexed, it shows the love he is sharing with Desdemona.

Othello could be seen as irrational when he kills Desdemona by smothering her, Act 5, Scene 2, and Line 85. Iago, however, is far more irrational then Othello ever could have be seen to be and Iago is white. Iago’s irrationality can be seen in one of his soliloquies. ” I’ll have our Michael Cassio on the hip, / Abuse him to the Moor in the rank garb-/ For I fear Cassio with my night cap too-“(II i 286-288). Here Iago is saying how he believes his wife has been sleeping with Cassio, of which he has no verification. He says in effect that he wants Cassio dead. This shows Iago’s irrationality because he has no reason to have Cassio dead, or to even contemplate that he has slept with his wife. Iago provokes many deaths, without remorse, which shows that he has extreme irrationality.

Being devil-like was another typical view people had of blacks. Othello while he is in a rage could be seen as devil-like. ” Therefore confess thee freely of thy sin;/ For to deny each article with oath/ Cannot remove nor choke the strong conception/ That I do groan withal. Thou art to die” (V ii 54-56). Othello speaks these words to Desdemona before he murders her. Othello has no prove of her infidelity, except from what Iago has told him. Othello is in a huge rage as he is about to kill her and therefore could be seen as devil-like.

Iago is also very devil-like, more than Othello and he is white. This contradicts the stereotypical view of black people in Shakespeare’s’ time. Act 5 Scene 2 Line 235 Iago kills his wife Emilia for speaking of Desdemona’s faithfulness, therefore showing Iago’s deceitfulness.

Shakespeare cleverly presents Othello stereotypically, but also as a normal person. He could have done this to suit the different audiences, but he may have used these contradictions as a way of making people less prejudiced. Shakespeare thought carefully about the presentation of Othello’s character as it shows two sides of a black man.

Othello is a great general who has also won the affections of a white woman. Shakespeare was not the first to have presented a black man on stage. But he was the first to have not presented that black character as beastly and ferocious. He presents a warrior with great passion.

Othello’s language throughout the play is full of great passion. “All’s well now, sweeting; come away to bed”(II i 234). This is one example of Othello’s passion. At this point in Othello his passion is only towards Desdemona in a loving way. As Othello develops, Othello’s passion changes as he becomes wrapped in a passion of jealousy. Othello then becomes an uncontrollable, violent man. Othello never stops his passionate loving for Desdemona but feels it his duty to kill her before she breaks more men’s hearts. “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men”(V ii 6). Othello says these words to himself while Desdemona is sleeping, before he is about to smother her.

At the beginning of Othello you would never have thought that anything could ever come between a couple bearing so much love for each other. However, all that was needed to break this loving couple apart was Iago, gently introducing ideas, mentioning, just little things like Cassio’s quick departures from Desdemona. “Cassio, my lord; No sure I cannot think it/ That he would steal away so guilty-like, / Seeing you coming.”(III iii 38-40). Iago keeps slipping in comments about Desdemona, until Othello becomes so caught up with jealousy that he is convinced of his wife’s unfaithfulness. As Othello has so much passion, his anger is brewed into a huge mental tornado, which takes time to build up, but when at full strength can destroy even what seem like the strongest things, Othello and Desdemona’s marriage, and resulting in the death of Desdemona.

Example 3: The Turning point in Othello

The passage in Act 3, Scene III of Shakespeare’s Othello, where Othello cracks down on Iago and demands proof from him of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness, is the turning point of the play. Iago has Othello in the palm of his hand, and has Othello’s entire fate planned out. He has done this by making him think that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio. In this scene, Shakespeare employs the use of three literary devices to construct the scene as a turning point and push the play forward. Firstly, the use of metaphors are essentially to provide the atmosphere of the scene.

Then, Shakespeare uses dramatic irony to foreshadow what Iago is going to do. Finally, the setting is used to position and set up the scene as the turning point where Othello’s tragic flaw will be exposed. All of this helps to achieve the purpose of showing how this is the turning point in the play. The first literary device used is vile metaphors. Othello, who is the one who talks the most during this passage and uses very contemptible language, which is quite different to how people talk before this point. Othello’s harsh language serves to heighten the tension in the atmosphere.

In addition, it demonstrates the decay of Othello’s character by the theme of jealousy and its power. The first place in the passage where Othello demonstrates this is near the beginning of the passage by saying, “Thou hast set me on the rack. ” Othello’s metaphor between his torture and medieval torture shows not only the seriousness of the situation, but that his character would refer to such heinous instruments. Furthermore, Othello blatantly threatens Iago when he says, “Thou hadst been better have been born a dog/ Than answer my waked wrath! This language would be unbecoming of a gentleman, during Shakespeare’s time, thus it demonstrates that Othello’s character has degraded completely because of the jealousy planted by Iago. The second literary device used by Shakespeare is that of dramatic irony. However, it is in its most extreme form. This is shown in the passage when Othello tells Iago, “Villain, be sure thou prove my love a whore! / Be sure of it. Give me the ocular proof. ” Here Othello is demanding Iago to prove that Desdemona unfaithful with visual evidence.

The ocular proof is Othello’s entire basis for killing Desdemona, and the proof is coming from Iago, thus putting him in control of Othello’s fate. The handkerchief is the ocular proof that Iago produces in order prove Desdemona a cheater and a liar. This makes the passage a turning point in the play when Iago gains total control over Othello, while Othello doesn’t realize he’s being played, and will only after the plan is complete. Finally, the third literary device used is setting. The passage is in the middle of Act 3, which would place it close or right on top of the climax, for a standard 5-part play.

At the beginning of the scene, Cassio was talking to Desdemona about getting reinstated, and with Iago’s help Othello misinterprets it and thinks that Cassio is sneaking around behind his back. This shows that Iago has started to mold Othello into a jealous monster that will eventually lead to his downfall. This scene is the turning point because Iago has had the opportunity to have Othello see Cassio in Othello’s bedroom, talking to Othello’s wife, while whispering like a snake to him, that perhaps there’s something more between Desdemona and Cassio than meets the eye.

In conclusion, these three literary devices, metaphors, dramatic irony, and setting allow the scene to ascertain itself as being the turning point of the play. Othello has the seeds of jealousy planted within him now, and Iago is gulling both Othello and Roderigo. The effect on the audience is that they feel Othello’s emotions and can see the complete degradation of Othello’s character, allowing the audience to get in the mood for the downfall of Othello.

Example 4: How important is it that Othello is black?

Othello’s race and colour are explored in the play, especially in terms of his interracial marriage with Desdemona and therefore are very important and significant. The play ‘Othello’ generates dichotomy views on the issue of race at that time and the different confrontations of it allow us to acquire a perspective on Elizabethan attitudes as well as to consider our own argument.

One could argue against the importance of Othello’s colour like A.C. Bradley who introduced a contention, which acquaints us with such an argument. However, even though Bradley’s aspiration to respond to race in a humane manner is hesitant, it is reasoned as he focuses on character and motivation.

Bradley fails to observe the racial issue a very significant one and considers it to be: ‘unimportant in regard to the essentials of Othello’s character.’ He does not find Othello’s colour damaging to his dignity either: ‘He comes before us, dark and grand, with a light upon him from the sun where he was born’ and recalls that in his view an Englishman would have been as much a victim as this Moor in these circumstances.

An interesting issue that many critics debate about is Othello’s precise ethnic origins, taking great pains to prove that Othello would have been Arabic in appearance. What Bradley explains on this issue is: “Perhaps if we saw Othello coal-black with the bodily eye, the aversion of our blood…would overpower our imagination”. He most probably had in mind a very dark skinned African Othello, which he argues would be inappropriate for the play.

A further argument against the importance of Othello’s race could be seen from Jane Adamson who recalls nothing on the debate about the exact shade of Othello’s skin, apart from the fact that it is absurd. She assumes that the significance of race in the play: “has usually been over-emphasised by 20th century critics and producers”. I too agree with her acuity of the matter and furthermore stress to highlight the unsuitable overemphasis on the aspect of Othello’s skin colour because other elements in the play such as the tragedy of the play are being isolated.

On the basis of being against the importance of Othello’s colour and race, it could be argued that Shakespeare presented a black hero instead of a white one to introduce the idea of difference or simply included it as a stage decoration, and from Bradley’s point of view if anyone congratulated Shakespeare on the “accuracy of his racial psychology” – he would have laughed!

It is also fair to argue that Othello’s race is a very important and crucial issue that many would say interferes with the ethics of the Elizabethan principles at that time, but some chose to find justifications in order to come to terms with Othello, his race and his presence in the play. In his criticism Calderwood focuses on Othello as an extreme outsider amongst the Venetians: “Moors were simply outsiders, the other who is not like us” however he concludes by awarding Othello his acceptance due to Othello’s Christianity.

Throughout his criticism Calderwood does not stop supporting the idea of Othello being an outsider, by calling him a ‘sub-human’ and emphasising his Moorish and demonic qualities by stating that the Venetian people were ‘honest citizens’ and Othello was a ‘deceitful infidel’ who was more closely related to animals and the ‘Prince of Darkness’.

Nevertheless Calderwood contradicts himself as he jumps from criticising Othello about his race to excusing his dislocation in Venice by accepting the Moor based on his Christianity and his similarity with the Venetians in religion and affirmative actions. Calderwood goes on to reinforce his viewpoint by saying that with his new Christian attitude and lifestyle Othello essentially belongs in Venice “because he is newly washed in the Blood of the Lamb” and he is not actually an evil enemy amongst honest citizens. He also insists that although Othello is from a different race that comes with many negative associations as well as that he was a former ‘infidel’, he should be accepted based on his positive Christian characteristics.

Bearing in mind the argument put forward by Calderwood, it is necessary to consider the subsequent viewpoint: Could it be argued that perhaps due to the criticisms, needless and false comments from different characters like Iago on the subject of Othello’s race and his marriage to Desdemona a negative transition occurs from a noble Christian to a traditional black Moor? The pressures of Othello’s marriage and the negative reactions of those around him do add to his downfall, all of which race is a major factor of, and that underlines the importance of Othello’s race in the play.

Calderwood set up Othello as a terrific monster, and attempted to renovate him as a Christian, who was worthy of being accepted into his surroundings, however in my opinion, in attempt to explain why he feels Othello deserved the acceptance because of his Christianity, Calderwood’s contention is unconvincing but interesting as its an intriguing justification for such a important question of matter in the play as ‘race’.

It is difficult to settle on one aspect of the dispute as the contentions introduced by Bradley, Adamson and Calderwood seem to evolve into an assumption against the importance of Othello’s colour and race. I must however stress to extend the argument in favour of the importance of Othello’s race and colour.

All criticism of the marriage is based solely on ‘racial considerations’ and this provokes characters to turn against Othello. At the beginning of the play Othello sees himself as worthy of Desdemona’s love and his self-perception is that of equality with Desdemona. He accentuates this when he says: ‘She had eyes and chose me’ (III.3.192). Othello begins as a respectable Christian general, however, with extensive criticism such as Brabantio’s, Othello loses confidence and becomes easily persuaded by Iago who views Othello as a ‘violently jealous fool like all Africans’ and ‘a lascivious moor’ (I.1.125).

With his insight on the nature of Othello, Iago’s menacing and insidious racism deteriorates throughout the play and causes the obliteration of the black and white harmony that existed before and causes Othello to behave in an artificial way setting him into an utterly destructive fury that destroys himself and his marriage.

When Iago annihilates Othello’s positive perception of Desdemona, Othello starts to feel the threat towards his honour and articulates his anger by speaking of his colour in a cynical way: “Her name, that was as fresh as Dian’s visage, is now begrimed and black as mine own face” (III.3.389-91). It is a good example to show how Othello’s unawareness of the significance of his race changed by Iago’s racism and cruel intentions, turned him into a completely different person, conscious of his displacement and Desdemona’s infidelity.

Desdemona alone has always acknowledged Othello’s inner worth: ‘I saw Othello’s visage in his mind’ (I.3.252), and even when his morality was concealed she preserved her vision: ‘…his unkindness may defeat my life, but never taint my love’ (IV.2.162). She is unswervingly loyal to Othello and even when she dies, she declares her love for the inner, obscured Othello, saying: ‘Commend me to my kind lord’ (V.2.126). Desdemona identifies her husband’s jealousy as ignorable and continues to give him her love to the fullest extent: ‘…my love doth so approve him, that his stubbornness, his checks and frowns …have grace in them’ (IV.3.19).

Considering the controversial notions, it is also crucial to analyse attitudes to race in the Elizabethan era, as historicist or Elizabethan attitudes to race in the 16th century were very different to the attitudes now. One could argue that Othello’s race, being black in colour, had a shock value effect on Shakespeare’s audience.

To the Elizabethans Othello’s skin colour would not only have displayed a ‘visual ugliness’, but moral inequalities. His interracial marriage with Desdemona – a white female, also added to the antipathy of the audience, but also to their interest and excitement as it could be seen that the contrast in their skin colours would in fact provide the exciting theme of forbidden love, but it is the subplot which indicates the threatening atmosphere of hate and distrust in the play.

In Vaughn’s argument, the critic’s focus is on the reaction of the Elizabethan audience towards Othello. She states that Othello’s dark race proved to be “visually significant to the reaction of the audience” and that his physical nature gives visual evidence of him not belonging to his Venetian surroundings.

Vaughn reveals that Elizabethans were fascinated by Othello’s experiences and related his black colour with “negation, dirt, sin and death”. His explorations and adventures also contributed to his ‘otherness’ and his ‘foreignness’ with the connections to ‘nakedness, savagery, and general immorality’. It is true to say that at that period of time the Elizabethans would recognize having black skin as having satanic qualities and perversion, and would link the vilest qualities to African and Moorish people.

I believe that the Elizabethan audience could have been appalled by the joining of such ‘contrasting figures’ and probably viewed Othello’s blackness as being associated with dirt, filth, and the devil as in the Elizabethan mind Othello’s race proved him inferior and unworthy of Desdemona and all her positive Venetian qualities. Whereas in modern day criticisms, such a matter would not be concerned as an issue worthy debating about, because ethnic groups became very accepted in England and the different approaches to the issue of race help us acquire different interpretations.

Elizabethan environment at the time of the play was tense and the generalizations that were made during that time. Her observation on these generalizations helped to clarify and explain the stereotypes made during the play. Despite the insight into the reaction and thoughts of the Shakespearean audience, the article tended to be repetitive by restating the negative qualities that were associated with Othello’s race instead of explaining why they were associated with one another.

Concluding could it be argued that Shakespeare made Othello black in order to explore dislocation along with opposition and the consequences of such issues? It would be inconsiderate to ignore the importance of Othello’s race in the play because it is most definitely a significant matter. In order to slightly captivate his audience, Shakespeare could have easily added a slight feature in Othello’s complexion to add the foreign affect that would be enough, or he could have even made him completely white, nonetheless Shakespeare insisted upon the blackness of Othello as otherwise there wouldn’t be the mention to intentionally repellent imagery.

Example 5: Analysis of Female Characters in Shakespeare’s Othello

In this paper I have tried to analyse the female characters of Shakespeare’s Othello in the light of Elizabethan Era, and status of women in 12th century, the age from which the character of Othello is taken. I have also discussed the status of woman in Christianity in Shakespearean times. The main purpose of this research article in the analyse the female characters of Othello that they were not different from the real life of Shakespearean times nor alien from the women of 12th Century.

Othello a black Moor, a warrior, won many battles, becomes a victim of jealousy and conspiracy of Roderigo. Who hates Othello not due to racial prejudice but rather jealousy that Othello has won fair Desdemona (1-1) Shakespeare’s primary source for Othello was Un Capitano moro, (A Moorish Captain), one of the One hundred short stories in the collection. Gli Hecatommithi published by the Italian, Cinthio (web) (1566-Venice). Cinthio’s story provides the backbone for Shakespeare’s plot although he changed and introduced some minor characters e. ; Brabantio and Roderigo.

In Cinthio’s episode Iago’s motive for revenge against Othello was that he loved Desdemona, who out rightly rejected his proposal. The tragedy of Othello takes place in Venice and Cypress, Iago uses Desdemona through Emilia and inflames a good man with jealousy. In the beginning of the play the seed of conflict are sown when Roderigo shouts in dark at Brabantio’s house, the news of Desdemona’s elopement that she: hath made a gross revolt, Tying her duty, beauty wit and fortunes.

In an extravagant and wheeling stranger Of here and everywhere” Brabontio thinks that it was due to some black magic that was used by Othello, the black moor, we see that there are hints of hostility within the play about Othello’s Moorish origin and his differences in religion and culture when Othello relates his story of love before the Duke in the Venation Senate and he convinces all of them that he never used magic or drugs. Barbantio demands that Desdemona should testify, she affirms her duty to her father (I. iii) (179-180).

Who gave her life and education, but asserts she has a higher duty than this to Othello, as he is her husband. My Noble Father I also perceive here a divided duty; To you I am bound for life and education; My life and education both do learn me How to respect you; your are the lord of duty; I am therefore your daughter; but here is my husband. (I. iii. 180-185) Desdemona is presented as a true Christian character possessing all the virtues of honourable woman. She respects her father, admits his love and vows to obey her husband. She suffers more than any other character of the play.

Othello also loves Desdemona from his heart in the beginning and utters it as: But that I have the gentle Desdemona, I would not my unhoused free condition Put into circumscription and confine For the sea’s worth (I. ii. 25-28) The love of Othello is corrupted by Iago’s conspiracy and Othello is trapped in his jealousy inflamed by handkerchief plot. His loves turns him mad and he uses the weapon of violence against the fair Desdemona. His hate is so much for Desdemona that he says to Lodovico: Ay; you did wish that I would make her turns.

Sir, she turns, and turns and yet go on, And turn again; and she can weep, sir, weep; And she is obedient, as you say obedient, Very obedient. (IV. iii 252-257) Thus Othello implies that Desdemona is available to Lodovico or to any one else, also, because she is as obedient that she can obey any one. What is the significance of handkerchief of Othello? In Othello there are two accounts of handkerchief, in the first Othello warms Desdemona that his handkerchief is love charm with “magic in the web” given to his mother by an Egyptian.

In the record account Othello tells Grantiano it was “an antique token/ My father gave my father”. Othello’s two different versions make readers/audience baffle that which one is true. The fatal handkerchief is very important in the play (Andrews) In the beginning in of the play Desdemona is shown as an adventurous spirit when her husband Othello is called for military duty in Cypress, she begs to go with him and cannot think of remaining alone at home without her husband. Even Othello woos Desdemona by telling adventurous stories of actions and danger.

She heard all these tales with “Greedy ears” Desdemona wishes that “The leavens had made her a man like Othello” (I. iii) Desdemona is very expressive about her love for Othello she is bold and beautiful in expressing her love for Othello even before her father and the duke and she also openly announces that she will go to Cypress, which shows that she was pretty frank about her sexual desire for her husband. Desdemona suffers much more than any other character of the play. She is a good natured young and beautiful lady ,and possesses all good qualities and Christian virtues.

Then why she suffers so much? Shakespearean conveys the possibility that God’s deeds in the play, a work that prompts playgoers to believe that she deserves happiness (her taking Cassio’s case as her own), directly leads to her death” (Hunt 2004). The character of Desdemona is that if an “ideal wife” as Carroll Camden calls her in Iago on woman (2004). In Othello Desdemona disobeying her, back chatting with Iago (II. i), lying Othello of her death (V. ii), admiring Lodovico as a “Proper Man” (IV. I) and pressing Cassio’s suit to Othello.

It is important to note that several critics cite Desdemona for violating Elizabethan or Jacobean law and propriety by denying her father and running off with the Moor (Kolin). Desdemona is one the most beautiful heroines of Shakespeare, when Brabantio arrives to confront Othello, he says that if it is impossible that “a maid so tender, fair and happy” (I. ii 66). Would ever love a scary black man like Othello. Cassio describes her beauty “That paragon description and wild fame” (II. i), here he means to say that Desdemona is more beautiful than ny possible description of her beauty, more beautiful than the wildest story of any woman’s beauty.

She is indeed the “most fresh and delicate creature” (II-iii-19). When Othello saw his handkerchief is Cassio’s hand, Iago encourages Othello’s murderous mood by reminding him that Cassio gave the precious handkerchief to his whore, Bianca. Iago continues to subtly increase Othello’s fury through his use of sexual innuendo as he tells Othello that “Cassio has the handkerchief and implies that he has confessed to sleeping with Desdemona” (Bate & Rasmussen 2009).

Othello was still uncertain; his disjointed language shows the breakdown of his self-control (IV-i). He falls down unconscious as Cassio arrives and Iago tells him that Othello has epilepsy, warning that he breaks into savage madness if woken from fit. It is interesting to note in Othello, Shakespeare uses female characters through Iago for the downfall of Othello. The conspiracies are woven with the help of women. All the three woman characters of Othello and theare used against Othello. It is true that Othello is all male- world- play of Shakespeare.

Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are rejected by their male partners and all three love their men unselfishly, even when confronted by behavior that we would deem grounds for divorce at the very last. All the women are engaged to unequal partnerships. They feel more for their self-centered men than the men are capable for reciprocating. However, the women also display genuine emotions toward each other that is not reflected in any of the male characters. Besides Desdemona, Emilia is an important character, she is elder and cynical than Desdemona. She develops a close relationship with the young married Desdemona.

They form a bond of relationship over husband trouble. It is interesting to note that Emilia’s one dishonest act towards Desdemona is the stealing of handkerchief, she did not know the plot of Iago, her act of stealing turns out to have devastating consequences. (IV ) Unfortunately Emilia’s little theft ends up causing her friend’s death. Emilia realizes the importance of handkerchief and when she discovers about Iago’s evil plot against Othello and she relives the truth. She washes the bad name of Desdemona. She also sacrifices her own life so that Desdemona won’t be remembered as a whore.

Iago and Emilia are married but their relationship is not based on mutual understanding. Iago always talks trash about woman in general. Emilia is eager to please him. She steals Desdemona’s handkerchief in order to please Iago. “I nothing but to please his fantasy” (III-iiii). She tries to gratify Iago’s thirst for power and wishes without involving into any evil designs which are in Iago’s mind: who would not make her husband A cockold to make him a monarch? I should venture purgatory for. (IV-iii) Like Desdemona, Emilia craves for affection. She is very submissive like Desdemona and Bianca.

It was common in the Elizabethan woman to be submissive and devoted to male figures whether father or husband. Emilia’s bitterness boils over in the final scene during which she says that husbands are usually to blame when their wives cheat on them. After all, men cheat on woman all the time. Why shouldn’t woman have an equal right to infidelity? Although, Shakespeare wrote Othello in the early 1600’s. Emilia’s monologue is about as close as we find in later feminist manifesto. Third female character is that of Bianca, a Venatian courtier, who is in love with Cassio.

Cassio always uses her as a laughable nuisance. Bianca’s character is very sympathetic and Cassio uses her for his sexual needs and treats her like a garbage. why is she presented as a prostitute in the play? when there are only three woman characters. Actually Venice was famous for prostitution and promiscuity. She is a foil to the chaste and ever fatithful Desdemona. But hardhearted soldier in Othello does not recognize the difference between these women. He is easily cheated by ‘gentle’ Iago that Desdemona is having extra-marital sex with Cassio.

It is also very interesting that all three woman, Desdemona Emilia and Bianca, are accused at some point or another of being promiscuous Each one of these women are rejected by their male partners. It was an error of judgment on the part of Othello that he was not able to understated Iago’s plot to ruin Othello. The woman, especially Desdemona, suffers most in the play. Emilia and Bianca also suffer, and Othello takes revenge and kills Iago when he comes to know about the reality.

The play ends with a great loss, the death of Desdemona is the most tragic one, because she was the “the sweetest innocent/that ever did lift up eye”. V-ii). In the fits of jealousy Othello was blind to all love and affections of a human being, he acts like a beast when he says: O, she was foul! I scarce did know your, uncle; there lies your niece. Whose breath indeed, these hands have newly stopped. I know this act shows horrible and given(5) Iago stabs Emilia and when Othello was told the truth of handkerchief and Iago’s plot by dying Emilia. Who announces the innocence of Desdemona to Othello: Moor, she was chaste; she loved three cruel Moor; So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true; So speaking as I think, I die, I die. (Dies)

Othello was almost mad after knowing the truth, he comes to know that his wife was innocent, when Gratiano enters into the bedchamber he requests him: O cursed, cursed salve! Whip me, ye devils From the possession of this heavenly sight! Blow me about in words! Roast me in sulpher! Wash me in steep-down gulfs of liquid fire! O Desdemona! Dead, Desdemona! Dead! O! ( V-II) The agony and remorse of killing was felt at heart by poor Othello, he stabs himself and gives a proof to world that never allow jealousy over come reason and also washes all the stains from the name of beautiful Desdemona.

Othello utters his last words: I kissed thee ere I killed thee: No way but this (falling upon Desdemona) Killing myself, to die upon a kiss. (Dies) ( V-ii) Lodovico, a kinsman to Brabantio, asks Gratiano, Brother to Brabantio. “Myself will straight aboard; and to the state This heavy act with heavy heart relate” (V- ii) References .Andrews, M. C. (2004). Honest Othello: The Handkerchief once More. Studies in English Literature. camden, C. (n. d. ). Iago on women. Hunt, M. (2004). Shakespeare’s Religious Allusiveness. ashgate. Kolin, P. C. (n. d. ). Othello:new critical essays. Rasmussem, J. B. (2009). William shakespeare. Palgrave Macmillan.

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