This purpose of this research paper is to determine the role of gender in the Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’. The play is surmounted across male and female characters and determines how the females in the play became victims in the hand of the men determining social organization. This paper discusses the characters of the three female characters in the play and those of the men’s whom they trust and how they later get betrayed by them, without being at fault. Also, the men in the play are fortified by their fellows to gain fame and status in the society, which displays another trait of social environment. Thus, we determined here how gender shapes the character’s action and how the male and females are treated by the means of the play ‘Othello’.
Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’ presents us a male dominant world where women have to face a tough time. The three female characters in the play Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca all shown true love and affection to their mates but still were rejected and became the symbol of suspicion in the society (enotes.com). The play contains many complex issues but one of the most important issues is how the female become victims in the men dominant society, and this conception is supported throughout the play.
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There is a phrase in the play as said by Emilia of men and women: “They are all but stomachs, and we all but food, They eat us hungerly, and when they are full / They belch us” (Act 3, Sc 4,.106-108). This phrase shows that for the men, women are the source of sexuality and not more than that. They just use them for their sexual satisfaction and do not give any other authority or decision making liberty to them. In this scene of the play, Othello did not listened to any of the words of Desdemona on her innocence about the misplacement of the handkerchief and simply made strong beliefs of her dishonesty towards him. We will see further examples from the play of how the women became the victim of the cruelty and distrust in the male dominant society in this research paper.
Plight of women in the play
The play displays two sections: one is Venice which is a land of order and other is Cyprus the land of disorder and anarchy. Both set an example of demeaning the women position in the men’s society. Venice was a land of trade where along with other things the trade of women was famous at that time. Also women are treated as a ‘commodity’ or prize to her husband as we can see from the following lines in the play where Lago said about Othello “’Faith, he to-night hath boarded a land carack: If it prove lawful prize, he’s made for ever “(Act 1,Sc 2, 60). This statement demonstrates that Lago thinks that Othello has acquired a treasure in the form of his wife Desdemona and love is a secondary thing (Brett).
Another incident happened in the court of Duke of Venice where Desdemona was treated as an object in the case, of her possession by her husband or father which shows the ‘marginalization of women’ in the society. Both Brabantio and Othello were doing trading of Desdemona when Othello said “For such proceeding I am charged withal, I won his daughter” (Act 1, Sc 3, 93-94), which shows Othello treated Desdemona as a commodity he won. Also her father Brabantio said “She is abused, stol’n from me, and corrupted” (Act 1, Sc 3, 60), which shows the ‘victimization of female’ as an object (Brett).
The island of Cyprus demonstrates its misogynist behavior in the very first scene where lago says to Desdemona and his wife Emilia “You rise to play, and go to bed to work.”(Act 2, Sc 1, 114) which shows that lago believes women as prostitutes or objects and also describes the ‘sexual promiscuity’ problem occurring through out the play and adding angst to it. The play consisted of three females Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca, of which two were killed by the end of the play because of the dishonesty (Emilia) or for implied infidelity (Desdemona) by their husbands, which shows the discrimination between men and women in case of sexual promiscuity and dominance of men to kill their wives as a fit punishment for dishonesty (Brett).
Role of the women in the play
Othello’s tragedy stems from ‘men’s misunderstandings of women and women’s inability to protect themselves from society’s conception of them’, according to Gayle Greene (Lewis). From this depiction we can portray the characters of the three ladies in the play as follows:
Desdemona: She certainly had all the feminized qualities like passivity, calmness and obedience and belongs to the higher social level in the play. Her characteristics have no match with the Othello’s masculine qualities of authority, laterality and aggression. She was in pressure of conventional pattern of behavior as wives and daughters which a women should follow in the society and thus retreats herself as a child even when Othello shown harsh behavior on her (Lewis).
Emilia: Emilia was wife of Lago and helped his husband unknowingly throughout the play in the despair of Desdemona, and thus she displays the female characteristics of trust on people (123Helpme.com). She respected Desdemona and tried defending her before Othello by saying “I durst, my lord, to wager she is honest” (Shelly). However she has to forgo death by her husband and at that time also she sings a willow song, which shows the dominance of men on women (Brett).
Bianca: She is the mistress to Cassio. She demonstrated the character of a jealous partner in the relationship which is proved by her attitude towards the handkerchief produced by Cassio to her. Lago refers her as a prostitute, and had no respect for her. She is the only female survivor in the play; however her presence became a key to Desdemona death (123Helpme.com).
Thus, these women characters show that women were rational in their thoughts and trusting people but got misplaced by men like lago. Also they have intellectual ability but they are suppressed by the men dominating society.
Role of men in the Play
Men in the play who have acquired feminine characteristics also became the victims. A fair example of this is Roderigo who loved Desdemona and lacks masculine attributes and is over refined. He became the puppet in the hand of lago to serve his purpose as the following lines by lago in the play depict:”I have rubb’d this young quat almost to the sense. quat meaning boil or spot. And also as a source of income .Of gold and jewels that I bobb’d from him, As gifts to Desdemona” (Act 5, Sc 1, 11-17) (Brett).
Also Othello was a warrior in the starting but became effeminate after marrying Desdemona. In the land of Cyprus he became an insecure man and was over run by many unknown emotions which runs until he kills his wife. Lago took advantage of both these men to serve his purpose.
Thus Othello featured the victimization of women and to a lesser extent men as the social conditions at that time (Brett).
Our research concludes that Shakespeare’s tragedy play Othello gave an interesting connection between the victimization of the male and female in the society. The men who are effeminate in some way become the victims of the society in the same way as women already are. Thus, Othello clearly states the social climate and values in the system and broadly exhibited the victimization of women in the hand of men dominated society.
1. Brett, Ainsley. Representation of Gender within Othello. 10 Jan 2010, < ondix.com/pdf/docs/thesis_search_high_1071168092.pdf>.
2. Lewis, Liz. Shakespeare’s Women: Shakespeare’s Treatment of Women in the Tragedies Hamlet, Othello and Antony and Cleopatra., 2001, 10 Jan 2010.
3. “Othello: The Women of Othello”, Enotes.com, 09 Jan 2010,
4. “Shakespeare’s Portrayal of Women in Othello.” 123HelpMe.com. 10 Jan 2010
5. Shelley, Ami. “Literary analysis: Comparison of the characters Othello and Desdemona”. Helium.com, 10 Jan 2010
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