Friday, August 16, 2019

The women in Othello are presented by Shakespeare as victims

This question requires knowledge of how women were treated during the period ‘Othello' was written and how they are treated during modern days. When this play was written, The Jacobean era, an overwhelming amount of evidence suggests that women were treated as inferiors to men. Women would usually be viewed as pure and divine before having sexual intercourse, but afterwards, they were often treated as low down human beings. In general, they were allowed to be beaten, forced into labour and most did not have the right to an education. So the church would play an important role in everyday life for women, it was an occasion to look forward to. Every female church-goer would learn about the two biblical stereotypes for women, Mary and Eve. Mary was worshipped for being pure and flawless but Eve was castigated for her impurity and deceitfulness towards God. At the beginning of the play, Desdemona was apotheosised especially by Roderigo. She was named a white ewe in Act I, which highlighted her gentleness and purity. But similar in the way Mary and Eve are contrasted, Emilia is reified and treated as an object by Iago; this was the usual treatment for women during Jacobean times. In ‘Othello' Desdemona is introduced as a woman that contradicts the stereotype of women during Jacobean times. She is described like a goddess by many men during the play, ‘She is indeed perfection' is how Cassio describes her in Act I. Othello begins to think of her as his trophy and prized possession, but despite all the attention and praise she receives, she does not become arrogant or boastful and remains eloquent and lady-like, showing how she is worthy of being deified. Even when Othello is strangling her, he comments on her soft, white skin, he says it feels â€Å"as smooth as a monumental alabaster† This very surprising for the audience because at the point of nearly killing her he still treats her like a goddess. However, Emilia is treated as an object of no value by Iago. He often rejects her and He refuses to treat her with even a semblance of kindness. She is treated like a whore because Iago believes she has slept with another man without any hard evidence. She completes a mischievous deed for Iago, displaying her loyalty and desperation for any sort of love shown back to her. Desdemona seems to be praised a lot during the first act. But in fact, she is treated like an object. Iago says to Brabantio â€Å"Zounds Sir, you've been robbed. † This is reifying her because he is describing her like an item. Iago then mentions â€Å"The wine she drinks is made of grapes,† which is showing the audience that he has a strong belief that there is nothing special about her and she is just another possession. Desdemona is then called â€Å"A Land carrack,† which Othello has boarded. This further proves that Iago has a condescending attitude towards Desdemona and women in general. When Othello and Iago are in Venice, Iago pounces on this opportunity to tell Othello of the fallacious women of Venice. He says â€Å"In Venice they do let Heaven see the pranks they dare not show their husbands. † He says this to make Othello think of how he and Desdemona compare to this statement, preying on Othello's ignorance. Shakespeare uses a lot of animal imagery during the play, sometimes in a complimentary fashion but most often, in a degrading manor. Audience from modern times will be shocked at the amount of sexist and racist animal imagery used. Iago calls her a â€Å"White Ewe† which many will probably view as a compliment, reflecting on her innocence and gentleness. But some might view it as an insult, saying that she is common and nothing special. Even Othello uses abusive terms towards women, he says to Desdemona â€Å"thou art false as hell† highlighting his complete lack of trust for Desdemona, both as his wife and as a woman. Yet Desdemona does not say anything of an abusive nature to Othello. In ‘Othello' many people do not think of Cassio as the sexist type, he is portrayed to be well mannered and respectful up until he calls Emilia a ‘common thing'. This surprises many of the audience who thought of Cassio as the sole man in the play who respects women. But Shakespeare was obliged to do this if he wanted to show the audience that Cassio was a ‘normal' Jacobean man. This suggests that he thought it was standard for men to call women such belittling phrases. Emilia is portrayed as naive and desperate when she is first introduced, she is so distant from her husband that she has no idea of what Iago has been trying to do. The most astonishing example is that after he steals the handkerchief for Iago, she still appears to have no idea of what he is trying to do, she just wants to do â€Å"nothing but please his fantasy. † Despite being made out to be the most naive woman in the play, she is the only woman to show signs of courage and feminism in her words. One of the first moments to do this is when she refers to men as ‘stomachs'. Even more significant is when she says â€Å"husbands fault if their wives do fall. † This is one of the earliest signs of feminism, or at the very least defiance in Shakespeare's play. Bianca is the only other woman in ‘Othello' along with Emilia and Desdemona. She is at first portrayed to be a prostitute and whore, although there isn't any evidence that this is indeed her profession. The men in ‘Othello' treat her like a ‘strumpet' and a stereotype of impure women during the Jacobean times. She is able to prove her stereotype wrong by standing up to some of the abuse she takes from Iago. In a manipulative fashion, Iago tries to use the condescending view towards Bianca to his advantage. He assumes nobody will believe her or take her seriously because many of the male characters believe she is a lying and deceitful whore. So he blames the injury of Cassio and death of Roderigo on her. When talking about the incident he says â€Å"this is the fruit of whoring,† which is referring to the fact he wants people to believe it was her. This statement is about whether Shakespeare has written a misogynistic play by presenting the women as victims'. Having established how the women are treated differently and similarly in the play, we can look at a very important scene which shows how the women in the play talk about their husbands. This scene is the willow scene where they talk about events that have happened and how their husbands are behaving. Emilia says that she would do something impure and evil if it would lead to her earning money. This is because Emilia has come from a poor background where money was scarce and very precious. But in Contrast, Desdemona says she would never do such a thing because money is not so important to her due to a wealthy background, this shows She uses morals as motivation rather than money. Then, to confirm to any doubters in the audience, she says she would rather die than cheat on her husband Othello. This is a very bold action that Shakespeare uses to highlight her purity and faithfulness. Desdemona has proved many stereotypes for white, wealthy women in Jacobean times wrong; she has married a Black man and firmly stated that she believes in strong morals. This proves that she is strong enough to stand up for herself despite the abuse and criticism she receives. It would be very unusual for this to be true, not that a woman would do these things, but that she would be able to stand up to the racism and sexism of those around her. Shakespeare is very quick to use the derogatory nature of men's views on women to add extra effect to the play. For many people, he is too quick and too eager to perceive women as victims. The definition of a victim is a ‘a person who is deceived or cheated, as by his or her own emotions or ignorance, by the dishonesty of others, or has suffered from destructive or injurious action'. But Shakespeare, during Jacobean times, may not have been seen to present women as particular victims of this play. In modern day life many people will agree that he is on the border of extremity with the amount of sexism in ‘Othello' whether or not he wanted women to be victims of this play. Many people will agree that the women are victimised by Iago and the people Iago he has manipulated. Othello was an equal if not greater victim than Desdemona, not because he died but he was a victim of his own gullibility, ‘his or her own emotions or ignorance'. He did not once think of believing what Desdemona said or even placing all his trust in her, his wife. So he is a much greater victim in this play than Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca put together. Although there are an overwhelming amount of incidents to show that women have suffered from this play, Shakespeare may have hidden a few signs of feminism in what Emilia said and the way Bianca stood up against the Jacobean stereotypes. We will never know why Shakespeare wrote this play, whether it was to be derogatory towards black men or perhaps to explore the possibilities of defying the sexist and racist stereotypes of Jacobean times.

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