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Isabel Fuentes


English 12 4

14 February 2019

A Feminist Approach to Othello

Feminist criticism is a way to analyze how a literary work displays the difference in

relationships between genders by their behavior and values using feminist ideas. By applying

feminist criticism the audience can visualize societies views on women. The play The Tragedy of

Othello, the Moor of Venice by William Shakespeare, includes three women, (Desdemona,

Emilia, and Bianca) that face the same problems feminists today fight against.The play consists

of problems such as women treated as possessions, seen as the inferior gender, and their

submissive behavior. Using feminist criticism in Othello, the analyzer sees how times change but

the problems towards women in modern times do not.

In the play Othello by William Shakespeare, Desdemona is one of the three women

introduced to the audience in whom’s feminist problems are displayed. In one of the scenes,

Othello and Desdemona, along with some workers, arrive at Cyprus on a ship. Othello is greeted

but as soon as Desdemona enters, Othello’s lieutenant, Cassio, says “O, behold, The riches of the

ship is come on shore!”(Othello 2.1.91-92). Here Cassio refers to Desdemona as a “rich” on the

ship which downgrades her as being like one of the cargos the ship holds. Desdemona is seen as

another object on the ship rather than a human. In a different scene, Othello calls to Desdemona

“Come, my dear love, The purchase made, the fruits are to ensue;That profit's yet to come 'tween

me and you”(Othello 2.3.11-13). In this scene, Othello calls to his wife and refers to her as a
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purchase he made as if she were an object. Interpreting it differently,Othello says he has paid her

by marrying her and it's time for him to get what he deserves. Today,women are seen as objects

often by their husbands in which the men feel obligated to have something from their wives in

return for their love.Women are often referred to as possessions in modern day society and

Desdemona was a victim of this ongoing issue.

Another important woman in the play Othello is Emilia and her behavior toward her

husband, Iago. Emilia talks about the power women have when it comes to their husbands

cheating, “Let husbands know . Their wives have sense like them; they see and smell, And have

their palates both for sweet and sour, As husbands have... have not we affections, Desires for

sport, and frailty, as men have? Then, let them use us well; else let them know, The ills we do,

their ills instruct us so.”(Othello 4.3.90-109).Emilia explains to Desdemona how a woman

doesn't have the power to say anything to their husbands and they have to deal with it. In modern

days, women have the double standard that men can cheat all they want but as soon as a woman

does it, society is the first to put them down. Emilia also states the importance of the woman’s

desire.In the play, Emilia is very submissive and obedient towards Iago and does anything for

him. “I am glad I have found this napkin:This was her first remembrance from the Moor:My

wayward husband hath a hundred times”(Othello 3.3.290-293). Emilia steals Desdemona’s

handkerchief as a way to show her husband she loves him. Women today will do anything to

keep their husband satisfied with them, and men do not have to change a single thing.

Although Bianca is the minimal character out of the three women, she provides a great

representation of how a woman's values were set low due to double standards and her

enfranchisement was not provided because of her sexual favors with men. Two male characters,

Iago and Cassio, appear to be talking about Bianca and the thought of marrying her,” I marry
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her! What? customer! Prithee, bear some charity to my wit: do not think it so unwholesome. Ha,

ha, ha!”(Othello 4.1.138-140). This important scene shows how the value and worth set for

Bianca are very low. Cassio laughs at the thought of marrying Bianca because of her job as a

prostitute. He goes on to talk about Bianca as desperate and incapable of love with her own

morals not being put into consideration. Now in days, men forget and throw out their values by

judging a woman according to what the woman's job is.

The problems faced in the play are seen to not have changed throughout the years.

Women are often criticized by society in their ways of being. The play Othello was a play

written in the 1600’s and the same issues are still existing in today's times. Women are still

having their powers, values and thoughts second guessed by the patriarchy. The patriarchy in

modern times, just as in Othello, keeps women down by limiting their rights, by suggesting that a

woman is not worth anything past their husbands, but most importantly, society tells women that

it is wrong to have their own voice, and it is often shut down. Emilia, Desdemona and Bianca

were all victims of the way men have created the world to think.