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The presentation of women in Othello By Katerina

The 1500s saw a dramatic shift in the attitudes of women as Queen Elizabeth I was the
ruler of England and as an independent, wealthy woman, was seen as an iconic figure to her
female citizens. The play Othello, reveals three woman who when try to escape the
stereotypical views and challenge the notion the conventional female role of woman, are

From the offset, Desdemona is continuously referred to as an object by most of the male
protagonists of the play. Shakespeare objectifies Desdemona by referring to her an item
that can be stolen; ‘Thieves thieves! Look to your house, your daughter and your bags!’ by
placing ‘your daughter’ in-between two objects, it reveals her status to be none the higher
as she is merely seen as an object which reflects upon Brabantio’s wealthy reputation along
with his house and expensive bags.

Following this, Iago cleverly manipulates Brabantio by using informing him that ‘an old black
ram is tupping your white owe’. This graphical imagery is used to emphasize upon the moors
huge animalistic features against pure, gentle Desdemona. The word ‘owe’ meaning ‘what is
yours’ concludes to the father that Othello is taking control over what Brabantio believes is
his property, again this reinforces Desdemona’s status as a female to be inferior. To defend
his reputation, Brabantio refuses to believe his property Desdemona, willingly chose to fall
in love with Othello. Brabantio believes Othello has used ‘foul charms’ on Desdemona, which
gives the readers an insight to the way women were presented as unable to think for
themselves in the 1500s. When Brabantio meets Othello he says ‘where hast thou stowed by
daughter’, this implies that Othello has hidden Desdemona which again explores the way
limits are imposed on her freedom to act as she wishes. This allows Iago to use Desdemona
as a way to destruct the reputation of male dominance which helps to plot against Othello.
This is the only point within the play where Desdemona comes out of her feminine position
as she is given a choice to choose between her father and a moor. If Desdemona had
listened to her father then she would not have suffered her fatal murder committed by her
husband. Thus, Shakespeare discloses that woman of the 1500s should not challenge there
roles as they will make the wrong decision.

Emilia is a complex character who rides along the theme of ‘trust verses deceit’ as arguable
she was the catalysis for the deaths of the play. She betrayed her friend unknowingly by
steeling the handkerchief and giving it to Iago as she quotes, ‘we must not displease him’,
exposing herself to be a traditional wife who does what her husband asks of her. This is
ironic as ultimately, Iago repays her by killing her.

On the other hand, Emilia’s dutiful act of handing Iago the handkerchief could arguably be a
sign of her sexual desire. It is inevitable that a woman like Emilia who is referred to as
Iago’s “nightcap” would want to do whatever it takes to feel less sexually deprived and
ignored by her husband as she questions, ‘What will he do with it, heaven knows, not I: I
nothing, but to please his fantasy’ and then she even goes onto to playfully tease Iago with
it, ‘What will you give me now for that same hankercheif?’ The desperation within this scene
reveals the two to have quite a devious relationship. Emilia is presented here as quite a
lustful character, something we do not expect to see from an Elizabethan wife, as mostly it
was the men who would declare when he wanted too take part in sexual acts.

Bianca is the only woman in the play who does not have a husband or is in a fixed
relationship. This allows her to have more freedom as a character to act the way she
pleases, and the feminine traits of passivity, obedience and softness do not apply at all. The
fact that she is so confident by nature enables her to survive throughout the chaos in the
play. Bianca can be seen however, to fulfill the stereotype of a ‘strumpet’ or a ‘whore’ in
society, as Shakspeare unveils through the male characters, that there is little respect for
her. During the scene where Iago blames Cassio’s death upon her, no one believes Bianca.
This is because of two main reasons; one is that she is the lowest character on the status
ladder and two as she is a woman.