The play ‘Othello’ is a tragedy by William Shakespeare, written in 1603 and first published in 1622. The work revolves around four main characters, Othello, a general in the Venetian army, Desdemona, his wife, Cassio, who is Othello’s loyal lieutenant, and, finally, Iago, who is the ultimate dishonest, but trusted ensign. Initially, Othello and Desdemona were deeply in love and happily married, even though her father did not approve their marriage. Nevertheless, Othello promoted Cassio to Lieutenant instead of Iago; thus, Iago started to plan his revenge. He convinced Othello that Desdemona was cheating on him with Cassio, and this destroyed their marriage. The play features two female characters, namely, Emilia and Desdemona, who have maintained the unbalanced relationships in the result of which they were condemned by their partners. Arguably, even though women in the play were loved, they were depicted as unfairly treated and considered to be inferior.
In the play, Desdemona was portrayed as a mature person who always defended her love for Othello (her husband) and thought the same of him. Nevertheless, the situation drastically changed when Iago told Othello that she was having an intimate affair with Cassio (Barnes, Aidan & William 60). Desdemona was regularly thoughtful to other people's circumstances that could bring about turmoil, but still she was both physically and emotionally faithful to her spouse. Besides, she was a peacemaker, since when Othello wanted to dismiss Cassio; she made peace between them. As a result, this prompted her to talk to Cassio in privacy, which, in its stead, led to her husband accusing her of cheating. In today’s society, Desdemona is considered a housewife who sees to her husband’s every step and is a caring wife. Her treatment seems even more unbearable when one sees through their arguing that she was a woman emotionally abused by her husband, which resulted in death at the end.
Another female character, Emilia, was Iago’s wife and as such, her character entailed submissiveness. Further, she was also Desdemona’s handmaiden. Unknowingly, Emilia played a great role in Iago’s dishonest plan, and, surprisingly, she was never suspicious. In most instances, Emilia is depicted as the opposite of Desdemona (Barnes, Aidan & William 63). Despite the fact that according to common stereotypes women should be loyal and faithful to their husbands, she argued that women should also have a voice, not rely on their spouses but be independent. Moreover, Emilia was seen upset by the hearing that Othello called his wife unfaithful. Emilia also questioned how men could be living without women, meanwhile claiming that women should not be slaves to their husbands. According to her radical and unprecedented idea women deserved to be respected and independent, even though in this play women did not achieve much more than the usual abuse (Bloom 19).
Emilia and Desdemona lived in societies where women did not dare to do what was supposed to be done by men. These characters were seen to use their skills to preserve their livelihood and peace, whereas male characters, like Othello, usually disrespected and devalued them in return. The reason Othello did not defend his woman from accusations regarding Cassio was because he was sure that Desdemona was an adulterer, even though he had no concrete evidence. In addition, Emilia loved and was respectable to her husband, but when Othello undermined her fidelity, she responded as she got upset and claimed him as disrespectful. Entirely, this play showed that women can show both submissive and dominant qualities, even though it did not benefit their status of being seen as possessions (Smith 23).
In order to analyze how the author views the roles of female characters, it is important to take a look at the various literary elements that have been utilized as part of this play. One of them is the irony. The author represented women as selfless, as, for example, one can see the irony of fate in Desdemona’s situation as she died as being guilty of her innocence. Moreover, hereby author showed how much Desdemona loved her husband and belonged to him, as she gave her life for a mistake that was not hers. Furthermore, Iago was also considered on a revenge mission, as Emilia became rather authoritative since she got upset after realizing that Desdemona was accused of infidelity. All in all, women were viewed as a possession in the marriage, to convey that message Shakespeare depicted them as ironic victims who succumb to the unbalanced relationships.
Another literary element exploited in the play was symbolism (Smith 26). For instance, Desdemona was given a handkerchief by her husband as her first gift since they married. This symbolized Othello’s love for her wife. Thus, being new and clean it represented not only the purity of their marriage, but how she was valued and needed by her husband. Nevertheless, Iago was seen manipulating the handkerchief purposely to make Othello see it as a symbol of Desdemona chastity and faith just so when Iago takes possession of it, he could easily convert it into evidence of Desdemona’s infidelity. Accordingly, since it was so pure in the beginning any shadow or stain could ruin it, and when that shadow appeared nothing Desdemona could say or do to defend herself would make it brand new again. Evidently, symbolism and male influence played a greater role than women, as the latter were neither heard nor listened to in the play.
What is more, through Iago also Shakespeare used animal imagery. In Act 1, Scene 1, Iago claimed that Othello had some animalistic and bestial behavior (Shakespeare & Sylvan 90). Meanwhile, he also refers to Desdemona as “white ewe” (Shakespeare & Sylvan 90), implying her innocence and purity. Evidently, this type of imagery permeates the play and portrays the behavior of characters throughout the play, as in the end one can observe the beast killing an innocent ewe. Iago also calls Desdemona “sport for Jove.”, in a sexually suggestive manner as Jove took different forms of animals to have sex with beautiful ladies. By such suggestions Desdemona as a female was again considered dishonest and impure. What is more, this portrayed disrespect for women even in instances when men seemed to praise their beauty.
Several dramatic themes were illustrated in the play, one of which was tragic flaws. Most of Othello’s suffering resulted from the poor judgments he made. Evidently, he mistrusted the people who are loyal to him and believed the wrong ones, whereas the main difference between those were their social statuses, as that of women was inferior to men. The other tragic flaw that Emilia experienced was trusting her husband who was unfaithful (Shakespeare & Sylvan 94). Othello is also considered a tragic hero, as he was regarded as a nobleman in Cyprus. He lived in a mansion, had numerous people under his command and always spoke about his real wealth and high rank. Hence, Othello was gullible and selfish. Evidently, he allowed himself to be manipulated by Iago rather than trusting his heart and this crowned him a tragic hero (Shakespeare & Sylvan 94). Hubris was used in the play to illustrate Othello’s pride, as due to his pride, he failed to listen to the truth that finally leads to his demise. No female character had such elements, even though Emilia was also a tragic hero in her own way. She defended Desdemona when Othello accused her of cheating. In her speech, Emilia made it clear that men could not be where they are without women.
In conclusion, Emilia and Desdemona portray the two different sides of women that are those who allow others to possess them and those who believe in having a voice. Nevertheless, both types can be left with no respect or dignity if a representative of a powerful sex wishes so. The stereotypes mentioned above are evident that even in today’s society women are still being treated unjustly. Notably, these women were inferior to their husbands. Despite the fact that women in the play were not respected and abused, they defended themselves and pushed for their rights. Several literary elements and dramatic themes were used to capture the attention of the readers, thus making them understand the challenges arisen with ease.