The sole purpose of women in the play is to highlight the struggles of the male characters The sole purpose of women in ‘Othello’ is not to highlight the struggles of male characters, but in fact I feel it’s much the opposite. There is a strong emphasis on women as possessions and the idea that women are submissive. The three women in the play -Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca – are rejected by their respective partners. In a modern reading, we can deconstruct the play to understand that the struggles of women seem to be highlighted; strongly aided by the male counterparts which drives the women to form a closer relationship with each other.Order now
In doing this, the portrayal of the male characters to a 21st century audience would seem somewhat pessimistic. Yet when we consider the time in which it was written, these were the social norms. Shakespeare has unconsciously positioned his audience over time to draw attention to the struggles of women, particularly through a feminist reading. Othello’s portrayal of women is that of a piece of property. The metaphor in the line “come my dear love, the purchase has been made, the fruits ensue” describes marriage as an act of purchase; the woman as the piece of property.
Here it is suggested that a woman is bought by her husband and expected to fulfil his sexual needs without any feeling of emotion attached. Further emphasis is made in regards to performing sexual tasks in imagery similar to food consumption when Emilia says to Desdemona, “They are all but stomachs, and we are all but food/ They eat us hungerly and when they are full they belch us”. Emilia is expressing that women are used emotionally and sexually by their male partners, being defined by male’s sexual access to them.
This reiterates the idea of women as male possessions and the feelings of emotional rejection associated with it. Despite the fact that the women of Othello are so submissive, they are rejected by their male partner. Society weighs heavily on the shoulders of these women; they feel that they must support the men and always act obedient, even if the actions of the men are questionable. In the line, “Your napkin is too little” we see Othello rejecting Desdemona’s act of kindness towards her husband. Notably, she does not seem fazed by his rudeness and rejection and replies with “I am sorry that you are not well. The symbolism associated with the handkerchief represents virginity and fidelity. It is also a symbol of Othello’s love for Desdemona. By dismissing the handkerchief because it is ‘too little’, suggests Othello’s diminishing love towards his wife because of her supposed infidelities. Here the audience is positioned to empathise with Desdemona and to abhor to Othello’s quick judgement of character. Resulting from the feeling of rejection the women receive from their husbands, they start to form a closer bond with each other.
Emilia begins to show genuine concern for Desdemona’s problems with Othello in Act 4, but once again Desdemona is portrayed as submissive when she tells Emilia that even when Othello is angry with her, she still finds “grace and favour. ” The prolonged obedience demonstrates the inherent struggle women face to uphold the Venetian society values. Desdemona is unconscious in her act of obedience, to the fact that has little control over her life. She is always trying to please Othello despite the way he undermines her loyalty.
The use of black and white imagery in the play helps to emphasis Desdemona’s innocence and Othello’s growing iniquity. When Othello says, “So I will turn her virtue into pitch” it suggests the stereotypes of whiteness as pure and virginal as opposed to black as corrupt and evil. In doing so, he positions himself as an outsider because he is corrupting her pureness just by being her husband. Desdemona, blind to this fact, continues to serve him well whilst the audience is exposed to Othello’s lack of trust in his wife and increasingly corrupt nature.
This then drives Desdemona to confide in Emilia as she notices differences in her husband’s behaviour. Highlighting woman’s struggle, Shakespeare uses dramatic irony. For example, the audience knows that Iago is manipulating Othello and that Othello plans to murder Desdemona. “With as little web as this, I will ensnare as great a fly as Cassio. ” This simile in Iago’s soliloquy suggests intent, putting the audience in the know. The reference to animal imagery, the ‘web’ refers to a web of lies and deceit. Furthermore, associating Cassio with a ‘fly’ implies his irrelevance to Iago.
The use of animal imagery foregrounds Iago’s predatory nature as he often uses images to plant ideas in other characters head, to further his own plans – leading to Othello’s downfall. The use of dramatic irony positions the audience to empathise with Desdemona as it foregrounds her undervalued character as Iago does not feel bad for using her as a tool in which he manipulates Othello for his own revenge. This in turn suggests an element of women’s worthlessness and the struggle to be independent and respected as a human being.
In conclusion, the sole purpose of women in the play is to highlight the values of Venetian society through a male perspective and as such, draw attention to the struggles of women who are expected to be male’s sexual property, submissive and worthless. Of course, this reading of the play would not have been valid during Shakespeare’s time, and in saying this, was not Shakespeare’s initial intent. However, as society has changed, a contemporary feminist reading can gather the conclusion that males took women foregranted and had little genuine respect towards them.