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A Feminist Analysis of Othello

A Feminist Analysis of Othello

In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello there are numerous instances of obvious sexism aimed at the three women in the drama — Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca – and aimed at womankind generally. Let us delve into this subject in this paper.

In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses a scene which occurs late in the play and which is sexist:

When Othello summons Desdemona and dismisses Emilia, “Leave procreants alone . . .; / Cough or cry hem if anybody come. / Your mystery, your mystery! . . .” (IV.2.28-30), he not only dismisses Emilia, accuses Desdemona of infidelity, and betrays his own insane bitterness, but he converts the marriage into a brothel arrangement in which all three are involved, and by so doing establishes imaginative lines of connection with the role of Bianca and particularly with the Iago philosophy of sexual conduct. (331)

In the opening scene, while Iago is expressing his hatred for the general Othello for his having chosen Michael Cassio for the lieutenancy, he contrives a plan to partially avenge himself (“I follow him to serve my turn upon him”), with Roderigo’s assistance, by alerting Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, to the fact of his daughter’s elopement with Othello: “Call up her father, / Rouse him: make after him, poison his delight [. . .].” Implied in this move is the fact of a father’s assumed control over the daughter’s choice of a marriage partner. Brabantio’s admonition to Roderigo implicitly expresses the same message:

The worser welcome:

I have charged thee not to haunt about my doors:

In honest plainness thou hast heard me say

My daughter is not for thee [. . .]…

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… Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.

Jorgensen, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Pitt, Angela. “Women in Shakespeare’s Tragedies.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare’s Women. N.p.: n.p., 1981.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.

Wayne, Valerie. “Historical Differences: Misogyny and Othello.” The Matter of Difference: Materialist Feminist Criticism of Shakespeare. Ed Valerie Wayne. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991.

Othello: its Themes

Othello: its Themes

In the Shakespearean tragedy Othello how many themes are there? And which ones predominate. This paper seeks to elucidate the reader on this subject.

In her book, Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies, Maynard Mack comments on the seeming predominance of the theme of loss in the drama:

In any event, what comes to us most forcefully from the stage in Othello is not mystery but the agony of loss, loss all the more tragic, in some instances, for not being inevitable. Brabantio loses (in every sense) his much-loved only child and eventually dies of grief. Cassio in a drunken moment loses his soldier’s discipline, then his lieutenancy and his cherished comradeship with Othello. Othello, in turn, losing under Iago’s tuition his ability to distinguish the individual woman he married from the standard cynical stereotype, abandons with it all pride in his profession together with the self-command that made him the man he was. And Desdemona, through no real fault of her own, loses the magical handkerchief. (131)

The theme of loss, however, is not the theme on which the play opens. Lily B. Campbell in Shakespeare’s Tragic Heroes indicates that hate is the theme on which this play opens:

It is then on a theme of hate that the play opens. It is a hate of inveterate anger. It is a hate that is bound up with envy. Othello has preferred to be his lieutenant a military theorist, one Michael Cassio, over the experienced soldier Iago, to whom has fallen instead the post of “his Moorship’s ancient”. Roderigo questions Iago:

Thou told’st me thou didst hold him in thy hate.

And the reply is a torrent of proof of the hatred for Othello…

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Ferguson, Francis. “Two Worldviews Echo Each Other.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Shakespeare: The Pattern in His Carpet. N.p.: n.p., 1970.

Gardner, Helen. “Othello: A Tragedy of Beauty and Fortune.” Readings on The Tragedies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from “The Noble Moor.” British Academy Lectures, no. 9, 1955.

Jorgensen, Paul A. William Shakespeare: The Tragedies. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985.

Mack, Maynard. Everybody’s Shakespeare: Reflections Chiefly on the Tragedies. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.

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