The audience finds within the Shakespearean tragic drama Othello several female characters who figure into the plot of the play. Their roles are varied and their lives end tragically.
Alvin Kernan’s “Othello: an Introduction” explains Desdemona’s role as a model of faith and chastity for the protagonist who converts to a belief in her after her death:
His willingness to speak of what he has done – in contrast to Iago’s sullen silence – is a willingness to recognize the meaning of Desdemona’s faith and chastity, to acknowledge that innocence and love do exist, and that therefore The City can stand, though his life is required to validate the truth and justice on which it is built. (81)
In the volume Shakespeare and Tragedy John Bayley explains the roles of the two main women characters in the play:
Even the risk of alienating the onlooker from the tragic action produces a corresponding gain: that action and behaviour remain in the play perennially controversial, and the focus of sexual and social awareness sharp and clear. In a production today, the implications of this are usually more interesting than the actual intrigue can be, and a lot of weight is usually put on Emilia’s role as a figure of common sense and common humanity, correcting the romantic excesses of the lovers. [. . .] But no figure in these three tragedies has such a symbolically positional status. Besides, Emilia, for all her virtues, has a stupidity and lack of imagination comparable in its own way to that of her husband; while her views on the sex war, from the feminine angle, are as pungent as his. Certainly the role of women is important, but it is Desdemona alone who, because of her love, can remain unconscious of the tragedy/comedy element, as she does of the polarity between sex and love. (218)
At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. This is the initial reference to the role of women in the play – the role of wife. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar descriptions of Desdemona’s involvement with the general, Brabantio arises from bed.
Comparing Pursuit of Perfection by Poe and Hawthorne and the Realism of Melville and Jacobs
Pursuit of Perfection by Poe and Hawthorne and the Realism of Melville and Jacobs
One of the elements of Romanticism is the pursuit of perfection. While Poe and Hawthorne’s characters strive in vain for the perfect woman (or rather her perfect attribute) or the perfectly engineered person, Melville already knows that perfection is an illusion. Melville paints a more realistic portrait of the imperfections of society. The women writers take Melville’s assessments of the world and the human condition even further. Phelps and Jacobs’ know first-hand about the misconceptions of perfection and the inability to capture that image. The burden of seamless domesticity wears on the women in these stories. Jacobs’ story carries the heaviest burden of all being undermined by the repression of women and the hardships of slavery.
In Poe’s Ligeia the narrator is captivated by his wife’s beauty and intelligence, with which he becomes obsessed. He is particularly attracted to “the dear music of her low sweet voice”. Her “rare” and “immense” learning makes her unique and intriguing. However, because “her knowledge was such as” the narrator had “never known in a woman” she is a threat. Johanyak says that, “Poe’s intellectual heroines are first idealized and then feared or misunderstood by men who fail to understand or accept their quest for knowledge” (63). The narrator admits that he had “never known her at fault”. In essence, he is conceding that she was in fact the perfect woman. In the fateful pattern of Poe’s female characters, such perfection must be punished. She dies and the narrator agonizes over his loss. It is not until this retelling of their marriage that the narrator truly appreciates all that she was and all that …
… middle of paper …
Dayan, Joan. “The Identity of Berenice.” Studies in Romanticism 23.4 (1984) 491-513.
Holly, Carol. “Shaming the Self in The Angel Over the Right Shoulder.” American Literature 60.1 (1988): 42-60.
Johanyak, Debra. “Poesian Feminism: Triumph or Tragedy.” CLA Journal 39.1 (1995): 62-70.
Morgan, Winifred. “Gender Related Differences in the Slave Narratives of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass.” American Studies 35.2 (1994): 73-94.
Rosenberg, Liz. “The Best that Earth Could Offer. The Birth-Mark: a Newlywed’s Story.” Studies in Short Fiction 30.2 (1993): 145-51.
Rowland, Beryl. “Sitting up with a Corpse: Malthus According to Melville in Poor Man’s Pudding and Rich Man’s Crumbs.” Journal of American Studies 6 (1972): 69-83.
Zanger, Jules. “Speaking of the Unspeakable: Hawthorne’s The Birth-Mark.” Modern Philology 80.4 (1983): 364-71.