A variety of roles have women in them in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello. Let us in this essay examine the female characters and their roles.
One key role for the heroine of the drama, Desdemona, is to support the general. David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies states the hero’s dependence on Desdemona:
Othello’s most tortured speeches (3.4.57-77, 4.2.49-66) reveal the extent to which he equates the seemingly betraying woman he has so depended on for happiness with his own mother, who gave Othello’s father a handkerchief and threatened him with loss of her love if he should lose it. (226)
A different role for the heroine appears at the beginning 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 young wife. Iago’s bawdy references to the senator’s daughter present a second role of women – that of illicit lover. The father’s attitude is that life without his Desdemona will be much worse than before; without her he foresees “nought but bitterness.” Here is seen another role or function of women in the drama – that of comforter for the aged. Brabantio is the old father, and he hates to lose the comforting services of his Desdemona.
Othello expresses his sentiments to Iago regarding his relationship with the senator’s daughter, saying
that I love the gentle Desdemona,
I would not my unhoused free condition
Put into c…
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…emona’s falseness. Emilia at this point becomes a beacon of light and truth; she contradicts Iago: “Thou art rash as fire, to say / That she was false: O, she was heavenly true!” and accuses him of lying and of causing murder: “And your reports have set the murder on.” Emilia’s stunning interrogation and conviction of her own husband cost her dearly; she is thus absolved from her earlier collaboration with Iago and ends on a note of innocence.
Thus it is seen that the roles of women are many and varied – and are key to the successful development of the story.
Bevington, David, ed. William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
Imagery In Othello
The function of imagery in the mid-sixteenth century play Othello by William Shakespeare is to aid characterisation and define meaning in the play. The antagonist Iago is defined through many different images, Some being the use of poison and soporifics, sleeping agents, to show his true evil and sadistic nature. Othello’s character is also shaped by much imagery such as the animalistic, black and white, and horse images which indicates his lustful, sexual nature. Characterisation of women is heavily dictated by imagery used to show the patriarchal gender system of the time. Some of this imagery is that of hobbyhorses and the like showing that they, Desdemona and Emelia, were nothing better than common whores. Othello’s view at the start of the play is contradicting of these patriarchal views with Desdemona and Othellos’ true love overcoming these stereotypes and we are told this through imagery of fair warriors and the like. The power of deceit is shown also through imagery of spiders and webs, uniforms and other such images. Also the power of jealousy is well defined by imagery. The handkerchief, green-eyed monster and cuckolding imagery are prominent in defining this theme.
The satanic character of Iago is depicted well though different types or imagery. His sadist intend is depicted through suffocating imagery “I’ll pour pestilence into his(Othello’s) ear” (II iii 356) says Iago in a soliloquy in as he is outlining his malicious intent and nature. This continues throughout the play with lines such as “The Moor already changes with my poison” (III iii 322) and “Not poppy nor mandragora, | Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world shall medicine thee to that sweet sleep | Which thou did owdest yesterday” (III iii 327-30). His malicious character is likened to a snake through this imagery of poisons like a snake has and then Lodovico calls him a “Viper” (V ii 281) which indicates how Iago’s character is that of a snake, and in those times a snake was considered a creature of pure evil. The Machiavellian persona of Iago can also be seen through his use of reputation imagery to Cassio and Othello. To Cassio he says “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition” (II iii 267-8) and as a paradox, to Othello, he says reputation is everything to a man and he is nothing with out it. Iago is also likened very much, though imagery, to the Devil.