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Othello: the Feminine Perspective

Othello, Shakespeare’s tragic drama, has much to say about women and the attitudes of social groups and individuals towards them. Let’s examine, from the top down, from the general to the lower ranks, these outlooks on women and other feminine considerations.

Kenneth Muir, in the Introduction to William Shakespeare: Othello, explains the Moor’s blind ignorance of his won wife:

Iago begins his temptation on the following morning, and he is able to exploit Othello’s comparative ignorance of his wife. This ignorance is only partly due to the fact that they have had no opportunity of living together. It is due to a number of other factors. Othello comes of royal birth but he has won for himself a place of distinction in the service of the Venetian state by his military prowess. He confesses the one-sidedness of his experience (I.3.86-7):

little of this great world can I speak

More than pertains to feats of broil and battle. . . . (32)

The violence against women in this drama is unpalatable for much of the audience. A.C. Bradley, in his book of literary criticism, Shakespearean Tragedy, describes the violence against the heroine as a “sin against the canons of art”:

To some readers, again, parts of Othello appear shocking or even horrible. They think – if I may formulate their objection – that in these parts Shakespeare has sinned against the canons of art, by representing on the stage a violence or brutality the effect of which is unnecessarily painful and rather sensational than tragic. The passages which thus give offence are probably those already referred to – that where Othello strikes Desdemona (IV.i.251), that where he affects to treat her as an inmate of a house of ill-fame (IV.i…

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…ies. Ed. Clarice Swisher. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1996. Reprint from Literature. N. p.: Random House, 1986.

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.

Heilman, Robert B. “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello.” Shakespeare: Modern Essays in Criticism. Ed. Leonard F. Dean. Rev. Ed. Rpt. from The Sewanee Review, LXIV, 1 (Winter 1956), 1-4, 8-10; and Arizona Quarterly (Spring 1956), pp.5-16.

Muir, Kenneth. Introduction. William Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Penguin Books, 1968.

Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. 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.

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