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A Feminist Analysis of Othello

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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 [. . .]...

... middle of paper ...

... 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. 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.


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