Discrimination Against Women in Othello

Discrimination Against Women in Othello

The Shakespearean drama Othello renders less to the female gender than it does to the male gender. All the women characters are victims – unjustly so. Let’s talk about the obvious sexism throughout the play.

Susan Snyder in “Othello: A Modern Perspective” expounds on the sexist notions typical of Venice:

The pervasive notion of woman as property, prized indeed but more as object than as person, indicates one aspect of a deep-seated sexual pathology in Venice. [. . .] Fear of women’s sexuality is omnipresent in Othello. Iago fans to flames the coals of socially induced unease in Othello, fantasizes on his own about being cuckolded by Othello and Cassio. In an ideology that can value only cloistered, desireless women, any woman who departs from this passivity will cause intense anxiety. (295)

Can the sexism within this play be regarded as insignificant, or is that trivializing something important? Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine comment in the Introduction to Shakespeare: Othello that sexism is a big factor in the play:

At this point in our civilization the play’s fascination and its horror may be greater than ever before because we have been made so very sensitive to the issues of race, class, and gender that are woven into the texture of Othello. [. . .] The issue of gender is especially noticeable in the final scenes of the play – with the attacks on Bianca, Emilia, and Desdemona – which are vivid reminders of how terrible the power traditionally exerted by men over women can be. (xiii-xiv)

Even the noble general yielded to the sexist remarks and insinuations of his ancient, thus developing a reprehensible attitude toward h...

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Mowat, Barbara A. and Paul Werstine, ed. Introduction. Shakespeare: Othello. New York: Washington Square 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.

Snyder, Susan. “Othello: A Modern Perspective.” Shakespeare: Othello. Eds. Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square Press, 1993.

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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