The Role of Women in Othello

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The Role of Women in Othello

If we are to assume, as Richard Levin speculates, that women were in the audiences of many Renaissance plays, it is then highly possible that feminine stage images were affected by their presence(165). Likewise, the issues represented by these images would have been constructed to take these women into account in order to satisfy them as paying customers. Levin offers only a "tentative hypothesis on the incorporation of feminine sentiment into Renaissance drama. Considering that Shakespeare and his contemporaries produced in a period where doctrines such as "An Homily on the State of Matrimony" and Juan Luis Vives' _The Instruction of a Christian Woman_ were used to define the nature of women, the chances of art imitating life was very likely.

"An Homily of the State of Matrimony" presents conventional duties of husbands and wives. Its intent is " establish patriarchy, commanded by God and instituted in Paradise, as the foundation of family life" (Klein 13). Husbands are the "heads" of this institution, but should be sensitive to certain faults found in women: "For the woman is a weak creature, not endued with like strength and constancy of mind...and they be the sooner disquieted...more prone to all weak affections and dispositions of mind more than men be, and lighter they be, and more vain in their fantasies and opinions" (Klein 16). Women, according to the "Homily," are to submit to their spouses and withstand any form of abuse (verbal or otherwise) from these men with the notion that their perserverance will be rewarded in heaven. Desdemona takes heed to this testament accordingly when she tells Emilia, "Be as your fancies teach you..." and, referring to Othello, "Whate'ver ...

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...on of these personas. Shakespeare's juxtaposition of Desdemona and Emilia within the marital context provides social commentary of their duties as married women, but also mocks the doctrines that confines them to these positions.

Works Cited

Dusinberre, Juliet._Shakespeare and the Nature of Women_. 2nd ed. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1996.

Klein, Joan L., ed. _Daughters, Wives, and Widows: Writings by Men about Women and Marriage in England, 1500-1640_. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1992.

Levin, Richard. "Women in the Renaissance Theatre Audience." _Shakespeare Quarterly_. 40(Summer 1989): 165-174.

Neely, Carol Thomas. _Broken Nuptials in Shakespeare's Plays_. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985.

Shakespeare, William. _Othello_. (_The Arden Shakespeare_) ed. E.A.J. Honigmann. 3rd ed. Surrey: Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd., 1997.
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