Othello, The Status Of Women Essay

Othello, The Status Of Women Essay

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In William Shakespeare’s Othello, the status of women at the time, exemplified by Othello’s belief that Desdemona belongs to him, leads Othello to trust Iago more than he trusts his own wife. In many of Shakespeare’s plays, women lack social agency, and therefore their lives are run by men. Although Desdemona is a strong character, the fact that she is a woman creates room for Othello to doubt her. Othello begins to trust what Iago tells him more than he trusts Desdemona, which shows how little he trusted her in the first place. Othello even starts to believe that Desdemona may be unfaithful because he is black. Finally, because of his anger and the general attitude towards women at the time, Othello objectifies Desdemona. All of these factors put together ultimately lead to Desdemona’s death.
Rhetoric is an extremely important component of the play. In Othello, words are never just words, which is one reason why it is so easy for Iago to prey on Othello. Iago has the reputation of being “of exceeding honesty and know[ing] all quantities, with a learned spirit, of human dealings” (3.3.257-259). Although Desdemona has not given Othello any reason to distrust her, Iago is quickly able to undo Othello and Othello and Desdemona’s relationship with just his words and his honest reputation. This quick undoing speaks to the homosocial world of men that is seen throughout many of Shakespeare’s plays. Since women had little social agency at the time, men’s relationships with each other were strongly emphasized. Through Othello’s soliloquy, it is clear that, even though Desdemona has given Othello no reason to believe that she is cheating on him, Othello trusts his male companion more than he trusts his own wife. Since Iago is “of exceedi...


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... words, if women had a higher status in the world, and Othello was not as misogynistic and territorial, he most likely would not have believed Iago. Othello is also easily manipulated because he is insecure about himself and his status as a Black Muslim in the world. Desdemona deceived her father to marry Othello so, as Brabantio pointed out, what would stop Desdemona from deceiving Othello? Although Iago’s rhetoric and Othello’s race and ethnicity constantly caused problems for the couple, the root of the issue fell onto Othello’s attitude towards women, and especially towards Desdemona. Other than women lacking social agency in general in that time period, Othello treated Desdemona like she was a prize to be won, and after he won her, she was his to treat as he pleased. This idea that Desdemona was a pure virgin and belonged to Othello ultimately led to her death.

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