A variety of roles have women in them in William Shakespeare’s tragic drama Othello. Let us in this essay examine the female characters and their roles.
One key role for the heroine of the drama, Desdemona, is to support the general. David Bevington in William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies enlightens us about the hero’s dependence on Desdemona:
Othello’s most tortured speeches (3.4.57-77, 4.2.49-66) reveal the extent to which he equates the seemingly betraying woman he has so depended on for happiness with his own mother, who gave Othello’s father a handkerchief and threatened him with loss of her love if he should lose it. Othello has briefly learned and then forgotten the precious art of harmonizing erotic passion and spiritual love, and as these two great aims of love are driven apart in him, he comes to loathe and fear the sexuality that puts him so much in mind of his physical frailty and dependence on woman. (226)
At the outset of the play Iago persuades the rejected suitor of Desdemona, Roderigo, to accompany him to the home of Brabantio, Desdemona’s father, in the middle of the night. Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. This is the initial reference to the role of women in the play – the role of wife. In response to the noise and Iago’s vulgar descriptions of Desdemona’s involvement with the general, Brabantio arises from bed. Iago’s bawdy references to the senator’s daughter present a second role of women – that of illicit lover. With Roderigo’s help, he gathers a search party to go and find Desdemona and bring her home. The father’s attitude is that life without his Desdemona will be much ...
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... murder on.” Emilia is aware that she is violating social convention here: “’Tis proper I obey him, but not now.” This violation costs her dearly Emilia’s stunning interrogation and conviction of her own husband as the evil mastermind behind the murder results in Iago’s killing her. Despondent Othello, grief-stricken by remorse for the tragic mistake he has made, stabs himself and dies on the bed next to his wife.
Thus it is seen that the roles of women are many and varied – and are key to the successful development of the story.
Bevington, David, ed. William Shakespeare: Four Tragedies. New York: Bantam Books, 1980.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. In The Electric Shakespeare. Princeton University. 1996. http://www.eiu.edu/~multilit/studyabroad/othello/othello_all.html No line nos.
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