Zoe StoimenovaENG 3U1 – 04Mr. AliDecember 22, 2017The Mistreated Women in Society, During the 1600’sOthello Literary Essay In today’s society, women are mostly treated equally to men, and are given the same rights as them. This was not the case in England during the 1600’s, when William Shakespeare wrote one of his most famous plays, “Othello”. During the Elizabethan era in England, women had to take care of the house and children, as well as accommodate their husbands, while keeping the prestige of their family clean. In Shakespeare’s writing, women were not seen the way they were in real life, their roles were altered a little bit to fit the plot and make an interesting storyline. In the play “Othello”, women experienced mistreatment from the male characters because of their misrepresented roles. There are only three female characters in the play, all three being shown in a different light. The first woman in the play is Bianca.
Bianca is presented as a strumpet, in fact she is being called that a few times in the play. During the time when Shakespeare wrote the play, women were supposed to be loyal to their husbands, and only their husbands. If they ever cheated, that would be considered a sin, and it would ruin their future, their reputation, as well as the reputation of their whole family. This is the reason why Bianca was seen as a lower class citizen, and was constantly mistreated by the male characters in the play. Bianca first appears in Act 3, Scene 4 of the play, when she is immediately hurt by her love, Michael Cassio. She is greeted by “What make you from home?” (Act 3, Scene 4, Line 157), which simply put means ‘What are you doing here?’.
This is not a nice way to be greeted by someone, especially when it is someone you love. Cassio realizes that what he said was not nice, so he continued to ask her what she is up to, but soon after he disrespects her again. Michael asks her to leave, because he doesn’t want Othello “To see him womaned.” (Act 3, Scene 4, Line 183). In other words ‘I don’t want to be seen with you, because you are a woman of lower class, and you ruin my precious reputation in front of my master.”, which is a very disrespectful statement.
Poor Bianca is also mistreated by Iago, who is known for having poor opinions of women, especially Bianca. Although not directly to her face, Iago calls her “A huswife that by selling her desires buys herself bread and clothes…”, calling her a whore or prostitute. Iago’s brutality towards Bianca continues when he accuses her of hurting Michael Cassio, by saying, “I do suspect this trash to be a party in this injury…” (Act 5, Scene 1, Line 87), calling her a piece of trash in the meantime. The second character we see get disrespected and mistreated is Othello’s wife, Desdemona.
Unlike Bianca, Desdemona has higher social standing, more power, and with that comes more pressure to keep her reputation clean. At the beginning of the play, we see her being mistreated by her own father for marrying “a moor”. Her father rejects her, and even though she no longer has a father in Brabantio’s eyes, she says, “My noble father… to you I am bound for life and education… You are the lord of duty… So much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord.” (Act 1, Scene 3, Lines 182 – 190). This shows Desdemona’s obedience towards her father, even if she has just been mistreated for making a decision for marrying a black man. The quote above also shows her obedience towards her husband, Othello. In the play, the moor was portrayed as very respectful and kind towards women, but his view on Desdemona changed after Iago convinced him that his wife cheated on him with Cassio.
Blinded and led by jealousy, Othello slowly started doubting and disrespecting his loyal wife, while his crystal reputation for treating women with respect, started breaking. It started off with Othello slapping Desdemona in front of Lodovico, and asked her to get out of his sight. Even after being humiliated by her husband, Desdemona remained obedient, saying, “I will not stay to offend you.” (Act 4, Scene 1, Act 196). During the Elizabethan era, women who cheated on their husbands were considered whores, and must die, because they dishonour the family. The rules were the same in the Shakespearean play, and because of that, Othello had to murder his innocent wife.
Desdemona never became disloyal, even moments before dying. She portrayed her obedience by saying, “Nobody. I myself. Farewell.
Commend me to my kind lord…” (Act 5, Scene 2, Lines 182 – 183). In her final lines, Desdemona displays how blinded she is by love, and though she knows she is innocent, she blames herself for everything that happened. She is so manipulated and controlled by Othello, she thinks she is wrong, because she is a woman.
Emilia, the wife of Iago, and servant to Desdemona, is the only female character which shows her obedient and ‘not-so obedient’ side, which results in her being murdered. Emilia is very loyal to her husband, even though Iago is known for his mistreatment towards women, including his wife. Her obedience is displayed in a conversation between her and Desdemona in which she says, “…Why, who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him a monarch?..
.”. In this statement, Emilia is telling Desdemona how she would even cheat on her husband to make him king, and this shows just how manipulated women were in the 1600’s.
Emilia also shows her other side in which she openly speaks her mind. After Desdemona was murdered without being at fault, Emilia wanted to clear her name and reputation, and go against her husband to reveal the truth. She openly shares the truth about Iago’s plans of revenge, and when told to shut up, she replies with, “I will not charm my tongue, I am bound to speak…” (Act 5, Scene 2, Lines 196 – 197).
Iago threatens her, but Emilia says, “No, I will speak as liberal as the north. Let heaven and men and devils, let them all, all, all cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak.” (Act 5, Scene 2, Line 234). Emilia was berated and murdered by her own husband, because of her decision to speak the truth. This shows how much power men had over women, that if a woman dared to speak poorly or reveal a secret, it would cost her her life.
The roles of women in England during the 1600’s, were not the same as today. Back then women were ‘owned’ by their husbands, they had no rights whatsoever, and were often mistreated by the men they were married to. Similarly, in “Othello” by William Shakespeare, the three female characters, Bianca, Desdemona, and Emilia, went through an abundance of maltreatment, because of the misrepresented roles portrayed in the play. Works CitedHigh, Valencia. “Gender Roles in 1600s England.” Prezi.
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