Othello by William Shakespeare is a play which a contemporary audience could interpret as an attack on the patriarchal society Shakespeare lived in. A modern reading of Othello could find that a patriarchal society enforces and expects behaviours and actions of people, which leads to a suppression of one’s morals and identity. Throughout the play, certain characters and events show the audience how social conventions, especially regarding class and gender, limit personal freedoms and individuality. My thesis will examine how different class levels have different restrictions and advantages, because of the views of Shakespeare’s patriarchal society. It will also explore how characters are seen to be restrained and vulnerable to the play’s tragic events because of gender expectations and attitudes. The conventions in a patriarchal society is can be seen to be more restrictive to a contemporary audience, as attitudes towards class and gender have changed greatly over time.
Through the characterisation of the characters of Emilia and Desdemona, an audience can see how restricting higher social classes and female expectations were. The social expectations on the gentry were much more limiting on personal freedom and individuality than the lower classes. The gentry like Desdemona were expected to suppress their true emotions, and look orderly and controlled, something which Desdemona does until her death- an inevitable death as she allows this social code to control her life. Emilia is Desdemona’s maid, which shows she is of a lower class and is able to speak her mind because she does not suffer from upper class restrictions like Desdemona does. When knowing someone has told Othello lies about Desdemona’s loyalty, Desdemona says “If any such there be, heaven pardon him, whilst Emilia says “A halter pardon him and hell gnaw his bones!” .
The domination of women through patriarchal expectations is common throughout Shakespeare's works. An examination of Ophelia, Hero, and Desdemona portrays their victimization through male centered forms of power. These patriarchal power structures classify women as walking wombs who must remain virtuous until marriage. The pressure from these expectations leaves women weak and vulnerable. As long ...
These two lines are juxtaposed, and show a clear difference in these two women, Desdemona is expected by her class to continue to be a sweet, gentle, submissive woman, while Emilia can freely express her opinion without such limitations. Emilia is willing to reveal truths and expose secrets, as seen when she throws back the curtain of the bed to find Desdemona dead, showing how lower classes were not as restricted, and they did not have to act falsely. Despite Emilia having this freedom, her voice is ignored or silenced because she is a woman. This shows how both gentry and lower class women were similar as they were both considered inferior, simply because of their gender.
Desdemona dies protecting her husband “Nobody- I myself- farewell. / Commend me to my kind lord- O, farewell.” Throughout the play, Desdemona is presented through psycomachio language – “The divine Desdemona”, “O, she was heavenly true”, as being an ideal woman, so this obedience and loyalty to Othello which Desdemona displays was obviously expected and respected in women. This shows how social conventions forced women and higher classes to fulfill the stereotype of obedience and control, suppressing individuality. In Shakespeare’s patriarchal society, order and control was considered to be very important, and was a social expectation of especially men and higher classes.
Any disruption of natural order was seen to be the cause of chaos, which allowed plays like Othello to develop into a tragedy, which shows how order was a vital aspect of Jacobean life. In Othello, the successful, respected military men were controlled and orderly in their speech and actions. When Iago says “Marry, patience! / Or I shall say you ” re all in all spleen/ And nothing of a man” he reveals how passion was not a conventional masculine attribute, which shows how men were expected to be disciplined and orderly. When Othello hits Desdemona, the action shows how not only men were expected to be composed, but higher classes of society as well. Lodovico is amazed at Othello’s violence towards his wife “My lord, this would not be believed in Venice, / Though I should swear I saw’t” showing how this passion and emotion in men was unconventional, and by it being Lodovico, an important gentleman, disagreeing with the action, it shows how upper classes were expected to be orderly as well.
In Shakespeare?s play Othello, Iago is the antagonist. That is, he is the villain in the play Othello. He is the person who causes an action to occur which affects the other characters in the play. This action may not necessarily be a good thing. Iago is the catalyst for Othello?s change. He is the reason behind Othello?s changing views of his wife Desdemona, which results in the deaths of many ...
Other examples of order expected of the gentry is the stage direction of the Senate seated at a table, which shows how organised and structured they were. Order and control were so important in Jacobean England, that an audience can foresee Othello’s downfall, as he goes against social conventions, and is taken over by passion and emotion, for example when he has an epileptic fit. These patriarchal expectations did not allow for human nature and emotion, which restricts one’s individuality and true identity. Jacobean England followed a social hierarchy, where the power of influence was vested in men of the upper classes. In Othello, the audience can see two characters going against this social norm. Iago, is a man, but of a lower class, so in theory, should not have such a great influence over Othello.
Iago, manipulates Othello so well, because he plays on other social expectations, and targets Othello’s vulnerabilities created by a xenophobic patriarchal society. Iago is also influential because he is male, and appeals to Othello as an ‘honest’ brother, who seems to understand how deceptive women can be. It can be argued Iago is discovered to be the fiend of the play because he goes against this social expectation, and exerts influence when he shouldn’t be able to. Emilia is the second character who has influence in the play, and shouldn’t in society.
Look again at the extract on page 24 starting with “Do you want to come and play?” and ending with “now you say after me: ‘I will always defend my brother’.” With reference to the ways Russell presents the theme of social class in the extract and elsewhere in the novel in act one, show how far you agree that there is no escape from the effects of social class for the characters in the play. Willy ...
As a woman of the lower classes, Emilia is expected to be submissive and a conformist. At the end of the play however, Emilia goes against the social norm of upper class men only having power, and exposes her husband for the culprit he is. Emilia uses her morals to reveal the truth of the situation, and unfortunately because she had influence when she was not supposed to, she is stabbed and dies. As the class system in the Jacobean patriarchal society was so rigid, a lower class character essentially taking on characteristics of an upper class character was seen as breaking the natural order, and the social hierarchy which existed.
The fate of both Emilia and Iago show how restrictive social expectations were, and what influence these expectations had in a patriarchal society. Othello may also be seen to show how it was a behavioural expectation for women to be promiscuous by nature, but it was a social convention for them to be pure and wholesome. The audience can see how Bianca, an obvious prostitute in Venice, at the disposal of Cassio, is rejected from society because she uses her sexuality in a loose manner. Bianca is sneered at and joked at because she is a prostitute, “I marry her! What! A customer! Prithee bear some charity to my wit: do not think it so unwholesome.
Ha, ha, ha!” . Bianca’s name is ironic, and it connects her and Desdemona together. “Bianca” means white in Italian, symbolizing purity – ironic as she is a prostitute. By Shakespeare naming her this, it connects her to the truly “white” and pure woman, Desdemona. This shows how to men, social class did not change the nature of women- all women, of lower classes like Bianca and gentry like Desdemona are seen as being licentious. This can also be seen in Act 5 scene 1, when Iago speaks to Cassio about Bianca, making Othello think he is taking about Desdemona.
By doing this, it connects the two women, and shows how both were disregarded as being common and prostitutes, simply because they are women. Iago can be seen by the audience to be the mouth piece for all social and behavioural expectations, and he shows how it was expected of women to be deceptive and promiscuous: “In Venice they do let God see the pranks/They dare not show their husbands; their best / conscience /Is not to leave’t undone, but keep’t unknown.” Society allowed men to act on the knowledge of their wives being unfaithful, as it was seen as a common problem, “There’s many a beast then in a populous city, /And many a civil monster.” Through allowing revenge, it shows how in a patriarchal society, it was a behavioral expectation for women to be deceptive, but they were breaking social conventions when they acted in this way. By such generalizations of a whole sex, the patriarchal society ignored the true identity and individuality of women. An audience can watch Othello, and find many negative aspects of a patriarchal society, whether Shakespeare intended to portray them or not. Issues of class and gender were very important in Jacobean England and in a patriarchal society, as they determined who had influence over others. Social and behavioral expectations changed for different genders and different social classes, and all seemed to suppress the true identity and individuality of people.
A womans role is primarily that of a wife and a mother do you agree? The big debate about a womans role, and place in the society has been going on for a long time, and is still continuing. Women have been fighting to be able to stand on the same podium as men for over decades of years. However, I do agree with the given statement that the primary role of women in the society is to be a wife and a ...
Men of higher classes were expected to be controlled, women were seen as promiscuous and were restricted by conventions calling for their obedience. The rigid conventions of a patriarchal world prove, through Othello, to disregard the importance and power of morals, and deny personal freedoms.