The study aims at analyzing the sixteenth century view of female sexuality and their impact on Shakespeare’s tragedy. The sixteenth century was marked by classical works of renowned literary writers like Shakespeare whose works centered on affairs affecting the society at that time. Such affairs were covered in themes such as ignorance, love versus infatuation, jealousy, and reality versus idealism, male chauvinism, and female sexuality, among others. This topic however centers on scholarly and societal view of female sexuality with respect to that period.
Female sexuality has largely contributed to enhancement of tragedy mostly in Shakespeare’s plays. Tragedy simply means aspect of death in relation to the works of literature. With a view to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and most of his plays, the writer tries to bring out that aspect of female influence in tragic ending of highly influential personalities or characters. The tragic demise of Romeo after coming to terms with Juliet’s death explains the author’s depiction of female sexuality as strong, and that which is capable of making a man emotionally weak. Though some people have by and large interpreted the play to mean the dangers of indulging in love when young by provoking its power, the author’s portrayal of the male, Romeo, first committing suicide is an indication of a man’s weakness to repel the forces that love may bring.
Embarking on Othello, Desdemona goes against her father Brabantio and decides to marry the Moor, a black man, who Desdemona’s father loathes. He says: “O thou foul there, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her.’ It must be witchcraft – what else could lead Desdemona to stray so far from parental and civic expectations to fall in love with a stranger and a black man?” (1 scene II 285). The father’s hatred for Othello from the onset is more than what words can describe. In his view, he feels that his daughter is about to make the greatest and regrettable blunder of her life if he accepts to marry a black man; a person she should be even feel afraid to look on. People could argue that it is because of the father’s wish against the daughter getting married to Othello that results into the tragic end of his daughter Desdemona (Potter 203).
Females in most of Shakespearean writings are looked down upon by men. Critics have argued that the fact that most of Shakespearean female characters are presented as of low status, perhaps maids, prostitutes or housewives; indicate that William Shakespeare himself must have been a male chauvinist. This may not be true. Most of his works generally try to satirize men’s weakness in controlling sexual desires.
Each female character in Othello has some roles to play. Bianca, who is married to Cassio is a mere housewife. She however uses her sexuality to gratify men’s sexual urge so as to make ends meet. She is unfortunately being referred to as a lose woman by Iago and we see this trait when Iago says, “A house wife that by selling her desires, Buys herself bread and clothes”. (4 scene IV 2520-2530). It is Bianca’s jealousy, a theme that largely comes out, that finally leads to Desdemona’s tragic end. This depicts women to use sex as a tool to get what they want. It also shows men’s lack of respect for these women.
In the play Othello, Desdemona’s dilemma of siding with her father or choosing her lover shows the kind of dilemma women undergo when they are left to choose between father and love. When her father insists that she has to choose between him (father) or her lover (Othello), she says, “I do perceive here a divided duty. To you I am bound for life and education. My life and education both to learn me How to respect you. You are the lord of duty; I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband, And so much duty as my mother showed To you, preferring you before her father” (1 scene II 530-535) (Nada 89).
Desdemona speaks frankly of her love for Othello. This love is so romantic and sexual in nature that she makes her father have no obligation but to let her go with Othello. While she is sincere in the way she speaks of her love for Othello and even willing to go to Cyprus with him, her lover speaks only of heroism and worship. This shows women’s naivety and vulnerability as far as matters of love are concerned (Shakespeare 167).
Towards the end of the play, Desdemona is murdered out of Iago and Othello’s jealousy; a foolish act which Othello later regrets but cannot find a course to reverse the situation. He represents a weak character that is foolishly duped and forgets his inner self to commit a crime. Even though Desdemona loses the battle for survival, Othello loses the battle for reputation. This also shows females’ ability to use their sexuality to ruin men’s hard earned reputation.
Nada, Corrine. “Romeo and Juliet.” Marshal Cavendish, 2009. Web. 28 Apr 2013.
Potter, Lois. “Othello.” Manchester University Press, 2002. Web. 28 Apr 2013.
Shakespeare, William. “Othello.” Macmillan, 2009. Web. 28 Apr 2013.