Even though the problem of women’s treatment is not the central one in Shakespeare’s ‘Othello’, still it is revealed in some very crucial episodes and helps an author to describe the essences of his characters more completely. For the men characters such as Iago and Othello women are more like spoil when the character Michael Cassio treats women with respect and politeness. The women characters Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca consider their gender roles rather contradictory to each other and stand for different women’s values.
Despite the fact that the piece is called Othello the most active character in it is Iago, as it is him who creates all the conflicts between characters. Iago is clearly the most sexist hero of the story and his attitude to women is straightly described in all of his speeches concerning women. For example, in the dialogue between Iago, his wife Emilia, and Desdemona about women (II.i.890-965) it turns out that according to Iago’s opinion women are only aimed to bring pleasure to men. Even despite being either beautiful or smart or even both, there is no way they can be really useful in this life whatsoever. Also, Iago’s attitude to women is shown in his constant contemptuous manner of interaction with them especially his evident disrespectful treatment of his own wife. The strangest thing in the moment when Iago confesses his love to Desdemona (II.i.1092) is why does he decide to send his beloved one to her doom? Probably, because for Iago women are just objects in his possession, he doesn’t consider them as worthy personalities.
At the very beginning of the story Othello seems to be a decent man but the culmination of the story reveals his real attitude to women which is a consideration of them (especially his wife) as spoil that should either belong to their men or die. In the first part of the piece, Othello expresses his full dedication and love to his beautiful wife but later the smallest spark of hesitation turns into the greatest fire of jealousy in history. The emotional response to some phrases and manipulations created by Iago gives rise to the fatal actions of the jealous man. Othello becomes blinded by the jealousy based on nothing and in the episode when he asks Desdemona where the handkerchief he gave her is he denies listening to his wife’s answers (II.iv.2240-2285). The thing is that he is so sure that his wife is his thing that reasonable arguments mean nothing to him and he fails to be that decent and loving husband he is at the very beginning. So it turns out that his love means nothing if he doesn’t even try to figure things out and stop treating his wife as a thing.
In contrast to the previous two characters, we observe the personal features of Cassio who treat women with respect and pays attention to their personalities. Cassio is dedicated both to Othello and his wife and Desdemona is highly reputable for him. Cassio interacts with Desdemona not on the level man-woman but on the highest interpersonal communicational level person-person which means that he expresses his respect and honor first of all to her personality and only after that to her being the wife of her husband (III.iii.1630-1655). Thus it is possible to judge Cassio’s attitude to women according to his respectful treatment of Desdemona.
As for the women roles in the play Othello their personalities as women are quite contradictory. Desdemona, the main female character of the story, is a decent woman and a good wife. Both her words and actions show that she is devoted to her gender role as a wife. In the discussion between her Father and Othello about the way she fell in love with her husband Desdemona replies to her father that Brabantio was the man of her life before she got married to Othello, so now she has duties to her husband only (I.iii. 530-535). Desdemona’s dedication to her husband reaches the highest point when in the scene of her death she doesn’t confess that it was Othello who killed her (V.ii.3452-3453). Another woman who considers herself as dedicated to her man is Emilia but the two dedications are essentially opposite to each other. When Emilia and Desdemona discuss adultery Desdemona denies that there is any possible situation she could have cheated on her husband (IV.iii.3106). Although Emilia confesses that she would have done anything to get the world for her man even if adultery is needed for that. The episode describes Emilia as both a dedicated and flesh peddler woman. The point is that even though she says that she would do anything for her man she accepts that there is a possibility that she could have cheated on him which a priori makes her capable of betrayal. In order to depict different kinds of women probability, Shakespeare shows another female character of Bianca who is a courtesan. The essence of Bianca is shown in one small episode which describes the difference between her and Emilia when they meet each other and Bianca claims that she is the same woman Emilia is and the last one denies it (V.i.3288-3289). Indeed both women are the same in their nature but the main thing that makes Bianca even better than Emilia is that she is honest to herself and society that she is a flesh peddler one. Even though all of the women play different personal roles in their families and have a diverse reputation in society when it comes to men business their husbands are willing to give up on them to satisfy their own interests.
Shakespeare’s Othello is quite a contradictory story concerning the role of women in it. On the one hand, it seems like the entire story is about love and jealousy to the woman that everyone adores. But at the end of the story, it turns out that all the men in the story don’t really care about the women’s lives and treat them as things, not personalities. The story reveals the important observation about life itself: we should always look behind that what words show to us and pay attention to the real actions, what are they truly about and in the favor of whom they work.
Works Cited: Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice. Ed. Tucker Brooke and Lawrence Mason. New Haven: Yale UP, 1947. Print.