Women Characters in ‘Othello’ and ‘The Rover’

Women Characters in ‘Othello’ and ‘The Rover’
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Literature evolves from life. Whether it is Elizabethan age or very recent canon of post-modernism, literature has continued to bear the imprints of life and society within the compass of its creativity. The plays “Othello” by William Shakespeare and “The Rover” by Aphra Behn bear the essence of their time and most importantly both these contemporary plays have emerged beyond their time, captivating some of the most recent post-modern interpretations and feministic bent of perception has been poignant in their purview.

Role of Women in the Plays “Othello” and “The Rover” Against the Context of the Male Dominated Society

In order to discuss the alternative role of women in the plays that has evolved from a male –dominated society, it is essential to judge the genre of both the works as the nature of the plays shall evidently determine the perspective from which the women and her empowerment as an alternative factor in a society dominated by masculine facades are presented.

It is noteworthy that the play, “Othello” by William Shakespeare is out and out a tragedy, where Desdemona, the victim and the wife of Othello falls prey into the trap of misunderstanding and false infidelity from her husband’s end. On the other hand, “The Rover” by Aphra Behn is a very popular Restoration Comedy where there are multiple plots and intriguingly all of them contain women as a pivot to the plot development.

In “Othello” Shakespeare has tried to portray a strong Venetian patriarchal society where the women are viewed as an object of possession, an entity of subjugation, a temptress and a whore but at the same platform they are also viewed as powerless creatures falling into the omnipotent and all-pervasive clutches of destiny designed by men themselves.

The three women character Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca are seen at the outset of the play respecting men almost to the point of worshipping them. But Desdemona’s tragic trajectory definitely serves as a lesson to the other women and Desdemona as well. Emilia is seen evolving out as a power centre in the play after the tragic consequence of Desdemona and by the climax of the play, women characters in the play are shown internalising society’s expectations about them. On the same platform they were shown to subjugate under and accept the male authority, behaving the way men want them to react and that seems ‘natural’ to them and to the readers. But in their private moments, they are seen evolving as an alternative power centre in the male dominated society, ‘Nay, we must think men are not gods’ (Shakespeare, 2008).

The evolution or the transformation of women characters and the kind of language and actions of women characters incorporated in the plot of the play “Othello” by Shakespeare indicate that Shakespeare’s three women characters although seem subservient but the women characters in the play exhibit a role that indicates a step tentative of approach towards an egalitarian society. This is achieved by the female characters of the play by coming out of the conventional role allotted to the women by men folk of the society.

The play “The Rover” is an excellent piece of restoration comedy which was written in two halves and the first part is divided into five plots. There is a definite and pertinent feministic bent within the plot of the play which is displayed through fragmented instances and incidents in the play pertaining to women, vulnerable to rape. Also the tragic consequence of Angellica after being jilted by Wilmore, it becomes quite obvious that Behn used the platform of comedy to launch a protest movement against the powerless status of women in her society. Every plot of the play has a women character subjugated to injustice and misery in the play. And all these women characters simultaneously try to break free the conventional role assigned to them by the society to evolve out as peer and sometimes superior to the men in the play. For example, Hellena, the lover of Willmore is shown set out to search the true love of her life which is quite alternative as a concept in that age and she is doing so with a purpose as after that she would be captivated into the life of austerity and celibacy of a disciplined life of convent. Angellica Bianca, a courtesan tries to take revenge on Willmore for her betrayal in love. Florinda is shown trying to marry her love and she does it desperately ignoring the choice of her brother and the provincial Blunt is shown being humiliated by a woman as he is convinced to fall in love with a girl but she turns out to be a prostitute. Throughout the play, a pervasive pungent tone of sarcasm prevails that tries to evolve women as alternative power centre in the male- dominated society.


Thus, we find that both the tragedy and the comedy “Othello” and “The Rover” set out different parameters for their women character posited against the male-dominated society. This attempt for the presentation of alternative roles assigned to women in the society definitely launches these plays beyond time and helps them retain their spirit of timelessness and universality.

Shakespeare, W. Othello. MobileReference, 2008.