Shakespeare’s Othello; a masculine play with a feminine focus
|Critical Analysis Essay
|Othello, Feminist Literary Criticism, ⚧️ Gender Roles, 📗 Book, 🎭 Plays, 🧔 William Shakespeare, 🧑🤝🧑 Gender Inequality
Shakespeare has been famous for various plays; as he has written throughout his career. However, Othello has not been very famous play as compared to his other contributions. The role of skepticism and resultant violence have been criticized by the critics hence, Shakespeare could not popularize himself as a war story writer (Cavell, 9). Therefore, it was not admired such as Twelfth Night, and Hamlet etc. The plot of the story is too complicated and it seems to move away from the concept of war, it is focused on the complexities of the relationships (Dehnert 1). The story of Othello is an intricate example of gender roles and prompts to have the following thesis statement:
Shakespeare’s Othello is a masculine play with a feminine focus; it presents the true picture of the gender roles in the contemporary society; presenting the oppressive role of male against the suppressed role of the females.
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Othello is weaved through different characters who are presenting diverse aspects towards the gender approaches. Othello being the lead character shows really weak approaches when encounters conspiracies. Lago being the other main character seems predominant to succeed whatever conspiracy he has tried to incorporate. Although he used his own wife to plot intrigue against Othello, he has managed to trick everyone till the end. Thus, when the characters are compared throughout the play, Lago seems the most gender-biased, who has used the females to satisfy his selfish desires for whatever reasons. During the entire play, Shakespeare has maintained the style as a masculine play with a feminine focus; and presented the bitter picture of the gender roles in the contemporary society and oppressed status of women in different characters, such as Desdemona, Emilia or Bianka.
The story has shown the female characters to be devoted to their husband, which has been clearly demonstrated in characters of Desdemona and Emilia. Desdemona has been completely loyal to her husband till the end but the biased mind of Othello did not allow him to think positive towards her. Out of his suspicions, he never thought that her requests in the favor of Cassio were only out of her kindness, due to any potential affair with him. On the other hands, the role of Emilia also shows a loyal wife, who supported her husband by all means, even by stealing the handkerchief to please the Lago. Since, female characters are highly suppressed by men in the play, both of them are trying to win favors from men characters.
Lago has been shown a highly clever and selfish role who only had one intention that was to ruin the lives of Othello and Cassio, thereby doing this, he also ruined his own married life, although his wife was highly devoted to him. However, for this the conspirator role has been highly consistent throughout the play, at one point Shakespeare states what Lago says that
“Were I the Moor I would not be Iago. In following him I follow but myself; Heaven is my judge, not I for love and duty, But seeming so for my peculiar end. For when my outward action doth demonstrate. The native act and figure of my heart in compliment extern, ’tis not long after But I will wear my heart upon my sleeve for daws to peck at. I am not what I am” (201).
In these lines, Lago reveals his tactics to Roderigo as he has revealed his concealed anger for Othello, for which he sacrificed women in the play. Lago’s revenge towards Othello also presents a complex picture in the play. This is even confusing if he really he suspected his wife that she was disloyal to him. Throughout the play, his focus remained on the revenge from Othello not directly from the wife as he had suspected her loyalty. She has helped him in his conspiracies as well, she found in the end that Lago was responsible for all the problems in the lives of everyone and is also killed by him. In the middle, Shakespeare also states that
“I am glad I have found this napkin. This was her first remembrance from the Moor, My wayward husband hath a hundred times wooed me to steal it, but she so loves the token (767)”
This shows the real face of the contemporary society that justifies the deeds committed by men and women are not accepted to be doing anything wrong, as both women were killed. They did nothing but were only suspected, which was not proved. Othello has been in sincere love with Desdemona, as he took the bold decision to marry her, but then he proved to be real imprudent as he followed the exact plan, which was plan was actually planned by Lago against him. At one point, he told that he was rude, but he was also proud to convince Desdemona by his charming speaking power, as Shakespeare states about Othello’s saying in the following.
“Haply for I am black, and have not those soft parts of conversation. That chamberers have; or for I am declined into the vale of years—yet that’s not much— she’s gone. I am abused, and my relief Must be to loathe her” (267).
In the above-given lines of Act 1, and scene iii, Othello confessed that he was rude in his speech, and he did not believe his claims on delivering a very lengthy speech on that how he convinced the Desdemona. Meanwhile, Lago raised the suspicion of Othello about his wife’s fidelity, and Othello started to believe in that as he was barbaric and inarticulate. Othello made the conclusion that Desdemona had gone also shows that how Lago’s institution was taken by him. The story has demonstrated the sustainable controls over women by the men in the society. During the entire development of the plot and structure of the story, women could not gain any superiority or status for themselves. Even the role of Bianca is also the depiction of a woman who is being used for a personal interest. The story has revolved around warriors, it has predominantly focused on the feminine matters and war has just been sustained as a side subject of discussion to create a situation. All three women have failed to gain a respectful status over the period of time. On the other hands, all three male characters Othello, Lago, and Cassio have revolved around the different aspects of conspiracies, where they have been focusing only on women characters.
Women characters have been mentioned throughout as a property to the men in the society, thus, they are killed without any confirmation from them, whether they had actually performed an act of disloyalty (Neill, 384). Therefore, the suspicions raised by Lago have been successful until the end. He ruined Othello as he wanted, though, till the revelation of the entire truth, and even after that, he has never spoken about any acceptable justification for his acts of creating differences between Othello and his wife.
Shakespeare has written this romantic tragedy in the form of a war story. This has been more focused on the females’ characters and their issues rather than the war events. The story revolves around one female to the other hence, the reader gets really confused on getting the idea of what the author wanted to express. For example, the role of Cassio was only about the conflict regarding appointment on a certain position. However, later on, it was joined with the feminine issue development in the plot. This matter could have been separately mentioned, just by discussing the conflict to show different attitudinal tendencies among the male characters as they become the killers of their wives at the lateral stage of the play.
The entire discussion shows clearly that Shakespeare’s Othello is a masculine play with a feminine focus as it presents the true picture of the gender roles in the contemporary society. It presents the oppressive role of male against the suppressed role of the females. Critics also say that expression of sexuality is more than an appropriate level in the stories by Shakespeare. Therefore, the presence of feminine has remained a predominant approach in his plays, in an unconscious manner. Most of the plays have been written to depict a patriarchal tendency which may be a natural tendency with Shakespeare. However, Othello has demonstrated the attribute throughout the piece of this writing (Traub, 3). Thus, Shakespeare has maintained the main focus on the women in the play as its evidenced by Lenz (18), like all of Shakespeare’s other plays women could not secure a lead as the tragic heroine in the play.
The role of Lago clearly has represented a masculine feature as he used his conspiring character rather than playing a true masculine role as a warrior through perceived superiority of men. On the other hands, Othello has demonstrated the true masculine attributes as well as a warrior but mainly focusing on his control over his wife as an “owner of an object”. Throughout the story, he has followed the track set by Lago, a true warrior with predominant masculine attributes should have been more focused on the war and the war field. This element has been found missing in the story. Although, both the elements are present in this play the feminine approach has remained as a central thought thematically. Therefore, the masculinity has only been shown through the anger against women, which also makes it a feminine story. Therefore, it has been found that throughout the story the female characters have been the focus of the plot. The rule has been under the control of men as mentioned in the thesis statement.
- Cavell, Stanley. Disowning Knowledge: In Seven Plays of Shakespeare. Cambridge University Press, 2003. Print.
- Dehnert, Amanda R. “Othello, Shakespeare.” Othello, Shakespeare. 1999. Print.
- Lenz, Carolyn Ruth Swift, Gayle Greene, and Carol Thomas Neely, eds. The woman’s part: Feminist criticism of Shakespeare. University of Illinois Press, 1983.
- Neill, Michael. “Unproper Beds: Race, Adultery, and the Hideous in Othello.” Shakespeare Quarterly 40.4 (1989): 383-412.
- Shakespeare William. The plays of Shakespeare, carefully revised [by J.O.] with a selection of engr. on wood from designs by K. Meadows. Oxford University Press. 2007. Print.
- Shakespeare William. THE OXFORD SHAKESPEARE: Othello: The Moor of Venice, Issue 2008, OUP Oxford, 2008. Print.
- Traub, Valerie. Desire and Anxiety (Routledge Revivals): Circulations of Sexuality in Shakespearean Drama. Routledge, 2015.