Othello is one of William Shakespeare’s most admired plays from the seventeenth century, 1601-1604. Othello is a heroic character of a competent and courageous soldier of advanced years serving in the Venetian Republic. Shakespeare’s literary work improves with his writing becoming more interesting and intriguing to the audience. This is through his enriched language and deepened characters that bring out the themes of the play in a unique and intriguing manner. Different characters act various roles to ensure that every theme comes out clearly. It presents the change of attitudes and behaviors in characters that lead to the flow of different events, both acceptable and unacceptable. William Shakespeare presents several themes such as jealousy, love, crime, marriage, richness and poverty. It also has ample character roles, which are played so that no part remains unexplored. For this reason, viewers rate the play Othello as the most admired because it covers familiar and realistic themes and events that take place in individual lives of the audience.
From the beginning of the play and during its performance, which took place at a court on the first of November the same year, it aggravated some criticism among literary editors. These critics deal with the different topics and themes that arise in the play. For example, after the release of the play, women began considering their position in the society differently due to the character of Desdemona. After the movement of women’s liberation during the late 60’s, a massive number of feminists arose in their character roles as women and flourished in almost every area of their lives. This is because there were occasional changes and developments throughout the play that analyze the character and roles of women in the society. With every literary critic, the readings were remarkable and different with various opinions. Desdemona represents different aspects of female roles and personalities in the society that many viewers can relate to occasionally. For this reason, it gives a deeper understanding of the play from different perspectives. With every change and development that occurs in the piece, characters explore every option of viewer satisfaction and fulfillment in their roles.
Desdemona is at the very beginning of the play where she takes on the character of a female protagonist. She escapes during the night to marry a man whom her father does not consider well enough for her. Despite her knowing that the society may condemn her to social exclusion, she fearlessly takes the decision to marry this man, Moor without her father’s consent. Insubordination was a serious offence when one married another man’s daughter without his consent and was punished by law. Desdemona appears in front of her father to defend herself for conducting this out of love while her father sees it as an act of downright violence. Desdemona has an independent personality so the men in the play consider her dangerous. Her choice of marrying Othello is subversive because it has a connection with the sexuality of women. By marrying a man without her father’s consent, she assumes the power that the society does not consider acceptable for women. She claims that the female nature also has sexual desires just like men in the society. During that time, a woman who had sexual desires was a whore or adulterous, so Desdemona’s actions made her appear as a woman with no dignity.
While other men and the society consider her adulterous, her husband sees her as his means to become an incorporated member of the Venetian society. He thinks that the society will only accept him as Venetian if his wife Desdemona accepts him. The play reveals another nature of Desdemona that her father does not know about when he describes her as “a maiden never bold” (Act 1, scene 3, line 95). Other men such as Iago view Desdemona as a prostitute because of her independence and self-given freedom. Her character keeps changing with every progress in the play. At the beginning, she is calm and loving until she decides to help Cassio recover his position, which he lost as a Lieutenant. That makes her become rebellious and troublesome to her husband. She behaves like a common shrew, a character not befitting her social status. Later in the play, she changes her behavior to childlike when she lies to her husband who demands to see a handkerchief he bought her for love. The last change in Desdemona’s character is when she personifies the destiny of every woman of her age as the subdued wife to the will of her husband. This is shocking to the audience because Desdemona has a powerful and independent personality.
Through all the changes of her personality, she portrays the true destiny of women in the society. With every action she takes, from her loving to rebellious attitude towards her husband in the name of supporting another man gain his position, her husband becomes jealous and suspicious who ends up killing her based on mere suspicion. The question of position in the society is a widely debated factor in the social and gender field by authors and scholars such as William Shakespeare. According to many writers and the society, women ought to learn in silence and have no right to speak their opinions. They are to obey every command from men who hold higher positions in the society. For women in the late 60’s, women were to subdue to the will of their husbands regardless of their opinion. For this reason, Desdemona’s character portrays courage in women who speak and make decision on their own without having to rely on anyone for guidance. Even though some communities still practice this kind of tradition, many of them give women their rights in the society because they have proven to be able to do equally much to build the society.
While other critiques claim that Desdemona plays controversial characters, they also pose a challenge to the audience on a matter of the age and social class of Desdemona. It covers the question of whether she would behave in a different way if she were an adult. At the time of her marriage, she was a young girl who made decisions based on her emotions and desires. This means that there is a possibility of Desdemona developing a different behavior and a more teachable attitude if she was in the right age for marriage in the seventeenth century. Her character brings the audience to a world of women, where they get to analyze and understand the female personality traits, their preferences, what they talk about most times and their conception and experiences of life and marriage. Women express their vision of love through her character in the tragedy that brings to the audience a deeper perspective of whether they are justified to be unfaithful to their husbands.
The audience learn about Othello’s confession to Desdemona’s father (Act 1, scene 3, line 77 and 78), where he says he married his daughter. He says, “That I have ta'en away this old man's daughter, it is most true; true, I have married her”. Othello tries to confirm to Desdemona’s father that the news he heard other people say is true; but he tells him that she, Desdemona, made the decision on her own. Act 1, scene 3, line 90-93, he says, “Of my whole course of love; what drugs, what charms, what conjuration and what mighty magic, for such proceeding I am charged withal, I won his daughter”. He explains that he did not force his wife into marriage. If to draw attention to Desdemona’s behavior, she does not match the ideal character of the seventeenth century women. For example, those who are to have good conduct, obey husband and father, be silent, be good homemakers and wear plain clothes. Desdemona does not represent the model wife, daughter and woman required in the seventeenth century.
However, from the arguments of different critiques about the play and the presentation of William Shakespeare in the play, it is more convenient for a woman to possess a recommendable character in the society. Nevertheless, Desdemona’s character has subversive effects on the vision of life for females in the sixteenth century and the centuries that followed. This is because she represents the option of an independent mind and soul, free choice and power . She also communicates to the society and sexists that they cannot put her into chains against her will. This paper addresses the issue of women’s position in the society with special attention to wives and daughters. For many years, there has been a misunderstood opinion about female positions and what they represent in the society. In the early centuries, women were the weaker sex in the status in marriages, homes and the society. However, with the development of such countries as Asian, women played major roles in their contribution to the development of the state through small community groups and donations. No achievements would be possible without their influence and intervention. For this reason, unlike the early centuries women represent power and unity in marriages and the society.
For example, women encountered several problems and challenges in the society, homes and marriages but they found solutions on their own. Regardless of their positions where they are not able to air their opinions, they still did it in their actions. This is because many women embraced their positions and orders from men to stay quiet except they wanted to achieve solutions on their own terms, without the orders from men. This has caused many other women to have a desire to air their opinions and contributions on condition that they would have their opinions considered important. Despite their efforts and attitudes, some scholars still claim that women do not play important roles in the society. This is because they believe that if a woman is to speak, she must have major accomplishments not just in her home but in the society as well, which most women did not have in the early centuries. Women willingly actively participated in the growth and development of many countries by defining roles for themselves. They found solutions to problems on their own by putting their homes and marriages in order so their actions influenced their contributions towards the growth of the society.
In addition to this, other women developed community institutions to give guidance to young girls about marriage and wife responsibilities. By seeking older women’s guidance, less cases of infidelity arise in marriages. All these are the efforts of women in the society and their influence is inarguably positive towards developing stable marriages. This helped strengthen female collectivity as well as mobilize them to improve living conditions for others. On the other hand, Othello reveals negative influence on women that drives them to do unacceptable things in the society. For example, the relationship between Desdemona and Emilia is not beneficial to either of the parties. Emilia holds the opinion that infidelity is achievable if she would gain the whole world (Act 2, scene 2, line 56 and 57), while Desdemona holds the opinion that infidelity is unacceptable for any marriage (Act 2, scene 3, and line 12 -16). According to the play, Desdemona’s decision to act freely and independently creates a problematic scene because she represents rebellion among women against the husbands’ authority.
While Desdemona’s husband felt justified for his actions against his wife, the society should have addressed the issue of violence that came because of women’s low position in the society in the seventeenth century. This is because despite the fact that people called her a whore, she remained loyal to her husband. She also stayed tenacious and resolute despite her husband misunderstanding her actions. He on the other hand, did not remain loyal because he acted from suspicion and took his wife’s life. Desdemona’s husband instead of acting violently should have rationally solved their issues of infidelity. Considering the different beliefs they held in the seventeenth century about women, no matter how complex the issues appeared to be, he should have held a philosophical approach towards their problems. This means that his philosophical approach would have presented him with many options and alternatives to solving issues rather than acting hastily. This does not mean that his practical approach was not valid; it only means that if he used a philosophical approach, he would have had a proper understanding and background of his suspicions in terms of balancing his options in finding solutions.
According to the play, Desdemona’s main motivation for her actions was the feeling of love that she felt towards her husband. In other words, her motivation was genuine in implementing her actions by marrying Othello. On the other hand, if her motivation were money or power, she would have behaved in a more rebellious manner not just towards her father but her husband as well. For example, Othello represents the character of a prince who has all the money and power. If his wife’s motive of marrying him were power and money, she would have shamelessly had a love affair with Cassio, whom she defended on several occasions. Her downfall comes because of her tenacity when she constantly fights for Cassio’s position even though she is aware that her actions may cause problems in her marriage. In Acts 5, scene 2, line 63 and 64, she weeps openly when she wrongly believes that Cassio is dead. This shows that she had affection for him and if not for her marriage, she would have loved him. Apart from this, Desdemona’s motivation of love led her to ignore all the claims of people around her and remain loyal to her marriage.
In addition to this, Desdemona and Othello shared a love that was un-waning. In Act 4, scene 3, line 18 and 20, she says, “My love doth so approve him that even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns – prithee unpin me – have grace and favor in them”. In situation where Othello’s jealousy took over, she was willing to prove her innocence by asking her husband to do the sensible thing, confront Cassio, and know where he found the handkerchief, (Act 4, scene 3, line 18 and 20). Desdemona remains bold and loyal even at the time of her death. If she had power and changed to be a bad person, she would have handed her husband over to the law because she was aware that he was responsible for Cassio’s and her death. If Desdemona played the villain in the play, many people would have suffered considering her boldness and determination to speak freely on issues involving her. She would have had a love affair with Cassio regardless of the fact that she was married. She would also have killed her husband for murdering her lover or handed him over to the law to deal with him. Apart from this, if Desdemona’s motive were power and money, which she would have obtained by marrying Othello, many people who misunderstood her would have faced her wrath. Instead, she did not harm anyone whatsoever. Her character also portrays strength in women who overcome all adversity and stay hopeful.
In conclusion, William Shakespeare’s work is unique and admired through all the centuries. Othello is one of his best works because it covers major themes of incidences in people’s lives and marriages. The play presents the change of attitudes and behaviors in characters that lead to the flow of different events, both acceptable and unacceptable. This means it represents the reality of people’s experiences and conception of life. The audience can relate to the play and understand the characters better. It represents the efforts and challenges of women as well as their achievements in all aspects of life. However, from the arguments of different critiques about the play and the presentation of William Shakespeare in the play, it is more convenient for a woman to possess a recommendable character in the society. Nevertheless, Desdemona’s character holds subversive effects on the vision of female life during the seventeenth century and the centuries that followed. This is because she represents the option of an independent mind and soul, free choice and power in a woman to the society.