Othello is a great example of William Shakespeare’s talent. His vision, imagery, and attention to detail is put on full display during this epic tragedy. The most important part to be drawn from this play is how women, and women’s rights were viewed at this period in time; women during this time were often treated poorly. They had no real place in politics, or even in society. The one true job that most women held was to be basically a Stay at home wife, and to please their husband in any way possible. They were not educated, and their words meant nothing especially when held against the words of a man. This is shows throughout Othello, especially in the latter portion of the play. Key characters such as Desdemona, Emilia, and even a subtle one such as Bianca all represent examples of this. These women in this play masterfully portray a message to the society of the time that women’s rights are, and always will be a major issue until something is done in the world between both woman and men.
The speech given in Act IV is often considered a plea for women’s rights. Emilia and Desdemona are both extremely tired of the way they were being treated how the other women are being treated. They are pleading for a change, and are seemingly calling out the men in the play and the audience as well. This is was mainly particular for the time period in which this play was set. Shakespeare is taking a real chance of receiving some serious backlash from his implications and suggestions of a needed change in the role women had in families, marriages, and society. The picture that is painted by Shakespeare is a beyond accurate representation of this. Men of this time period held all the power and responsibility, and what Shakespeare is suggesting would upend that entirely. He is sending a message to his audience that this behavior is not acceptable. Women were often given little to no respect. One of the very few examples of respect of a woman shown in this play was by Othello before the climax of the play, and Iago’s evil plan began to take place. During other times during the play, women were seen being shoved around, sexually abused, and told directly what to do by men with no way for any sort of free choice. Men were treating their own wives like some form of doll which they use at their own convenience, and also leave at their own will with little to no consequences. (Cantor) One would create what was basically a human sex slave out of their wives, and that is all.
A man of this time period could very easily commit adultery, and his wife could say or do something and nothing would be done. However, if the wife in turn committed an adulterous act or was even rumored to have committed any form of an adulterous act, she was going to be beaten. This was obviously seen with the death of Desdemona. Iago simply started a rumor about her, and continuously fed lies to Othello. So, instead of getting a divorce, or even truly listening to her side of the story, he murders her in cold blood, while calling her a whore and other such terrible things. This may be one of the things if this woman has been known as a harlot, but Desdemona was known as an upstanding, and well respected woman. She was in all actuality the picture perfect wife; she did as her husband commanded, and showed him nothing but compassion. Her loyalty never once faded, even as she took her final breath. Wives of this time truly felt and were treated less than human.
Shakespeare also shows us an example by his concern of women’s rights through his portrayal of the character Bianca. She is a seemingly very minor character without much purpose in the play. However, when reading and watching the play in the particular context of a work centered on women’s rights, her role makes perfect sense. Bianca was, in fact a stereotypical prostitute. She was in love with Cassio, but he mistreated her. She was put in the play to show the real difference between Desdemona and herself. Desdemona was a beautiful, upstanding woman with good morals. While, Bianca was a prostitute. The sad thing was that both of these women were seen the exact same way. Both were regarded, at least at some point or another during the play, as whores. Each of these women were severely mistreated, and prove yet again that Shakespeare is sending a key message to people. Othello failed to recognize the difference between these two women, and it ultimately ended up costing more than just one life. Sure, there are bad woman in this world, just as there are bad men. Even Emilia admits that in the later part of Act IV. However, the thought that all women are the same, and all are pieces of garbage is absolutely crazy. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Bianca is one of pity, or could be considered sympathetic. It’s almost as if he feels bad for her, and the fact that she is not getting a fair shake at life. It is as if she cannot get her chance at true love, simply because her reputation as a whore precedes her. Unfortunately, she is not even given a remote opportunity to prove her worth as a human being much less a suitable wife.
Throughout the play Othello, women rights, are put front and center on display for the world to see. This was an extraordinarily brave move by Shakespeare, considering that this time period was entirely male dominated. Women had no control over their own lives, and were treated no better than livestock at the time. Their word meant nothing, and unfortunately, by the time that Othello realized Desdemona was being truthful, it was far too late. Shakespeare took full advantage of his position as a renowned play writer, and used this power to shine some light on an issue that was, and continued to be a hot topic for a long time after. He ignored the possible backlash that could come from this slap in the face to society, and stood up for what he believed in. In this case, it was for the fair and balanced treatment of women.
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