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Shakespeare's "Othello" Women's Role

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In the play "Othello", Shakespeare presents us with another male dominated society where women are inferior. Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca are rejected by their partners, but love them completely and unselfishly. All three women are in unbalanced relationships, feeling more for their self-centered men who appear unable to reciprocate. Nevertheless, these women display genuine feelings toward each other unlike any of the male-male friendships.

Desdemona and Emilia are both married to career military soldiers. Newly wedded Desdemona is inexperienced (innocent) in the "real world" despite being raised by a prominent Venetian Senator. In contrast, Emilia appears to have been married for some time. She is knowledgeable to the ways of a soldier, yet only believes a portion of what her husband tells her. Although Emilia has been Desdemona's attendant since the play's start (maybe much earlier), we really don't get an intimate view of their relationship until Act 4, Scene 3.

During this scene, Emilia is truly concerned for Desdemona and her problems with Othello. Desdemona tells her, "Even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns - prithee, unpin me- have grace and favor in them (line 21)." She also tells Emilia if she should die before her to wrap her body using the sheets on the bed. At first, Emilia thinks this is only "talk", but Desdemona begins to tell her about the song she learned from her mother's maid

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(Barbary). This becomes an intimate moment between the two, as Emilia is unpinning Desdemona's hair and preparing her for bed (like a mother helping her young daughter). This showing of affection is strictly among the women of this play. The men are the ones who are committing all the violence and most of the distrust. This conversation continues intimately throughout the rest of the scene, but heightens when Desdemona says, "O these men, these men (line 67)!" She can't believe women cheat on their husbands, and asks Emilia if she would cheat on Iago. Emilia attempts to soften her answer, and realizes Desdemona's view of love is "pure romance" and taken seriously. Act 4 ends with Emilia asking for equality between both sexes (this theme also appears in the other plays we read). If women don't receive respect and fidelity from their husbands, they aren't required to be obedient and faithful. Even though Emilia asks for equal treatment among the sexes, she is fully aware this will not likely happen. All they can do is confide in each other. Unfortunately, Bianca doesn't have this luxury.

Bianca is a woman who traveled from Venice to Cyprus (the same as Emilia and Desdemona) to be with Cassio. Like Emilia, she appears worldly and loves her partner without any reservations, but fully aware of her place in a male-dominated society. After Iago kills Roderigo in Act 5,

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