Essay about A Feminist Analysis of Othello

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A Feminist Analysis of Othello

In William Shakespeare’s tragic play Othello there are numerous instances of obvious sexism aimed at the three women in the drama -- Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca – and aimed at womankind generally. Let us delve into this subject in this paper.

In the essay “Wit and Witchcraft: an Approach to Othello” Robert B. Heilman discusses a scene which occurs late in the play and which is sexist:

When Othello summons Desdemona and dismisses Emilia, “Leave procreants alone . . .; / Cough or cry hem if anybody come. / Your mystery, your mystery! . . .” (IV.2.28-30), he not only dismisses Emilia, accuses Desdemona of infidelity, and betrays his own insane bitterness, but he converts the marriage into a
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Roderigo even calls Desdemona’s action a “revolt” against paternal authority: “Your daughter, if you have not given her leave, / I say again, hath made a gross revolt [. . .] .” Upon verifying the absence of his daughter from the home, Brabantio exhorts all fathers to “trust not” their daughters, indicating an alleged predisposition among young ladies to rebel against authority:

O heaven! How got she out? O treason of the blood!

Fathers, from hence trust not your daughters' minds

By what you see them act. (1.1)

Othello, the general and protagonist, seems initially to be totally lacking in sexism. He loves Desdemona as an equal and accepts her with no preconditions:

As this that I have reach'd: for know, Iago,

But that I love the gentle Desdemona,

I would not my unhoused free condition

Put into circumscription and confine

For the sea's worth. (1.2)

With the Turkish campaign against Cyprus in motion, the Duke of Venice scarcely has time for Brabantio’s protestations. And the First Senator encourages the newly married general: “Adieu, brave Moor, use Desdemona well.” The word use conveys the sexist belief of the husband’s ownership of the wife. Later, when Roderigo confesses to Iago his depression and suicidal feelings over the loss of Desdemona, the ancient seeks to keep him alive by saying that Othello will soon grow tired of his bride, stating
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