Othello’s Female Roles Essay

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Othello’s Female Roles

Let’s look at the roles of the three lady-characters in the Shakespearean drama Othello. Their roles are not marginal, but are rather vital to the tragedy.

In the Introduction to Shakespeare’s Othello: The Harbrace Theatre Edition, John Russell Brown summarizes the role of the heroine of the play:

When considered functionally, Desdemona’s role may be seen to be every bit as demanding as those of the principals. The fact that she has far fewer words to speak and is on-stage for a much shorter time detracts nothing from the scope of the role, but rather shows that the actress herself can move the audience with the quiet authority of her stage presence and her realization of this
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Once there the two awaken the senator with loud shouts about his daughter’s elopement with Othello. This is the initial reference to the role of women in the play – the role of young wife. Iago’s bawdy references to the senator’s daughter present a second role of women – that of illicit lover. The father’s attitude is that life without his Desdemona will be much worse than before; without her he foresees “nought but bitterness.” Here is seen another role or function of women in the drama – that of comforter for the aged. Brabantio is the old father, and he hates to lose the comforting services of his Desdemona.

Othello expresses his sentiments to Iago regarding his relationship with the senator’s daughter, saying

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)

In other words, he greatly appreciates his Desdemona in the role of wife. Once that Brabantio has located Othello, the father presses charges publicly in order to have Desdemona returned. The proceedings which take place before the Duke of Venice cause the young wife to assume a heretofore-unheard-of role for herself – that of barrister. She is compelled by the situation to stand before the senators and duke, members of the City Council of Venice, and present her side of the story

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