In the play “Othello” the female characters are viewed by three different sets of people: the male characters, the Elizabethan audience and the modern day audience.
The two male characters in the play-Cassio and Iago-have drastically different views on the female characters in the play.
Cassio in act two scene one is shown describing Desdemona to Montano as an outstandingly beautiful woman and when Desdemona arrives he extravagantly says that all must kneel before her.
“The divine Desdemona”
“You men of Cyprus, let her have your knees.”
He then proceeds to Emilia, Iago’s wife, where he shows extended courtesy by kissing Emilia.
The play does not say where he had kissed her but simply that he did.
Cassio has his own mistress Bianca, but he is quite crude to her. He demands things from her and does not see their relationship in the way Bianca sees it. Even though he does know how to “woo” a woman Bianca full is ended up in full of suspicion, which then shows a side of Cassio that hasn’t been exposed in the play yet until Act three scene four, where he retorts by saying
“Go to, woman throw your vile guesses in the devil’s teeth from whence you have them.”
Even though Cassio is spends a great deal in how he presents himself to the women in the play he does not know when to stop nor does he notice when he hits a nerve of one of the other male characters in the play. There is an exemplification of this, where Cassio kisses Emilia infront of Iago in which Iago retaliates by saying snide things about Emilia.
This brings us to Iago, who is the opposite of Cassio, when presenting himself to the female characters of the play he is vulgar towards them and only see them as lust seeking creatures. He says this in act two scene one.
“Her eye must be fed; and what delight shall she have to look on the devil?”
He also uses beastly imagery such as when he was describing the relationship between Othello and Desdemona to Brabantio in act one scene one as
“An old black ram is tupping your white ewe.”
He does not treat his wife Emilia with much respect in the play either, and when in act two scene 1 Cassio kisses Emilia, he announces to Cassio that
“She give you so much of her lips as of her tongue she oft bestows on me, you would have enough.” Which displays that he does not appreciates her constant nagging.
He jokes that women’s pleasant side is only for polite show
“Marry before your ladyship, I grant she puts her tongue a little in her heart and chides with thinking.”
Near the end of the play (act five scene two) Emilia challenges Iago by confessing to Iago’s plot, which results her in her death by her own husband. Iago by the end sees his wife as “Filth, thou liest.”
As the play “Othello” was set in Elizabethan time, where Queen Elizabeth the first was in reign (1558-1603), it was considered to be a “Golden Age”; as the English Renaissance was at its highest and English literature and poetry was coming from every direction, with a famous writer Shakespeare as well as others.
How an Elizabethan crowd analyses the female characters’ responses to the male characters’ expectations in “Othello” is mixed.
Because the three female characters (Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca) are quite varied from each other, it brings into questioning about how women are supposed to act in this era.
Desdemona, in the Elizabethan era, seems like the perfect example of how a woman should act. Desdemona showed understanding, intelligence, serenity and most importantly she had her virtue; but she willingly gave up her virtue for Othello.
Even though Desdemona seems like a good example, she defies her father Brabantio in act one scene three, where she tells her father that she has wedded the Moor that
“You are lord of all my duty, I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband, and so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord.”
Desdemona went against her father’s wishes, which is not common in that time, and the fact that her father had her educated, which is normally for upper class citizens, shows that she does have courage to stand up for herself when needed.
In the play, Desdemona is seen as a devoted Christian as well as a faithful wife. She sees her duty lying with Othello all the way to the end; even when Othello has smothered her, she does not blame Othello but “I myself. Farewell.” (Act five scene two).
Brabantio and Othello both thought of Desdemona as a well brought up woman, yet when Desdemona explained to her father, Brabantio, that she must fulfil her duty as a wife; Brabantio Bitterly gave in and gave her away to Othello by saying
“I had rather to adopt a child than get it.”
And when Othello becomes suspicious of Desdemona, he turns cold and out of rage and frustration, he strikes her in act four scene one. Yet she is still loyal as she replies to Othello
“I will not stay to offend you.”
In a modern audience, they would question about the fine line of being loyal and being a doormat.
Desdemona, being an exceedingly devoted wife and a faithful Christian, she seems somehow inexperienced in the world’s life lessons. After Othello strike, she was terribly shocked but she did try to resolve her husband’s anger by putting on the wedding sheets on their bed in some hope of letting her husband see that she is faithful (act four scene two).
But truly, does a modern audience think this is wise? Rather than trying to talk it out Desdemona only agrees with Othello until he tells her that he is here to smother her unless she confesses, she only confess that she did no wrong and begged for her life.
“Kill me tomorrow: let me live tonight!”
“But half an hour.”
“But while I say one prayer.”
It brings into questioning, is being loyal wife, to always be by his side, worth Desdemona’s death by his hands?
Emilia is more of a modern female character in Shakespeare’s Othello, than an Elizabethan female character. She knows when not to talk, but where her loyalty lies, she is surely to speak of the truth and nothing will silence her when she does.
As an Elizabethan audience would observe her behaviour in the play “Othello” the majority of the audience would slightly be appalled by the way she acts out by the end of they play; she goes against her lord’s wishes and talks back to him, and explains her husband’s (Iago) plot to decimate Othello.
Emilia is cynical and she knows the world’s displeasuring view; unlike Desdemona, Emilia can sense things around men that does not seen right. This may be because marrying Iago has open her eyes to the fact that being married, is not all about love, but mostly for money, marrying in for status and social class.
Emilia understands that men, even though presenting themselves towards women in a gentle way like how Othello and Annabella fist started out; how Othello used poetic sincere language towards Desdemona saying how much he loved her in act one scene three.
“She loved me for the dangers I had passed, and I loved her, that she did pity them.”
Yet when Othello is easily swayed towards Iago’s deception, Othello quickly changes his toned with Desdemona.
Desdemona however does not fully understand why though, yet Emilia says a simple statement in act three scene four.
“Pray heaven it be state matters, as you think, and no conceptions nor no jealous toy concerning you.”
Yet However Desdemona says she never gave him cause. Even though this truth of words were said, Emilia knows that jealous people do not need to have a reason to carry out this feeling, but simply that if the person has the feeling, it arouses something suspicious.
“They are not ever jealous for the cause, but jealous for they’re jealous. It is a monster begot upon itself, born on itself.” (Act three scene four).
The way Iago talks about her, is as if he did not enjoy the company of her; in act two scene one he describes her as
“Pictures out of doors, bells in parlours, saints in your injuries and devils being offended.”
These are examples of Emilia being not what she seems, as a painting is supposed to be hanging there pretty, Emilia constantly talks and nags at Iago and saints in your injuries is a saying where she puts on a saintly act when she’s hurting people.
When Emilia picked up Desdemona’s handkerchief and tries to explain to Iago that she had something for him, Iago managed to twist her words and turn it into something crude; for as she says thing, he interprets it as the female sexual organ and said it was common, which meant shared by all. However when Emilia does say
“What handkerchief? Why, that the Moor first gave to Desdemona, that which so often you did bid me steal.”
Emilia immediately caught Iago’s attention, but then starts to have second thoughts in giving it to him because he seems to earnest, but as a dutiful wife she did so and said no more about it. She also shows some sign as a loyal wife when Iago accuses Bianca’s behaviour as guilty, where Emilia openly calls Bianca a whore. (Act five scene one)
In act four scene three, Desdemona asks Emilia if women would actually commit such adultery, Emilia answered back that she would not do it for money or fine clothing
“But for all the world-why, who would not make her husband a cuckold to make him monarch?”
However Desdemona refuses to believe that there is such a woman like that. Emilia then insights Desdemona into her views about men, about husbands.
“I do think it is their husbands’ faults if wives do fall. Their wives have sense like them; let them use us well, else let them know the ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”
Emilia to a modern day audience seems more like a plausible woman; a more believable female character. Since the fact the role of women has changed and that equal rights for women is law, Emilia seems as if a modern female caught in the historic views of the Elizabethan citizens.
Today we would be more likely to say that her arguing was justified and appropriate, yet her arguing the truth to Lodovico, Gratiano, Othello and Iago, resulted to her death by her own husband. By the end of the play we as the audience can see that her loyalty did not lie with her husband nor lord, but to Desdemona.
Bianca is only in a few scenes throughout the whole play, but when she does show up she does tend to bring some sort of drama with her.
Bianca seems as if she was in between Desdemona and Emilia; she is in love with Cassio, who does not have the same feelings for her, and she stands up for herself when being accused of injuring Cassio by Iago.
Bianca can be related to both Elizabethan and modern audiences, because prostitutes are in both eras they are common people to see.
Bianca seems insecure and childish, when she sees Cassio in act three scene four; she quickly questions Cassio as for why he has not come to see her for a week and she extends it into a melodramatic speech.
“What, keep a week away? Seven days and nights? Eight score eight hours? And lover’s absent hours more tedious then the dial eight score times?”
Yet as Cassio hands her Desdemona’s handkerchief and simply asks her to copy it for him, Bianca suddenly become insecure and umps to conclusions about another woman. As result of this Cassio gets weary of this and suddenly retorted to her to
“Throw your file guesses in the devil’s teeth, from whence you have them.”
He asks again for Bianca to copy the embroidery but more sternly and then asks her to leave, where agrees to do for she feels as if she feels she
“Must be circumstanced.”
Bianca then appears in act five scene one and encounters Iago, who already has a crude and vulgar way at perceiving women, which where Bianca gets accused of looking guilty by Iago.
Iago did not treat Bianca with any or very little respect at all and calls her a “notable strumpet.”
As Emilia enters the stage Iago accuses Bianca of shuddering with fear whilst Emilia listens and retorts in calling her a strumpet, but Bianca replies back as if angrily
“I am no strumpet, but of life as honest as you that thus abuse me.”
Bianca was telling Emilia her living is as honest as hers, therefore she cannot abuse her.