Explore Bradley’s and Neeley’s interpretation of gender in Othello Essay

Neely believes the central conflict in the play is between men and women, Bradley between Iago and Othello. I personally believe Neely is closer of the two as “Othello” is very much about men’s failure to see women as human beings and not as objects. Othello is a play concerned with the relationships between men and women and the gender issues of both sexes, yet for many years critics have only analysed the male side of the play, or as Bradley has done, concentrated upon the lead characters: Iago and Othello.In “Othello” the main problems come from the men’s need to keep up their “appearances” and their capability to lose sight of those around them and perhaps more damagingly lose sight of themselves. Critics it seems also on the whole do not understand the female characters presented so skilfully by Shakespeare and also tend to objectify them. Bradley idealises and demeans Desdemona jointly by saying she is “helplessly passive” as “the most loving of dumb animals” and fails to go much further into her character.Bradley also speaks from a time of assumed gentility referring to sexual jealousy as a “distaste” and is seemingly shocked that “men as well as women” suffer from it.

All tragic heroes have a flaw and many see Othello’s as his jealousy yet this is not unique to him as Iago and Bianca also are jealous at points in the play. I would say that Othello’s true fault is in his overbearing constructed masculinity that does not allow him to be flexible enough to cope with the trials of marriage nor the self-knowledge to halt the progress to his demise.Shakespeare wrote many of his plays in a time when the perceptions of love and marriage were changing. They went from being largely arranged based on status, property and the prospects of future children to being based more on love and common partnerships. The influence of the old relationships can be seen in the way men treat women.

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The men do not understand women, nor feel that they have to, and consequently objectify or idealise the women throughout the play.Neeley argues that Desdemona is not a “rose”, “chrysolite” or a “treasure” and the idealisation of her by the male characters in the play does not allow them to see her as the woman that she is. Brabantio also has an idealised view of Desdemona whom he mistakenly sees as a maiden “So still and quiet, that her motion, Blush’d at her self” (1.

iii. 94-96), at first refusing to believe that she went willingly into the arms of the Moor. When he realises that she has he promptly disowns her.Neeley believes that Brabantio’s shock is at her “assertive sexuality,” yet I believe that it as much to do with her defiance of the superior male role in not actually asking his permission. Bradley finds the change in Desdemona almost as shocking as Brabantio, stating her love is “showing a strange freedom and energy of spirit” which leads “to a most unusual boldness in action. ” Desdemona’s defiance of male authority has repercussions throughout the play as the warning given to Othello: “she has deceived her father/may do thee” (1. iii. 293.

) is used by Iago to insinuate Desdemona is of a disloyal nature.I agree with Neely who believes Desdemona had a “healthy casual acceptance of sexuality”, which can be seen in her active instigation of Othello’s wooing. Desdemona’s participation in the marriage is far from the idealistically innocent passage described by Bradley where she “followed her soul until her senses took part in it.

” I would argue that Desdemona’s sexual desire for Othello is evident through her affirmation that she “did love the Moor, to live with him” (1. iii. 248) and her refusal to postpone “the rites for which I love him. ” (1. iii. 57)Later in the play Othello notes that Desdemona’s hands are “Hot, hot and moist” (3. iv.

35) which Othello and the audience instantly recognise as sexual. Othello sees this sexuality as a threat to him and a confirmation of her adultery, he even suggests that she should be cleansed by “fasting and prayer. ” (3. iv.

36) His comment “…O curse of marriage, That we can call these delicate creatures ours, And not their appetites! ” (3. iii. 272-4) Suggests not only adultery to me but Othello’s fear and lack of understanding of her sexuality as well as a desire to posses Desdemona as an object and not as a woman.It is very much the case that the husband owns the wife, and the father owns the daughter and she should remain subservient to him or risk her standing. Many critics have therefore viewed the women by the limitations of their relationships with their husbands/lovers and misinterpreted as the men do in the play their tactics to gain even a small amount of public power. Bradley refers to Desdemona’s attempted persuasion of Othello to re-employ Cassio as “childlike” without actually realising that as a woman the most significant things Desdemona could do, would be through her husband, despite her obvious status from birth.Iago at one point advises Cassio to plead his case through Desdemona whom he refers to as Othello’s “general”(2.

iii. 306), this in my mind is a common masculine trait to mock and demean women’s place as equals in a relationship which can still be seen today. I find Othello’s reference to her as “my fair warrior” very revealing as it could be argued that she, as a woman, is subservient to Othello much as his troops are. As with his troops Desdemona is answerable to Othello and open to his punishments where he sees fit.

Neeley talks at some length of Desdemona’s power within the marriage stating “Othello is awed by her power to move man and beast” yet also adds that her energy and “power are made possible by Othello’s loving response”. I would agree with this argument as what little power Desdemona had within the relationship is lost when Othello’s love for her is undone. It could be said that Emilia has even less control within her relationship to Iago, indeed many believe that this relationship is the most typical of the three in the play.Many critics see her surrender of Desdemona’s handkerchief to Iago as a choice between her mistress, who indeed is closer to her throughout the play and her husband, who she should traditionally should be loyal to. Neeley sees Emilia giving the handkerchief to Iago as “placing her loyalty to her husband above her affection for Desdemona. ” Although I agree that picking it up for Iago makes her subservient I believe that she doesn’t have the power within the relationship to make the question “what will you do with it? (3. iii.

319) a condition of surrendering it. I feel more inclined to go with Bradley’s argument here as he states that Emilia thought of Iago as “odd and wayward” to want Desdemona’s handkerchief “but never dreamed he was a villain. ” Whatever the motivation, Emilia in my opinion would not have much choice in handing over the handkerchief but her silence and shock at it’s revelation to me indicates that she does not realise the significance of what she has done as she would not betray Desdemona in my mind.The relationship of Desdemona and Emilia is what Neeley describes as the women’s “genuine intimacy” in the face of the “hypocritical friendship of the men. ” They protect each other: Desdemona defending Emilia from Iago and Emilia ultimately defending Desdemona’s honour even when she is dead. The men on the other hand do not have constant loyalties.

Neeley states that Iago’s friendship “is the model for male friendship in the play.Desdemona advises “do not learn of him, Emilia, though he be your husband” (2. i. 61-2) suggest both the common role of a woman was to follow the lead of her husband and that Desdemona possesses more knowledge than most give her credit for. Emilia talks to Desdemona about adultery yet it is significant that there is no evidence that Emilia is anything but a good wife to Iago. The men have poor relations with both lovers, wives and friends, with each man turning on his friends: Othello “loves” Cassio then tries to have him killed, Brabantio “loves” Othello but due to his racism this love disappears when Othello marries his daughter.Neeley sees Desdemona and Emilia as close friends united by the cruelty of the men and the isolation of being female, as opposed to two opposite portrayals of women split by class which Bradley agues.

The structure of the play would suggest that the former is closer as it is dramatic stroke that the willow scene, where Desdemona and Emilia are closest, is flanked by to scenes of male plotting. I see them as two independent women who are drawn to each other’s open-minded attitudes.Although the relationship is a close one it is not the rule for all the women in the play.

Bianca is set aside from this solidarity as she is never on stage with Desdemona, emphasising their different positions, and is insulted by Emilia and Iago. Both sexes exist in constructed roles it seems, Neeley points out that Desdemona is idealised by the men in the play yet suddenly they all believe the worst of her. Neeley also points out that the sexual side of female life is left to Bianca who is “used and degraded for it.The constructed roles of the women lead to Emilia insulting behaviour to Bianca just as the constructed roles within the men lead them to plot against each other. The army has given them a hierarchical system that Bradley fails to see.

Neely however sees this as one of the chief factors in the tragedy of the play which I would agree with. Iago is obviously Playing a subservient role just as the women does and the male character put their reputations before their relationships. Cassio boasts that he as lieutenant will be saved before Iago who is an ancient despite claiming him as a friend.Iago is reduced to a female role by the men in the play and appropriately uses typically “female” tactics to get his revenge; he lies, manipulates and drops hints skilfully. Othello too in his constructed role as a black man sees himself apart from Venetian society and therefore is so insecure that he goes from believing Desdemona “had eyes, and chose” (3. iii.

193) him to seeing her as a whore. One reason given by both critics is that Othello chooses this path due to the fact he has known Iago for a long time on “Christian and heathen” battlefields and has had a “whirlwind” romance with Desdemona.This cannot, however explain his choice to mistrust Cassio as Desdemona states that “You (Cassio) have known him long” (3. iii. 11) It my be that Cassio’s “daily beauty” makes Othello fell “ugly” just as it does Iago. I believe that Othello’s lack of self perception, shown by his constant objectification of himself, he has “pass’d, been “taken” (1. iii.

131/137) by outside forces and lack of soliloquies, is further weakened by his black identity.As Neely points out it is not until Othello is persuaded into seeing himself as a “typical” black man and Desdemona as a “typical” Venetian that the tragedy truly begins. Othello’s lack of self – perception is always in his character, just as his warlike nature which enables him to become a great warrior but probably also enables him to murder his wife.

Venetian society, and Bradley, does not see or understand that Othello may not be able to stop killing or judging off the battlefield so at the end of the play the blame is divided between Iago and fate and the bodies are hidden.Bradley as a critic also lays the blame firmly on the “evil” Iago and his “fortune” seeing the strength of the women in the play only at the point of their deaths, Desdemona showing “beauty” and Emilia “brings us too the relief of joy and admiration. ” He goes as far to say that if “nothing in life became her (Emilia) like loosing it” which clearly shows that he does not understand that Emilia’s greatest moment of courage was not in dying but in betraying, justly, her husband.Neeley sees the ending of the play as I do, not a crescendo of virtue found but full of “pain and division. ” The final speech does not look back over the play nor does it look forward, it takes the audience away from the love of Desdemona and Othello into state matters and Iago’s punishment. The marriage bed “poisons sight” (5. ii. 365) as it is love and fertility corrupted from which nothing can be learnt as the order “let it be hid” (5.

ii. 366) denies all.


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