Based on the situations that the three female characters of Othello endure it is clear that Shakespearean society viewed women as lesser beings who existed only to serve the men in their lives, and who were supposed to subservient, submissive, pure and above all else obedient. Obedient to their husbands, father, brothers and all men. Patriarchal rule justified women’s subordination as the natural order because women were thought to be physiologically and psychologically inferior to men. Although the women in Othello are measured against these ideals and in this society.
Shakespeare is not inviting the audience to accept these standards, but rather to assess them with a critical eye. This is shown through his representation of the women and his interpreting of their situations. In the play men are always believed over women and in all the cases the men are the ones lying. The character Bianca is seen as a character to sympathize with, not one to ridicule. On top of that, Bianca, the only woman in the play who does not conform to society’s ideals of what a woman should be, is the only woman who lives.
In Shakespearean society the words and opinions of women mattered little. This is communicated through the fact that none of the women in Othello when they speak up are believed. The words of men are always believed over the words of a woman. Of course in the context of Othello the women are always telling the truth. The first example of this is when Othello believes Iago when he says that his wife Desdemona may be having an affair with Cassio his lieutenant. Even though Iago never gives any concrete evidence Othello believes him.
On the other hand, when Othello asks Emilia if she believes that Desdemona is having an affair she gives a resolute “no”. Emilia reassures Othello that she has seen Cassio and Desdemona together, but that she “saw no harm, and then [she] heard Each syllable that breath made up between them. ” While Othello let’s Iago words eat away at him, despite Iago’s lack of proof he immediately dismisses Emilia’s words because “she’s a simple bawd That cannot say as much. ” Othello dismisses Emilia simply because she is a woman and her word means nothing next to the words of a man.
If Othello had not dismissed what Emilia had to say and had actually listened to her he would have been saved a lot of trouble, because Emilia was telling the truth and Iago lying. This isn’t the only time Othello believes the words of a male over the words of a female. Throughout the play Othello is told that Desdemona is or may be unfaithful to him. First Barbantio, Desdemona’s father tells him “[Desdemona] has deceived her father, and may thee. ” Then he listened to Iago as Iago tells him that Desdemona and Cassio are having an affair.
Othello makes the decision to believe Iago and Barbantio and decides to kill Desdemona for her supposed unfaithfulness. As he gets ready to smother her, she protests that she is faithful that she “never did Offend [Othello] in [her] life; never loved Cassio”. Despite this Othello ignores her words and decides to trust the words of men. Men who had no direct involvement in the supposed affair. Once again Shakespeare is showcasing the wrongful dismissal of a woman’s words in favour of the words of a man. However it is not only men who do not listen to the women of the play.
When Cassio is attacked Bianca comes running to his side and is distraught. Iago then accuses her of having something to do with the attack. When Emilia shows up, he tells her that what has happened is “ the fruit of whoring. ” Emilia who is a woman herself chooses to believe the words of Iago even when the guilty part in question, Bianca, protests that she “is no strumpet; but of life as honest As you that thus abuse me. ” In this case Iago is the one lying because he himself is the reason that Cassio was attacked.
Through these three instances where men were wrongfully believed over women Shakespeare is proving to his audiences that perhaps it is not always best to believe the words of a man simply because he is a man and to dismiss the words of a woman simply because she is a woman. In the play Othello the character Bianca is portrayed as a promiscuous woman. She is viewed this way because she appears to be having sexual relations with Cassio before marriage and with no obvious intent of marriage. The characters in Othello do not view Bianca favourably, much like how society in Shakespeare’s time would view a woman who was sexually promiscuous.
The other characters of the play often refer to Bianca as a strumpet, a whore or a prostitute. Despite how negatively the other characters feel towards Bianca Shakespeare does not portray her as a character to ridicule, but instead as a character to sympathize with. Bianca is enamoured with Cassio, who in turns, sees her as a laughable nuisance. When Iago asks Cassio if he will marry Bianca he replies “ I marry her? What? A customer? I prithee, bear some charity to my wit, Do not think it so unwholesome.
Ha, ha ha. It is clear that Cassio simply views Bianca as a common whore and is only using her for sex. Bianca on the other hand appear to be deeply in love with Cassio. Cassio also appears to know this as when he and Iago are talking about Bianca he says “Alas, poor rogue! I think, i’ faith, she loves me. ” In this same conversation he even states that “This is [Bianca’s] own giving out: she is persuaded I will marry her, out of her own love and flattery, not out of my promise. ” Cassio while aware of Bianca’s love for him does not even consider the idea of marrying her because she is not pure.
Yet he strings her along and continues to have a relationship with her. In the final scene of the play Bianca proves just how in love with Cassio she is. Cassio, who had moments ago been attacked by Roderigo and Iago, is lying in the street wounded, Bianca upon hearing his cries comes running into the streets crying “O dear Cassio, O my sweet Cassio. ” Bianca’s state of distress at the prospect of Cassio being injured proves that her affection for him is real. In this same scene Iago turns on the distraught Bianca calls her a whore and tries to implicate her in Cassio’s attack.
While the other characters in the play treat Bianca with ridicule or disdain Shakespeare is presenting Bianca as a woman in love with a man much like how Desdemona is in love with Othello, however, due to the fact that she is not virtuous she is not taken seriously and her love is questioned. There is no other reason aside from her lack of virtuousness that she should not be taken seriously. Shakespeare is showing us the tragedy of Bianca’s plight not the humour in it. On the other hand, while Bianca is treated unfairly because she does not conform to society’s standards of what a woman should be, she is the only woman not killed.
Alternatively Desdemona is revealed to be the ideal woman, Cassio even admits“She is indeed perfection. ” Othello often makes remarks on her beauty and her wit. Even when he thinks she has betrayed him, he cannot help himself from looking upon her fondly even stating that she is “so delicate with her needle: an admirable musician: O! she will sing the savageness out of a bear: of so high and plenteous wit and invention:—“ despite Desdemona’s perfection Othello lets himself be manipulated into thinking she is unfaithful to him, and he kills her. Emilia, while not as perfect as Desdemona appears to be an obedient wife to Iago.
She even gives him Desdemona’s handkerchief without knowing the reason he wants it, when stealing the handkerchief she says “what he will do with it Heaven knows, not I; I nothing but to please his fantasy. ” In the end of the play however, she chooses to honour Desdemona and she exposes her husband’s treachery as opposed to supporting it. Iago kills her due to this one moment of disobedience. Through the killing of Emilia and Desdemona at the hands of their husbands and the fact that Bianca lives, Shakespeare reveals what he thinks of the relationships husbands have with their wives.
He is exhibiting how women are never good enough for their husbands. Desdemona and Emilia are honest women, but in Desdemona’s case Othello believes she is having an affair and to him this is inexcusable. Emilia is killed because Iago sees it as a fit punishment for her disobedience and her lack of support of his dishonesty. Bianca on the other hand has no husband and thus she appears to follow no rules but her own and suffers no dire consequences because she has no one ruling over her.
Shakespeare is showcasing the oppression that husbands had over their wives. On top of that Shakespeare is suggesting that all women not matter how perfect they are will have their fate unjustly determined by a man. Overall, William Shakespeare is showing the negative side effects of the treatment of women and is urging his audience to question the ways in which they view women. Throughout the play he communicates the high price that his characters pay for dismissing what women have to say in favour of the words of a men.
As well he urges his audience to question the discrimination of women based on their sexual promiscuity, as evident in his portrayal of Bianca as a sympathetic character. Lastly, Shakespeare demonstrates how toxic the power that husbands have over the wives can be and he comments on the fact that an unmarried women like Bianca is more likely to find happiness because she is not looking to please a man with unrealistic standards. While women are treated unfairly throughout Othello, the play should not be read as a criticism of women but instead as a criticism of society.