Discourses of rank in Shakespeare’s Othello

Foucault defined discourse as the ways of constituting knowledge, attached to the social practices, forms of subjectivity as well as the power relations that exist in the knowledge and relations between them. They circulate the nature of the body, unconscious and conscious mind as well as the emotional life of the subjects. Discourse provides the difference between the words pronounced by a person and the actions portrayed by the person.  Discourse translates to the way a person puts his or her ideas into practice and communicates more about the conduct of other people.  This paper seeks to discuss the different discourses of rank voiced by Iago/Roderigo and Othello.

It will provide a critical analysis that evaluates the discourses as either good or bad.

Throughout the play, Shakespeare demonstrates a discourse of rank using characters like lago and Roderigo. In the opening scene, lago identified Othello as “the thick-lips” and continue to identify this character as “the health of black Othello.” These and other comments identify Othello as a black African whose origin can be traced in the sub-Saharan region. Lago’s comment in the first scene of this play is accepted as the actions of racism that exist in the current generation. Despite the failure of England to participate in the slave trade in 1604, Shakespeare developed some knowledge about the people of the African heritage and managed to rank their capabilities through the play.

Moreover, Shakespeare used Roderigo to express his discourse of rank through the description of the Moor. Roderigo identified the Moor as “lascivious” while lago responded as with the comment of the “devil will make a grandsire of you.”  Lago intended to arouse Brabantio’s wrath using the verbal images of his daughter copulating unnaturally with a bestial creature, a demonic figure of vice and depravity. In addition, lago perpetuated the myth of Moors having promiscuous sexual appetites. He identified lago as a black and an old ram that probably seduced Emilia. His description demonstrates the envy of powers that lago imagines to be greater than his powers.  These descriptions by the two characters showed hatred to the Moors that translate to the actual deeds of the Lago and Roderigo.  The descriptions contradict Othello’s argument on the hatred showed on Lago and Roderigo to the Moor. Othello argues eloquently that the hatred is not a genuine reaction. In the middle of the temptation scene, Othello seems to believe in the words said by lago and Roderigo. He went ahead to express the same kind of hatred to other characters of the scene like the Desdemona. He wanted to put her into messes and tear her to pieces.  Therefore, Othello’s words appear to contradict the way he interacted with other people showing the discourse of rank in the entire scene.

From the above description, one can conclude that Shakespeare developed the capacity to exploit the full complexity of the discourse of rank with an expectation of showing the way the white villain opposed a black man of heroic proportion.  Although the predominant typology of white over black is only temporarily subverted in fits and starts in the play, the subversion is itself an incredible artistic triumph. Therefore, the discourse is used to express the confrontation that existed between the black and white that continued to express the current prejudices, fear, and hopes.

William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice as a Tragedy

It all begun in Venice Italy, a place known of love and water.  Othello was a general in Venetian army. He had secretly married Desdemona who was the daughter of a senator named Brabantio.roderigo was upset with this marriage and this made him hate the general.  we then find Lago, another man who was very angry with the general and this time because  the general had chosen some else by the name Cassio to be his lieutenant instead of him and yet he had been in battle and Cassio never had.. Having a common enemy, Lago and Roderigo then teamed up and agreed to ruin Othello’s life..

They firstly decided to pay Desdemona’s father Brabantio a nighttime visit and reported the secret marriage between Othello and Desdemona. Brabantio was very mad this and decided to question Desdemona in her room only to find that she wasn’t even there.  The angry father jumped into conclusion that Othello must have tricked Desdemona with magical powers into whatever the two are going on with. (Neill, 2006) Othello then countered this and stated that he hadn’t used any form of magical tricks on Desdemona and instead he had told Desdemona sad stories of his life that she felt in love with him. This was big trouble to Othello as to the fact that Brabantio was a Senator and he had a pretty much influence to a possible split to their marriage. However Othello cared less due the fact that he was legendary in the military and he strongly believed that his service record would uphold him. Furthermore he stated that he had much love for Desdemona too.

As lago and Othello were having conversations on this issue, the appointed lieutenant Cassio joined in and told Othello that he had been immediately summoned by the duke of Venice as of some military action exist in Cyprus. Before the men did split, Brabantio alongside Roderigo and other escorts approached them threatening to kill Othello for having the guts to marry the daughter without the permission of her father. They had conversation and agreed for the matter to be settled by the Duke.

Upon getting to the duke, in his defense, Othello argued that the relationship was not forceful rather it was mutual as both parties were equal participants in the marriage. To confirm this, Desdemona was summoned and affirmed Othello’s story was true and her father was asked to leave alone with them.

Othello was then sent to Cyprus for the existing military actions. Desdemona decided to come along the journey as to Roderigo and lago and his wife. On the way, lago and Roderigo conversed about Desdemona where Roderigo explained to him how he was obsessed with Desdemona and Lago assured then assured him to have her as soon as he had brought down the general. To exercise his revenge, lago initiated a plan to cause conflict between Cassio and Othello by convincing Othello that Cassio has a sexual affair with his wife Desdemona.

Upon reaching Cyprus to defend the island against a Turkish attack, they found out that the Turkish fleet had sunk in a storm. There was much rejoice and they decided to hold a party.  Cassio was always a lady’s man around Emilia. While they were guarding, lago made Cassio Drunk and stimulated a fight between Roderigo and Cassio. (Vitkus, 1997).

Othello intervenes the fight and dismisses Cassio off his duties for being excessively drunk. Lago then advises Cassio to use Desdemona to convince Othello to retain his job and Desdemona agrees.

Othello was very upset to an extent of becoming physically ill. After recovery, he went to meet his wife and playfully Desdemona wrapped a handkerchief given by Othello on her husband’s head to signify the love shared between them. Unfortunately this was the source of lots of troubles. Lago then asks his wife to steal the hand kerchief for him and he later planted it on Cassio’s room. Lago expressed his continuous suspicions to Othello and Othello investigated cassio’s room only to find the handkerchief. This made Othello very mad and swore to kill the wife. Later Othello summoned her wife and asked her of the whereabouts of his handkerchief and coincide dentally without knowing what is going on, Desdemona intends to tell him on the issue about Cassio. The two had a very heated argument yet Emilia was watching.

Afterwards, Lago meets a prostitute by the name Bianca where he hands her the handkerchief and then he creates a heated conversation with Cassio, in which he makes Cassio abusively talk about Bianca where unfortunately Othello was listening and mistakes it for them talking about Desdemona. Othello then swore to kill Cassio. Roderigo on the other hand was becoming impatient and with the argument that Lago wasn’t doing enough to make sure he and Desdemona did get back and instead he was just squandering and using his money other than delivering the task. One time as lago and Roderigo were hanging out, Roderigo tried to eliminate Cassio by stabbing him but instead he was the one who ended up the victim. The blame on attempted murder of Cassio was then pointed to her girlfriend Bianca.

In the meantime Othello went ahead and killed her wife with a pillow and unfortunately Emilia happened to witness the act and ran for help. Othello tried to explain reasons for the murder of course using the handkerchief and this where Emilia came up with the conspiracy of the murder as she knew that it was Lago who initially had the handkerchief. She told the conspiracy to other men and later Emilia questioned his husband on the conspiracy and instead he killed her. Upon knowing the truth, Othello then killed himself and Lago ended up with no promotion after all.

William Shakespeare’s Othello, the Moor of Venice as a tragedy

Shakespeare does not necessarily label his characters, but alternatively offers them the freedom. This depicts why playwrights which incorporates The Tragedy of Othello are an unusual instance of an unhappy occasion and a top-notch instance for “Renaissance humanism (Shakespeare & Kemble, 1814). It is through freedom that lets in Shakespeare to create each of his character with particular personalities. The Tragedy of Othello is a subject of deceitful; Where Iago deceives a number of the characters within the play. The emphasis of Othello is the center on the love association among Othello and his spouse (Shakespeare, 1903). Iago uses Othello’s jealousy and Desdemona’s innocence to break and separate their love.

Othello which turns out to be William Shakespeare is a superb drama play that becomes written sooner or later of the Renaissance in Venice and Cyprus. Othello, the Moor of Venice tells the tale of Othello a widespread inside the Venetian navy, and he becomes married to the daughter of a Venetian nobleman (Shakespeare & Kemble, 1814). During the play, Othello has plotted in the direction of via Iago, a jealous villain. Othello ends up tricked thru Iago into believing his wife changed into untrue and within the path of his rage Othello murders her for revenge of what he thought to grow to be her treachery. Later Othello finds out he became tricked using the manner of Iago and commits suicide (Shakespeare, 1903). Aristotle tragic hero follows Othello’s living actions in a technique that protagonist is supposed to be defeated from authority and from superficial happiness.

In the Shakespeare’s tragedy, Othello is arguably considered one of Shakespeare’s extraordinary acknowledged performs. Its appeal is as not unusual due to the fact the human miasma that ensues interior its pages. The story of a sad hero, doomed with the useful resource of his very own self-doubt and surrounded with the valuable aid of disingenuous pals is timeless (Shakespeare, 1903). The factors that make a tragedy assume this type are evident in the play. For example, demise follows nearly all the lead characters in this game. From Desdemona to Othello, almost all meet terrible ends. There is the play of dark and mild, similarly to a moral lesson that is tested to the goal market.

The tale consists of a tale of jealousy and revenge. The drama takes area in Venice as buddies, while Roderigo and Iago are quarrelling. Iago has unfortunate data (Shakespeare, 1903).  Desdemona (Roderigo’s woman) who was hoping to marry has already been wedded to Othello. The target addressees that Iago has a private complaint in the course of Othello: he has turns younger individual Cassio, to be his lieutenant getting through Iago (Shakespeare, 1903).

The individuals chose to go to Desdemona’s father and inform him that she turns out to be taken away and get wedded to Othello, who is a Moor. Her father discovers that she is genuinely lacking and Iago includes a choice to hurry again to Othello earlier than he is seen at Barbano’s surrounding (Shakespeare, 1903). As time is going by, Othello is informed by Duke that there is a Turkish attack in Cyprus and Othello’s support is instantly wished. A few minutes before Othello leaves, Barbanzio comes up with the story of stealing her  daughter, claiming it’s via witchcraft (Shakespeare, 1903).The time Othello states he is on his way to search the Duke,a man called Barbanzio goes along to bother Othello of committing vices before the Senate.

At the council, the famous Othella comes to explain his case, and Desdemona reveals that she married Othello willingly. Her beloved father concedes, instructing Othello to move away. Othello makes equipped to move away. The subsequent day, Cassio, Roderigo, Desdemona, and Iago land in Cyprus (Shakespeare & Kemble, 1814). They anticipate Othello’s deliver. The cause market knows that the previous night before, there has been a terrific hurricane, and evaluations are available that each of the Turkish citizen ships changed and were exhausted at sea (Shakespeare, 1903). When Desdemona and Cassio are exchanging greetings, he grasps her indicator and stands at a distance apart to the audience, Iago states that he goes to apply the specific system to tangle Cassio (Shakespeare & Kemble, 1814). At the duration Othello reaches the destination, he broadcasts that there may be a wonderful festivity due to the reality Cyprus is now a loose character. Temporarily, Iago decides to assist his pal via flouting aside Desdemona’s wedding. To make the hassle worse, he gets Cassio under the have an impact on of alcohol and sends Roderigo to fight with him.

To sum up the points, as the drama ends, Aristotle recognizes that every character hero has some kind of ethical Archilles’s heel. Additionally, the powerful character is based on a tragic hero traveling progressively toward a heart-breaking downfall, enduring destruction and unimaginable pain. It is Othello’s hamartia and pride that formed the basis of his downfall. Despite the fact that addressees may need to feature his tragedies to lago, deep within Othelo, comprehends his own arrogance is the basis of his defeat. Aristotle’s demonstration of the tragic hero in the Othello’s story attains the accomplished objective one end of experiencing pity or mercy for Othello. A tragic hero is a significant or moral character intended for a heart-breaking defeat, extreme misery, or unimaginable destruction.

Austen and Shakespeare | English Literature Dissertations


  • 1 The Social and Feminist Influences of Austen and Shakespeare
  • 2 Abstract: The Social and Feminist Influences of Austen and Shakespeare
  • 3 Shakespeare’s Characters and Works
  • 4 Desdemona in “Othello”
  • 5 Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew”
  • 6 Rosalind in “As You Like It”
  • 7 Findings: Shakespeare’s Characters as Feminists
  • 8 Comparing Shakespearean Female Characters with Heroes
  • 9 Shakespeare as a Feminist
  • 10 Austen’s Characters and Works
  • 11 Catherine Moorland in Northanger Abbey
  • 12 Elizabeth Benet in Pride and Prejudice
  • 13 Eli nor Dash wood of Sense and Sensibility
  • 14 Findings: Austen’s Characters as Feminists
  • 15 Comparing Austen’s Female Characters with Heroes
  • 16 Austen as a Feminist
  • 17 Conclusion
  • 18 Bibliography

The Social and Feminist Influences of Austen and Shakespeare

Feminist thought is a movement truly indicative of a dynamic society. When manifested in literature, it signifies the breaking of old traditions, and the manner in which feminism is presented reflects the attitude of the writer and society to the aforementioned changes. In the case of William Shakespeare (1564-1616), presenting empowered females was of marked significance as the Elizabethan era marked the strongest female monarchy England had ever seen.

However, upon closer inspection it can be inferred that Shakespeare had an innate disregard for female authority, reflected by examining the characters Desdemona (from “Othello”), Kate (from “The Taming of the Shrew”), and Rosalind (from “As You Like It”). The prevailing approach in Shakespeare’s time was one of trepidation for the “wild” woman, or a female who did not conform to social expectations. The so-called “feminist” characters merely served to lend form and dimension to male characters and patriarchal themes.

In contrast, later authors such as Jane Austen (1775-1817) used empowered characters such as Elizabeth Benet (from Pride and Prejudice), Eli nor Dash wood (from Sense and Sensibility), and Catherine Moorland (from Northanger Abbey) to present feasible realities within the context of the society in which Austen lived. Working her characters into the framework of her era, Austen used women not as a means but as her end. Unlike Shakespeare’s characters, whose wiles and individuality served as gimmicks to promote patriarchy, Austen’s characters showed women who existed independently of male-dominated societies.

Abstract: The Social and Feminist Influences of Austen and Shakespeare

Through careful dissection and comparison of texts, Shakespeare’s “Othello”, “The Taming of the Shrew” (TOS), and “As You Like It” (AYLI), exemplify females whose independence and unorthodox qualities are eventually extinguished by overbearing male figures. Desdemona, Kate, and Rosalind are all radically different characters encompassing various aspects of the female psyche. Desdemona represents a rebellious daughter and sexually insatiable wife whose wiles cannot be controlled by men, a characteristic which drives her husband insane.

Kate, “the shrew”, is the empowered woman who succumbs to the power of society, forgoing her independence to become a wife, in the process experiencing a “miraculous” metamorphosis instigated by her husband’s subjugation. Rosalind is unique among the three, an omniscient whose altruist nature cedes dominance to her alter ego, Ganymede. The critics used in this examination are limited to the twentieth century. Assembled criticisms by scholars such as Harold Bloom, Alexander Leggett, and Laura Marvel focus on the intricacies of Shakespeare’s female characters, while Michael Shapiro counters with non-traditional surveys of sexuality manifested in Shakespearean plays.

A more accurate description of the term “feminist” applies to Austen, whose characters do not serve to alter or develop male characters. While successfully writing novels whose plots and characters fit in 18th century England, Austen manages to show a different side of women, a side that is adversely affected by the character weaknesses of men. Her novels Northanger Abbey (NA), Pride and Prejudice (PP), and Sense and Sensibility (SS) present females whose pensive minds help them manoeuvre through the tumultuous and impractical societies in which they find themselves living. NA’s Catherine Moorland, PP’s Elizabeth Benet, and SS’ Eli nor Dash wood are subtly different; however, the three female characters share their firm morals and unwavering integrity in common.

Catherine Moorland finds herself growing up in a world where first glances and well-timed gossip can make or break a reputation, the sharp-witted Elizabeth Benet spites the English bourgeois for their pride, finding that she herself has prejudice to overcome. SS’ Eli nor Dash wood finds that throughout her life she cannot rely solely on men though society wills her to do so; all three women overcome tribulation to grow into worldly individuals, unlike Shakespeare’s who either compromise their personality or lives in the course of their respective texts. Critics such as Claudia Johnson, Roger Gard, Harold Bloom, and Ian Watt discuss Austen’s characters within the social context in which she created them, while feminist critics such as Carol Pearson, Susan Morgan, and Rachel Brownstein opt to dissect Austen’s heroines from a feminist perspective.

Shakespeare’s Characters and Works

Desdemona in “Othello”

Shakespeare’s “Othello” is notable among Shakespeare’s tragedies because it presents a unique setting and character establishment. The namesake and protagonist, a Moor (a Muslim of African descent), transcends racial and religious boundaries to enter and lead the elite of Venice. The relationships between Othello and other Venetians communicates Shakespeare’s disdain for society, manifested in the villain Iago. From a feminist standpoint, however, the most prevalent victim of tragic circumstance is not the Moor of Venice, but rather the woman he marries. Desdemona is the classic martyr for feminist ideals, encumbered both as a woman struggling to pursue a life with the one she loves of another race and as a woman living in a man’s world, struggling to defend her marital fidelity and personal integrity.

As a feminist martyr, she is “helplessly passive,” can “do nothing,” unable to “retaliate even in speech” because “her nature is infinitely sweet and her love absolute” (Bloom 1987, p. 80). When Othello accuses her of compromising her fidelity, she is insulted and maintains her integrity by refusing to even answer such allegations. Viewed by the reader, this action is one of pride and confidence. However, when she counters Othello, slightly mocking his insecurities by inquiring “[what he] could ask [her], that [she] should deny/Or stand so mammering on,” he perceives it as her attempts at masking her own desires to seek sexual satisfaction outside the bonds of matrimony (Act III, Scene iii, lines 69-71).

Desdemona is constantly struggling with her environment. On the one hand, she fits into society as a married young woman. On the other, she presents a threat to the stability of patriarchal society. By marrying outside her race and religion, Desdemona defies custom by posing the scandal of miscegenated offspring. Confronted by her father, Desdemona vehemently rejects his concerns and contentions, favoring Othello despite the fact that she perceives “a divided duty”; Desdemona rationally argues in favor of Othello, professing that she should show Othello the same preference her “mother show’d/To [Brabantio]” (Act I, Scene iii, lines 178-188). In her argument that presupposes her assertiveness, Desdemona reveals social boundaries a woman faces: first she is bound by allegiance to her father, then she grows to devote her life to her husband.

From a gender issues standpoint, her identity as a sexually charged, erratic newlywed earns her little more than violent encounters with Othello and her eventual murder. Her charged sexual nature “catalyze Othello’s sexual anxieties” through no fault of her own, as Iago manipulates Othello’s marital instability to begin with (Bloom 1987, p. 81). Ultimately, it is Othello’s indecision, his inability to “voice his suspicions directly” that further fuel his insanity and manipulation at Iago’s hands; Desdemona pays the ultimate price for her loyalties, both in marriage and to herself (Bloom 1987, p. 88).

Throughout the play, Desdemona, like the other female characters of the play, never requires validation or reassurance of her value as a person. Othello represents the need for public respect, a reason why Iago’s suggestions of Desdemona’s infidelity drives him insane. Desdemona is further degraded as Othello gives Iago more credit than he does his own wife. In all his deceptions, “Iago’s feigned love gives him power which Desdemona’s genuine love cannot counteract”; Shakespeare shows his audience that female character is surpassed in importance even by spurious male camaraderie (Bloom 1987, p. 91).

A victim of male circumstance, Desdemona is tragically caught between the Iago’s insecurities as a soldier surpassed by an outsider and Othello’s insecurities as an outsider seeking social acceptance. Othello’s marriage to Desdemona objectifies her; Iago spites Othello for marrying Desdemona as it completes what Iago perceives as Fate’s transgression against his station in life. Othello, in turn, is never sated, as his marriage to Desdemona should have consolidated his “power” as a man; instead, he resents Desdemona’s confidence and the power that even a suggestion of her infidelity asserts over him.

The feminist criticism of the institution of love revolves around love’s existence as a means of control; when Othello’s male autonomy is compromised and he begins to speculate on his nature as secondary to his wife’s sexual power, he goes insane, ironically smothering her to death using the same sheets used during the night of their marriage’s consummation. Desdemona’s erstwhile functional marriage serves as the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back, as Othello “finds the scorn due the cuckold almost as difficult to bear as the loss of Desdemona” (Bloom 1987, p. 90). Shakespeare’s presentation of Desdemona as a pawn in Iago’s manipulation can be presented as his disdain with society’s misogyny. However, Desdemona’s portrayal as the helpless victim serves to further discredit female strength.

While the tragic death of Othello surpasses Desdemona’s in literary importance, Desdemona becomes more tragic a character than her estranged husband. She has done nothing to earn the contempt of her husband, whose murderous intent and eventual suicide serve as the only means of self-validation. She has become an object in Othello’s “self-sacrifice”, nothing more than another factor in Shakespearean tragedy. In his portrayal of Desdemona, Shakespeare may have been able to present a feminist case for the station of women in society and their abuses at the hands of men.

But Othello is not made the villain: Iago is the person portrayed as destroying a life, not in Desdemona’s passing but in Othello’s fall from grace. Desdemona, though a possible case for the argument of feminist characters in Elizabethan theatre, is ultimately too passive to be a feasible feminist. Had she asserted herself and called Othello’s insecurity, her husband’s pride may have been compromised, but it would serve as a means for him to identify the primary culprits at hand. That Desdemona confronted her father and not her own husband plays the feminist argument into doubt; marriage, not self-sufficiency, was Desdemona’s final goal. She sought neither to validate herself nor her sense of self-worth, but rather chose a life of devotion to the Moor she loved. In essence, she presented herself as a victim from the very beginning.

Kate in “The Taming of the Shrew”

Unlike other Shakespeare plays, TOS can be taken both in its historical context and simultaneously be applied to the modern social constrictions women face. In its historical context, the play presents a comical obstacle standing between a man and the object of his affection. In a more contemporary setting, however, TOS is a story of one man’s conquest over a woman’s social and emotional independence and the domestication of a free spirit. The aforementioned setting makes sport out of breaking Kate’s will and reveals a theoretical rebuttal of radical feminism.

As TOS unfolds, the audience sees Kate as a social pariah, unfit for society as she spurns the institution of marriage and the idea of love. An independent, sharp-tongued woman, she is demonized by the local male population who sees her as a barricade preventing courtship of the demure, younger, more favorable Bianca. It is not completely dismissible a notion that Shakespeare wrote TOS with the intent of exposing the farce of certain types of marriage.

Shakespeare may have juxtaposed the stubborn, resilient, and often violent Kate with the desirable Bianca to show the duplicity of social marriages. In his article entitled “The Taming of the Shrew Mocks the World Mercantile Marriage”, Gareth Lloyd Evans describes the world of TOS as “mercantile to the end,” showing how “even at the conclusion of its biggest transaction (the marriage of Bianca), the gambling element remains” (Marvel 2000, p. 69). In the end, Kate becomes docile to the will of Petruchio, leaving Bianca flabbergasted at her sister’s change of heart.

Kate’s radical change from self-avowed hater of all things love and marriage hence becomes the locus of the question of her nature as a feminist character: was Shakespeare’s portrayal of Kate as a virulent misanthrope a comic device or a social message? If Shakespeare intended to use Kate in the same manner with which he employed the character of Desdemona in Othello (that is, as a means to the plot’s end), then TOS takes on an entirely new direction. Using Kate as a comic device makes female independence the object of scorn and ridicule, and Shakespeare’s tone toward feminist issues would be dismissive and, condescension notwithstanding, misogynist. As the object of a social statement, Kate would become a testament to the futilities of female cynicism and rejection of society.

Examining Kate’s transition lends credibility to the said stance. If Shakespeare was a feminist writer, creating Kate’s character with the purpose of communicating a message to society at large, the “shrew” being tamed would be Petruchio. Instead, “Petruchio’s taming of Kate” is an act of instilling humility in “a spoiled, egotistical, well-fed, rich girl” and forcing her to accept “a will other than her own” (Marvel 2000, p. 147). The feminist standpoint would rather be one of prevailing contempt for Petruchio, a self-avowed social climber whose desire to marry Kate stems from expansion of his family’s wealth. Like Desdemona, Kate’s independence and strength as a female character are stifled by marriage; unlike Desdemona, Kate’s marriage to the ruffian Petruchio is one with ulterior motive.

Kate’s wedding is “a travesty and a sacrilege,” marred by Petruchio’s intoxication and unruly garb (Marvel 2000, p. 152). Almost indicative of Petruchio’s goal of “taming the shrew,” he further suppresses Kate by kissing her at the “‘will’ of ‘I will not’” (Marvel 2000, p. 152). Ironically, the kiss represents more than the overbearing will of an intoxicated groom. The significance of pacifying Kate’s ill will with a kiss is utterly symbolic of her contentions toward TOS’ opening. Standing at the altar, her final cry is one against a life of pacification and subjugation under the supremacy of a husband. The actual “taming” does not begin until after marriage, a further explanation of Kate’s disdain.

What is more intriguing about Kate’s “taming” is the means in which she is subdued. Following her outrage at the spectacle of the wedding, Petruchio denies Kate food, insisting that it is for her own good. Later, he denies her access to the ornate clothing provided by the tailor. Before leaving for their return to Padua, Kate implores her husband that they make haste, as they are late. Petruchio sputters that he will not go, and that she is reading the time incorrectly; Petruchio condescendingly states that whenever they leave it will be at “what o’clock [he says] it is” (Act IV, Scene iii, line 189). The means denied Kate in her “taming” are food, clothing, and free will.

Kate begins to rely on her husband for survival, warmth, and freedom of motion. Essentially, Petruchio becomes not only her husband but also her guardian, leaving Kate with the independence of a small child. It is almost as if he is brainwashing her, torturing her by keeping her hungry, clothed in what way he sees fit, restricting her motion and even forcing her sense of time under the fetters of his will. Shakespeare’s only message here is not simply the futility of female emancipation, but the repercussions of atypical female action. Kate is portrayed as earning her fate through her belligerence and the days she spent terrorizing society with her outbursts and sporadic violence. The more a woman strays from the path society sets out for her, the harsher the “punishment” in an inescapable future marriage.

The only negating aspect to the misogyny of Shakespearean assertion is Kate’s nature. Though stubborn, Kate is “intelligent, too”; in her apparent surrender to her husband’s mad will, Kate realizes “she can take the wind completely out of his sails, deprive his weapon of its power, even turn it against him—tame him in his own humor” (Marvel 2000, p. 52). By entertaining his strange whims, Kate can turn the tides against Petruchio, calling his bluff, so to speak.

After all, Petruchio’s madness is forced, as he is trying to irk his wife and break her composure. As the entertaining, submitting wife, Kate also tames Petruchio; she conceivably leaves him no reason to be as erratic as the wife whose will he set out to break. In this sense, Kate is Petruchio’s equal, and in their social obscurity, they are made acceptable through the bonds of marriage.

Rosalind in “As You Like It”

On the surface, Rosalind is socially acceptable, like most of Shakespeare’s characters. She is almost altruistic, exuding transcendent knowledge about life and love. She chastises Silvius for his devotion to Phoebe, yet swoons for Orlando and does not grow embittered at the prospect of love in the manner TOS’ Kate does. As one of the more engaging characters of the play, Rosalind, like “Othello’s” Desdemona, goes against her uncle’s wishes in the pursuit of her love, in this case manifested by Orlando. Unlike Desdemona, however, Rosalind is more congenial, coaxing her uncle by imploring his forgiveness. Rosalind testifies to Duke Frederick that if she offended him in her affections for Orlando, it was “[never] so much as in a thought unborn” (Act I, Scene iii, lines 49-50).

As a lady and a daughter, Rosalind is the ideal woman to show society. She is polite, reserved, and wise beyond her years. Her personality, however, shifts to a point unparalleled by other Shakespearean characters. Rosalind’s power as a possible feminist character is best exemplified in her interactions while cross-dressed as Ganymede (“Ganymed”). After she assumes the identity of the male Ganymede, Rosalind’s character unfolds as one who is both enticing and mysterious, alluring to the romantic, erotic, and homoerotic aspects of theatre. She begins to take a more aggressive stance in her interaction with Orlando, preventing him from kissing her despite her desire, insisting that he should “speak first” (Act IV, Scene i, lines 69-74).

As mentioned previously, men were exclusive actors as women were not permitted entry into the world of Elizabethan theatre. Homoeroticism was naturally an unavoidable subtext to any Shakespearean play. The choice of the Greek mythological figure of Ganymede is indicative of Shakespearean homoeroticism. In Greek myth, Ganymede was a shepherd boy with whom Zeus (Jove) fell in love. Rosalind on an Elizabethan stage would therefore be a male actor cross-dressed as a woman, who in the play cross-dresses as a homosexual man beguiling and perhaps slightly manipulating the unsuspecting Orlando.

When taken into this context, “As You Like It” reveals new depth and content. Michael Shapiro delves into cross-gender devices in his book Gender in Play on the Shakespearean Stage: Boy Heroines & Female Pages. Rosalind adopts “three separate and distinct layers of identity—Rosalind, [Ganymede], and ‘Rosalind’” (Shapiro 1994, p. 119). The sole purpose behind her schizophrenic metamorphosis is her love for Orlando, a man she has barely met. The first Rosalind is the vibrant character attracted to Orlando. Ganymede serves as a mentor to Orlando, a giver of advice; in her assumption of Ganymede’s identity, Rosalind alters her own nature as a woman living in a patriarchy as she takes the role of a mentor, giving “man-to-man advice to Orlando on the behavior of wives” (Shapiro 1994, p. 124). This ascension to egalitarian status with Orlando is reflective of the first feminist objective: to attain total social equality with men.

The third Rosalind is the one who acts according to the advice she gives Orlando as Ganymede, and incidentally is the most intriguing of the three identities. As Ganymede, Rosalind has a control over Orlando’s emotions and thoughts. She can influence him whichever way she so pleases by suggesting, as a man, how Orlando ought to behave or react to women as wives. As the third Rosalind, she can indirectly affect Orlando by either corroborating through her actions any advice she gave as Ganymede, or further discredit Ganymede by acting opposite.

Rosalind ultimately has the choice of how she wants Orlando to accept her. Rosalind can covet Orlando’s trust and affections as a man, and in doing so mold him to her liking so that she may later win him over as a woman. Ganymede’s presence as a trusted friend of Orlando is significant as it is perhaps the only way Rosalind can enjoy equality. This aspect of her cross-dressing is wholly non-feminist in its nature. From a radical feminist standpoint, there should be no gender labels, in which case Rosalind has failed to identify herself as such as she is forced to become a man. From a liberal feminist standpoint, gender labels can exist and differences should be respected. In the liberal feminist mindset, Rosalind has failed to gain equality as she is only given credibility as a man; the nature of the advice Orlando seeks regarding the nature of women as wives can only be trusted as coming from a man.

Equally plausible is that Rosalind is forced to act the way she does to get what she wants. Rosalind may have taken the initiative to achieve her goals no matter the cost of identity. Furthermore, her male identity had the potential to liberate her female identities; as Ganymede, Rosalind had the power to dictate to Orlando the manner in which women should be approached. Shakespeare had the opportunity to relay a message through his cross-dressing female hero, but failed to endeavor to such communication. Though working within the limits of his society, Shakespeare did not address issues through Rosalind’s characters in the manner Austen does with her female protagonists. While heavy-handed techniques are not necessary, Shakespeare only flirted with the notion of empowered females as it augmented the situational comedy in AYLI.

Findings: Shakespeare’s Characters as Feminists

Shakespeare’s characters cannot be accurately described as feminists, even with respect to the social norms they challenge in his works. The Webster Dictionary defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” Though her marriage to Othello was one of controversy, it was one that tested the boundaries of race and religion-relations. Miscegenation, not misogyny, was addressed in their relationship. Desdemona was perpetually a victim whose life rested solely in the hands of her insane husband.

For Desdemona to be a feminist or even have feminist characteristics, she would have picked up a sword and joined Othello in the military. The Venice in which she lived only economically endowed her with a dowry, which would then be paid upon marriage. From a social standpoint, Desdemona may have been able to petition her fellow Venetians for help when she suspected Othello’s violent tendencies. However, she chose to leave her destiny in the hands of her husband, no matter the outcome.

Kate, though constantly haranguing the general public for the institution of love, does not take her stance for feminist reasons. The traditional feminist attack on the institution of marriage focuses on marriage as forcing certain roles on women (motherhood and subjugation under a husband in particular). There is no indication that Kate took any of these stances; more plausible is that she is embittered by the fact that society forces marriage and not why it is forced.

Rosalind is perhaps the strongest character of the three in question. That she is assertive has little to do with her identity as a feminist character. While there is little doubt that she is a hero and one of the foci of AYLI, and still less speculation on the strength of her character, she still does not actively seek political or economic equality. There is no mention of her stance on women in society.

The most feminist aspect of Rosalind is her ability to transcend gender. In cross-dressing, she reflects new treatment by Orlando. Though not more positive or negative than her treatment when Orlando acknowledged Rosalind as a woman, as Ganymede, Rosalind shows that Orlando approaches her with similar respect. Rosalind’s sexual empowerment does deify her to a certain degree; it is as if she has the power to evoke feelings in men that would erstwhile not exist.

Comparing Shakespearean Female Characters with Heroes

With the exception of TOS’ Kate, Shakespearean females are usually composed individuals who contribute to the development of a plot or male character. However, all three Shakespearean characters can be described as heroes to a degree. Carol Pearson defines a hero in her book The Female Hero in American and British Literature as one who “departs from convention and thereby either implicitly or explicitly challenges the myths that define the status quo” (Pearson 1981, p. 16).

Desdemona, though sexually more forward than other Shakespearean women, is at home in her surroundings. She is a born Venetian of high stature, and though she keeps her relationship with Othello secret, she has no conflicting interests in Venice. Her marriage to an outsider challenges the “myth” of requisite same-race marriage. Othello, on the other hand, is a man of different race and religion, struggling to make a name for himself in a new land.

He is not nearly as self-assured as Desdemona, his physical differences weighing on his conscience and costing him peace of mind. Where Desdemona has made peace to accept her own death (she requests the wedding sheets be placed on the bed), Othello is never composed to the measure Desdemona exudes. In short, Desdemona acts as foil to Othello in every way; their union is one that naturally causes friction, without which Iago would never be able to manipulate the situation.

Kate and Petruchio are very unique among Shakespearean couples; though Petruchio is hardly a hero by the Shakespearean norm of gallantry, he is the man who “tames the shrew.” However unorthodox a hero, Petruchio is the perfect match for Kate in his gruffness, his unkempt demeanor, and his social shortcomings. The two have only their resilient personalities in common; Kate is more polished and presentable than her wily husband, but the two both have a natural contempt for life that can only be quelled by their marriage. Their relationship is one of servant and master, the power balance shifting constantly.

Though Kate detested the pandering of her past suitors, her attraction for Petruchio budded because he was precisely the opposite of what society (and her father) wanted for her. To keep her interest piqued, Petruchio naturally appealed to Kate and had to maintain a certain air about himself. Following their marriage, Kate became subservient, accepting Petruchio’s odd tendencies and orders to pacify him (he never would have expected a docile Kate, and receiving one shifted manipulation back into Kate’s hands). Though their personalities are strong, society’s favor puts the advantage in to Petruchio’s hands as in addition to a wife he also gained financial means. Kate is merely a means to an end for Petruchio, whereas Petruchio is the only means for Kate to attain what society expects of her.

Rosalind and Orlando are another anomaly, though in the end, Rosalind exists more for Orlando than vice versa. Cross-dressing aside, Rosalind’s sweet temperament and witty rapport make her the ideal mate. Orlando, with the exception of his privileged birth and notable wrestling skills, is rather normal in every respect. Rosalind exists only to marry Orlando, and while her transsexual tendencies are a force with which to be reckoned, her antics merely delay what an inevitable relationship and existence. Her previously mentioned teasing was a perfect metaphor for a life whose direction she could not control.

Shakespeare as a Feminist

Whether in tragedies or comedies, Shakespeare’s female characters vary greatly in their nature and the social mold they fit. Given the Elizabethan era in which Shakespeare lived, most of his more wily and energetic female characters went against the grain of society. However, most all of Shakespeare’s more powerful female characters occurred in comedies, begging the question of whether or not they could be taken seriously as characters that could exist outside the realms of stage narrative.

That these strong female characters exist only in comedies does not question any aspect of society. In keeping with his comedies’ humorous undertones, Shakespeare may very well have made his female characters strong because their existence would be laughable. After all, Elizabethan stage actors were all male; women were never allowed in theatre. Furthermore, the tendencies of comedic so-called “feminist” characters are to either succumb to society’s restraints, or to be smothered by overpowering male dominance.

The women of Shakespeare’s plays are usually the ones who change, often when they become married. Katherina, for example, succumbs to marriage, settling for Petruchio, a drunkard whose ostentatious personality and strong sense of deviance outweighs her own rejections of conformity and domestication. Her resilience goes unrewarded, and she once again becomes a subservient figure in the archetypal patriarchy of the time. A large reason behind female suppression in Shakespearean plays was also public acceptance. No patron, male or female, would return to Shakespeare’s productions if the prevailing themes were the emancipation of women. Female assertion was a taboo, a reason why it was so popular in comedies.

The greatest aspect of comedies is the aversion of tragedy; negative happenstances that reach fruition are tragedies, and the same happenstances that are avoided are comedies. As the defining characteristic of a comedy, the resolution of a problem is mirrored in the pacification of said comedy’s female rogues. The strength of women in Shakespeare’s plays, therefore, is a literary tool used to build up the glory and triumph of men and the patriarchies in which they exist.

What cannot be dismissed, however, is the context in which Shakespeare wrote the plays. Speculation of his historical surroundings denote Shakespeare’s tendency to pander to leadership, in this case, England’s greatest female monarch, Elizabeth I. Though society was largely patriarchal, the monarchy led by queen who did not marry. It is not completely unlikely that Shakespeare pandered to the female monarch, emulating her reluctance to wed in his “The Taming of the Shrew.” Queen Elizabeth, after all, did not marry, nor would she fit into society’s mold of the typical woman. Shakespeare’s characters were daring for the time, as they also broke the mold of Elizabethan women.

Unlike Queen Elizabeth, however, the strong female characters of Shakespeare’s plays were exemplified by their ability to manipulate, control, and overpower men. In many ways, the strength of women served as a means to make women antagonists. For example, Desdemona’s power existed to drive Othello mad with her unchecked sexuality. She exhibited a power over men, one that would not be contained or controlled by men. Though Iago manipulated the characters of “Othello”, it was extreme jealousy that drove the play’s namesake mad, causing him to kill himself and the woman he could not control. The message conveyed in Othello could be construed to be a foreboding one to women in society and the men that dominated them: losing control of women and compromising male dominance leads to tragic consequences.

Shakespeare’s Rosalind was unique, different from Desdemona and Katherina in her omniscience and enlightened state. Though the complexity of her emotions and thoughts is unrivaled in “As You Like It,” she takes on a darker side, one of manipulation and social subversion. Though laudable, her social deviance still leaves the play wanting for a male counterpart to complement her.

She cannot criticize the respective stations of men and women for too long without succumbing to love’s fetters herself. It is as though Shakespeare is communicating the futility of female nonconformity. Shakespeare’s penultimate message in comedic female characters is one of concession. Though women are welcome to mock and society and live outside its bounds, they all must eventually “grow” into wives and docile domesticates.

Austen’s Characters and Works

Catherine Moorland in Northanger Abbey

Catherine Moorland is a socially respectable individual. Her pleasant demeanor and child-like charms are reminiscent of literature’s ideal girl, and as she comes of age, Catherine becomes the most desirable wife. As a girl, Catherine’s naïveté sets her apart from most of Austen’s heroines. It drives the novel, making her shift in attitude toward friends and lovers believable. Catherine’s innocence (or ignorance, depending on the attitude of the critic) leads her into Isabella’s world of balls, galas, and gossip.

A pretty, demure girl, there are few boundaries that hamper her social ascension through Isabella. Catherine’s indomitable sanguinity separates her from PP’s Elizabeth, whose sharp wit and spite would never afford her the same level of acceptance Catherine so easily enjoys with the upper class. NA’s “[heroine is] deficient, lacking discrimination” (Bloom 1987, p. 61). The reader observes Catherine befriending the elitist Isabella and, after a brief separation from Henry, becoming enamored with John. Her innocence is a catalyst for the crux of the novel, wherein she decides to be happy and forgo privileged financial establishment.

Susan Morgan, in her “Guessing for Ourselves in Northanger Abbey”, studies Catherine’s character as most indicative of “human nature, at least in the midland counties of England”. Though Catherine makes noble decisions in her marriage to Henry and friendship with Eleanor, she has “by nature nothing heroic about her” (Bloom 1986, p. 109). She neither sets out to marry like Desdemona, nor does she adamantly oppose it like Kate. It as is if Catherine is completely indifferent to her life’s choices once her mind is set.

The fluidity of her personality and compatibility with such contrasting characters as John and Henry or Isabella and Eleanor suggests a complete lack of bias. Catherine’s aloofness may very well have served to make an opposite shift; had she met Eleanor first and established a healthy relationship with John, she may very well have stayed friends with Isabella and would never have married Henry. It is her ambiguity of character that prevents her from being feminist; characters like Eli nor Dash wood and Elizabeth Benet assert themselves in ways Catherine does not.

Morgan makes the point that “in the first chapter of [NA] Austen assures us that Catherine Moorland is unpropitious for heroism”, suggesting Catherine’s literary allure is her similarity to ordinary people (Bloom 1986, p. 111). An accommodating description of Catherine’s deficiency in perception and maturity in character goes so far as labeling Catherine as an inferior character, begging the question of her pliancy in living in a patriarchy.

Catherine’s indifference suggests her acceptance of the conditions that surround her; she feels no need to harangue society like Kate of TOS or Elizabeth of PP. Catherine’s growth and change is comparatively limited when juxtaposed to that of the female protagonists of PP or SS. Morgan asserts Catherine’s sanguinity as indicative of her static character; “the freedom, naturalness, and spontaneity” Catherine exudes at ten remain “qualities Catherine still has at seventeen” (Bloom 1986, p. 111).

The subtlety in Catherine’s change is not unlike that of Elizabeth Benet; Elizabeth Benet only changes in her approach to Darcy, just as Catherine only changes in her approach to people. Catherine, like Elizabeth of PP, “fails twice in her judgments of people, first in thinking Isabella good and General Tilney evil” (Bloom 1986, p. 112). While Elizabeth’s epiphanic shift in her relationship to Darcy reverted her to a mature state, Catherine remains lacking in assertion. She is almost a product of the coterie gossip to which Isabella introduces her. Like Elizabeth, Catherine jumps to conclusions prematurely, but unlike Elizabeth, Catherine’s conclusions are drawn from other people’s persuasions, observations, and opinions. Morgan purports Austen’s employment of Catherine’s unbelievable passivity as a literary tool exemplifying “what she loses when she accepts other people’s views” (Bloom 1986, p. 112).

Finally able to separate deception from reality, Catherine marries Henry, a man of sound integrity and good character. However, Catherine still does not grow in the same manner as her fellow Austen protagonists. Austen used Catherine to convey a point as she uses her other characters. The difference with NA is the roundabout fashion in which Austen conveys her themes through Catherine’s lack of judgment.

Eli nor and Elizabeth assert themselves in their respective novels, making Austen’s points through direct action. Catherine, on the other hand, reveals themes through the precise opposite, that is to say, through her very inaction. Though Catherine may be a feminist in the making, her de-prioritization of class status was not so much indicative of her moral fiber as it was a preference for the characters of Henry and Eleanor Tilney themselves. It is Catherine and Eleanor’s mutual love for books that bring them together; while Catherine is not attracted to people because of their wealth or social status, she does not exude the prejudice of Elizabeth Benet, either.

Elizabeth Benet in Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Benet is not the social pariah of the likes of Kate in TOS. Elizabeth, like her male counterpart Darcy, is polished and surprisingly mature. She is respectful of her father, and though her mother is overbearing and obsessed with marrying off all her daughters, Elizabeth never crosses the bounds of propriety in dealing with her mother. Elizabeth is naturally “morally sound,” evident “in her thoughts about marriage, which are characterized by a concern with establishing a proper relationship between the demands of personal feeling and the need for financial security” (Bloom 1987, p. 60).

Despite her harsh critiques on marriage and the English bourgeois, Elizabeth concedes that she has faulty judgment and owns up to her erroneous conclusions. Throughout her development, Elizabeth is found in many ways to be a classic feminist figure; her natural disdain for the wealthy Bingley women is representative of the feminist ideology of social equality, and her reluctance to get married to the wrong man is a strong allusion to the feminist eschewing of marriage. Elizabeth’s eventual relationship and marriage to Darcy represents the transcendence of class, one of the constant themes throughout PP.

What separates PP from the typical Shakespearean drama is the direction of the protagonists’ interactions. As a central focus of the play, Elizabeth never faces impossible odds in life, never having to conquer demons of any sort. Instead, the “union of wit and drama is achieved with complete success only in the central sequence of [PP], in the presentation of Elizabeth’s and Darcy’s revaluation of each other” (Watt 1963, p. 63). As a testament to gender equality, both Darcy and Elizabeth have their reservations about each other’s backgrounds and intentions.

For example, Elizabeth is constantly wary of Darcy as an urban snob who too quickly makes assumptions about country life. She is guarded as his opinions involve her family. Elizabeth’s suspicions of Darcy grow into spite, culminating with her brief friendship with Wickham, who Darcy regards with a certain degree of spite. Austen introduces the characters of Elizabeth and Wickham carefully, making sure that Elizabeth never fully becomes enamored with him for his kind facade. Instead, Austen portrays Elizabeth as “completely and willfully [misjudging] Darcy’s character, [overlooking] Wickham’s faults simply because he is Darcy’s enemy” (Bloom 1987, p. 60).

Darcy almost mirrors Elizabeth, who in turn suspects the Benet family of intending to marry Jane Benet to the wealthy Charles Bingley solely for his money. Though his suspicions are largely born out of concern for his friend, Darcy admittedly concedes his prejudice toward the lower classes just as Elizabeth admits to her prejudice toward the bourgeois.

Austen brilliantly weaves the two characters together, who are spiteful and immature only to each other throughout the novel. The mirrored character development of Elizabeth and Darcy overlap as Darcy reveals Wickham’s dubious past, leading to the “revaluation” and budding relationship they share. The paralleling of Darcy and Elizabeth serves as an added allusion to the concept of equality. Though both characters are “extremely mature people by the time [they] meet,” both characters develop and overcome what small flaws in judgment they exhibit despite their good intentions (Bloom 1987, p. 60).

Somewhat more heavily symbolic is Elizabeth’s journey to Netherfield, where Jane has taken ill from the rainy weather. During her trip, Elizabeth’s carriage is stuck, and not one to waste time while her sister ails, Elizabeth sets off to the Bingley’s estate, fully dressed and marching through grass and mud in order to reach Jane. In doing so, she risks her health as she traverses the landscape in similar weather.

What is most notable is that Elizabeth leaves the comfort of the carriage sent for her by the Bingleys, a testament to her indomitable pride and air of independence. Furthermore, Elizabeth leaves the coach driver, abandoning male “protection.” As she walks through, ruining her clothes, Elizabeth makes the reader “feel that the rules of propriety prohibiting solitary cross-country hikes for young ladies—rules which are concerned with the neatness of the lady’s appearance and the possible danger to her consequent upon making a practice of walking long distances alone—ought rationally to be set aside in this unusual situation” (Bloom 1987, p. 9).

Thus, Austen presents Elizabeth, a socially acceptable female, in a socially unacceptable position. Feminism is often viewed the same way, a socially acceptable idea usually presented in what are perceived to be socially unacceptable ways. Walking through the countryside, Elizabeth “breaks no moral law”; she instead makes Miss Bingley uncomfortable with her disheveled, muddied appearance (Bloom 1987, p. 10). The juxtaposition of the muddied Elizabeth and the prim Miss Bingley illustrates the disparity between the social coteries of the proletariat and bourgeois.

Elizabeth’s status as a lower-class individual is accentuated by her ragged appearance and the circumstances that forced her to walk to Netherfield. The stalled coach is representative of the stationary lower class, unable to ascend through the social ranks. Elizabeth’s walk is an accurate image of the tribulations experienced at the beckoning of the rich, and Miss Bingley’s disgust is indicative of the bourgeois prejudice to the lower class, unaware of the causes for their state and being.

Elizabeth and Jane’s marriages to Darcy and Charles Bingley (respectively) are an effective means of communicating Austen’s desire to overcome economic disparity. PP is not a fairy tale; the romances were fraught with Jane’s illness, Elizabeth’s suspicions, and the influence of Darcy’s insecurity over Charles Bingley. The human development of both Elizabeth and Darcy show Austen’s feminist sentiments of economic and social equality. Austen could have conceivably switched roles, with the Benet family being wealthy and the Bingleys the less economically-advantaged, but Austen had to work within the social boundaries of her time: men may marry women of lower social class, but women rarely ever marry men of lower stature.

Eli nor Dash wood of Sense and Sensibility

Impoverished by the unfair will and testament of her father and neglect by her newly financially endowed brother, Eli nor Dash wood is more of a social outcast than her contemporaries in the Austen literary canon. Representing the “sense” aspect of SS, Eli nor would be socially respectable were it not for her family’s economic dependence on men. From the very start, her father’s death sets her up to be one of the more independent Austen characters, though her independence is not the kind most would condone in Austen’s time.

Eli nor, her sisters, and mother find themselves without a male in the house. Following Henry Dashwood’s death, the errant son John inherits the bulk of the Dash wood estate and leaves his sisters and stepmother with almost nothing. A reflection of the times, Austen shows the reader her disdain for the reliance women have on the men of their families. The estate was not left to the three daughters or his widow; Henry Dash wood instead opted to leave everything to his only son, a testament to the patriarchal English century.

That John Dash wood was feeble-minded and a money-grubbing fool did not disqualify him from inheriting his father’s estate. More alarming are the Dash wood sisters’ natural integrity and the isolated state in which they found themselves; society did not intervene in the unfairness of the Dash wood inheritance. Austen shows the reader through this simple truth that women can depend on no one to maintain themselves.

The circumstances facing Edward’s secret engagement to Lucy Steele, the gold-digging female counterpart of John Dash wood, are ambiguous at best. Edward’s mother threatened to disown him and write him out of his rightful inheritance upon hearing of his engagement to Lucy, therein leaving everything to his younger brother Robert. Mirroring Elinor’s initial predicament, Edward is faced with losing everything unrightfully to his sibling. Edward, then, takes advantage of the situation and concedes to his mother’s will in order to remain financially stable, a measure Eli nor was unable to pursue. This is another indication of the inequities of patriarchy, a reflection of the feminist cause of social equality.

Of Lucy, Eli nor, and Edward, only Eli nor “must labor under the weight not only of her broken heart but of all the social duty” (Bloom 1987, p. 51). When tending to Marianne’s sickness, Mrs. Jennings leaves Eli nor with Lucy, which takes a comic turn as Edward is called into the room. Edward can say nothing, and Lucy is empowered in the situation as the upper class woman engaged to the love of Elinor’s life.

An entirely unique situation, the two women are at odds as the man, Edward, is left impotent, unable to say anything to change the situation for fear of losing face. Eli nor does not “labor under the weight of social duty” in the sense that she has to remain the dutiful woman, subjugated under the oppressive will of a male-dominant society. Rather, she is bound by the propriety that binds all Austen works as works of manners. In this unique struggle, Austen presents a unique woman-versus-woman situation, exemplifying a new protagonist/antagonist relationship.

Most works involve male heroes who have to conquer some evil, usually manifested by villains or circumstance. With Eli nor and Lucy, the conflict changes to a class struggle. Binding the lower class Eli nor and aspiring bourgeois Lucy is Edward, a pawn and object of affection flaunted in order to further state supremacy. For the first time, it is a man objectified and not a woman. Just as Desdemona was a spoil of social climbing in “Othello”, Edward becomes a prize shown off by Lucy in order to consolidate her social supremacy over Eli nor.

Therefore, Elinor’s marriage to Edward becomes not a social triumph of woman marrying man, but a sexual class competition between two women of different backgrounds. Lucy aims to prove to Eli nor that she cannot rise above her modest social accommodations by marrying her beloved Edward, and Eli nor can only consolidate what dignity she has left by not conceding to Lucy’s attempts to elicit a reaction. Ironically, the harder Eli nor tries to remain composed, the more Lucy succeeds; it is a social paradox indicative of the childishness of social class. In this case, Eli nor is not a feminist as she does not assert herself on behalf of her own happiness or well being, though the circumstances are of feminist nature (two women struggling over a man).

Findings: Austen’s Characters as Feminists

Catherine is perhaps the only Austen character here examined who is not a feminist. As with Rosalind of AYLI, Catherine’s inability to assert herself or address the issues surrounding her determines her not to be a feminist. While she exudes certain aspects of positive female character growth, it is not, by the strictest definition feminist. Catherine’s indifference and naïveté prevent her from assuming the feminist role; she does not go out of her way to express her chagrin at any aspect of society, though she does transcend the limits of callous upper class living.

Unlike Elizabeth and Eli nor, she fails to confront the more abrasive characters in her life. Her preference of Henry and Eleanor Tilney is more of a reflection of her own desires and preferences superceding the impetus of wealth and social class; it is not a moral choice or conscientious action made as a statement of value.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, is the archetypal feminist. She has a razor-sharp wit and does not hesitate to let her voice be heard. Her marriage to Darcy was one of her own decision, one made after an extended period of time and of her own volition. Unlike her mother, who represents the contingent of female society entrenched in the race for male domination, Elizabeth asserts her freedom as a woman, both intellectually and personally. Austen’s portrayal of Elizabeth paralleled with Darcy (revealed, in turn, at the end of the novel) enhances Elizabeth’s feminist character as she is made an equal with Darcy in her maturity and growth. Both Elizabeth and Darcy overcome their “pride and prejudice,” showing that while they are exceptional people, they both are fallible and subject to criticism at times.

Eli nor is a lesser degree of feminist. However, she exudes a reliance on men, manifested through her desire of Edward despite his secret engagement to Lucy Steele. Though not his fault, Edward was allowed free reign to commit as many social mistakes as possible. This reveals a natural inequity between male and female characters, and shows Eli nor as subservient to the desire to be wed.

So dependent is Eli nor that her desire to marry eclipses her own clarity of thought. Though Austen portrays Eli nor as having sense, Eli nor does not push the social envelope to the degree Elizabeth Benet does. Rather, the feminist struggle is forced on her through the situation left by her dead father and negligent brother. A true feminist would not have relied on the patriarchal system to save her well-being; however, Elinor’s cooperation with the social framework of the time was due to desperation and the impoverished state in which she suddenly found herself.

Comparing Austen’s Female Characters with Heroes

Elizabeth and Darcy are the most equal couplings in Austen’s novels. Their developments as people mirror each other and complement the other’s character. In a unique turn of events, Darcy assumes the hero role only after he reveals Wickham’s true nature and apologizes for encouraging Bingley to abandon Jane. Elizabeth is as heroic, evidenced by her Netherfield march through grass and mud, compromising her femininity to reach her ailing sister. She stands in the face of criticism and disdain, first by her marriage-obsessed mother and then by the disgust and disapproval of Miss Bingley.

Eli nor and Edward also mirror each other, but to a different degree than Elizabeth and Darcy. Where Eli nor remains sensible and morally upright, it can only be speculated that Edward breaks off his engagement to Lucy Steele following his mother’s threats upon discovery of the relationship. It is never intimated whether or not Edward acted on his true feelings, and what those feelings were. Was Eli nor a second choice? Edward may very well have cared for Eli nor, but at the same time devoted his energies to courting Lucy Steele. Edward actually only becomes a hero after he marries Eli nor; his status on the book reflects Shakespeare’s women and their role in drama. Edward is unique in that he exists only to develop the plot and enhance Elinor’s character.

Henry is much more assertive and morally sound than Catherine, primarily because the reader never witnesses him faltering in his character. Though a manifestation of his existence as a secondary character, Henry does not oscillate between social circles in the same manner as Catherine. As an indecisive and immature character, Catherine’s allure to the reader is that she is not a heroine; her commonplace appearance and character are intentionally offered to show the reader the spoils of integrity and the losses of character compromise. What makes Catherine an effective character is her ability to show the reader, through her action as well as inaction, the morals behind her circumstances. The freedom of the reader to infer sets Catherine apart from her fellow Austen female protagonists.

Austen as a Feminist

Austen’s work reflects a shift in attitudes toward female characters. Unlike Shakespearean plays that utilized women as a literary device, Austen’s novels put women in the forefront. Austen’s female protagonists not only featured multiple dimensions in character, they also showcased the manipulation of women by duplicitous men. Where Shakespeare’s tragic heroes like Othello were led astray by evil men or driven insane by the beguiling sexuality of women, Austen’s women are morally upright people whose good intentions are marred by the ill will of men.

NA is unique among Austen’s works, even among its contemporaries here examined. Austen takes a female coming-of-age novel and makes it extraordinary; where she could have opted to make NA an endorsement of English patriarchy, she instead focused on the development of Catherine as a human. Shakespeare’s female characters were often of a single dimension in their characterization.

No epiphany led to a significant change in a Shakespearean female character. Austen, on the other hand, presented a versatile Catherine, one who abandoned a wealthy John (not to mention a marriage into fortune) in favor of Henry, the modest clergyman. Women of the age would have swooned for a man of John’s wealth, as a woman’s life was either spent in a convent or raising children on an estate. With Catherine’s humility and genuine character, Austen places importance on marriage as an institution of mutual affection rather than one of financial gain.

In doing so, Austen shows her audience a deeper side of female characters, revealing women who grow as people with lives outside the realm demarcated by social boundaries. Through Catherine, Austen communicated hopes and dreams that went against the grain of society, but were nurtured and pursued all the same. More important than the substance of the message was the media; Austen managed to relay these subtleties within an 18th century context specifically from a woman’s point of view.

The reader observes Catherine, like her counterparts Eli nor and Elizabeth, from an entirely female perspective, delving into the world girls and women experience on a daily basis. Whether Catherine’s wild imagination and its comical hold of her logic, the protagonist’s total personality is revealed in NA’s pages. In addition, Catherine’s growth takes place in all stages of life; as an unwed girl, her friendship with Isabella dissipates despite Isabella’s introduction of Catherine into the upper class and their social coterie.

Catherine favors the meek Eleanor Tilney for the same reason she loved Eleanor’s older brother Henry; despite her meager background and the assurance that Eleanor would not help Catherine ascend social ladders as Isabella had, Catherine befriended Eleanor for her personal worth and measure. Later in life, Catherine pursues her desires as a woman desiring marriage, but does so within society’s dictates, waiting for General Tilney’s blessing.

PP showcases Austen’s opining on the challenges women face. The imagery of Elizabeth’s muddied dress presents a change in the way women are perceived; contrary to the other women in her society, Elizabeth leaves the security of her coach and hikes three miles to reach her ailing sister.

The imagery of a woman abandoning male attendance is symbolic in two distinct ways: 1) it shows a woman who has the power to determine what she wants no matter the cost, and 2) it presents a woman who shirks the socially-accepted and expected image of an effeminate woman. As Elizabeth leaves her coach, she abandons its physical shelter, risking her health as her sister had previously. In addition, marching through the grasses and ruining her dress ascribed her a sort of soldier-like image. That she was scorned upon her arrival to the Bingley estate is a testament to the social asphyxiation exerted by women upon other women; Miss Bingley is disgusted that Elizabeth would have such disdain for traditionally feminine things (her dress and male protection).

Feminine independence is a recurring theme throughout SS, and once again, Austen communicates her points in an 18th century-appropriate manner. Austen portrays women who are constantly abandoned by men, manifested first in the death of Henry Dash wood, leaving his widow and three daughters in a world of financial instability. Later, Marianne’s John Willoughby abandons her for financial reasons, leaving her while he deviates from their attachment in London. Eli nor later discovers Edward’s secret engagement to Lucy Steele, and following the end of the first half of the book, men have failed women in Austen’s world in every sense: romantically, financially, and matrimonially.

Men are made painfully mortal and are hardly the beacons of society portrayed in Shakespeare plays. Austen’s portrayal of women as dynamic characters evokes rigidity in favorable male characters; in developing and exposing all aspects of her female characters, Austen’s developing male characters become the manipulators and the literary devices that contribute to the plot and the betterment of female protagonists. The “good” male characters never change: what changes is Eli nor and Marianne’s perception of them.

Edward remains a victim of social circles, where John in turn is revealed to be exactly what everyone other than Marianne had known him to be. His debauchery and duplicity grows, culminating in his declaration of engagement to Miss Grey. Following John’s engagement to the wealthy heiress, Marianne weds Colonel Brandon, the man who all along had stood by his word and remained the static “good guy”.

Austen was a feminist writer, however limited by the constraints of her day and age. Unlike Shakespeare, whose characters’ powerful female presence may have served as a comical or tragic device in the course of a play, Austen’s female characters were the protagonists, and served no purpose other than simply to exist. Their development and existence may have been influenced by male interaction, but the women of Austen’s plays were reliant upon no auxiliary male character.


While Shakespeare created unforgettably empowered female characters, his writing did little to influence society outside writers he inspired. It is more likely that Queen Elizabeth changed the outlook of society on women, as it was under her rule that the arts, including theatre, flourished. Female empowerment, after all, does not connote feminist thought; it is only an aspect of feminism. In order for characters to be feminist, they must seek equality with men on the grounds of society, economy, and politics.

Shakespeare’s characters worked only to exemplify the patriarchal traditional values of marriage, family, and chastity. The male characters of Shakespeare, like Iago, are more likely to be truly evil yet accepted by society. Petruchio, a slovenly drunk, is far less grating to an audience than Kate, whose sharp tongue and violent outbursts earn her the title of “shrew”. Rosalind’s sexual empowerment, though unique among her contemporaries, is more a reflection of male desire than feminist assertion. The three Shakespearean characters all exist to serve in a patriarchy; none of the plays revolve around them exclusively.

As stipulated by several critics, Desdemona exists only to drive Othello insane, completing his tragedy. Kate exists solely as a challenge to be overcome in order for Lucentio to wed Bianca; she is the most understated pawn in any Shakespearean work. Rosalind, though defiant of her father in her choice of Orlando, exists solely to further her relation with him, and though indicative of feminist empowerment, her actions lead to her marriage and subsequently neutralize the power of her sexuality.

Austen’s characters, on the other hand, showcased more depth of character. All three characters examined were portrayed as challenging social norms on the three aspects of feminism previously discussed. Catherine, the most passive feminist, removed herself from the materialist social coterie engrossing her throughout her friendship to Isabella. Though her happiness relied greatly on Henry, Catherine exhibited feminist independence in her brief relationship with John. Elizabeth was the most outspoken feminist of Austen’s characters, asserting both her disdain for the institution of marriage as well as her equality to Darcy both on gender and social lines.

A true heroine, Elizabeth overcame her own “pride and prejudice” to better herself as a person, not as a woman. She relentlessly engages Darcy, never allowing him to gain the upper hand in conversation. She is so empowered that she befriends Wickham, forcing Darcy to assume a demure composition and to hold his tongue. Not only does Elizabeth change the role of women, but she also alters the fabric of society, proving that class is secondary to humanity in her acceptance of Darcy’s account of Wickham as truth. With Eli nor Dash wood, the reader is shown the potential of gender equality through her relationship with Edward.

In removing and re-introducing Edward throughout the novel, the reader can observe the effects of love removed from Eli nor; very rarely in any text do objects of affection come and go. It is a testament to Austen’s statement that women can still exist without men, evidenced by Rachel Brownstein and Carol Pearson’s contentions. What is so unique about Eli nor is how her relationship with Edward defines him as a hero. Just as Desdemona’s status as a tragic heroine is due to Othello’s madness, Edward becomes a hero because he re-enters Elinor’s life and marries her.

Ultimately, what determined the feminist nature of Austen’s characters was how they engaged their male counterparts as equals, and in the case of PP’s Elizabeth, doing so while crossing gender and social lines. Furthermore, Austen’s impact on society was more profound. As a celebrated British author, Austen’s works were radical enough to note a change in the portrayal of women, but not so heavy-handed as to be rejected by the people of her time. The discrepancies between Shakespeare and Austen’s characters reflect a shift in society; however, only Austen’s literary paradigm shift was significantly feminist in nature.


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The Power of One

In all great stories, a unique sense of individuality is typically the main element of a compelling protagonist. This individuality usually sets up key conflicts in the story that drive the plot. Othello and Peekay are both characters that posses this unique individuality, and in each of their stories, it causes them to overcome or be destroyed by each of these conflicts. The unique individuality demonstrated by Othello and Peekay cause them to either rise above or fall to conflicts such as protagonist vs. erson, protagonist vs. society and protagonist vs. self. As much as the readers may enjoy the protagonists’ unique characteristics, there are often characters in the novel who despise them. These characters (usually known as the antagonists) are often the initiators of protagonist vs. person conflicts. In the case of Othello, his unique physical characteristics were the fuel to the fire that was Iago’s despise for him. Iago is the charcter in the story of Othello, which is the true cause of the eventual demise of Othello. Although Othello’s unique physical traits (the colour of his skin, physical features) were not the initial cause of Iago’s hatred for Othello, they were mentioned by Iago every time he schemed against Othello. It seems throughout the novel that Iago uses these insults to remind himself of his disgust for Othello. He often used metaphors that mocked Othello’s race. For example, “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram is tupping your white ewe. ” (I. i. 97-98). In this quote Iago uses the imagery of a black ram to describe Othello. In this way, Othello’s unique physical characteristics fuel the hatred of Iago, which in turn results in the demise of Othello. Therefore, this aspect of Othello’s unique individuality causes his fall, in the form of his demise. Similarly to Othello, the character Peekay’s unique racial characteristics are the main cause of his protagonist vs. person conflicts. Due to the fact that Peekay was a child of English decent, he was a victim of racism at the hands of the Boer children who occupied his boarding school. Peekay was mercilessly harassed by the Boer children, both physically and psychologically.

Women In The Odyssey

I will be writing on how women are depicted in The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Othello. In these three texts, you will learn how the women in these texts will be treated with no respect, seen as property, and is being sexualized. Although these are women they have every right to be treated with respect just as the men are. Throughout the three texts, I have chosen three women from each text and how they are depicted and treated.

The Odyssey is written in a time when women were seen in an obsequious position to men, their job was dedicated mainly to just to have kids and take care of their duties around the house. The females in The Odyssey exhibited features that men in the book could have not done. Women in The Odyssey actually had a personality and have a relationship with men in the book. The Odyssey women are seen as strong, but they were also seen as being sexualized. In this particular story, you have three main type of women; the goddess Athena, the seductress Calypso, and the wife of Odysseus, Penelope. Every woman in this story is unique in their own way.

The goddess Athena is an example I will use because she is wise, brave, and intelligent. She plays a controlling role in this story but she is a very good leader. Athena helps Odysseus multiple times throughout the story on his journey back home. She helps Odysseus disguised as a beggar so that he could confront the suitors.
The seductress Calypso is another example I will use, she seduces Odysseus with her singing and keeps him on her island for many years. Calypso wants Odysseus to marry her. She just longs for guidance and care from a guy so she tries to get that from Odysseus. Whenever she can not convince him to marry her she turns him into her sex slave. Calypso refuses to let him leave her island.

Another example that I will use is Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. In this story, she is kind of seen as the prize because everybody wants her. Although Odysseus had been gone for many years she remained loyal and faithful to him. Although all the suitors showered her with gifts she tested all of them to see if they could string and shoot an arrow through an ax because she knew they could not do it. After the beggar which was Odysseus strings the bow and shoots it between the ax she still did not want to believe it was him because he had been gone for so long and she wanted to be sure it was him before she just welcomed him back with open arms. After testing him with what was the secret to their bed and he knew what it was, it was like he was winning the prize which was her.
In the book of The Epic of Gilgamesh, there are three more women that I will discuss how they were being used. In this story, you have the Harlot, Ishtar, and Shamhat. Their roles have similarities and differences from The Odyssey. The women in the Epic of Gilgamesh are basically being sexualized too.

First, we the Harlot who is being used to take away Enkidu’s innocence and purity. She is seen as a sex toy or even a prostitute. She moves him from being pure to experienced. She was basically being used to seduce Enkidu. Although she was mainly there to seduce him, she taught him how to dress and feed himself like a man.

Next, we have Ishtar who was basically trying to get Gilgamesh after his journey but once he said he did not want her she got angry and tried to slay him with the Bull of Heaven. Ishtar is promiscuous. Ishtar is seen as crazy because when she found things wrong with her lover she turned him into a creature instead of trying to work things out. She is clearly very arrogant and does not know how to take the word no for an answer.

Next, we have Shamhat who is a very important female in this story because she helps him break his innocence and helps him get into the world. She is more of a helper and helps Enkidu develop a great friendship. She also helps him on his track to immortality. Although she is a prostitute she a plays a major role in helping Enkidu.
In the book, Othello women were viewed as sexists and they were given very little respect throughout the story. Women were seen as objects and treated as if they were owned by men. In Othello, women were meant to marry and do their responsibilities. The women were expected to obey the males in their life. In the book of Othello, we will discuss Emilia, Bianca, and Desdemona.

First, we have Emilia, the wife of Iago who I see as being a strong character because she does not let people push her around. Although Iago treated Emilia as she was a piece of property she still remained faithful and loyal to him. Emilia was quiet but she spoke up for herself and sometimes even for Desdemona. She insists that she is equal to men.

Next, we have Bianca who is the mistress of Cassio. Bianca is a prostitute who likes Cassion but has no idea that Cassio does not really care about her. She is not respected at all by any of the guys. She believes that Cassio really love her but in reality, he is just there for the pleasure she is giving him.

Next, we have the wife of Othello, Desdemona who is basically seen as a property. Desdemona was treated like property to her father first and when she went against her father and married Othello her father said he had been stolen from her like she was a piece of property and like that she just belonged him. When she married Othello she was treated as his possession also. No matter what the situation was she stayed obedient and faithful to her husband. I see Desdemona as being submissive and never speaks up for herself because she is terrified of hurting other people’s feelings. Although Othello could be mean and rude and even put his hands on Desdemona she still remained loyal to her husband. Even when Othello had basically killed her and she was blaming it on herself to save him.

Throughout The Odyssey, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and The Odyssey all the women were disrespected and felt worthless at a time in each of these stories. They are all controlled by men in their life. In all of the stories, each female has been put down and always seen as less than a person and most of the time saw a property to the males in their life. In each of the stories, each woman could have been strong independent women in these stories if they would have been giving a chance.

A Question Of Women Rights In Othello?

Othello is a great example of William Shakespeare’s talent. His vision, imagery, and attention to detail is put on full display during this epic tragedy. The most important part to be drawn from this play is how women, and women’s rights were viewed at this period in time; women during this time were often treated poorly.

They had no real place in politics, or even in society. The one true job that most women held was to be basically a Stay at home wife, and to please their husband in any way possible. They were not educated, and their words meant nothing especially when held against the words of a man. This is shows throughout Othello, especially in the latter portion of the play. Key characters such as Desdemona, Emilia, and even a subtle one such as Bianca all represent examples of this. These women in this play masterfully portray a message to the society of the time that women’s rights are, and always will be a major issue until something is done in the world between both woman and men.

The speech given in Act IV is often considered a plea for women’s rights. Emilia and Desdemona are both extremely tired of the way they were being treated how the other women are being treated. They are pleading for a change, and are seemingly calling out the men in the play and the audience as well. This is was mainly particular for the time period in which this play was set. Shakespeare is taking a real chance of receiving some serious backlash from his implications and suggestions of a needed change in the role women had in families, marriages, and society. The picture that is painted by Shakespeare is a beyond accurate representation of this. Men of this time period held all the power and responsibility, and what Shakespeare is suggesting would upend that entirely. He is sending a message to his audience that this behavior is not acceptable. Women were often given little to no respect. One of the very few examples of respect of a woman shown in this play was by Othello before the climax of the play, and Iago’s evil plan began to take place. During other times during the play, women were seen being shoved around, sexually abused, and told directly what to do by men with no way for any sort of free choice. Men were treating their own wives like some form of doll which they use at their own convenience, and also leave at their own will with little to no consequences. (Cantor) One would create what was basically a human sex slave out of their wives, and that is all.

A man of this time period could very easily commit adultery, and his wife could say or do something and nothing would be done. However, if the wife in turn committed an adulterous act or was even rumored to have committed any form of an adulterous act, she was going to be beaten. This was obviously seen with the death of Desdemona. Iago simply started a rumor about her, and continuously fed lies to Othello. So, instead of getting a divorce, or even truly listening to her side of the story, he murders her in cold blood, while calling her a whore and other such terrible things. This may be one of the things if this woman has been known as a harlot, but Desdemona was known as an upstanding, and well respected woman. She was in all actuality the picture perfect wife; she did as her husband commanded, and showed him nothing but compassion. Her loyalty never once faded, even as she took her final breath. Wives of this time truly felt and were treated less than human.

Shakespeare also shows us an example by his concern of women’s rights through his portrayal of the character Bianca. She is a seemingly very minor character without much purpose in the play. However, when reading and watching the play in the particular context of a work centered on women’s rights, her role makes perfect sense. Bianca was, in fact a stereotypical prostitute. She was in love with Cassio, but he mistreated her. She was put in the play to show the real difference between Desdemona and herself. Desdemona was a beautiful, upstanding woman with good morals. While, Bianca was a prostitute. The sad thing was that both of these women were seen the exact same way. Both were regarded, at least at some point or another during the play, as whores. Each of these women were severely mistreated, and prove yet again that Shakespeare is sending a key message to people. Othello failed to recognize the difference between these two women, and it ultimately ended up costing more than just one life. Sure, there are bad woman in this world, just as there are bad men. Even Emilia admits that in the later part of Act IV. However, the thought that all women are the same, and all are pieces of garbage is absolutely crazy. Shakespeare’s portrayal of Bianca is one of pity, or could be considered sympathetic. It’s almost as if he feels bad for her, and the fact that she is not getting a fair shake at life. It is as if she cannot get her chance at true love, simply because her reputation as a whore precedes her. Unfortunately, she is not even given a remote opportunity to prove her worth as a human being much less a suitable wife.

Throughout the play Othello, women rights, are put front and center on display for the world to see. This was an extraordinarily brave move by Shakespeare, considering that this time period was entirely male dominated. Women had no control over their own lives, and were treated no better than livestock at the time. Their word meant nothing, and unfortunately, by the time that Othello realized Desdemona was being truthful, it was far too late. Shakespeare took full advantage of his position as a renowned play writer, and used this power to shine some light on an issue that was, and continued to be a hot topic for a long time after. He ignored the possible backlash that could come from this slap in the face to society, and stood up for what he believed in. In this case, it was for the fair and balanced treatment of women.

Othello And His Otherness

The first differentiation of the character which makes him a stranger to the rest is his race, his dark skin color makes him an infiltrator the white Venetian kingdom. Even before he appears on the play he is already described as “an old black ram” (buscar donde), “African horse”, a “stranger” and a “barbarian” (buscar donde). This allows Othello to be isolated right from the beginning.

The ones with the racist attitude are Iago and Roderigo who display the stereotype Africans had in the age of Shakespeare; the idea of white supremacy over the black as slaves and inferior.  In a conversation between Iago and Roderigo, the former explains how he will not follow a ‘black ram’ but rather himself, in battle. This type of comment suggest the attitude that Elizabethan England had towards Africans and dark-skins being brought to the British Isles and colonies.

Furthermore, little is said about Othello’s background, but the fact that he is a foreign mercenary stand without doubt. In the play, Othello explains how “From year to year: the battle, sieges, fortune, that i have passed”(buscar donde). This is a way to make the character a lifelong outsider, everywhere he has gone. Gillies adds that being ‘geographically displaced’, causes Shakespeare’s ‘strangers’ to become more threatening (1994, p.100).

Following the lines of the foreigner there is another factor that influence the ‘otherness’ in Othello, the Moor. Moors were usually Muslims, although in this case, it was known that Othello is converted to Christianity. The fact that the War of Cyprus against the Turks, which is portrayed in the play, was a religious war, made the conflict between Othello and the rest of the Christian venetians exponentially larger. The cast, especially Iago, makes no difference in acknowledging as a converted Christian and a fake Christian, he thereon, becomes the responsible of reinforcing Othello’s isolation in regard to the rest. Regarding this topic, Tekalp explains how for such kind of people, ‘strangers’, or non-Christians, have always become inferior to the ‘same’, and should remain as ‘footnotes’ to the society they shelter in (2014, p.237). Iago even declares how Othello isn’t worth of his position as only a true believer of heaven can lead and calm the Venetian army.

The racial and religious conflict extends to the relation between Desdemona and Othello. The love between the characters can be interpreted as a form of union between ‘white England and the black colonies’, however the interracial relation is seen by the rest of the characters in the play as a violation of the ‘black’ to the white race, only soften by the fact that Othello is a heroic figure and a Christian, not a Muslim.

To Be in the World But Not of the World: Aye, There’s the Rub

Othello is a man of action. Hamlet is a man of inaction. If Hamlet were placed in Othello’s world and vice versa one could assume that both would function well in those circumstances. Othello is a man of action in a play that demands his hesitation and thought. Hamlet is a philosopher in a situation that asks him to act. The resultant drama of both plays is that neither character reacts tidily to their situations. The fact that both plays also end in tragedy may mean that neither choice of conduct is ideal. Hamlet and Othello represent the extremes of thoughtful inaction and thoughtless violence, respectively. To their detriment, both characters adhere to the logic of their world. Despite their protagonists’ differences, Hamlet and Othello have much in common. Both plays deal with the betrayal of a loved one and the protagonists’ responses to that betrayal. The betrayals are similar in that they involve female characters in the play and the question of their supposed infidelities. Both plays also make references to ears, hearing, and the possibility of deception in speech. Ultimately, both plays demand that their main characters be something they are not. The texts push the characters to act and react in ways that are contrary to their natural habits. The challenge for both Hamlet and Othello is to accept those demands by stepping outside their constructs. The problem is that neither is able to transcend the logic of their world to successfully avert tragedy.Othello is not a character prone to philosophizing. Neither is he the “barbarian” Iago dubs him. Othello presents its main character as a courageous soldier, a loving husband, and a respected statesman. The one thing he is not is a critical thinker. On the contrary, his lack of thought is glaringly obvious. Iago too easily convinces him and Othello too quickly acts on those doubts of Desdemona’s faithfulness. He has the skills to “love deeply” and fight bravely, yet those tools do not help him in the end. The text seems intent on portraying him as a thick-headed fool, all brawn and no brain.Hamlet is presented as a courtier and a scholar. He is not a valiant warrior, yet he lives in the shadow of his father, a celebrated war hero. When the Ghost of his father comes to tell him to avenge his death, he is dressed in his military garb. Hamlet the philosopher must confront his inadequacy as a soldier in the same way that Othello the soldier reveals his inadequacy as a philosopher.Othello oozes with agency. He has a depth and intensity that separates him from the rest of the characters in the play. That depth is intricately tied to his history as a warrior. His history in battles gives him a sense of self. His actions redeem him when faced with adversary. Othello has confidence that comes with the knowledge of respect well won. When Iago tells him that Brabantio speaks against him, Othello self-assuredly replies, “Let him do his spite;/ My services, which I have done the signiory,/ Shall out-tongue his complaints.” (1.2.17-19) Othello’s calm signifies his security in his own nobility. He knows that his “services” validate him in the world of Venetian nobles. In the economy of honor in the play Othello has banked enough to withstand attacks on his character. The only tools he has to “out-tongue” Brabantio are not words, but a lauded history of actions.Those experiences form his narrative. His ability to shape his own narrative, to be in control of the story of his past are what Desdemona finds so appealing. Though in his own words Othello is “little blest with the soft phrase of peace” he redeems himself by telling his “unvarnished tale.” He is in control of his own narrative; his past speaks for him in ways that lucid pontificating can not. Desdemona and Brabantio value him for what he has done and what he can do. They “questioned me the story of my life/ From year to year ? the battles, sieges, fortunes/ That I have passed.” (1.3.130) Othello’s person is the sum whole of those experiences. The story of his life is the story of military accomplishments and exotic locales. His tale is clear and “unvarnished” by complexities and complications. Not only does he display mastery of his life through narrative; the narrative itself is testament to his action.If Othello’s self-narrative is clear and untarnished, Hamlet’s is fraught with contradiction and inconsistency. This is obvious when Hamlet promises the Ghost that he will avenge his father’s death. He declares that he willWipe away all trivial fond records,All saws of books, all forms, all pressures pastThat youth and observation copied there,And thy commandment all alone shall liveWithin the book and volume of my brain. (1.5.99-103)He so easily wipes away the years of grooming, training, and formal education that has prepared him for a life in court society. Yet he can only process his conduct using the language of education and civil society. He replaces “fond records” and “books” with a commandment that will exist in the “book” of his brain. His language belies his purpose. If he were to really replace his revenge for culture, he would not need to articulate it. Violence implies a rejection of speech; the act speaks for itself. His commitment to avenge his father’s murder is therefore problematic. Contained within his promise of violence is allegiance to culture and civility. In his eagerness to appease his father’s Ghost he swears whole-heartedly in the only way he knows how ? by referring to the “book” of his brain. The only way he can express true resolve is by offering the power of his mind. The point of this promise is that it should be translated into action, not thought.Hamlet’s promise of revenge contains a contradiction in content and in practice. Not only does he rename the violence promised as a “commandment” to be contained within a book, he also refutes the promise as he is making it. He is talking to a Ghost, a representation of the past. This is a past that retells itself until it is resolved. The Ghost’s narrative is one that begs to be retold and remembered, echoed in the Ghost’s request of “Remember me.” In the same breath that Hamlet vows revenge, he wipes away “all forms, all pressures past.” Included in those “pressures past” is the memory of his father. He is telling the representation of his father’s past that he will wipe away any record of that past. His promise is then meaningless. This speech, articulating whole-hearted allegiance to the Ghost, is filled with conflicting ideas.Hamlet’s idea of his self-narrative could not be more confusing. The intellectual grooming of his past is so distasteful to him that he rejects it and starts anew. He replaces his narrative of books and records with a narrative of revenge. But the logic of his promise collapses in on itself when examined closely. He thinks that he needs to wipe away the past in order to memorialize it. Hamlet actually does want to memorialize the Ghost in a meaningful way. The irony is that when attempting to narrate his decision, Hamlet’s speech is thoughtful yet lacks clarity of thought.Despite the pitfalls of thinking too much, Hamlet is confined by his thoughts, whereas Othello is unencumbered by the shackles of thought. The text repeatedly uses the word “free” when describing him. Othello tells Iago after he has emphasized his love for Desdemona and is about to face Brabantio’s anger that, “I would not my unhoused free condition / Put into circumscription and confine/ For the sea’s worth.” (1.2.26). He asserts the value he places on his freedom and his resolve to not let the views of others “circumscribe and confine” him. And when Othello asks that Desdemona accompany him to war he wants only “to be free and bounteous to her mind.” (1.3.266) Their relationship is built on the foundation of free minds. Othello loves his freedom and enjoys the freedom that loving Desdemona affords him. Given that Othello is a former slave, it makes sense that his sense of freedom is important to him. He has earned his freedom, further underscoring his sense of independence.Othello embodies the freedom to act that Hamlet lacks. If, for Hamlet “Denmark is a prison,” then for Othello Venice is a place where he can assert his autonomy as a decorated soldier. He is not bound by the hesitation and thrust towards constant reflection that plagues Hamlet throughout the play.Iago picks up on this aspect of Othello’s character and uses it against him. “The Moor is of a free and open nature/ That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,”(1.3.397-398) remarks Iago after the ordeal with the senate. Iago understands that Othello’s “free and open nature” leave him susceptible to the suggestion of betrayals. Othello’s freedom also encompasses freedom from thought. His mind is free and open in that he does not have fixed notions about the characters of others. He simply thinks those honest that “seem to be so.” Once those individuals no longer “seem to be” honest, Othello’s world breaks down. Even when convincing Othello of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness Iago stresses his allegiance to Othello’s sense of autonomy. “I would not have your free and noble nature/ Out of self-bounty be abused,” (3.3.202-3) Iago says in an effort to allay Othello’s fears. He creates a situation of dependence by underscoring Othello’s “free nature” in assessing these matters. Othello is too free and generous with his affections; he needs Iago to protect him from the abuse of others. Iago also alludes to Othello’s “free nature” because he knows Othello possesses the liberty to take action when resolved. Othello’s freedom to act prevents him from stopping to think; he values his agency too much to allow for a moment of reflection.Othello’s mistake is that he looks to Iago for thought. As a man of action, he has little confidence in his deductive capabilities and is therefore susceptible to the nagging doubts Iago plants in him. The scene where Iago starts to convince Othello of Desdemona’s disloyalty is a volley of “thoughts.”Oth: What does thou think?Iago: Think, my lord?Oth: Think, my lord! By heaven thou echo’st me As if there were some monster in thy thought To hideous to be shown? If thou dost love me Show me thy thought.Iago: My, lord you know I love you.Oth: I think thou dost. (3.3.106-20)Othello is begging Iago to share his thoughts. He looks to Iago to process information for him. He has so little confidence in his own ability to think things through and thus appeals to his best friend for that. If Othello has no faith in his own thoughts he is justified in this ? this passage demonstrates his flawed thinking. Iago clearly does not love him, yet Othello “thinks” he does. If Iago needed anymore evidence that Othello is easily fooled, he receives it in this scene. By asking Iago to “show” his thoughts, Othello confesses to lacking mental acuity. Any “thinking” that Othello does have is useless because it is so obviously mistaken. The text constructs Othello as an actor and not a thinker. The moment that he alludes to his thinking process is the moment when Othello reveals his true weakness. Hamlet’s initial resort to violence, like Othello’s display of thinking, works to worsen his situation. The scene where he kills Polonius is the one time where he gives into his violent impulse and acts impetuously. This act of uninhibited violence is also one of absolute clumsiness. The image of Hamlet stabbing through the arras, ignorant of his target, trying to convince himself is it Claudius when there is no possibility that it could be Claudius since he has just left him in another room, is so emblematic of his enterprise. When Hamlet does resort to violence, he stabs into the darkness, ungracefully killing, and not fulfilling his purpose. Killing Polonius also works against him in that he commits the injustice towards Laertes that Hamlet himself is trying to avenge. He perpetuates the cycle of violence and undeserved death that he rails against at every opportunity. Hamlet’s first moment of action equalizes him with Claudius; he becomes that which he hates. Hamlet want to prove his mettle as a warrior of justice, but he can not break so easily from the “glass of fashion and the mould of form.” When he does attempt to act against his natural inclinations, he accomplishes nothing.Even when both characters do what they are accustomed to, it does not help their situations. Hamlet’s philosophizing is his way of decoding and revealing the political truths of the court. In Hamlet’s circuitous approaches to the act of revenge is the constant presence of a fruitless endeavor to address Claudius’s sins by talking about them. His pontificating never leads to a resolve; rather it serves to stultify the action. He can never openly acknowledge the evil he knows Claudius has committed. Hamlet is verbally castrated; he is free to soliloquize, but only in a limited capacity. He can never address the issue through speech, yet for most of the play that is his choice of defense. Philosophizing becomes a comfortable position for Hamlet. It validates his inadequacy to act.The one scene when Othello displays his ability to maintain resolve and carry out his purpose, is the moment when he should be acting against his nature. When he kills Desdemona he maintains a stoic determination to kill her no matter how much she professes her innocence. At first he seems loathe to kill her, the only thing working in Desdemona’s favor is Othello’s residual feelings of love for her. Yet those emotional attachments can not sway his decision that “She must die, else she’ll betray more men.” He has already decided on her guilt, and all he knows is his commitment to his own decision. This is the moment where the text begs Othello to listen, to stop, and to think. Desdemona herself asks him to “have mercy” on her. She asks him to be the arbiter of something he is not capable of; she wants him to be something beyond himself.Othello’s confrontation with his tragic loss is simple. As Emilia enters the room Othello reasons, “If she come in, she’ll sure speak to my wife. My wife, my wife! What wife? I have no wife.” In this statement Othello’s simplistic thought process is displayed. In the same moment of realization is the simultaneous acceptance of a new reality. The desperation of the second “my wife” is matched only by the calm resignation of the truth “I have no wife.” He is a man accustomed to war and violence; the death of his wife garners a second cry and is ultimately met with the resolution of his despair.In the same way that Hamlet is confined to thinking his way through the world, Othello is resigned to acting his way to a resolution. When these characters step out of their usual modes of behavior is the point where they display their inability to function successfully within their worlds. Hamlet would never ask anyone to share their thoughts; he is too satisfied and too involved with his own pontificating to access the ideas of others. Othello would never delay avenging a dead father the way Hamlet does; he lacks the capacity for reflection that causes Hamlet to delay.The tragedy is that they remain stuck in the logic of their respective worlds. When they do break out of their individual world views they are unable to do so effectively. It’s interesting to think how well both characters would work if they could switch worlds but the truth is that they can not. They are only offered the opportunity to remain in their worlds and function according to their nature. They have no choice but to accept the challenge of the text, yet they are doomed from the start because of their character construction. The message of those plays, when examined in light of their protagonists’ constructive differences is that one should aim for a unity of thought and action that is neither extreme.

Honest Iago

“IAGO: Stand you a while apart.Confine yourself but in a patient list.Whilst you were here, o’erwhelmèd with your grief – A passion most unsuiting such a man – Cassio came hither. I shifted him away,And laid good ‘scuse upon your ecstasy,Bade him anon return and here speak with me,The which he promised. Do but encave yourself,And mark the fleers, the gibes and notable scornsThat dwell in every region of his face.For I will make him tell the tale anew,Where, how, how oft, how long ago, and whenHe hath and is again to cope your wife.I say, but mark his gesture. Marry, patience,Or I shall say you’re all-in-all in spleen,And nothing of a man” (Othello 4.1.72-87).Over the course of Othello, the title character endures several metaphorical falls. Indeed, one need only compare his social status in Act I and in Act V: at the start, Othello commands respect for his grand military successes; by the close of the play, unearthly jealousy has reduced him to homicide, stripped him of power, and ultimately led him to stab himself. Rather than one meteoric decline, as in Oedipus Rex, however, it seems that Othello falls a little bit with each scene. The most significant of these dips in honor occurs in Act IV, Scene I (immediately following a literal swoon by Othello, not coincidentally), when Iago tricks Othello into believing that he has seen “ocular proof” (3.3.365) of Desdemona’s infidelity, thus leaving him, once and for all, destined for a tragic end. The obvious flimsiness of this evidence must compel us to ask two important questions: why is Othello so willing to trust Iago? And why is he so quick and careless to condemn his wife? For the answers, we need only look at Iago’s words to his master, in which he outlines his plan – which we know to be deceitful – to entrap Cassio in a confession.Our understanding of Iago’s state of mind at this time depends on our interpretation of his character as a whole. More specifically, there are two popular ways to think about Iago: as a human, or as a devil (or even Lucifer incarnate). If we think of him as a devil, and therefore as a wholly evil entity, the very term “state of mind” is irrelevant; a character whose being is inclined unwaveringly in one particular direction does not have mood swings, but rather, in Iago’s case, remains malicious throughout. This view of Iago, though popular, is overly simplistic; in order to do the play justice, we must think of Iago, like we would any other character, as a human being. On this interpretation, his condition at this point in the play is relief and, one would assume, rekindled optimism for his plan. Cassio’s recent entrance, had Othello been conscious, likely would have spelled doom for the ensign, as the Moor would have had the opportunity to question his lieutenant outright and thus dispel Iago’s deception; instead, Cassio’s appearance gives Iago the perfect opportunity to cement his master’s fury, and thereby his downfall. Othello’s faint – caused by Iago’s trickery – enables that very trickery to continue, to build to its climax, leaving the ensign in a state of barely-controlled relief and renewed vigor when he gives this short speech.Iago’s language in these lines adheres to his speech patterns throughout the play. The lines follow closely to the iambic pentameter form: nine of fourteen lines (the first and last line are incomplete) have ten syllables exactly, while the rest all have eleven. This poetic conformity reflects the ensign’s feigned submission to Othello. Indeed, his entire plan hinges on his staying in the Moor’s good graces – on his role as Othello’s most trusted advisor – so he must simulate obedience, probably even more so than he normally would to a military or social superior. There is no rhyme scheme in these lines, which removes the atmosphere of formality from a supposedly professional relationship; though Iago’s strict iambic pentameter simulates a willingness to submit, his lack of a formal rhyme scheme makes the conversation more intimate, like one between two friends, rather than master and ensign. In this way, Iago cleverly maneuvers himself into a position where he has influence over Othello’s decisions, but does not seem to pose a threat.Also worth noting, in terms of Iago’s linguistic choices, is line 83: “Where, how, how oft, how long ago, and when.” This repetition of interrogatives, spoken aloud, sounds like the blows of a hammer; these words truly do hammer into Othello’s brain the utter shame of his potential cuckoldry. This echo effect is but another cunning ploy by Iago to shatter his master’s reserve. We can imagine a nearly-broken Othello wincing at each word, culminating in the next line, “He hath and is again to cope your wife.” Not only has Cassio slept with Desdemona, but he plans to do so again – a clear sign of disdain for Othello’s dignity. The grammatical construction of this line, which makes “your wife” the direct object of a rather indelicate verb (in contrast with a formation like “sleep with your wife,” which employs a euphemism, and in which Othello’s beloved is not objectified as a sexual conquest), makes its content brutally honest and thus infuriating to the Moor.

Honesty to Speak: Speech and Silence in “Othello”

Speech in Shakespeare’s “Othello” possesses a power beyond that of deeds’. It is Othello’s fantastical storytelling that won him Desdemona at the start, Iago’s poisonous suggestion that leads the general to murder his own wife, Emilia’s testimony that traps the villain in the end. Not all of this speech is true, and we will never know for sure whether Othello’s handkerchief is magic or why Iago created his plot; but words, regardless of their truth, convince the characters even more than physical evidence does. When characters control their speech, either by remaining silent or by bursting out, they exert the strongest power they can have over the play’s world.Iago, a skilled manipulator, is in complete control of his voice. He finagles Roderigo’s purse by persuading the young man that he will send the money to Desdemona, and then works on harder prey. Upon seeing Cassio finish talking to Desdemona, Iago mutters, “I like not that” a comment he pretends to be private but wants Othello to hear. Othello asks Iago what he said, and Iago replies, “Nothing, my lord; or if–I know not what.” After insinuating Cassio’s guilt, Iago gets Othello to mention that Cassio repeatedly visited Desdemona before her marriage. Iago exclaims, “Indeed!” and then falls silent, despite Othello’s prodding for an explanation. These two lines rouse Othello’s suspicions because they appear involuntary, and are therefore more likely to be indications of Iago’s true thoughts. The words themselves, however, are innocent. That Iago dislikes whatever Cassio was doing, perhaps kissing Desdemona’s hand or even just standing next to her, is probably true; Iago hates everybody in the play, particularly Cassio. His other comments are meaningless, but they are pauses that invite Othello to infer the darker motivations behind; Iago’s silence, not his speech, frames Desdemona.Iago excuses his silence by saying that “oft my jealousy/Shapes faults that are not,” and he is honest. He discourses about Cassio’s military inexperience and his tawdry affairs, warns Othello of Desdemona’s unnatural behavior and deceptive practices. And yet he avoids directly accusing Cassio, and never claims that Desdemona is having an affair. Instead of lying, Iago uses silence to make Othello fill in the gaps. If Iago had laid the whole accusation bare, Othello would probably be incredulous and ask Desdemona to confirm the truth, just as Emilia, when Othello tells her about Iago’s deceptions, asks her husband, “Did you ever say that she was false?” Though he admits to doing so, he never did, replacing that claim with circumstantial evidence. For example, he says Cassio had an erotic dream about Desdemona, and the audience is no more justified to discount that claim than Othello is to believe it. Cassio’s tongue has loosened against his will before, revealing a less noble officer than he first appears. He has previously made mildly insulting remarks about his social inferiors, telling Desdemona, “[Iago] speaks home, madam, you may relish him more in the soldier than in the scholar,” and excuses his own “breeding” for kissing Emilia. (Since Cassio knew this “courtesy” would offend Iago, his reasons for taking it are somewhat suspect.) After Iago has gotten him drunk, Cassio shows the true extent of his sense of superiority. He shouts, “The lieutenant is to be saved before the ancient,” and attacks Roderigo for his presumption, crying “a knave teach me my duty?” Iago partially proves that Cassio is the “rash and very sudden in choler” man he claimed, undeserving of the lieutenancy, and partially makes him so, much as he handles Othello. Cassio’s courtly, hyperbolic praise for Desdemona, “a maid/That paragons description and wild fame,” may likewise have transformed during sleep into the baser, “cursed fate that gave thee to the Moor!” Cassio, obsessed with safeguarding his reputation, can afford to admit his lapses only to Iago, whom he trusts, who has already seen Cassio’s drunkenness, whose opinion he cares little for, and who thinks far worse of the lieutenant than any confession could account. If Cassio has any faults other than drinking, fighting, and whoring, he takes great pains to hide them. He also has some virtue, and can hardly bear to acknowledge his drunkenness. For both these reasons, when Othello calls upon him to account for his brawling, Cassio responds, “I pray you pardon me, I cannot speak.” Montano, the other combatant, is too wounded to explain what happened, and Roderigo has slipped away. By orchestrating the silence of his comrades, Iago remains the only one able to tell Othello what happened, and by his favorite tactic of pretended reticence, convinces the general that Cassio was more at fault than he actually was. Othello thinks that Iago is reluctant to condemn Cassio more than he does because of loyalty to his “worthy friend.” Because Iago will not say that Cassio is bad, Othello thinks he is worse; because his trusted ensign keeps silent, the general thinks the truth too horrible to reveal. But when Iago keeps his mouth shut, it is to avoid divulging good. He hates to acknowledge it just as much as Othello shudders to contemplate his wife’s infidelity. Othello presumes, because he cannot stomach ill deeds, that no-one can. When Iago says that Cassio lay, “With her, on her, what you will,” Othello falls into a epileptic fit. He thinks it is as painful for the hesitant Iago to say such things as it is for himself to hear them. The Moor cannot even tell Desdemona her supposed crime; he “should…to cinders burn up modesty/Did I but speak thy deeds….Heaven stops the nose at it.” With Iago, his mouth is freer to shout, “Damn her, lewd minx: O damn her, damn her!” but Othello does not notice this effect of Iago’s presence. At first, it is joy that Othello cannot name, he “cannot speak enough of this content, it stops me here,” but once Iago has finished his work, the voluble Othello has no content to speak of. Whenever the general opens his mouth to praise Desdemona, Iago warns, “Nay, you must forget all that,” and by Act III, Othello’s wonderful tales of “deserts vast and antres idle” have become “fantastical lies” about the handkerchief’s magic powers, to frighten Desdemona.When speaking about the handkerchief, Othello asks Desdemona where it is, and she will not answer at first. His constant questioning, “is’t lost? Is’t gone? Speak, is’t out of the way?” implies that Desdemona here hesitates. “Heaven bless us!” is her final unfortunate response, as though she were praying to be pardoned for adultery. Her mind refuses to compass Othello’s meaning, and so she thinks nothing of her words and lies about the handkerchief, as though this would protect her from its powers. Her pauses also cause Othello to trust her less both in the future and the present, as her initial dithering makes the lie that much more transparent.Soon after, she makes the same mistake for similar reasons. Othello never tells Desdemona what she has allegedly done until too late. He calls her a whore and Emilia a bawd, but prostitution is not Desdemona’s supposed crime. He orders her to swear she is honest and she will not, possibly because of confusion that he meant “honest about the handkerchief,” possibly out of sheer overwhelmedness or modesty but probably because she cannot believe Othello does not love her; she blinds herself to Othello’s meaning and asks whether he is mad because of Brabantio, which he is obviously not. “[Othello’s] unkindness may…never taint my love,” says Desdemona, as though her husband simply were not feeling himself. (“Unkindness” in Shakespeare’s usage often hovered between “unnaturalness” and the modern sense) She then decides, despite every sign to the contrary, that politics is the real reason for Othello’s behavior. And when she knows herself lost beyond all hope to her husband’s love, she refuses to say so, but only, “answers have I none.”She does manage to swear that she is neither a strumpet nor whore, unfortunate word choices in the context of being treated like “a public commoner” and not an adulteress, as the words could mean either. Her earnest prayer of, “heaven forgive us!” just as before moves Othello from the brink of believing her back to renewed suspicions. Othello, already believing Desdemona lost, told her with dubious theology to be “double-damned,” but the first item she would be damned for (dishonesty) is the same as the second. He wanted Desdemona to convince him that she really was honest, and her avoidance of Othello’s command, though she somewhat makes up for the deficiency a few lines later and even swears her faithfulness just after Othello has left the room, damns her just as Iago’s silence does.”I cannot say ‘whore’,” she confides to Iago, and oddly enough, shares that quality with him. (Iago does speak it in Othello’s presence, but never, even during soliloquy, in reference to Desdemona.) Othello trusts Iago because the ensign will not mention foulness, and suspects Desdemona for that same quality. Iago’s poison has made “what is to him as luscious as locusts…as acerb as coloquintida”; Othello fluctuates between believing Iago and not daring to, but by the time of their “marriage” is prepared not only to hear but to put any slander on her. While Iago patiently listens, Othello rages about Desdemona’s infidelity and pours out his words in a gush of imagery mocking the kind seas that brought the couple to Cyprus. Desdemona does not keep her peace for the whole play; she speaks at Cassio’s request and Iago’s manipulation. She pesters Othello with the suit, promising to “talk him out of patience” and giving a long, repetitive entreaty with its nagging cadences of, “Shall’t be shortly?…shall’t be tonight?…tomorrow dinner then?” etc. Othello dismisses Desdemona and murmurs a loving aside, apparently about to give in, but Iago turns her words against her and implicitly contrasts them with his own virtuous reticence. Othello, though possessed of an elegant tongue, professes his own inexperience in speech to the Duke’s council; he mistrusts his own words, doubting that they wooed Desdemona enough, and in his worry wonders whether she tired of him because he lacks “soft parts of conversation.” Iago demonstrates the power of his words as he employs them to cast doubt on Desdemona’s, but Othello fails to understand the tactic. “It is not words that shakes me thus” he exclaims upon falling into a fit, yet, of course, it is; words, and the play of his imagination. To Othello, more honesty resides in Iago’s hesitant speech than in Desdemona’s long scolding. As Iago’s tightens his grip on Othello’s mind, he speaks more freely. At first he swears, “you cannot [know my thoughts], if my heart were in your hand” and “I am not bound to…utter my thoughts,” but later changes his tack, saying, “as I am bound, receive it from me.” He tells Othello what the general already half-believes, furthering Othello’s trust in words with him. The more Othello listens to Iago, the more words control him, and the less he realizes it. He abandons his demand for “ocular proof” in an instant; Cassio’s mocking words and Desdemona’s uneasy speech convince him at least as much as the sight of the handkerchief does. By his skill and luck, Iago finds enough of this proof to prevent Othello from realizing that he only heard half a conversation and saw no proof at all. This “handkerchief scene,” which mixes verbal and visual evidence, confuses Othello’s trust in the visual with his suspicion of speech, and makes him put all his faith in Iago’s account. And it is at this point that Desdemona, when speech could help her most, goes silent. Because Desdemona, unlike Othello, is unwilling to harm her beloved, another character must testify for her. The somewhat less pure and virtuous Emilia, heretofore quiet, calls for help, rails at Othello, and condemns Iago. It is difficult to say just how much Emilia knew about her husband’s plot, but she does come very close to unmasking him, knowingly or not, before Desdemona; she also wails, “I thought so then” upon hearing his scheme. She stood by while Othello shouted at his wife, demanding the handkerchief Emilia gave to Iago. In spite of all this suspicion, she does not open her mouth until Desdemona is already dead. Iago complains that his wife nags him constantly when not in public, but he also claims that she has slept with about half the army, and we never hear Emilia pestering her husband. She declares herself eager to make him happy, doing “nothing, but to please his fantasy,” and indeed she seems to have some strange notion that Iago’s fantasy can be pleased, avoiding the realization that she has married a “demi-devil” whose sole joy on earth is to destroy the greatness of better men than himself. When she asks him about the least of his crimes, suggesting Desdemona’s guilt, she adds, “I know thou didst not, thou’rt not such a villain./Speak, for my heart is full.” Emilia, like Desdemona, dares not incriminate her husband.Unfortunately for Iago, Emilia is not the epitome of virtue, maidenly silence, and devoted matrimonial love that Desdemona plays. This woman finds the role of servant to a kind mistress more important than that of wife to Iago. Like Othello, she has two competing relationships, one built upon love, the other based on authority; for her the positions are switched. Emilia and Desdemona discuss sexual infidelity as equals; Iago orders his wife around. Similarly, Othello “marries” Iago and then abuses Desdemona. Othello wavers between trusting his fears and his hopes about his spouse, moving between explosive rage, explosive love, and mute horror. If he cannot name “the cause,” Emilia can too well, mentioning it no less than five times in fourteen lines. She is not Iago’s wife for nothing; her canny calculations of what it would take to make her cheat on her husband contrast both Othello’s and Desdemona’s innocent and impractical tongue-tied purity. Emilia is less effective than her husband; she does not approach his level of thinking everyone as base as possible. Perhaps Desdemona’s advice of, “Do not learn of him, Emilia, though he be thy husband” caused her unlucky trust in the essential goodness of humanity (unlikely) or perhaps, like Desdemona, Othello, and Roderigo, Emilia could just refused to wrap her mind around Iago’s unbounded villainy. Yet she is the first to see it (except for poor Roderigo, who made the mistake of confronting Iago alone; were it not for Gratiano’s protection, Emilia would have ended up like the young Venetian before she could tell of the handkerchief) and when she finally realizes a fraction of its extent, she speaks.Emilia’s powerful, vengeful outburst of righteous indignation–“You told a lie, a an odious, damn’d lie!”–is the first truly free speech in the play. She will not stop for shame, like Cassio, or as Iago pretends to, for Desdemona’s modesty or Bianca’s fear; Iago cannot command her silence like Roderigo’s or Othello’s. Nor is her accusation, like Othello’s, Brabantio’s, or Roderigo’s (i.e., of Desdemona, not of Iago) spurred by him. Emilia, once she has seen the truth, confronts it though she betrays her husband, endangers her life, and threatens her disgrace. She does not react like Othello or Desdemona; she tells Iago plainly of the matter and he, not realizing the trap, admits to making the suggestion. When she explains the matter of the handkerchief, Othello believes her open outrage where he doubted Desdemona’s fearful prayers.Iago, having lost his power over speech, reacts in the only way he can: he murders Emilia, and refuses to speak. His half-defiant gloat, “Demand me nothing. What you know, you know./ From this time forth, I never will speak word,” is his final taunt to the audience and Othello; we never doubt for an instant that he will break his oath, despite all the tortures the state can inflict. The play is over; most of the characters are or will soon be dead; he has no more reason to speak, no gulls to trap, no audience to confide in. Order has triumphed and the truth has outed, the state will handle everything and report what has happened. But none of that matters. Iago’s silence still controls the play, the question of his motive still unsolved. Cassio may reign in Cyprus, but Iago rules both the hopelessly ignorant Venetians, sure that he will open his lips to pray, and the minds of the audience. Reputation and government may have the last word, but speech, the true heart of morality and power, lies beyond them.