The Portrayal Of Woman In Shakespeare Plays

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The portrayal of woman in Shakespeare plays

William Shakespeare's play Othello is set in a time when women were supposed to have the characteristics of chastity, silence and obedience. A major theme of the play is jealousy, which the three women in the play Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca contribute to. Focus is put on the role of the husband's and their wives' fidelity to them. The jealousy and treatment of Othello, Cassio and Iago towards the women fuels the plot and turns the readers attention away from them to empathize with Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca.

Bianca has the smallest role of the women in the play, yet an important one. She is Cassio's mistress, whom he treats without respect. Bianca is a prostitute but in act three she expresses her desire to be involved in a relationship with Cassio questioning his whereabouts:


And I was going to your lodging, Cassio

What, keep a week away? seven days and nights?

Eightscore eight hours? And lovers' absent hours,

More tedious the dial eightscore times?

O weary reck'ning! (3.4.171-75).

To Cassio the relationship is purely physical telling Iago,

CASSIO So hangs, and lolls, and weeps upon me; so

Shakes and pulls me! Ha, ha, ha! (4.1.137-138).

Bianca also plays an unknowing role in Othello's jealousy. She receives Desdemona's handkerchief from Cassio and gives it back to him when she discovers it is another woman's. Her outburst at Cassio gives the on looking Othello what he thinks is proof of Desdemona's infidelity. This also shows Bianca's strong character being able to stand up to a man which does not follow the stereotypical view of women of the time.

Emilia is Iago's wife whose job is to attend to Desdemona. She is a strong-minded woman who is not very intellectual but relies on her intuition. She is loyal to both her husband and Desdemona exemplifying goodness in her services, like when she steals the handkerchief for Iago and when she stands up for Desdemona when Othello accuses her of infidelity. She plays an important role in explaining relationships between men and women. Emilia is able to educate Desdemona about the relationships of married couples but yet is not capable of identifying her husband's ill-famed character.

Iago uses Emilia in his scheming and she is the center of good and evil in the play, which are both a blessing and a curse. Emilia's idiocy in the play is her loyalty to her unloving husband, which led to her death. She uses her goodness to remain loyal to Desdemona and to turn in Iago to Othello saying about the handkerchief,


She give it Cassio? No, alas, I found it,

And I did give't my husband. (5.2.231-32).

In saying this she plays a huge role in Iago's downfall. Emilia also plays a role in Othello's downfall revealing the root of his anger saying an evil man, not knowing it is actually her husband, has tricked him.

Emilia challenges the characteristic of silence, after Desdemona's death expressing her anger saying,


As ignorant as dirt! thou has done a deed -

I care not for thy sword; I'll make thee ...
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