Role of gender in the tragedy of Othello
In the play Othello, the relations of gender are antagonistic. Majority of the heroes believe that women are promiscuous and this fact explains why women sexuality is a great threat to men in the play. For example, Othello assumes that all women in Venice are flighty, and easily convinced that his wife is also flippant and is cheating him. The assumption of promiscuity of Venice women and his wife in particular makes him feel emasculated, as well as humiliated. However, the women are not light-headed as many men think. For example, Desdemona was arguing with Emilia the issue of adultery and says “No, by this heavenly light!” (64), but Emilia retorts “Nor I neither by this heavenly light. / I might do’t as well I’ith’ dark” (65-6). These words show that although some women in Venice cheat on their men it is not as prevalent as the men demonstrate. The issue of gender and sexuality in the play goes hand in hand with consideration of race. This is because several male characters in the play including Othello believe that white women are sexually contaminated by black men. For example, the play begins with a violent image of sexual and racial divide “Even now, now, very now, an old black ram / is tupping your white ewe!” (1.1.87-88).
This play dismantles the role of both genders demonstrating them as nothing more, but social constructs, through categorization of some traits with certain gender. However, in reality both genders share various characteristics and traits without devaluing either of the gender. This paper analyzes the role of gender in the play determining the role of each gender in the community. The interaction of various characters in the play arises different issues and motifs including perception of love and reality, betrayal, deceit and race. For example, Brabantio who is Iago’s first victim feels defenseless against the suggestions of Iago. He says, “This accident is not unlike my dream, / Belief of it oppresses me already”. In the play Othello, they are defined through the gender role and position. The plot revolves around the male characters Othello, Cassio, Iago, and Roderigo and the female characters Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca. This paper will aim at determining whether the characters relate with the social constructs and expectations.
The role of gender itself and gender relation in Othello is portrayed in two major ways, which include the misogyny role of men. For example, Iago presents a complete demarcation of the men’s role in the society, because of his cunning lie to Othello. Iago can be classified as the captain of misogynistic smashing Othello’s society. He makes Othello to believe that Desdemona is cheating on him with Cassio, which leads to the tragedy that befallen Othello. Angered Othello took Iago by the throat and exclaimed, “Villain, be sure thou prove my love is a whore” (3.3.362). In addition, Iago relentlessly and easily controls and degrades his wife Emilia. He mistreats women and constantly insults them in general. This is reflected in Scene 2 when he murders his wife Emilia for fear that she could reveal the truth to Othello. Men in the Othello seem misogynistic, since even Othello who seems to be in love with his wife later fervently and constantly insults her as promiscuous both in public and in private. Othello’s hatred towards Desdemona soars and the Moor murders his wife.
Cassio is another misogynistic character in the play. He is seen as the gentleman, but is often condescending in his love towards Bianca. Roderigo feels he deserves Desdemona due to his infatuation for her; he constantly showers her with gifts in his attempt to win her love. However, Iago consciously manipulates people using their gender bias and prejudices. He seems aware of the gender weaknesses and uses them against Othello and Desdemona for the purpose of their destruction. He acts as the most elusive hero in the play due to his lack of personal self and values. Iago is the most difficult character to explore psychologically due to his improvisational ability. He is able to make fabulous treacherous stories to influence others’ actions and responses. For example, even though he hates Othello he is able to pretend a friend of him so that to destroy him. Iago appears as a sycophant due to his pliability and servility. He seems to be fueled by the power of hatred and detriment through flattery and malice. Iago seems non-sexual, as he has no decency and morality and acts only for himself with irrational motives of unexplainable hate. His craftiness makes him to try on both masculine and feminine masks to fit the situation he is facing. Iago feminized his position to destroy Othello; his way to achieving this goal is feminine in nature.
The gender characteristics of Iago can easily make one to classify him as androgynous, but Shakespeare used the term ‘inner transformations’ to describe this character. Othello realizes the monstrosity of Iago, which he describes as too hideously to be shown, when it is too late. He compels others to behave according to the expectations of their gender roles. The marriage between Othello and Desdemona is a clear description and distinction between masculine and feminine due to their physical differences. The culture defines Othello masculine persona and Desdemona is a feminine persona. In the Othello the women were treated as their husbands’ properties and were expected to work and remain as housewife. For example, Iago constantly insults his wife who blindly obeys and endures her husband’s offence. This is also revealed through the obedience of Desdemona towards his husband to her deathbed. However, she does not understand his husband’s motives towards her, she says, “And I fear you; for you‘re fatal then / when your eyes roll so” (5.2.37-8). She also added, “Alas, why gnaw you nether lip? / some bloody passion shakes your fame” (5.2.43-4). This indicates that she fears and obeys her husband even when she knows he is up to something bad.
In conclusion, the play Othello represents a clear demarcation of the role of gender in the society through various characters such as Iago. However, gender roles are clearly defined in this society as women were expected to remain at home and perform house chores while the husbands were expected to work. Iago understands the role of gender clearly. He used this understanding to develop his own treachery and craftiness in destroying Othello. Precisely Desdemona’s femininity and Othello’s masculinity allow Iago to destroy their world.