Iago’s statements throughout the play resemble how men of the 15th century perceived women. He asserts that women are weak and lazy creatures who are only good for bearing children. According to him, women are average beings who should dress plainly and not get angry in times of conflict. In other words, women should know their place and keep out the affairs of men. Throughout the play, women are referred to as property by men. For instance, Othello is called a “foul thief” by Brabantio, when it is revealed that he will marry Desdemona. Also, Brabantio says his daughter is “stolen…and corrupted,” (Shakespeare) (1.2.62; 1.3.61). Furthermore, the men regard themselves as the women’s keepers and fear that their authority and control will be compromised when a woman expresses a desire for another. Desdemona’s characteristics, however, come in direct conflict with the male views. For instance, she asserts that women should act out of kindness during times of conflict, even if they are not the focus of the struggle. According to Desdemona’s actions, women should be kind, empathetic, and optimistic; regardless of the circumstances. Furthermore, when Desdemona argued for her right to marry Othello, she singlehandedly defied her father’s beliefs about the role and duties of a daughter. Her ethical judgment superseded her daughterly obedience.
Similarly, Emilia departs from the absolute wifely obedience by reprimanding Iago and Othello upon discovering their cruel motives. She agrees that it is proper to obey her husband, but refuses to do so any longer once his evil tactics are exposed. “’Tis proper I obey him – but not now,’ (5.2.191). Furthermore, Emilia argues that a woman’s unfaithfulness can be justified if her husband misbehaves. However, despite her arguments in favor of unfaithfulness, Emilia frowns upon Bianca, who sells herself for food and clothing. Bianca refutes this statement by saying that she is no different than Emilia; she is equally as honest in life as Emilia, and equally as free. In other words, she has just as much right to the pursuit of happiness as Emilia, regardless of her occupation.
Each woman in Othello expresses herself uniquely. Desdemona is faithful to her husband and proclaims her innocence throughout a series of corrupt tactics to dismember her relationship with Othello. She is kind and remains so despite the various attempts to portray her as unfaithful. Emilia is true to her husband’s demands, but refuses to entertain his plans once she discovers that he is the cause of Desdemona’s death. Upon the discovery, she makes it clear that she will no longer obey him and that he is a bad person for what he has done. She stands up to him, despite the cultural norms which instruct her to know her place and not defy a man. Bianca is a free spirit, who was unknowingly instrumental in Desdemona’s demise. Despite her suspicions that Cassio is unfaithful, she grants his wish to duplicate the handkerchief. Throughout the play, she is the only woman who directly addresses a man for his assumed infidelity. At the end of the play, each woman found her voice and spoke her feelings, regardless of society’s expectations. Each chose to say what they feel, instead of what the men expected them to say.
Shakespeare, William. Othello. New York: CreateSpace, 2011. Book.