A Comparison of the Three Female Characters in Shakespeare’s Othello
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Othello, The Moor of Venice, by William Shakespeare, is one of Shakespeare’s most well known tragedies. In the play, the many types of jealousy are explored through love hate and deceit. There are three main female characters, in Shakespeare’s Othello. Each of these women, Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca, has a distinct symbolic role in the play. Desdemona is Othello’s loving and dutiful wife. She symbolizes purity and fidelity. Iago’s wife, Emilia, symbolizes frustration and assertiveness, and Bianca, a court prostitute, or courtesan symbolizes sin and ignorance. Shakespeare characterizes the three women through their words and actions and in turn develops what each woman symbolizes.
Desdemona is a young Venetian woman of high birth. Her father is Brabantio, a wealthy senator and renowned citizen of Venice. She is married to Othello and is loyal, faithful, and passionately loves him (Othello). In the play Desdemona is charged with adultery by her true love and husband Othello. Through the evil doings of Iago, Othello’s ancient, Othello believes that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio, his lieutenant. Desdemona is somewhat overly virtuous, which causes her to feel that she must defend Cassio’s lieutenancy, which her husband suspects as evidence of her alleged affair. Othello eventually takes the position of Othello’s lieutenant from Cassio, and gives this honor to Iago (Othello). Othello also kills Desdemona because of her supposed unfaithfulness. It is ironic that Desdemona dies because she remains faithful to Othello, and cannot understand why he believes her to be an adulteress. She, in her last words, speaks, “A guiltless death I die” (V.ii. 121). She is blameless, and she dies tragically, so devoted as to deny that Othello has killed her in her dying breath.coge ger segegew orge
Francois Guizot pointed out that Desdemona has chosen and married Othello out of her many other worthy suitors. (The Library) She displeased her father by running away and eloping with Othello. This is an example of her unwavering love she has for Othello. It is obvious that she will do anything within her power to be with Othello and to please him. Desdemona is the archetypal loving and faithful wife to her husband, Othello. In many instances throughout the play, this devotion is displayed. Desdemona voices her thoughts to her father, Brabantio, ” . . . so much duty as my mother showed/ To you, preferring you before her father, / So much I challenge that I may profess/ Due to the Moor my lord” (I.iii.184-187).
Emilia is Desdemona’s female servant, who is also one of her close friends and confidants. She is Iago’s husband, and, as Victor Hugo noted, Emilia has a practical and shrewd sense about her that is more apparent than Desdemona’s (Hugo). Emilia urges Desdemona to confront Othello, and when she learns of Iago’s treachery, she reveals him, even though it costs her her life (Character). She is a good friend and companion to Desdemona. Unfortunately, she contributes to the events that lead Othello to believe that he has seen proof of Desdemona’s unfaithfulness. She does so by giving to Iago, Desdemona’s beloved handkerchief that Othello gave to her. Iago planted the handkerchief in Casio’s lodging to serve as proof that Desdemona not only was with Cassio but also gave him something that was a symbol of their marriage and love.
Emilia is introduced in Act II being ridiculed by her husband Iago. Iago makes a mockery of her in saying ” . . . you are pictures out of door, / Bells in your parlors, wild-cats in your kitchens, / Saints in your injuries, devils being offended, /Players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds” (II.i.108-111). Emilia’s bitterness is due to this poor treatment that she receives from her husband Iago. This frequent abuse that she endures makes her bold and direct. She tells Desdemona, ‘”‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man: / They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; To eat us hungrily, and when they are full, they belch us.”(III.iv.98-101) Anna Jameson has said that Emilia is an example of a woman from common life. (The Library) She is a frustrated, unappreciated, hardworking housewife.
Bianca is a courtesan who Cassio visits frequently. When Cassio finds Desdemona’s handkerchief, he gives it to Bianca to duplicate the stitching. Bianca becomes upset and assumes it is a gift from another woman or lover. However, Bianca, being a prostitute, probably has other lovers herself. She is the only female in the play whom Cassio shows less than full respect to, and is too ignorant to see that she is merely Cassio’s prostitute rather than his lover or girlfriend (Character). Bianca is eventually accused of stabbing Cassio when it was Iago who had stabbed him in an effort to kill him as Othello had ordered him to do.
The relationship between Bianca and Cassio is purely physical. This relationship serves as an example of the common stereotype that women are only good for one thing. Bianca is clearly in love with Cassio and wants a relationship with him. She remarks, “”What,keep away /seven days and seven nights/Eight score eight hours/ and lovers’ absent hours, / More tedious than the dail eight score times/ O weary reckoning”(III.iv.67-70). However, Cassio has no intentions of having a serious relationship with Bianca. The thought of marring her is a joke to Cassio, he says, “I marry? What a customer? Prithee bear some charity to my wit; do not think it so unwholesome. Ha, ha, ha!”(IV.i.118-119). He also thinks of Bianca as an annoying nuisance. Cassio says that “she haunts [him] in every place” and she comes and “falls [him] thus about [his] neck_”(IV.i.128-130).
Each of the three women ends up to be wronged by the ones they love or because of the ones they love. Desdemona is killed on her wedding sheets, in her bed, by the hands of the man that she ultimately gives her life for. She remains faithful and pure even after her death. Emilia is killed by her husband, Iago. But unlike Desdemona, she is killed because of her unfaithfulness to her husband. She defied her husband by telling everyone the truth about his involvement in the death of Desdemona. She remained strong, standing up to Iago knowing that there would be consequences of disobeying him. Bianca’s sinful and ignorant nature leads others to believe that she is the one to blame for stabbing Cassio, the one that she loves, and is arrested, wrongfully, for doing so.