Othello Feminist Essay

This is a very common way of describing women’s beauty in renaissance love poetry. He must kill her because it has been determined that she is a ‘whore’ and has dishonoured him and his family; in sixteenth century Renaissance culture, women may not have always been condemned to die under such circumstances, but they would be sent away to a convent, or spend their lives as spinsters because their honour was in question.The families of such women would be ridiculed and sometimes socially as well as financially ruined.Bianca (whose name very ironically means ‘white’ - a colour associated with purity and virginity) is a prostitute or ‘whore’, but the only fate she suffers is heartbreak, since she appears to love Cassio quite genuinely.

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late in my Shakespearean education, meaning after I’d graduated with an English degree and moved to New York and started work and sank into a pit of intellectual ferment and general post-collegiate malaise.

I downloaded an ebook version of the play, riddled with typos and strange formatting errors that made certain scenes read like an e.e.

He basically calls her a ‘whore’ and Othello later does so as well.

In fact, the word 'whore' is used more in this play than in any other Shakespeare play - over 13 times.

' – a reflection of the close supervision women of her class endured.

Emilia is a gentlewoman who may be of either the upper or middle class, but she is not as elite as a Patrician. Courtesans were prostitutes and in Venice as well as Cyprus during the renaissance period, they were known to be quite educated, skilled at various trades (including embroidery, as we learn when Cassio asks Bianca to ‘’ - or copy the embroidery in the famous handkerchief,) and, oddly enough, courtesans had some independence and freedom even though they were at the lower end of the social scale.

And why is Bianca, a prostitute, presented to us as a sympathetic character –she loves Cassio and is distraught when he is wounded? Is she the strong voice of womanhood, the loyal servant who dies telling the truth, defending her mistress’s honour but disobeying her husband?

The answer to these questions might be that Shakespeare is suggesting women do not fit easily into the categories created by Renaissance patriarchy, that they are human, and changeable and sometimes more noble and honourable, regardless of their sexual behaviour, than the men who try to control them.

The rules that applied to women concerned their conduct in a variety of situations: they should not go anywhere unescorted (this is particularly true for elite women like Desdemona in Renaissance Venice); they should not wear sexually provocative clothing or makeup; they should not speak very often, and certainly not about matters of state or important issues that only men would be able to discuss; they should remain chaste, keeping their virginity intact until marriage; and they should obey their husbands and fathers in all things.

This last rule is why it is such a shock that Desdemona has had a clandestine marriage.


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