While there have been a great number of changes in the world since Shakespeare wrote Othello, there are a few truths about humanity and society that remain true. Othello is notorious for it’s examination of race, but is not given enough credit for its observations of gender. Iago embodies masculine gender roles in a severe and exaggerated way, allowing his desire for proving his masculinity to corrupt him morally. Iago then turns and uses his own fears of inadequacy against Othello as the root of his revenge and to improve his own self-image. Desdemona is hurt most by the need for gender roles, which ultimately ends up in her death. The characters in Othello are severely harmed by the ...view middle of the document...
Othello has the job position Iago desires, implying Othello is a better warrior than Iago.
Iago is not only jealous of Othello’s marriage to the beautiful Desdemona, but convinces himself that Othello is sleeping with Iago’s wife. This establishes the link between masculinity and sexual ability, a common theme throughout the play. The basis for this assumption can be attributed to the gender stereotypes that Iago feels Othello exhibits. It also establishes the role of women as completely pure or sex crazed with little to no middle ground. This is why Iago faults Othello for the aforementioned affair, and not his wife; women are objects to be stolen or traded and cannot control their own desires. Othello articulates, “ That we can call these delicate creatures ours, and not their appetites” which exemplifies the opinion of female sexuality, (III. iii. 1132).
The self-image issues and concerns with masculinity are not isolated to Iago. Iago plays off of Othello’s insecurities about his relationship with Desdemona to further his plan. When Desdemona disobeys her father to be with Othello, he cannot even accept her sign of devotion, but instead sees it as proof that Desdemona is capable and even prone to betrayal. Othello is even warned, “Look to her, Moor, have a quick eye to see:/ She has deciv’d her father, may do thee” (I. iii. 1119). After Iago plants the seed of doubt in Othello’s mind that Desdemona is unfaithful, the wheels begin turning. Breitenberg observes that “...the jealous man reads and overreads those signs available to him” (379).
Othello’s need to kill Desdemona is not only stemming from a need for revenge, but also because Othello “… fears Desdemona’s desire …[and]… allies her imagined monstrous sexual appetite with his own” causing anxiety in Othello. This anxiety stems from the implications that Othello was unable to satiate Desdemona’s sexual appetite, which means he as failed as a husband and a man.
There is a double standard demonstrated in Othello, where Iago tells Othello of Desdemona’s infidelity, and Othello listens to and believes him. However when Iago’s wife Emilia explicitly tells Othello that there was not a possibility of Desdemona being unfaithful, he writes her off as a “simple bawd” who “cannot say much” (IV.ii.1140). Othello quickly believes what Iago tells him about his wife because of his own issues with insecurity and his dismissal of Emilia’s opinions as a woman.
The person hurt most by gender roles in Othello is Desdemona. Even before the play, she is property of her father, which he expresses in saying, “O thou foul thief, where has thou stowed my daughter?” as if Desdemona were a prize to be stolen and stored somewhere, not a woman who made the conscious choice to leave her home (I. ii. 1116). Desdemona is not even given the chance to explain herself. She is taught as a woman to hold her tongue and obey her husband, which ends up being a fatal flaw.
Desdemona is punished for her...