The Role Of Women In Shakespearean Plays

2539 words - 11 pages

The role of women in Shakespearean plays
In order to proceed in exploring the women’s role in Shakespearean plays, one should consider first the social context to which they belong, i.e. the Elizabethan society, as well as the theme and the plot in which they appear. Despite the power of Elisabeth I, women during this time had very little authority, autonomy, or recognition. Women gained their status based on the position of either their father or their husband. Even more restricting than economic rights were the social and political rights of women. They were expected to be silent observers, submissive to their husbands. Women who attempted to assert their views were seen as a threat to ...view middle of the document...

Although having little respect in the social order of Elisabethan society, Shakespeare recognises women as a real and significant part of society. Like all aspects of Shakespeare’s plays, the female characters play a significant role in contributing to plot and theme.
Therefore, both the comedies and the tragedies bear the mark of women, one way or another. In Shakespeare, women do not constitute main characters and yet, they play main parts, meaning that beside every strong male character, there is a woman. For instance, the tragedy of Othello is unlike many other Shakespearean plays, in that the leading female characters are wiser and more rational than the main male characters. Throughout the play, quite often the women are the ones who offer reason to the chaotic world led by men. Emilia continually attempts to convince Othello of Desdemona’s innocence, but he will not listen to her reasoning. Desdemona, despite Iago’s innuendoes, is an ideal wife to Othello. Iago, with his devilish plans and Othello, with his uncontrollable jealousy represent the evil in the play while the women reflect the goodness and sanity.
Desdemona is the prototype of womanhood. She is very charming, symbolising the woman ready to face the unknown of marriage being lured into the mystery that surrounds her husband. Very beautiful and tender, she is a true gentle woman, but becomes the naive victim in this tragedy. She falls in love with a man who is older, poorer, and uglier than she is. She pities him because of his tragic life and respects him for his endurance for pain. She displays her rational and brave characteristics when she stands up to her father and tells him that, like her mother, she must show her ‘duty’ to her husband. This young woman also boldly asks the Duke if she can go with Othello to Cyprus so that she will not just be a ‘moth of peace’ while her noble husband is fighting for their country. The Duke, like all of the characters in the play, respects Desdemona and her wishes and allows her to leave with Othello.
Every person, both male and female, respects and praises Desdemona. Iago repeatedly speaks of Desdemona’s ‘honest’ and ‘goodness’. Both he and Cassio agree that she is a ‘most exquisite lady’. Emilia also shows her admiration of her when she defends Desdemona’s honour to Othello. She tries to convince him that his wife is ‘honest, chaste, and true’. Desdemona is a loyal spouse who will do absolutely anything for her husband. Even when he is falsely accusing her of adultery and sin, Desdemona defends Othello. Desdemona does not blame him; she tries to understand what has upset him. She is an unselfish victim who defends her husband to the very end of her life. Even when Othello kills her in a jealous rage, Desdemona does not want her husband to be responsible for her death. She claims that ‘nobody, I myself’ committed this tragic deed. Her death does not destroy either the ideal of the ideal marriage, or that of love, but only that of the...

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