Gender Roles In Othello

1000 Words 4 Pages
Othello, by Sir William Shakespeare, is a play about a black moor, Othello, who marries Desdemona, the daughter of a Senator. This play contains various themes such as racism, love, betrayal, revenge, and gender. Shakespeare defies gender norms of the Renaissance by portraying Desdemona as a woman who does not conform to female expectations of the Renaissance. In this sense, the Renaissance ideals of femininity were submissiveness, piety, patience, silence, and chastity. This rebelliousness against heteronormativity is what eventually causes Desdemona’s death. Shakespeare uses characterization and conflict to describe Desdemona’s gender defiant features.
Ruben Espinosa argues that although the Virgin Mary was seen as a heavenly being, she was
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If Mary is not the perfect wife and Desdemona is being assimilated to her, Desdemona is also an imperfect wife. To be an imperfect wife is to go against the nature of female gender. Shakespeare writes, “Hail to thee, lady; and the grace of heaven,/ Before, behind thee, and on every hand, Enwheel thee round!” (Shakespeare, 2.1.85-87). Here Shakespeare is echoing the ‘Hail Mary,’ which is the prayer directed to the Virgin Mary, depicting Desdemona as the Virgin Mary herself. Desdemona’s virginity is of great speculation. Othello says to Desdemona, “Come, my dear love,/The purchase made, the fruits are to endue:/ That profit’s yet to come ‘tween me and you” (Shakespeare, 2.3.8-10). Espinosa argues that as their first night was quickly interrupted by a brawl between Montano and Cassio, the consummation of their marriage might not have taken place. Espinosa also mentions that later in the play, Desdemona says to Emilia to “Lay on my bed my wedding sheets” (Shakespeare, 4.2.105). If Desdemona had sex with Othello in Act 2, the wedding sheets would be stained with the virginal blood, but if she is asking that the sheets be laid again is because they are clean, which is a hint that the marriage was not consummated. If Desdemona is not having sex with her husband, she is not only withholding carnal satisfaction from him, but most importantly, she is not giving him any children. Thus, she is …show more content…
He father in turn warns Othello, “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see:/ She has deceived her father, and may thee” (Shakespeare, 1.3.290-291). Desdemona is now seen as a woman who is not submissive to her lords, because if she disobeyed one, she will disobey all. By transgressing the female conformity of submissiveness, Desdemona becomes and aberration. Therefore, Desdemona’s defiance is also characterized through the disobedience to her father’s will.
Chastity was well valued in the Renaissance. In the Renaissance’s conduct manual, The instruction of a Christian woman, Juan Luis Vives argues that:
It is to be judged of chastity in women, that she that is chaste is fair, well favoured, rich, fruitful, noble, and all best things that can be named: and contrary, she that is unchaste is a see and treasure of all illness. Now shamefastness and sobriety be the inseparable companions of chastity, insomuch as she cannot be chaste that is not ashamed: for that is as a cover and veil of her face. (Vives, 70)
Chastity was something taken seriously in the Renaissance. However, chastity had different meanings depending on what woman it was applied to. For maidens, it meant that they were to refrain from all sexual relations. For wives, it meant that they were to have sex to their husbands with the goal of procreation, but they were to remain from extramarital sex. Espinosa argues

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