Submissive Behavior In Othello

1779 Words 7 Pages
Ever since the beginning of time, men have taken the roles of power in relationships, while the women are left to follow. This fact is evident in William Shakespeare 's Othello with the relationship between Desdemona and Othello. At times Desdemona was brave, but it was usually when she had her husband 's support. The few times she stood up to her husband, her fear caused her to give up and return to being her obedient self. This, along with her overall submissive behavior, proves that Desdemona coincides with the societal norm of how women were supposed to act in the seventeenth century.
Desdemona was braver than most women, but she was usually not valiant without support. One example of her bravery was when she proudly stood up to her father,
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She was passive and patient around Othello, and obeyed him almost unconditionally. After the striking incident, Othello greeted Desdemona with plans to verbally wound her even more. He dismissed Emilia with harsh words, and, in response, Desdemona said “Upon my knees, what doth your speech import?/ I understand a fury in your words,/ but not the words” (IV, ii, 37-39). She said this while she was on her knees, which made her appear as if she was begging him for answers versus politely asking. Since Desdemona was a young woman and Othello was a strong military general, Desdemona was most likely a fair amount smaller than him. On her knees, Desdemona would appear even more so. On stage, a viewer would be able to see a stark contrast in size, which can also be applied to power. Strong, powerful Othello towering over the weak, inferior Desdemona. Also on her knees, Desdemona would be looking up to Othello as a child might look upon their parent or a follower might look upon their leader. In addition, Desdemona’s question to her husband was very polite. She understanded that he was angry, and was curious as to why. She could have demanded answers from him, or told him to calm down, but she did not. Her calm approach to her enraged husband shows her docile …show more content…
It was thought that women should be obedient to their husbands and abide by their every wish. With Desdemona’s submissive nature, she perfectly fits the bill. The societal norm of how women were supposed to act was also seen in the other two female characters. Emilia was strong and witty, but, until the end of the play, her goal was to please her husband. She brought Iago the handkerchief and betrayed her friend, just to please him. Furthermore, Bianca followed Cassio around and praised him, while he, in return, treated her horribly. Women in the seventeenth century were treated as far less than men.
Throughout Othello by William Shakespeare, Desdemona often acted submissive towards her husband. Although she had the potential to be truly brave, her fear and duty of obedience kept her from standing up for herself for an extended period of time. Through her passive nature and her obedience to her husband, it is evident that Desdemona acts similar to how she was expected to act, given the time period. Although women have recently made many advancements in their social status, centuries ago, they were treated as severely subordinate to men.
Works Cited
Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Ed. Barbara A. Mowat and
Paul Werstine. New York: Washington Square, 1993.

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