Essay: Othello – William Shakespeare

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  • Published on: January 16, 2019
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Marriage in this extract is somewhat presented as a meeting of equals. The husband and wife, Othello and Desdemona, both agree and corroborate their stories in support of their marriage to the Senate. In the lead up to Act I, scene three’s conflict, Iago and Roderigo have created a disturbance outside Brabantio’s house to wake him and tell him how they’ve learned his daughter, Desdemona, has married ‘the Moor’, Othello.
In Elizabethan society, women were generally perceived as property of their father’s, until they were “given” over to their husbands in marriage. For women of the same social class as Desdemona, their fathers were likely to have arranged their daughter’s marriage. Brabantio, formerly an admirer of Othello as soldier and friend, seeks the Duke to voice what he feels an injustice against him by Othello; he has secretly married his daughter, Desdemona.

Unable to see Desdemona as anything but the paragon of the Elizabethan standard for women, ‘A maiden never bold,/Of spirit so still and quiet…’ (but most importantly to Brabantio: his property), he accuses Othello of stealing her away and Desdemona of not naturally going into her marriage. ‘She is…stolen from me…corrupted/By spells and medicines…’, Brabantio saying that Desdemona is ‘stolen from [him]’ supports the Elizabethan belief that women are property of the men of her family. He doesn’t believe that she would naturally choose to marry someone so deceitfully and assumes that she must have been ‘corrupted/By spells and medicines…’ and ‘in spite of nature…fall in love with what she feared to look on?’ Brabantio reiterates ‘nature’ many times in his argument, this repetition emphasises his attitude that Othello and Desdemona’s marriage goes against his idea of nature, which also involves his prejudice that miscegenation is comparable with monstrosity; Iago’s disclosure to Brabantio that ’an old black ram/Is tupping your white ewe’ injects the idea of Othello as an evil monster into his mind. In addition to the ‘black ram’ being associated with lust and sexual potency, the ‘black’ and horns of the ram bring about connotations of the devil in the imagination of a religious Elizabethan audience. ‘Ewe’ is a pun of ‘you’ and since the dialogue is aimed at Brabantio, this would have a more meaningful affect on him, as his property, or extension and representation of himself is brought into the situation.

Throughout the play, Othello is contemptuously referred to as ‘Moor’. Avoiding use of his name throughout the entirety of the first few scenes before his appearance, the other characters, like Iago and Roderigo, strip Othello of his respect and identity as general of the Venetian forces. Othello may have married Desdemona in secret as he knew, despite his many honours in the military, those who have respect for him in his position as general still see him as ‘the Moor of Venice’. This is exemplified through Brabantio’s objections to the Duke regarding the marriage seem solely related to Othello’s race and skin colour.

Othello seems more suited to his military role as general, than husband. In his argument about his marriage he comments: ‘Rude am I in my speech…little blessed with the soft phrase of peace’ though his ensuing speeches during the same act (act three) contradict this. ‘Rude’ acts as a deprecation of himself in this situation. Othello will feel like an outsider in discriminatory, mostly-white Venice, but he may also feel like an outside because he sees himself primarily a soldier, with little social experience outside of the battlefield, ‘little of this great world can I speak/More than pertains to feats of broil and battle’. Whereas Desdemona was charmed by ‘Othello’s visage in his mind’ and even she knows that due to his commitments as general, she won’t always be with him and asks the Duke to ‘Let [her] go with him [to Cyprus].’ Othello’s ‘round, unvarnished tale’ obtains sympathy from the Senate in the same way it brought about Desdemona’s love for Othello.

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