Husband Domination Issue in Othello

This essay sample essay on Husband Domination offers an extensive list of facts and arguments related to it. The essay’s introduction, body paragraphs and the conclusion are provided below.

Male domination in society is a stigma, which has always existed, and one that may not cease to exist. However, the difference does exist in the way the women of the different ages chose to accept such behaviour and render themselves victims of such circumstance. In relation to the Elizabethan period, and having the characters of Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca in mind it can be true to say it may have been harder for them not to accept it than it is today.

In reality, it was not even noticed by some of the women and for the few who noticed it, they could do nothing more than accepting it as their fate and trying to live with it.

In discussing the victimisation of the above named women in this male dominated society, both sides of the argument for each character would be explored with emphasis on their individual struggles for independence.

The ‘fair warrior’ Desdemona as referred to by her husband Othello undoubtedly struggles throughout the play. From her struggle for independence from her father Brabantio, to the struggle for her life from her husband Othello. Shakespeare seems to deceive the audience to think that Desdemona may be one of his unique female characters who fight for the rights of women.

However, this power which we see her possess at the beginning of the play as she tells her father that she ‘did love the moor to live with him’, to the ones which has been endowed on her as she is referred to as the ‘general’ gradually fades away.

Get quality help now
Writer Lyla

Proficient in: Iago

5 (876)

“ Have been using her for a while and please believe when I tell you, she never fail. Thanks Writer Lyla you are indeed awesome ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

The first indication of Desdemona’s victimisation in this male dominated society is evident when Iago refers to her body as if it was the property of Brabantio. He says to him ‘your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul, even now, now, very now an old black ram is tupping your white ewe’.

Male Domination in the Elizabethan Society

This signifies that in the Elizabethan society, Brabantio like other fathers considered Desdemona’s body and life to be their full possession. Furthermore, the use of an animal imagery to describe her ‘white ewe’ does not only reflect Iago’s underestimation of human nature but the degradation of women in the society by men. This is clearly the case for the fact that he could say it while talking to her father. Desdemona on the other hand, like almost every other woman in the Elizabethan period seems to have accepted the convention that women are inferior to men and are the properties of either her father or husband.

This is shown when she says ‘I do perceive here a divided duty. I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband’. The audience would initially admire her bravery towards her father, but after getting a deeper understanding of the plot, it becomes evident that her marriage to Othello was not a sign of freedom but rather a change from one dominator to another. Desdemonas suffering and humiliation in Cyprus is deeply rooted in the villainous actions of another man called Iago. Iago convinces Othello that Desdemona is making him a cuckold by sleeping with Cassio.

She suffers from this false accusation because it is a world dominated by men. It is possible that Othello takes Iago’s words over that of Desdemona not because he is truly convinced that she is unfaithful, but because it is a word of a man over that of a woman. Desdemona just like ‘Hero’ in the play ‘Much Ado about Nothing’ shows total submissiveness even at the point of death. Even after receiving a very undeserving slap from Othello in public, all she says is ‘I will not stay to offend you. ‘ At this point, the women in the audience may feel more embarrassed and less sympathetic at the timidity of Desdemona.

Desdemona voice’s out her pains through the willow song that she narrates to Emilia. Her reference to her mother’s maid called ‘Barbary’ who ‘died singing it’ signifies not just her own pain and suffering but one that has been passed down from generation to generation. Regardless of Desdemona’s eventual defeat as she dies in the hands of Othello, she does deserve some credit for some of her few acts of bravery. Her rebellion against her father is an act that may not have been very common during the Elizabethan period because the fathers had the right to discipline them when they deemed it fit and virtually had power over them.

She did not only get married out of her father’s will but she married an African. This would have been extremely rare especially for someone of her social class. Finally, as she passes out her last response to Emilia when being asked who killed her ‘I myself’ shows her refusal to accept to be a victim of this male dominated society. Emilia is used by Shakespeare to balance the contrast between the other victims of this male dominance. That is, Desdemona the very chaste one and Bianca the prostitute.

Emilia is one character who is not just a victim of this male dominated society but is clearly aware of her position. This is shown clearly in her relationship and attitude towards her husband Iago and her conversation with Desdemona. Emilia’s marriage is one we see to lack some of the main components of holy matrimony, as Iago is neither protective nor loving to her. The few dialogues that she has with Iago are filled with scorn and insults. He says to her ‘it is a common thing to have a foolish wife’, This shows the standards which the men gave their wives.

The use of Emilia by Iago as an instrument for destroying Desdemona’s marriage and eventually her death is the peak of her victimisation. This is because it is one thing that she would do anything to stop. Her desperation for attention and affection from Iago may have pushed her to act blindly. On stealing the handkerchief, she says ‘my wayward husband hath a hundred times wooed me to steal it. I know nothing than to please his fantasy’ Her language is usually in an angry tone and underneath it lies her regret at marriage and all the insults that come with it.

In response to Othello’s maltreatment of Desdemona she says ‘I will be hanged if some eternal villain, some busy and insinuating rogue, some cogging, cozening slave to get some office have not devised this slander’. It seems like she finds it acceptable for her to be victimised but not an in innocent and self-sacrificing person like Desdemona. Like Beatrice in Shakespeare’s Much Ado about nothing, Emilia justifies the case for the women who are involved in extra marital affairs. This is clearly shown in her speech while discussing with Desdemona.

Critics have called this speech the ‘renaissance plea to women’s liberation’. In this speech, she says it is the ‘husbands fault’ that their wives cheat on them. She systematically points out each of the things which the women have to go through. From when ‘husbands slack their duties’ by pouring our treasures in foreign laps, break out in peevish jealousies’, throwing restraint upon us or when they strike us’. This feminine speech is like a cry out for all women and one can imagine the relief and pleasure, which it would have given the women in the audience.

Through this Shakespeare shows empathy for the women. He also indirectly cautions the men in the audience and tells them that the women have as much reason as they do to cheat on them. It is no mistake that Emilia , like her mistress is killed by her husband. Shakespeare emphasises the point that they are victims of this male dominated society by juxtaposing their deaths. Prior to Emilia’s death, she ensures that she speaks defends Desdemona’s chastity and regains her dignity by exposing Cassio to Othello.

She says ‘I will speak as liberal as the north;let Heaven and the men and devils, let them all cry shame against me yet I will speak’. The use of the word men just between Heaven and devil suggests that some of the men like Cassio and lodovico may possess heaven like characters while others like Iago and Othello may act devilish. Bianca seems to be less of a less of a victim in this society if compared to Emilia and Desdemona. At the end of the plot, she is the last woman standing and the chances are that her status would be elevated in the society if all goes well in her relationship with Cassio.

Although it can be said that her profession gives her more insults than Emilia and Desdemona would have ever received. However, it would be unfair to assume that it would be a woman’s desire to sell her body and dignity for money. For this reason, we can say that she is forced into this circumstance. In a society where men saw women as nothing more than instruments of satisfying their bodily pleasures, prostitution was one of the very desperate measures which the very less privileged women would have to take up. This generates insults not only from the men but also from her fellow woman.

Emilia says to her ‘O fie upon thee strumpet! ‘ Her reply to this statement gains the sympathy of the audience as it indicates her struggle to be tagged as something beyond what she does. She says to her ‘I am no strumpet, but of life as honest as you that thus abuse me. ‘ On a deeper note, this may also be a confirmation of Iago’s suspicion that Emilia may have had an affair with Othello.

Bianca also has her time of rebellion when she tells Cassio ‘if you’ll come to supper tonight,you may;if you will not, come when you are next prepared for. In this statement, she shows that she perceives a little power left in her possession regardless of how she is looked at in the society. Cassio’s exit to run after her emphasises this point. And this may cause the audience to look at her with a little more respect. Ultimately, Shakespeare exposes the circumstances which the women in the Elizabethan period faces and also presents it in a way which shows his opposition to it. Furthermore, his use of these three characters who are of different social standings illustrates that no woman was free from being victimised in this male dominated society.

Cite this page

Husband Domination Issue in Othello. (2019, Dec 07). Retrieved from

Husband Domination Issue in Othello
Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7