Good afternoon everyone. Today, we are going to be talking about the way women are portrayed in the play Othello by Shakespeare. By taking a quick look at the women in his plays we can deduce that Shakespeare found the women in his stories a major sources of pathos. Of course the women were not always portrayed as weak creatures who cry for help. In fact, some of them give the reader a small glimpse of boyishness. But that doesn’t change the fact that these heroines were mostly powerless, codependent and under the authority of a man.
Which is understandable since Shakespeare’s plays were written during early modern period where women were meant to stay silent and obey for the most part and Othello is no different from the other plays. Othello only features 3 female characters. First is Desdemona who’s known to be the main characters passion. Emilia who’s honest and present when she’s needed and lastly Bianca who only appears in only 3 scenes but she plays a crucial role in advancing the plot.
As the first speaker, I’m going to examine Bianca, Dayanara will be focusing on Emilia and Rachel will be talking about the role of Desdemona in Othello. Bianca, is described in the play as a prostitute and she’s treated like a prostitute. She also seems to be madly in love with Cassio. Cassio on the other hand does not see her as a priority. Knowing that he’s aware of her role in society, he treats her as if she’s an object and nothing more. On the other hand Bianca is extremely vulnerable since her feelings for Cassio are more than just physical.
Their relationship gets complicated when Cassio asks Bianca to copy Desdemona’s handkerchief for him and she suspects the owner of handkerchief is Cassio’s new lover. Bianca works as a symbol of jealousy throughout the play and after seeing the handkerchief she comforts herself by saying ‘I must be circumstanced’ (III.4.
190) as if she’s aware of her position and she has no other choice but to “be circumstanced” or to put up with the situation. Society weighs heavily on Bianca’s shoulders and like the other two women in the play, Bianca also seeks support and attention from a man even though Cassio’s actions were questionable. To summarize, Bianca is desperate for love and she foolishly thinks that Cassio is the one who’s going to give it to her.
Cassio is fully aware of the fact that Bianca is on his hook and yet he doesn’t take any action. He tells Iago that their relationship is strictly physical to him and he’s not planning on marrying her. He even refuses to call her a woman and he refers to her as “Alas, poor caitiff!” (4.1.98) which means “the poor thing”. In the same scene we see Cassio call her “a customer” (4.1.108) and a “monkey” (4.
1.115) and disrespecting her in every way possible since he knows he has power over her. Later on Bianca’s jealousy escalates to rage when she refuses to copy the handkerchief and gives it back to Cassio. So it’s safe to say that Bianca’s always either hurt or accused of hurting someone else. Towards the end of the play when cassio is wounded, Bianca enters and asks “What is the matter, ho? who is’t that cried?” (5.1.74) and Iago tries to distract other people by mocking her so he repeats “Who is’t that cried?” (5.1.
75), as though she exactly knows what’s happened. Bianca’s character is fascinating since she’s the human equivalent of the sentence “He loves me. He loves me not.”. She represents someone who’s not loved by the person she seeks the most. Cassio in return sees her as a laughable object and because of her low status, she can’t really defend herself or say much about it. All three of the women in the play were called whores by a man who could be more or less powerful than them.
So it’s easy to conclude that men in Othello like to blame women when things don’t go the way they want it to go.