Venetian Woman in Othello

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The Venetian Woman : Women Characterisation and the Dynamics of Gender in Othello

William Shakespeare’s Othello illustrates the Venetian society’s gender and class hierarchies in seventeenth century renaissance Italy. The manipulation of stereotypical ideas of race and gender is the foundational basis of the tragedy, exposing the manner in which women are the embodiment of “purity” of the race and mere vehicles of social mobility. The theme of transgression, at both sexual and social levels, forms the basis of examination of gender and becomes the embryo of Iago's "monstrous birth"[1.3.403]. Juxtaposing the andocentric paradigm of the play with the promiscuous atmosphere in Venetian society, reveals how women become the centre of suspicion and the object of not only male desire, but male obsession with the threat of adultery. The analysis of women characterisation in Othello restores the focus of the tragedy to Desdemona, whose character is essential “for the completion of the tragic pattern” of the play.

Desdemona’s exclusion, not only from the title, but from the male bonding that condemns her as a whore, is her tragedy. The success of Iago’s manipulation lies largely in his use of beliefs that are sanctioned by the Venetian society and refuse Desdemona the agency to make her own choices. Iago voices his disbelief in the union when he calls Othello one of the Moors who “are changeable in their wills” and Desdemona as a woman who “must change for youth”. The conviction with which he is able to designate Desdemona’s fidelity to a questionable stand underlines the reductive understanding of a woman’s character. There is an inherent inability among the male characters to understand Desdemona’s love for Othello, which ironically includes Othello himself. Brabantio disowns her for she goes against his presumptions of “what she feared to look on” [1.3.99] and is the
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