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This program of study gives an insightful investigation on the Shakespeare's tragedy, 'Othello' that is popularized as a tragic love story. The researcher is fascinated with the theme of the play of which under the interesting romantic love stories there is undercurrent of social issues such as racism, gender, women violence, domestic violence that lead to the suicide and  murder of the hero and heroines of the play. The researcher is interested to know how the male and female characters establish or violate the social values and attitudes of the Elizabethan society. In this regard it is expected that the meaningful speeches of the characters in several acts and scenes of the play will illustrate the viewpoint of the researcher.  

Title

To make a successful project   the researcher has decided to concentrate on the topic, 'How did the major male and female characters of 'Othello' represent the Elizabethan times'? As the play is set in Venice in the 16th century, the attitudes and values of the Elizabethan society influenced the characters of the play. The real hero of the play, Othello, is subjected to blind racism and in a gender biased society the women were murdered by the men out of jealousy.  The male figures are predominant over the females and the patriarchan social orders take away the freedom of the women. But the women in 'Othello' prove that they can break up the traditional social rules sharing with an advanced attitude. But in spite of subordination to their husbands like Elizabethan woman the women were not successful to save themselves from the tragic deaths. The masculinity reigns over the passive femininity of Desdemona and also even reactive Emilia that is the sole concern of the Elizabethan times.         

Abstract

This paper explains the role of the major male and female characters to analyze the values of the Elizabethan society. In the backdrop of the 16th century the characters reflect good and evil aspects of the society through their activities. The primary concern of this paper is to discuss how in Elizabethan England, racism, prejudice and discrimination and  the white- domination on the black people, women violence are   ma victimize the major  characters of the play. In this play the main protagonist, Othello, is described as an uncivilized and worthless outsider. In the society where the inter-racial marriage was quite unacceptable, then Desdemona was adamant to marry a black moor and her rebellious nature violates the societal norms and she therefore can be   truly designated as feminist character.

This paper proves that how the figures came out of the barriers of the typical Elizabethan society with a modernized outlook and the author portrays the psychological aspects of the women characters.  Apart from this the theme of gender is very crucial in this play that leads to the tragic deaths of two wives in the hands of their two husbands. The male characters in the play are dubious about the sexuality of women, they believe in the promiscuous nature of a woman. Thus the paper deals with the major figures of the play with different social perspectives. This paper will analyze the various utterances of the characters which will portray the societal norms of the Elizabethan society.     

Aims

  • To interpret the major social issues of the Elizabethan times that was the core concerns of the tragic love story.
  • To find out the rebellious nature of the women figures in 'Othello' in the orthodox social settings of the Elizabethan times.
  • To analyze the role of the women characters in the male -dominated society.
  • To investigate the underlying social issues that are reflected in the characterization and how these are revealed through the utterances of the major figures in the each act and scene of the play.

Literature Review

Racism is so dominant in Elizabethan England that it is revealed in the portrayal of a moor in 'Othello' in a journal article, 'Shakespeare's Othello: The Black Other in Elizabethan Drama'. The position of the moors in Elizabethan England is very unfortunate but Shakespeare dares to portray the character of a moor like Othello significantly. In his introduction to The Moor in English Renaissance Drama, Jack  D'Amico, the moor is different from the western values in race, religion and disposition[D'Amico].  From some articles and essays on the women in Othello in Elizabethan times it is reviewed that in Venetian society males are given prior importance while the women are treated as the less intelligent and the members of the  weaker sections of the society[ Berggren 55]. In Othello, Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca belong to the same categories of the Elizabethan women who were treated unfairly. According to 0Carol Thomas Neely, Emilia who deserves for a true tragic figure of the story, is a very complex character who is obedient as a maid and a wife and she falsify herself  to demand more love from her husband [Neely] ,but reacted at last to expose his villainous activities. She poses the role of an Elizabethan woman who is very loyal to husband and simultaneously stood as a rebel against the men.  

The male figures of the society used to hold a conservative outlook on the women who, according to them, deserved to be confined within the doors. Women should not have individual wish to choose their husbands rather they should be submissive to the parental rules that was imposed on them. Desdemona hurts her father ignoring her loyalty to him but showing loyalty to her husband when she has no other way but to save her husband to be imprisoned.  From the lots of essays and papers on gender, race, sexuality it is known that society always takes a pivotal role in the formation of the relationships like marriage and the other family bonds.  In a journal article 'Why Othello killed Desdemona: A Woman's perspective' by Bernadine Fox it is learnt that in Elizabethan times marriage laws are very strict and these were based on parental consent. Desdemona was accused of domestic violence as she struck the core of the entire social system [Garber 118].

Othello was caught in Iago's villainous trap in which he was reminded again and again about the power as a man and he was instigated to murder his wife as it was regarded as an honor-killing.  Edward Snow in his article 'Sexual Anxiety and the Male Order of Things in Othello' describes Desdemona as a 'feminist' character who can be designated as "unruly," "defiant," "disobedient," and "insubordinate". The chaste woman, Desdemona is transformed in Othello's hand an object of sexuality and therefore he as an Elizabethan male figure always smells a rat in the chastity of his wife. In an article on 'Shakespeare's Women', Liz Lewis points out that Shakespeare is regarded as a 'feminist' as his female characters transcends the limitations of his time and he illustrates the effect of the patriarchal system and stereotypes  on the female characters in Othello that causes the tragedy.

Summary of the Research Paper   

After en extensive literature review the researcher seeks to get more organized and systematic outcome from the project and will find the answers to the following questions:

  • Is Othello is a racist play? What is the position of a moor like Othello in the Elizabethan society? How does the race factor is given importance to the play?

  • How did the women characters represent the 16th century society?

  • Did they compromise with the patriarchal systems or they were able to come out of it?

  • How did the women combat against the patriarchal society? Why did they fail?

  • Are the female characters 'feminist' in nature?

  • How does the gender issue arise as an important factor in this play?

  • How did the male characters reign supreme over the female characters?

The Shakespearean play, Othello, is set in a Venetian society and the text of the play truly represents the values, attitudes and beliefs of the Elizabethan society in the sixteenth century.  Both the male and the female characters of this tragic drama were inflicted with the evil customs of the Elizabethan society such as racism, gender, women violence etc.  The title-hero, Othello is a victim of racism and was defined with indignation with racial epithets like 'the moor', the thick-lips', 'an old black rams', 'a Barbary horse' etc. [Hutchinson] though he was an eminent soldier and an unavoidable part of the civic Venetian society. Throughout the play   he was depicted as an abominable character being a black-skinned African. According to the Elizabethan thought of the moor he can be described as the 'dark strangers' [Kaul]. Even Emilia like a true Elizabethan woman reminded Desdemona that Othello's jealousy was derived out of his blackness. In spite of being a general in Venetian army he was not considered worthy for marrying the daughter of a dignified Venetian senator, Brabantio due to his blackness. Racism plays a central role in the opposition of marriage between the white and the non-whites.

Though the marriage was finally settled down, the racism is highly noticed in the derogatory remarks as it was considered as the reconciliation between an old black ram and a white ewe. Elizabethans believe in a gender-biased society that is reflected in this play 'Othello'.  Not only Iago but all other male characters in the play held a contemptuous attitude towards women, Iago's hatred towards women made Othello suspicious about the fidelity of innocent Desdemona and works as a catalyst to make the play a tragedy. Another example of Elizabethan societal male attitude is seen when Cassio praises Othello instead of accusing him for Desdemona's death rather he supports a man killing a woman. Othello and Iago play the Othellean role model of male characters who pretend to love their wives and to prove their masculinity they also killed their wives [Fox].  

But there are some strong female characters in 'Othello' like Desdemona, Emilia, Bianca who defend themselves from the vicious men. Emilia who was very loyal to her husband ultimately became outrageous to disclose the truth and stood against her husband encountering her own death. Thus the strength of women in 'Othello' proves to be a threat to the Elizabethan society which always seeks for the disempowerment of women. That is also reflected one of Cassio's confession of the fact that the wives have the full c0ontrol over the men though they are subordinate to the men. But the irony lies in the fact that the women characters in 'Othello' are ultimately victims of the Vinetian society as well as Elizabethan society despite their faithfulness towards their husbands. They are brutally killed by their male partners.  Though Shakespeare modernized the women in the play with an optimistic outlook to get rid of the patriarchan society but they cannot but surrender to the aggressive men.            

Ot0hello's Desdemona is not a stereotyped Venetian woman of the Elizabethan times who is submissive to the dogmatic beliefs of the society.  Her decision to marry a moor like Othello brings a revolution against the parental justice and her voluntary will and freedom of marital choice is a lesson to the authoritative male -dominated society.  Though she was violent against the paternal dominance of the society and boldly confronted with the racism and she was not ultimately successful to tackle her own situ0ation. But refuting an orthodox racist's view and establishing a marriage agreement with a black moor she courageously seeks for the women' liberation when Desdemona's father, Bratanio, was afraid to think about the interbreeding of the races. Though Desdemona poses as a threat to patriarchal social order [Snow 240], she cannot save herself from the abuse and jealousy of her husband, Othello.

The general hatred towards the women in Elizabethan society is also displayed in the murder of Iago's wife, Emilia. But 0the female characters of 'Othello' took the initiative to reform the Elizabethan society with their individualistic outlooks and attitudes. Their attempts to mould the traditional society heralded a new age that is called age of renaissance.  During the period the play was written there is a clash between the east and the west, the animosity was prevalent among the Christian Venetians and the muslims and the so called moors. In Elizabethan England, the blackness is an indication of moral evil, decay and death and it is thought that the black Africans are generally associated with villainous activities.

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