Shakespeare’s Othello supports many critical readings, however the most obvious of the readings displayed through Othello are the Feminist reading and the Race reading. Through the Feminist readings, the audience/readers can be informed of the inequality between the sexes; oppressed women and dominant males; in the seventeenth century Venetian era. When viewing Othello in a feminist’s perspective, the audience can also observe the treatments of the three main female characters in the play; Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca.
Although the oppressive treatment of women may be generally accepted in a seventeenth century Venetian society, but modern day feminists believe in the equality between women and men, thus the seventeenth century Venetian society would appear extraordinarily flawed.
Through a race reading, the audience/readers can witness the discrimination that a character (in this case, Othello) receives due to his non-aristotlean background. In the modern day context,
In both readings, the setting can be viewed as flawed. Feminists would agree that the victims of prejudice in the society are women whilst race critics would agree that the victim of the play is Othello.
A race reading would establish Iago, Roderigo and Barbantio as the major racists of the play. It would also establish the Venetian society as one of power loving and prejudice.
For the first few scenes, Othello’s position was clearly that of an outsider. Iago, Roderigo and Barbantio excluded him through their mentioning of him as “the Moor”, “his Moorship”. Via this, the audience can unmistakably observe their racism towards Othello as they notify clearly his background of non-aristocracy.
When Iago and Roderigo informs Barbantio of Desdemona’s marriage with Othello, Iago constantly refers to Othello in terms of animals; “an old black ram is tupping your white ewe” (1.1.97) and “your daughter covered with a Barbary horse”(1.1.125); this undoubtedly illustrate their regard towards Othello as they obviously cannot see the “man” inside Othello, but rather regarded Othello as a “talking animal”.
Barbantio’s is more subtle when prejudicing Othello, the cause of this may be of his higher social class than that of the other two. However, Barbantio is nevertheless still frank with his opinion as he accuses Othello of using witchcraft and black magic in wooing of his daughter. Through this accusation, the readers can clearly define the meaning of this as witchcraft and black magic is often in association with people of African background (such as voodoo). Furthermore, Barbantio expresses his racism through comments such as “to the sooty bosom”, “of a thing as thou”. Barbantio’s comment to Roderigo after his realization of “O, would you had had her!” shows Barbantio’s sudden attitude change towards Roderigo even though he had rejected RoderigoТs offer in marriage multi-times previously.
The majority of the racial prejudices are presented in the first three acts of the play, but by the end of the novel, Emilia also makes a racist remark when she discovers that Othello had killed Desdemona; “O the more angel is she/ and you the blacker devil”; shows that Emilia may also have been racist. Emilia’s racism may not have been displayed previously may be because of her less important social position and because of her love for Desdemona.
The personality and strong character of the female archetypes on Othello can be seen through the Feminist point of view. The three main female characters; Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca; are all affected and oppressed by society in different ways. Desdemona; the faithful wife; and her servant, Emilia are suppressed by the society’s male domination, and its views that women should be owned by men as if they are property. Bianca, on the other hand, has more freedom than of an average woman due to her role as a courtesan. However, she, also is suppressed by the society due to her work as a courtesan. Thus her lower status in society is paid for by her freedom.
The men of Othello are dubious individuals. This can be seen through the main character, Othello, himself. Via Othello, the audience/readers can witness a strong sense of irony, which is displayed through his speeches. In the beginning of the play, Othello claims that he believes in his love for Desdemona and her love for him; “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see: She has deceived her father, and may thee” – “My life upon her faith!” (1.3.292-294) however, later in the play, he contradicts himself by believing in Iago who, in fact, is the villain of the play. “Damn her, lewd minx! O damn her, damn her!”
The men within Othello regard women as sexual possessions instead of individuals. As Iago and Cassio talk of Bianca, Othello talks of Bianca;s reputed sexual nature for that of Desdemona: “She gives it out that you shall marry her” I marry her! What? A customer!” This is the monkey’s own giving out (4,1,115-127). Thus here shows Othello’s view point upon Desdemona’s whorish sexuality.
In conclusion, each reading of Othello establishes certain values to which assists with the understanding and enjoyment of the play. Through the Race reading; Shakespeare takes advantage of Othello’s background into emphasizing the social boundary of race that many are intolerable to. Through the Feminist reading, the readers are shown the oppressive women in the seventeenth century Venetian society and this can be contrasted with the modern day society where feminists strongly believes in the equality of the genders. These readings gives the readers an understanding through different levels, thus possibly making the play more enjoyable.