.. demona and Othello is “a treason of the blood” (I.i.160) and he feels that societys acceptance of Othello will reduce Venetian statesman to “bond slaves and pagans” (I.ii.99). He also believes that Desdemona could not love”the sooty bosom of such a thing” (I.ii.70). One who she feared “To fall in love with what she feared to look on”(I.iii.98). The idea of race developed as a way to explain social divisions in a society that thought it believed in equality.
And what constitutes race has changed quite dramatically since then. Othello is neither a racist text or a non-racist text but is merely showing the representation of race in a sixteenth-century society. I suppose one could argue that Iago isn’t racist, as the plot would no doubt stand the same if you remove all the racist remarks, but I can’t imagine approaching the play or the role from that perspective. For one thing, the Venetian world is somewhat racist, and Othello is widely considered the token “exception to the rule.” More specifically , Iago knows how to fuel the racist fires in both Brabantio and Roderigo showing that those racist views were existent. This indicates to me that he has a pretty personal knowledge of those feelings.
With Brabantio, he uses the imagery of a “black ram tupping your white ewe”(I.i.90) – not just that Desdemona has run off with anyone, but with a BLACK anyone. And Iago, as usual, reduces the romance and love in the situation into blatant sexual terms. Roderigo maintains that Desdemona’s infatuation with Othello cannot possibly last very long because it defies nature for her to be attracted to a man of Othello’s complexion. And Roderigo has his share of racist remarks (calling Othello “the thick-lips”, etc.). Even more, there is no evidence in the play that Othello and Emilia have had an affair, yet Iago suspects it.But the attitudes and values of Elizabethan society are not only revealed in how race is represented, but also in how gender is represented.
The way the attitudes and values of Elizabethan England are represented through gender is based on the portrayal of women in the text.The three women in the text are Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca. And together they construct a well rounded view of women in society. From Angel through realist to whore. The other way women are portrayed is through the portrayal of them by other characters. The characters who offer the most notable portrayals are Iago, Brabantio, and Emilia. Act II scene i shows Iagos strongest views on women.
Iago makes generalisations of women, when he says “you are pictures out of doors, bells in your parlours, wildcats in your kitchens; saints in your injuries, devils being offended; players in your housewifery, and hussies in your beds.” (II.i.109-112). He also presents a common view of that era when he says “You rise to play, and go to bed to work”. (II.i.115) This presents the sixteenth-century view of women being held to be unstable, potentially or actually unchaste, and morally frail. Their sexual desires were represented as unnatural appetites. They were also thought to be “unstable sexual creatures, likely to betray men” with “Appetites never satisfied” . The history of the handkerchief also suggests the power of female sexuality over men: “That handkerchief Did an Egyptian to my mother give; She was a charmer, and could almost read The thoughts of people: she told her, while she kept it, ‘Twould make her amiable and subdue my father Entirely to her love…”(III.
iv. 55-60) . Brabantio who represents higher societys views of women has an idealised view of them. To him daughters have to be subservient, and obedient, by making her own decisions in marriage, Desdemona represents betrayal in his eyes. To the people of Elizabethan times it would probably seem that Desdemona undermines her position in society and changes gender politics by marrying without her fathers consent. Emilia is a dramatic contrast to Desdemona, and she is the only character who seems to offer a different view of women.
She herself is quite a strong character as a woman as she is realistic, pragmatic, capable of courage, loyal and self sacrificing. In act IV scene iii she delivers a feminist speech that questions society. “But I do think it is their husbands faults if wives do fall”(IV.iii. 87) . She is a realist and accepts humans by seeing their faults but still accepting them. She also has a feminist view of men “They are all but stomachs and we all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when they are full they belch us” (III.iv.
108-110). How society felt about women is shown by their influences on Othello’s behaviour and who he believes about Desdemonas infidelity. Othello believes Iago over Desdemona, who is his wife. The women in this play don’t seem to possess very much power, but in fact they have much more power and control than most people think. They hold the play together like glue to paper.
If Desdemona never had the power to commit adultery then it would never have been thought of and Othello would never have fallen. Each of the women in the play are abused by men and a victim of “the green eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on”(III. iii. 168-169). Othello is a perfect example of where the women are made to seem inferior to the men through the use of stylistic techniques, plot, and use of language. But why is this so important? It is important because women in “Othello” make up the backbone of the play. Without them there to antagonise the men and generate intense feelings of love, hatred and jealousy, the play could not and would not exist.
The supposed inferiority of women follows from the fact that human societies have been dominated by men. This may not be so true now, but in Elizabethan times which is the “particular time and place” that the attitudes and values are revealed from it was especially true. How these representations reflect the attitudes and values of Elizabethan society is through the way that women are portrayed in the text as I have discussed earlier. In Elizabethan society there was a myth of women’s insatiable lustfulness and women were seen as voracious monsters. It was thought that female sexuality was a threat to the patriarchal society, and must be safely contained. In the Encyclopaedia of World Mythology it says “Women in male eyes, are supposed to be contrary and mysterious creatures, bewilderingly combining all sorts of characteristics, as changeable as chameleons, and yet somehow vexingly in touch with reality through intuition.” Brabantio is a vehicle for societys views on gender and he shows how society at the time of Othello would have thought of women. In conclusion, values and attitudes of a particular time and place are revealed in Othello through the representation of race and gender.
How these attitudes and values are revealed is through the the way they are portrayed, the character construction, the stylistic techniques, the language, the content of speech and the symbolism.