In the play’s three couples, Othello and Desdemona, Iago and Emilia, and Cassio and
Bianca, Shakespeare creates a kind of structural ring in which masculine and feminine
gender roles are explored powerfully and subtly. Focusing on the female characters,
discuss precisely how female gender roles are handled.
You might begin asking whether you can identify a single-role woman expected to fulfill
or whether you can instead identify an array of expectations. How are women treated
in relation to these expectations? Are they treated in the same way(s) by all male
characters? How do they respond? Is any one, woman representative of the feminine,
or might it be more fruitful to consider Desdemona, Emilia, and Bianca as representing
different attributes of the feminine?
As you work through the play, be aware that Shakespeare’s handling of gender roles
here is much more subtle than the commonplaces we might bring to it. To respond to
this question well, you’ll need to resist the desire to come to familiar conclusions.
Thesis: “In his play The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice Shakespeare
characterizes the women of the play in juxtaposition to their male counterparts to
exemplify the manner in which women’s femininity can be built and even perverted
(distorted) by the actions of men.