"I will speak as liberal as the north". Feminist Readings of Shakespeare's "Othello"

Essay, 2017

7 Pages, Grade: 1.0

Abstract or Introduction

Feminist critics have been analysing how women and society are represented in Shakespeare's plays for several decades, and most of them have come to the conclusion that their portrayal is far from modern feminist ideals. According to Gerlach, Almasy and Daniel, “women [in Shakespeare] as the feminine represented the following virtues which, importantly, have their meaning in relationship to the male; obedience, silence, sexual chastity, piety, humility, constancy, and patience” (Gerlach et al.1996). This Elizabethan conception that women are supposed to be reticent is certainly also apparent in Othello, for instance when Brabantio describes Desdemona as “A maiden never bold of spirit,/ So still and quiet” (Act I Scene 3, 94-95). Brabantio considers his daughter's reluctant and modest nature her most admirable quality, and is thus deeply distraught when discovering that she has acted against his will. Since she is a woman, he expects her to always be obedient to him as her father and authoritative patriarch and is unable to understand “that will confess perfection so would err/ Against all rules of nature” (Act I Scene 3, 99-100). In Brabantio's understanding, women are inherently submissive and he interprets any contrary behaviour to be illogical. Nowadays, gender theorists like Judith Butler have established that gender and the role expectations associated with the sexes are actually a construct of society and not biologically predefined (Butler 1999, 174). Therefore, we cannot assume that being quiet and reserved are female qualities or that assertiveness in women is unnatural – it merely does not fit the stereotypical, unfounded conception of femininity people have in their minds.

This essay aims to analyse the patriarchal system and notions of femininity depicted in Act I Scene 3 of Shakespeare's Othello. Using Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists as a basis for comparison, it will also ask the question if these notions still prevail today and how our understanding of gender and the role of women in society has changed.


"I will speak as liberal as the north". Feminist Readings of Shakespeare's "Othello"
University of Cologne  (Institute of Media Culture and Theatre)
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ISBN (eBook)
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475 KB
Shakespeare, Othello, feminism, feminist, desdemona, women, bianca, emilia
Quote paper
Greta Kubitzek (Author), 2017, "I will speak as liberal as the north". Feminist Readings of Shakespeare's "Othello", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/374271


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