Othello and His Masculinity
l ‘Be a man’, how are ideas of masculinity presented in Othello. Othello is set during the Elizabethan era, where men were considered to be the leaders and women their inferiors. Women were often regarded as the ‘weaker sex’. This patriarchal society and theme of male superiority is portrayed throughout the play. These themes are depicted through the relationships between the characters. Brabantio and Desdemona’s relationship shows how he believed the traditional Elizabethan view, that men were to control and dominate their wife’s or daughters.
He is furious at Othello for stealing his daughter from him. Also, Othello’s masculinity is destroyed through the poisoning of his mind against Desdemona, his wife. Iago also treats his wife Emilia and Desdemona as objects which he uses for his own pleasure and part of his manipulative plan to destroy Othello. In addition, the idea that the occupation of the male characters define their masculinity and shows us that people higher up in the patriarchal society such as Brabantio, who is the Venetian senator, uses their class in society to show that they are more powerful and strong.
Therefore, this essay will explore the ideas of masculinity and the undermining of masculinity. Othello, a brave, honourable, “valiant” and respected man, is an impressive army commander, whose masculinity and persona is brought to a destructive end. Iago, his so called “honourable” ensign, undermines Othello’s masculinity by poisoning and manipulating his mind into believing his beloved wife Desdemona had committed adulterous acts with his lieutenant; Michael Cassio, therefore leading him murder his innocent wife. The idea of his wife committing such acts repulses and humiliates Othello.
It shatters his role as army general. Othello’s revenge partly comes from fact that he needs to recover his reputation and regain the respect deserves. Also, to show that he is still a strong and valiant hero whose pride will not be brought down by any woman. This view is also supported by Singh; who states “the true sexual tragedy springs from Othello’s thraldom to the patriarchal logic of possession”. Othello believes that Desdemona is his possession, an object in his life which is supposed to show he honour and reputation as a man, therefore the belief that Desdemona has broken that honour and nobility orces Othello to destroy her. We can see the breakdown of Othello’s masculinity by the breakdown of his language. At the beginning of the play, Shakespeare uses blank verse for Othello’s parts. Othello speak in iambic pentameter, clearly and purposefully. He portrays himself and a confident and noble man when Brabantio accuses him for using witchcraft to win Desdemona. He replies in a poetic and calm manner, in comparison to Brabantio, who is aggressive and rude. Othello states, “Rude am I in my speech…” he is very humble, he apologises beforehand in case he offends anyone.
We recognise him as a powerful speaker; we also know that Desdemona is seduced by his storytelling, therefore showing him as authoritative and dominating. However, as the play moves on and we begin to see Iago deception taking over Othello’s mind, his speech turns to prose. He begins to turn aggressive as he takes in more or Iago manipulative lies. “Damn her, lewd minx! , oh damn her, damn her! ” and regards Desdemona as “the fair devil”, he speaks in hell imagery, which is in contrast to his previous heavenly marriage with Desdemona. This shows he is weak, therefore destroying his masculinity once again.
Furthermore, Othello is a black man in a white world; this undermines Othello’s masculinity further as he struggles to cope with the fact that he is seen as an outcast in addition to Desdemona’s supposed affair with Cassio. Iago regards Othello as “old black rum” with “thick lips” and “black moor”, this use of animal imagery is shown throughout the play. It connotes the idea that even though his skill as a soldier and a leader is widely respected and valuable to the Venetian government his is still seen as a racial outsider, thus destroying his pride which is central to his masculinity and his role in society.
Brabantio depicts masculinity in the traditional patriarchal view, where men were superior to women and the idea that their role in society is to restore order and protect the females in their household. So when Desdemona, overturns this, he is extremely furious. He states, “Where most you owe obedience? ” evidencing the patriarchal view that the daughters are either bound to their father if single or husband. Brabantio’s masculinity and power and senator is crushed as he finds out his daughter Desdemona has married a black man behind his back.
He first finds out through Iago and Rodrigo who shouts; “Awake! What ho, Brabantio! Thieves! Thieves! Thieves! , look to your house, your daughter and your bags, thieves,! Thieves! ” Iago begins to stir trouble for Othello by using thieves as the problem. Desdemona is his unmarried daughter and is considered her fathers property. He suggests Othello has stolen her from him. “O thou foul thief, where hast thou stow’d my daughter”, this again reinforces this view of Desdemona being his property and his masculinity being undermined.