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To what extent are issues of gender central to the tragedy of Othello?This is the...

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To what extent are issues of gender central to the tragedy of Othello?

This is the question for my coursework essay due very, very soon. At first we were told to do a plan, and I was pretty confident with it. But then my teacher completely made a new plan, by picking out quotes from my plan and wrote different comments, and giving different views. It's great, because he showed that there are deeper meanings to them than what I initially saw. The problem now is that I am so confused! I've started writing my first draft, but things are everywhere. Very disorganised and ughh I just don't know what and how to write it anymore.

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It's difficult to help you without knowing your plan for writing (I don't want to confuse you more!), so I'll just present some important issues for you to consider.  (I'm assuming that you're already examining the relationship between Desdemona and Othello.)  Here are some other things to consider:

It's interesting to look at Emilia's relationship with Iago.  Specifically, Emilia's willingness to take Desdemona's handkerchief (and to look on as Othello reprimands Desdemona for losing it) certainly suggests some level of subservience ("I nothing but to please his fantasy" (3.3.343).)  In Act 5, though, Emilia repeats that though it is generally "proper" that she obey her husband, she will not do so at that time--and insists that she will "ne'er go home."  Emilia has recognized that damage both she and her husband have done, but since Desdemona is already dead, she speaks against her husband too late.

Also of interest is the conversation between Desdemona and Emilia in Act 4, scene 3.  As the two discuss marital infidelity, Desdemona insists that she can't imagine that any women would be unfaithful to their husbands.  Emilia, on the other hand, argues that women have the same desires that men have--and blames husbands for their wives' infidelity.  Here, Emilia seems to have a more progressive (and some would argue realistic) view on relationships.

Finally, it's important to look at Desdemona's willingness to stand up to Iago in Act 2, when he openly makes fun of his wife (and women in general).  Emilia, though she is outspoken and defies her husband later in the play, is relatively silent.  Desdemona also openly (and confidently) defends her marriage to Othello, telling her father, and the Duke and Senators, that she chose him as her husband and will be loyal to him.  While these passages reveal Desdemona as a strong woman, she is often criticized for not defending herself enough when she observes a change in Othello's behavior. 

(If you choose, you can also examine Bianca's role in the play; look at Cassio's relationship with her and Iago's willingness to blame her for Cassio's attack in Act 5.)

Good luck!


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