Evaluate how discriminatory language in the play shapes the overall meaning of characters and themes.

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The society of Othello is male-dominated, to say the least.  In structure and language, the male characters drive the action, while the female characters passively wait.  The male reputation is vaunted, while the female reputation is sullied.  Males repeatedly and openly use discriminatory language not only against women in general, but against their wives.  Iago calls his wife a "villainous whore."  Othello calls Desdemona "whore" even more.  Other names afforded to women include: "foul," "villainous," and "false."

"Whore" is used 13 times:

be sure thou prove my love a whore,
Be sure of it;


This is a subtle whore,
A closet lock and key of villainous secrets


I took you for that cunning whore of Venice
That married with Othello.

Synonymous with "whore" and no less damaging are words that describe how talkative and unquiet women are.  Desdemona says this of Othello:

I'll watch him tame and talk him out of patience;

AND to Othello:

I have been talking with a suitor here,


I pray, talk me of Cassio.

Emelia says:

That she reserves it evermore about her
To kiss and talk to.

Iago says of his own wife:

Sir, would she give you so much of her lips
As of her tongue she oft bestows on me,
You'll have enough.

As counterpoint, the word "honest" appears over fifty times in the play, usually said by or describing a male.  Observe:

A man he is of honest and trust:


That thinks men honest that but seem to be so,

Iago is repeatedly called "honest" by Othello, Cassio, and himself: "Honest Iago," and "As honest as I am."

So, it is clear: for women to talk is to be loose not only with the tongue, but in bed.  Men see women who talk a lot as "whores."  If Desdemona is talking with Cassio, she might as well be sleeping with him.  And the classic double-standard: men can talk against women openly, but married women cannot talk to men at all, either privately or publicly.

Women are in an unwinnable situation in Othello.  Desdemona doesn't talk.  She doesn't defend herself in the bedroom, and she is strangled.  Emilia talks.  She exposes her husband in Act V, and she is stabbed.  It's a morbid double standard.  If women talk, they are victimized.  If women don't talk they are victimized.

To say men use discriminatory language is an understatement.

kapokkid eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One of the most discriminatory characters in the play is Iago, and if you read his lines when he is addressing Emilia or Desdemona or talking about women, he degrades them constantly and makes them out to be inconstant and fickle, a point he uses to drive the wedge between Othello and Desdemona.

This constant degredation and the idea that women are not on the same level as men helps to create the idea that Othello can trust Iago instead of actually asking Desdemona what is happening with her and Cassio.  There is little impetus to speak openly with women or to trust them and part of this is driven by that discriminatory imagery and language used by the characters.

Other examples are the way that characters look at and speak about Othello as a moor.