In Othello and King Lear, how does concern for masculinity lead to human suffering?
Othello is a warrior, a man who values his own honor and masculinity above all else. Iago's incessant scheming plays on this, as well as his concern for his name and standing in Venetian society. Nothing is a greater challenge to Othello's masculinity than being cuckolded. Masculinity is not the only force at work in the play. Certainly race, "otherness," age difference, and a host of other factors lead to Othello's downfall. But the challenge to his masculine honor helps to explain Othello's rage:
Had it pleased heaven
To try me with affliction...
I should have found in some place of my soul
A drop of patience; but, alas, to make me(60)
A fixed figure for the time of scorn
To point his slow unmoving finger at!
In a society where suffering insults was a sign of weakness, Othello acts to avenge the ultimate insult. King Lear, on the other hand, is a patriarch whose masculine identity depends on the unquestioning, slavish doting of all around him, especially his daughters. When Cordelia will not match the obsequiousness of her sisters, answering the King instead that she loves him "According to my bond; no more nor less" she offends him, despite the fact that from her perspective she is actually honoring him as a father. Her reasoning that she must share her love with her husband when she takes one only reemphasizes the importance of masculinity in this. Lear, the offended patriarch, lashes out in a blind rage that consumes many of the good people around him, especially Cordelia. Yet we alo see just how much Lear's masculinity is compromised by the actions of his other daughters, Regan and Goneril. Upon learning of the latter's move to dismiss his knights, he shouts:
Life and death! I am ashamed That thou hast power to shake my manhood thus;
That these hot tears, which break from me perforce,
Should make thee worth them. Blasts and fogs upon
thee! The untented woundings of a father's curse
Pierce every sense about thee!
It is not just that Lear's daughters have violated his love for them, it is that their actions threaten his supremacy as a father and a man.