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There is the age old misconception or view (depending on your own interpretation of male/ female relationships) that men do not understand women. Communication and, in fact, miscommunication is key in Othello and leads to the development of the major theme of honor and reputation as it is reliant on perception and trust. Duty is paramount including that of Desdemona to her father:
To you I am bound for life and education;
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you; you are the lord of duty
Iago appears to lack respect for women; he insists that his wife hand over the handkerchief; he suggests that women have a natural tendency towards prostitution and shows little respect when he refers to Othello and Desdemona in such terms when describing their relatinship to Desdemona's father:
an old black ram is tupping your white ewe
Although this has racial overtones, it is also a complete disregard for the position of women.
Othello contains the so-called usual or expected scenes with a prostitute, the importance of purity in women (but not in men), the young woman marrying the older man (Othello is most likely approaching Desdemona's father's age) and so on which the Shakespearian audience would have gladly accepted as the norm. Women are almost possessions and need to be protected. An audience of the time would find it hard to believe that Desdemona had pursued Othello or that she could actually love him.
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor,..
Ultimately, Desdemona will pay the price and become the true victim when she has only her husband to depend on,
and when his love turns to violence, she is alone and defenseless
Refer to the eNotes study guide and navigate to the character analyses and other relevant issues to get a good understanding of the complex relationships and even apparent contradictions to be found in Othello.
Whilst being subordinate from the standpoint of duty and expectations, the women in Othello are strong-willed and determined. It is this that reinforces the view that, despite the characters of Desdemona and Emilia, they are powerless against the 'system.'
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