Othello Gender Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Act.Scene.Line). Line numbers correspond to the Norton edition.
Now will I question Cassio of Bianca,
A huswife that by selling her desires
Buys herself bread and clothes: it is a creature
That dotes on Cassio; as 'tis the strumpet's plague
To beguile many and be beguiled by one:
He, when he hears of her, cannot refrain
From the excess of laughter. Here he comes: (4.1.19)
Here, Iago tells the audience that he'll trick Othello into believing that Cassio is bragging about an affair with Desdemona when, in reality, Cassio will be bragging about his relationship with Bianca, a courtesan.
Iago notes that notes Bianca's a "huswife" (or, hussy) who makes a living by forging relationships with men like Cassio. Iago makes some pretty obnoxious assumptions about Bianca. According to Iago, all "strumpets" deceive lots of men but usually end up being deceived (and heartbroken) by the one man they fall in love with. As evidence, Iago refers to the fact that Bianca is in love with Cassio, who doesn't love her back. Instead, Cassio finds her to be "laugh[able]" and makes fun of her when talking with his male friends. Our point? Although Iago accuses courtesans like Bianca of "beguile[ing]" men, this passage seems emblematic of the way the men in the play think nothing of using women. Also, Iago's the one doing all the "beguile[ing]" here, isn't he? It seems like Shakespeare's pretty sympathetic toward Bianca and the other women in the play.
[Striking her] Devil!
I have not deserved this.
O devil, devil!
If that the earth could teem with woman's tears,
Each drop she falls would prove a crocodile.
Out of my sight!
I will not stay to offend you. (4.1.49)
When we think of Othello, our thoughts often turn to Othello's tragic downfall and/or the way he's victimized by Iago. But, here's a reminder that the real victim in the play is Desdemona. At the play's beginning, Desdemona is strong, confident, and defiant but she winds up becoming the victim of Othello's physical and emotional abuse. From this point on, she is passive and obedient and by the play's end, she blames herself for Othello's violent behavior. Later, when Emilia asks Desdemona who has harmed her, Desdemona replies "Nobody; I myself. Farewell" (5.2.29). We can't help but notice that Desdemona exhibits a classic symptom of "battered woman syndrome" – instead of telling Emilia the truth about Othello strangling her, she blames herself (and not her attacker) for the abuse she endures.
But I do think it is their husbands' faults
If wives do fall: say that they slack their duties,
And pour our treasures into foreign laps,
Or else break out in peevish jealousies,
Throwing restraint upon us; or say they strike us,
Or scant our former having in despite;
Why, we have galls, and though we have some grace,
Yet have we some revenge. Let husbands know
Their wives have sense like them: they see and smell
And have their palates both for sweet and sour,
As husbands have. What is it that they do
When they change us for others? Is it sport?
I think it is: and doth affection breed it?
I think it doth: is't frailty that thus errs?
It is so too: and have not we affections,
Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have?
Then let them use us well: else let them know,
The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. (4.3.16)
After Desdemona naively asks if there are any women who would actually cheat on their husbands, Emilia replies that, yes, there sure are and it's the fault of unkind husbands. According to Emilia, husbands cheat on their wives and often physically abuse them, prompting women to stray. What's more, women have sexual desires, just like men, and women are also "frail" and imperfect, just like some husbands. In other words, Emilia recognizes there's a double standard when it comes to gender and fidelity and she heartily objects.
OK, it's pretty clear Emilia is fed up with men, and who can blame her? She's married to Iago, the biggest jerk in the world. At the same time, however, we wonder why in the world Emilia would be so loyal to Iago if she knows what a creep he is. Why, for example, does she willingly agree to give Iago Desdemona's handkerchief? She has to know Iago is up to no good, doesn't she? Is Emilia a hypocrite? Or, is she the victim of abuse like Desdemona?