Gender Roles and Sexual Politics in Othello

In “Women and Men in Othello: ‘what should such a fool/Do with so good a woman?’,” critic Carol Thomas Neely asserts that nearly all rational thought in Othello comes from women. In Neely’s view, the men of Othello are too consumed by pride, jealousy, and socio-political pressure to think clearly and, as a result, resort to rash behavior and “destroy the women who make fools of them” (142) in order to preserve their sense of honor. While Neely may be correct here, her argument that the women of Othello are entirely sensible is not a strong one. If these women were fully rational, they would be concerned with self-preservation and might not meet such tragic ends. Instead, the females remain passive and allow the hot-headed men to do most of the fighting in the battle of the sexes that is William Shakespeare’s Othello. This paper examines the development and outcomes of that battle.

One example of Othello’s sexual politics has to do with double standards. The men of Othello are exempt from the traits highly valued in women, such as Desdemona’s purity and devotion. While Desdemona’s purity is “blackened” by her undying love for Othello (Adelman 126), Othello’s masculinity and reputation as something of a Casanova earn him respect...

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