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How 21st Century Morals Make Othello Outdated

Emilia and Desdemona have different views of men and women. Write a critical essay about how 21st-century morals make Othello outdated. I will be exploring the different views held by both Emilia and Desdemona on the subject of men’s and women’s moral and social status. Ideas of the contrast between men and women run throughout ‘Othello’ by William Shakespeare. Analyzing the two leading female characters will enable us to understand this to a greater extent. Finally, I shall analyze and compare these two characters to conclude whether or not this play is outdated.

Emilia represents women’s rights in the play and is a character that often expresses her opinions without a thought of the consequences. This is a good character for the play to uphold as she can represent many women’s truthful but hidden opinions in the 17th century. Women were powerless in Shakespeare’s times and were expected to be mere accessories of men and to do as their husbands pleased. Emilia believes that women should be entitled to all the things men have, “Have not we affections, Desires for sport and frailty, as men have?”

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This shows a fearless attitude and a somewhat unique opinion as women often thought nothing more than men were always the leaders and were superior. The character gathers much interest from the audience due to these views, which on Shakespeare’s part, show a fascinating insight and understanding of women’s potential beyond 17th-century tradition. Emilia also begins to undermine her husband, Iago, and disgraces him in comparison with herself:”, what should such a fool Do with so good a wife?”

This shows, amongst other things, that Emilia thinks highly of herself, and although not talking directly to Iago, it shows her bravery. Desdemona can show us a stereotypical wife to a highly regarded husband of the 17th century. Whilst married to Othello; she devotes herself to him and his needs. Desdemona begs the Moor for forgiveness during the accusation of unfaithfulness: “Then Lord have mercy on me.”

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She apologizes for an act which she knows she has not committed. This shows a weakness in her character and loving devotion to her husband in that she is willing to take the blame in exchange for the continuation of Othello’s love for her. The character represented by Desdemona is common of the 17th century where women had no rights and were expected to, metaphorically, act as decoration to the arms of their husbands. Desdemona often speaks to her husband with a formally respectful tone, perhaps the same way in which a servant would address Othello: “Ay my Lord.”

This shows the authority which Othello possesses over Desdemona. It also suggests that Desdemona may be highly respected by her husband or slightly intimidated by his power. Both Emilia and Desdemona clearly convey to the audience their personal beliefs of their rights as women, particularly Emilia, whose beliefs closely relate to 20th-century concepts. An interesting subject within the play is the contrast between the women’s social background/education and their respect for the male authority in their lives.

This can be seen in the difference between Emilia and Desdemona. Emilia, as previously stated, has a belief that women such as herself deserve equal rights. With little education or social status, Emilia relies merely on her life experiences to guide her opinions. Being wise to the world, with nobody to stand and correct her, can see no reason why women should have fewer rights than men. Emilia is seen to ponder upon these thoughts within the play. Desdemona, on the other hand, represents a real opposite to Emilia. She is the Duke’s daughter and has experienced a thorough education and structured upbringing.

Rather than being left to find her own life paths like Emilia, Desdemona had been taught her place as a woman in the world. And in the same way, as a modern girl being brought up today would be taught about items such as political correctness, Desdemona was taught about how all women should always be there for their husbands and should always be willing to do whatever pleased their husbands. Desdemona would have accepted this undoubtedly without a second thought as this was the correct way to live in the 17th century.

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From the perspective of a 21st-century reader, Emilia seems to be in the right as these views supposedly reflect on our modern-day society. Many would say that our modern world does offer equality to men and women. In a lot of respects, this is correct, but it is also controversial. Many anti-sexism laws are upheld within our society. Women can vote just like men. Women can access all the same jobs as men and are supposedly paid at the same rate. And in our modern society, it is illegal to discriminate against a person because of gender. Yet, recent statistics show that women outnumber men in the bottom half of income distribution and women, full-time employees, earn only 80 percent of a comparable male worker’s wage.

This shows that it is impossible to influence absolutely everyone’s opinions; in Shakespeare’s times, there would have been people with views like Emilia’s, whether or not it was correct. And in our supposedly modern world of equality, sexist views against women clearly still exist in multiple circumstances across the world. Othello is classed as outdated as in our current land of equality; we would disapprove of the level of sexism within the society that Othello is set. This is very different from our culture. However, ideas relating to the difference in people’s opinions and the contradiction of conventions can be clearly be seen in both Othello and our modern civilization.

In my introduction, I have explored the variation in character and social status between Desdemona and Emilia. I have discovered that Othello is an outdated play in various ways with relation to 21st-century morals; however, this is to be expected as the play was written approximately 400 years ago. One of how Othello is not outdated is the relation that can be seen between the character of Emilia’s attitude and the modern attitude to sexism that surrounds 21st-century life. A topic that is of particular interest to me is how Shakespeare was able to show such a fascinating insight into the possibilities of human thought. He has demonstrated possible feelings and emotions of women concerning their generally minimal power of the time through the pondering mind of Emilia within the play.

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The lack of feminine power in the 17th century was extensive, other than in a singular example that could have influenced Shakespeare’s ideas. Queen Elizabeth 1 was, at the height of her reign, one of, if not the most powerful person in the world. She was a fantastic example of female power. With her death in 1603, just before the writing of Othello, she most probably was a great influence upon Shakespeare’s thoughts of the possibilities and hidden potential of all women. In the writing of Othello, Shakespeare has shown a remarkable understanding of the status and roles of women of his time.

He has shown us different examples of women with multiple classes and the relationships between the levels of expectations from women and their attitude towards their personal roles. From a modern perspective, it is difficult to see why people accepted living in such a land of great bias and why men felt so superior to all others. Many take for granted the fact that we live in a world of equality and opportunity for all. Still, it is attributable to men such as Shakespeare for introducing such proposals that ideas of equality were extended to form the complexity of modern society as we know it. “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 they do,” Written by Daniel Swift

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How 21st Century Morals Make Othello Outdated. (2021, Sep 14). Retrieved October 4, 2022, from