Monira: So, Jo, we're studying Othello in class at the moment, but I think our teacher has a very limited view on the text!Jo: Yes, I totally agree! The text's universal literary qualities: the themes the structure, the language are valued in many different ways. And this is shaped by your own values and experiences.
M: You're right Jo, there are various ways of looking at Othello, especially in terms of the relationship between men and women in patriarchal society, that is your feminist reading. And that looks at the way the patriarchal nature of Venetian society works to label women who behave outside expected norms.
J: Well, Monira, I know what you are saying when you read Othello as a study in patriarchal excess, but I somehow doubt that Shakespeare was mostly concerned with the role of women in society. After all, in writing for an early Seventeenth Century audience, was Shakespeare not bound by the social roles allocated to men and women?M: Perhaps, but if we examine the structure of the play we see examples of patriarchal control at work.
The play opens with Iago, Roderigo and Brabantio speaking about Desdemona as if she is a possession. She is even referred to as a "white ewe". Women are always owned my men as daughters, wives and prostitutes. Their relationships are defined by their relevance to men. And I believe that Shakespeare tries to challenge this kind of society, starting with Desdemona. In defying her father and choosing a husband of different race, she goes beyond the feminine norm of her time. She would even enter into a war zone to experience the "rites for which [she] loves him". She wants a life of excitement and adventure!J: From what you're saying, I can tell Emilia must be your favourite...