Power has always been a great concern for human beings from time immemorial. Individuals in power have always shown a habit of using their power to perpetrate extralegal activities such as exerting of physical and psychological torture on their rivals and dissidents. In Othello by William Shakespeare, it is revealed that Venetian societies consisted of both individuals who were empowered and individuals who were disempowered. In Othello, power is shown in gender roles, power struggle between Othello and Iago, power struggle between class and gender as exemplified by Cassio and Bianca, power struggle between different races and ethnic groups as well as use of manipulation as a tool of seeking power. Othello revolves around power. Othello holds both military and social power given is that he is a general in Venetian army. In the play, Iago seeks Othellos power and engages in manipulation to receive it. The paper critically examines the theme of Power in Othello by William Shakespeare.
Power in gender roles is clearly exemplified in Othello. Two characters in the play, Emilia and Iago have a relationship that can be used to clearly show power in gender roles. Iago is male and masculine whereas Emilia is female and feminine. Iago uses his masculinity to control Emilia as well as destroy her. Emilia is shown to be very subservient to Iago; this is an indication that Iago is the one with power in the relationship (Espinosa 65). In Venetian societies, men are the ones who had power in their relationships with women. Emilia is cynical about men; she sees men as individuals who have the habit to feed on women and belch them as they please (3.4.98). Iago describes women as wenches and whores (3.3.306). Iago asserts that women are only good in supplying the desires of men. Emilia is labeled a whore by Iago (5.2.228). Iago physically assaults Emilia on several occasions, a clear indication that he is the one who wields power in the relationship.
The power struggle between Othello and Iago is an exemplification of the power struggle that most commonly occurs among men in any given society. Iago despises Othello because the latter is in tune with his feminine side. Othello and Desdemona have mutual love and respect. Desdemona views Othello as a distinguished warrior whereas Othello views Desdemona as a woman full of feminine grace (Gardner 41). Iago uses deceptive and cunning means to ensure that Desdemona is relegated to a lower level with regard to influencing Othellos decisions. Iago instigates jealousy and hatred in Othello, a strategy to ensure that he wins Othellos trust and respect. In 3.3, Iago sarcastically states; I am yours forever. These words are meant to make Othello feel that he has a loyal henchman in Iago when that is not the case. Iago uses a strategy of convincing Othello that Desdemona has made him a cuckold. Iago narrates to Othello, a false dream from Cassio about Desdemona. In the dream, it is stated that Desdemona has an overbearing control on Othello and that the latter has lost his masculinity. The dream enrages Othello; out of insecurity, he decides to display his masculinity by disregarding Desdemona. Iago endears himself to Othello courtesy of his strategy and as a result, he becomes a man of influence in Othellos life. Iago is ambitious and has set his eyes on being a powerful figure despite being born in a low class family. Iago takes a position of influence by convincing Othello that Desdemona and Cassio have made him a cuckold. As a result, Cassio and Desdemona lose their positions of influence whereas Iago is elevated in a position of influence in Othellos life. However, in 5.2, Iagos scheme is unraveled by Emilia.
Power struggle between class and gender is exemplified by Cassio and Bianca. Social class in Othello causes a lot of conflicts (Goodland and OConnor 15-35). The Venetian society is hugely based on descent and birth. Chances of an individual from low social class moving into a high social class are slim. In Othello, characters are affected by social class; they have to work hard to maintain their social standing and at the same time use different means to ascend the social ladder. For instance, Cassio has to work hard to maintain his military rank in the face of Iagos scheme to topple him from his position. An individuals social standing has a huge effect on the power they wield. Individuals who are of high social standing have more power when compared with individuals of a low social standing. Therefore, in Othello, characters do whatever it takes to ensure that they ascend the social ladder to increase their chances of wielding immense power. Gender played a major role in society during the Venetian period. There were behavioral and social expectations with regard to how people behaved, acted, interacted, dressed and spoke. Men were considered to be masculine, superior, powerful and they were expected to fend for their families. Women were expected to clean, cook and give birth to children. Women were a property of their husbands; they were expected to be cooperative and subservient to their husbands. In Othello, women are portrayed as gentle, feminine and having respect for men. Othello easily believes lies told to him by Iago because Iago is of the male gender. Men were expected to be credible, honest and full of integrity. Othello easily believes Iago because he thinks that he is a man of integrity as it was expected of men during the Venetian times. "Damn her, lewd minx! Oh, damn her, damn her! Come, go with me apart. I will withdraw. To furnish me with some swift means of death. For the fair devil. Now art thou my lieutenant." In modern English this would translate to "Damn her, the wicked whore! Oh, damn her, damn her! Come away with me. Im going inside to think up some way to kill that beautiful devil. Youre my lieutenant now" (3.3.21). This is a clear exemplification of the fact that Othello believed everything he was being told by Iago. During the Venetian times, women were required to marry so that society could give them power. Women were only identified by their relationships with men and not as independent human beings. As a result, Bianca works hard to ensure that she becomes Cassios mistress so that she may wield some power. Cassio on the other side treats Biancas genuine affection with contempt. Cassio does not want to be seen in public with Bianca because he is afraid that it may create an impression in Othellos eyes that he has been womanized. By appearing womanized, Othello is likely to lose his influence and power. Cassio on several occasions addresses Bianca with a condescending tone. Bianca on the other side responds with a submissive tone when addressed by Cassio even though she is one who is angry, having been wronged.
Power struggle between different races and ethnic groups is exemplified in Othello. Being affiliated with a particular race or ethnic group can be a source of power. Professionally, Othello wields power because of his warrior abilities. However, because of being a Negroid, he is marginalized in other spheres of life such as in social and private spheres. Othello is victimized in the Venetian society because of his race. It is unfortunate that Othello is not fully accepted in the Venetian society because of his race (Kloppenberg 515). As a result, his power slowly wanes with time. Three characters in the play, Iago, Brabantio and Roderigo publicly display their distaste for Othellos race. Othello is described as an individual with thick lips,' sooty bosom among other derogatory names because of his race. It reaches a point whereby Othello starts to doubt his racial heritage after being an incessant victim of racial prejudice in the hands of Caucasian Venetians. Brabantio states "O thou foul thief, where hast thou stowed my daughter? Damned as thou art, thou hast enchanted her!" (1.2.62-63). The Venetians claim that Othello must have used magic spells and charms to enchant Desdemona into falling in love with him. Iago successfully makes Othello feel unworthy because of his race. As a result, Othello starts to feel unworthy in the presence of his Caucasian wife. Her name, that was as fresh As Dian's visage, is now begrimed and black As my own face (3.3.441-443). However, it is worthy to mention that it is Othellos exotic looks that attracted Desdemona to him in the first place. Iago uses his white heritage to make Othello have a negative perception of his self; as a result, Iago gains power over Othello! Othello commits suicide because he wants to have control over everything, including his destiny. Othello is unable to control himself when life events go contrary to what his expectations. Iago yearns for power. Iago detests social privileges and power entrusted in the ruling class. He plots Cassius downfall because he believes he should be the one ascending the social ladder. Iago is bitter towards Othello because the latter has both social and military power. Othello has a loving wife whereas Iago on the other side is in a troubled marriage. Iago plots to ruin Othellos life and successfully does it. Othello reveals that emotions can have a devastating effect on a person, destroying them in the process. It is also revealed that the desire for power corrupts individuals. Iago uses trickery and manipulation to control Cassio, Othello and Roderigo. For instance, Iago manipulates Cassio to drink alcohol even though Iago is of a lower rank when compared to Cassio. Iago also manipulates Roderigo into giving him all his money as a return for helping him win over Desdemonas hand. Iagos incessant pursuit of power causes his downfall.
Manipulation as a tool of seeking power is exemplified in Othello. In life, there are people who use manipulation to get what they want. Iago is a character who adeptly uses manipulation to get ahead in life; he manipulates other characters, a step towards attaining his goals (Shakespeare 3- 23). Iago uses other characters weaknesses into manipulating them. For instance, he uses Roderigo and Othellos weaknesses into manipulating them. In 1.1, Roderigo is angry for losing Desdemonas hand in marriage to Othello. Iago is angry at Othello for promoting Michael Cassio to a lieutenant position instead of him. Iago understands that he can use Roderigos jealousy of Othello to jointly bring about Othellos downfall. Iago uses malice in instigating Roderigo to develop a detest for Othello; he does this by asserting that Othello is a Moor, a race perceived as inferior during Venetians times. Roderigo becomes profoundly angered at Othello after being convinced that Othello is inferior to him and he should have never lost Desdemonas love to a person from an inferior race. Iago uses manipulation to control Brabantio, Desdemonas father. Iago manipulates Brabantio into believing that Othello has stolen his daughter and that their marriage is should never have occurred in the first place. Iago uses manipulation into making Othello believe that his wife is having an affair without any tangible proof. By Othello trusting Iagos words with no tangible proof, we can say that Othello is pretty gullible or he has a profound trust for Iago. Othellos alienation from society gives Iago an opportunity an opportunity to cause Othellos downfall by taking advantage of Othellos vulnerability. Towards the end of the play, Othello loses respect from a large number of people who initially respected him. Iagos plans include being cunning, using peoples vices and weaknesses against them and disguising himself as a third party helper. Iagos understanding of human psyche is incredible. The deception exhibited by Iago is incredible. Iagos adeptness at manipulation can be attributed to cleverness and patience. Iago creates an impression that he is...
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