Monday, February 28, 2011

The tragedy of it all

It's been decades since I've read anything by Shakespeare, but this weekend I read Othello, primarily because this semester I'm tutoring a student in a subject entitled Literature and Performance. There are three Shakespearean texts on the list as well as works from Austin, Bronte, Chekov, Dickens and Ibsen, so I'm going to be doing a lot of reading, or, rather re-reading, for I'm familiar with most of the texts.
The one thing that stood out for me in this text was that Emilia, attendant to Othello's wife Desdemona, admitted she would commit adultery for a high price ~ But for the whole world! Who would not make her husband a cuckold, to make him a monarch? First thoughts suggested there was a certain amount of sexual power being afforded to Emilia and that she would use this power for her own ends; likewise, the notion of being unfaithful to one's husband in order to elevate his status was perhaps feminist, since to elevate him was also to heighten her power and position. But perhaps this behavior (although speculative on her behalf) displays instead the restraints and limitations imposed upon women in that era, which is mirrored in the compliant and obedient behavior of Desdemona. I suspect, looking at the texts chosen there is much scope for a feminist reading. I'll be reading Romeo and Juliet this week, but am already aware that like Othello, the lovers die in the end.

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