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Elizabethan Women

Elizabethan Women were subservient to men. They were dependent on their male relatives to support them. The
wealthier women were used to forge alliances with other powerful families through arranged marriages. There was
little dispute over such arrangements as Elizabethan woman were raised to believe that they were inferior to men
and that men knew better!
- Elizabethan women were tutored at home - there were no schools for girls
- Elizabethan women were not allowed to enter University
- Elizabethan women could not be heirs to their father's titles ( except female royals)
- Elizabethan women could not become Doctors or Lawyers
- Elizabethan women did not have the vote and were not allowed to enter politics
- There were no Elizabethan women in the Army or Navy
- Elizabethan women were not allowed to act in the theatres
- Disobedience was seen as a crime against their religion. The Church firmly believed this and quoted the Bible in
order to ensure the continued adherence to this principle. The Scottish protestant leader John Knox wrote:
"Women in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man."
The concept of equality between the sexes would have seemed very foreign to most in Shakespeare's day: Adam
was created first, and Eve from his body; she was created specifically to give him comfort, and was to be
subordinate to him, to obey him and to accept her lesser status. A dominant woman was unnatural, a symptom of
disorder.

Racism
Othello was set in the Elizabethan era and the way an audience from the 17th century and 21st century would
interpret and present the play is very different due to changes in areas such as values and attitudes. In the
Elizabethan era, racism was a major issue. A typical black man was stereotyped as power hungry, uncivilised,
savage and a worthless outsider. Whites were seen as superior to the blacks. Inter-racial marriages between black
and white couples were unacceptable.
Iago's racism and hatred against black people may be one of the reasons for planning the downfall of Othello. In
the Elizabethan times racism would have been a more understandable motive, as black people were the minority
and were seen as 'others,' and could have been seen as a valid reason for planning Othello's downfall but in the
modern age acting against someone because of their colour would be seen as evil rather than a valid motive.
Therefore in Shakespeare's time this would have been an acceptable motive but now it would be seen as an act of
evil.
Desdemonas father, Brabantio and the majority of Venetians found it unacceptable for Desdemona, a white
woman of high class to marry a black man. Minimal acceptance was given to Othello because of his leadership as
a Governor General. Brabantio stated that Othello had a sooty bosom, which is evidence to prove his racism
towards him. The relationship between Othello and Desedemona was said to be an old black ram, which is
tupping a white ewe. Brabantios objections towards the marriage were overruled for one main reason; Venice
needed Othello to retain Cyprus. Othello was seen as an outsider because of his colour.

The Natural Order


Even though the play itself is set in Venice and Cyprus, it reflects highly upon the values and beliefs of
Shakespeare's own society where people believed strongly in the great chain of being, danger of emotions and
punishment for major sins. The Great Chain of Being refers to the concept that every existing organism and object

has its place within the universe. This hierarchical order separated people into different classes and had God as a
divine sovereign leader.
This was a value and belief that was very well recognised within the Elizabethan society in the sixteenth century.
The opening scene of Othello introduces the dishonorable villain Iago talking to Roderigo about his revenge upon
a certain character that remains unknown in this point of time. Iago exposes to the audience his true evil spirit in
relation to the superior character who remains unknown, "I follow him to serve my turn upon him.. when I have
lined my coat I shall do myself homage"; thus revealing to the audience his villainous character and sly nature.
Iago was the main character that caused the disturbance in the natural order as he had the key power to play on
people's weaknesses.
Displaying pride in any sense was always frowned upon in the Elizabethan times as it was considered to be
upsetting the natural cycle of life. Being proud goes directly against the natural order of life because one shall
never attempt to reach higher, yet be happy with their place in society as it was set by God. With the progression of
the story, the disturbance of natural order becomes very evident and the audience knows that the one that alters it
will fail, and the natural order of life will ultimately be restored
Desdemona has disturbed the natural order by marrying a Muslim Black man and lying to her father, thus she has
gone against her religion and everything she was taught to be.
With Othello perceiving himself as a valiant man and a character of justice, upon accusing Desdemona of betrayal
he feels it is his duty to kill her, thus restore the natural way of life. "She must die.. else she'll betray more men".
By doing this, Othello himself is making a big mistake as killing someone was thought to be one of the biggest
sins against ones religion and belief in the gift of life. As it was suspected, Natural order was restored in the
closing scenes of Othello, with Othello killing himself and Iago suffering lifelong punishment. With the natural
order now in place, it was evident that even Shakespeare himself, very much relied upon the beliefs and values of
the Elizabethan society. During the Elizabethan times, people thought that rational thinking was the only factor
that separated humanity from animals. During this era, emotions were seen as a negative force that has the ability
to destroy one to its core, as seen in Othello. The nature and contrast of emotions can be noted in Othello's
behavior in the opening and closing scenes of he play.
Comprehension activity
All answer can be found within the above paragraphs, answer the following questions in your
books
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.

Wealthier women in Elizabethan society were used to what?


What were Elizabethan woman raised to believe?
Name three things Elizabethan woman werent allowed to do?
According to the Shakespearean era, why was Eve created?
Why do we interpret Othello differently today compared to Shakespeares time?
Within the Elizabethan time, what was a typical black man stereotyped as? Was
interracial marriage acceptable?
7. Why is it more socially acceptable for Iago to plan Othellos downfall in
Elizabethan time compared to today?
8. Why was minimal acceptance created for Othello to marry Desdemona?
9. What were the values and beliefs of Shakespeares society? Why?
10. In Othello who was the main character that disturbed the natural order?
11. Why was displaying pride frowned upon in Elizabethan times?
12. How had Desdemona disturbed the natural order within society?
13. How is the natural order restored in the end of the play?
14. What did Elizabethan society believe separated humanity from animals?