Essay on Medea and Othello Gender Expectations

Submitted By cmgood
Words: 958
Pages: 4

Do you think the ‘legends’ of Medea and Desdemona have reversed women’s reputations? Has the time come when the female sex is honoured? Support your arguments with close reference to both plays and a discussion of societal values.

Throughout time, it has become evident that the male sex has dominance over females. This can be due to a number of societal values, such as gender expectations, heritage and ideals vs. realities. This common theme of the status of women in society is largely explored in both Othello and Medea. In the play of Othello, Shakespeare uses Desdemona as a ploy in the game of Othello and Iago. Medea is a tragedy that contrasts Othello in the theme of ‘women’ and presents a strong and a defiant woman who is bound to get what she desires. I believe that the play Medea has reversed women’s reputations, whilst Othello highlights the problems 21st century women face.

In a Venetian society, it was expected of women to follow their husband’s desires and adhere to the archaic attitudes of men. Gender expectations are prominent throughout the play and are one of the underlying factors that cause the tragic downfall of Othello. For example, at the start of the play Desdemona appeared as a creative and free-willed woman. As a result of her marriage, she tried to become the woman of Othello’s dreams. Thus, she became less of a person, and more of an object. This is evident in her language. In Act 1 Scene 3, Desdemona defies her father’s wishes of marrying the archetypical Venetian man and secretly marries Othello, “My hearts subdued even to the very quality of my lord.” She is courageous, and puts love and spontaneity before obedience and expectations. Further into the play, Desdemona becomes an extremely loyal servant to Othello, “How now, my dear Othello? Your dinner and the generous islanders, By you invited, do attend your presence.” A 21st century example of this expectation to serve your married husband is the strong expectation of women in motherhood. Motherhood affirms these situations in which females must only be mothers. Gender expectation in Venetian Society is highly prevalent and abides by women always putting their husbands before themselves. Desdemona has fallen into this common fallacy.

In Medea, gender expectations are most certainly a common value in Ancient Greek society. It was expected for women to stay at home, serve their husband, look after their children and preserve a perfect reputation in society. Medea strongly contrasts these ideals of Ancient Greece. Part of this, is her foreigner status in Corinth, which causes her husband Jason to leave her. Jason then pursues Glauce, daughter of the King of Corinth, and the perfect bride who opposes Medea. Medea outwardly insults the female gender, “I’d rather stand three times in the front line than bear one child.” This shows her extreme desire to have the same power as men in Ancient Greek society. She extends this point by saying, “Men figure no less famous or infamous than women.” She believes that men and women have both done as many good and bad things as each other. A modern experience of gender inequality can be seen in the work force. In Australia, women count for 17.3% of CEO positions. Medea’s radical outward words help to challenge gender expectations and Euripides ancient ideas, are starting to become applicable our modern world.

Heritage is one of the root causes of the tragic downfall of Othello. Venetian society both reveres and despises Othello. According to Venetian law, their Republic’s army general was required to be a foreigner. The Venetian’s admire