Women have been struggling to prove themselves to society for centuries, yet many people today, living in the twenty-first century still think that women aren’t equal to men. The society one lives in defines a women’s role and status and for many years society has always defined women to be too weak and overly sentimental. William Shakespeare’s Othello and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility show that despite women continuously fighting for their rights, they still find themselves in the same position after two hundred years.
Othello was written in the sixteenth century whereas Sense and Sensibility was written in the eighteenth century, yet the women of both texts struggle to be considered equal to men. Othello’s Desdemona and Emilia are obligated to be obedient towards their husbands in order to be considered loyal and of high stature. If women are unmarried they are to be obedient to their fathers as they are considered to be their father’s property.
Likewise Sense and Sensibility’s Elinor and Marianne are obliged to find husbands of good fortune in order to live a comfortable life as they are not given the opportunity to earn their own fortune.
Throughout Sense and Sensibility Elinor and Marianne are imposed by society to find a husband even though they are not even adults yet. The societies the women of the play Othello by William Shakespeare and the novel Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen live in, compel them to cope with the mistreatment of women and overcome it with regards to their contemporary society. The women in both texts are forced to behave as is expected of them in order to fit into their societies. In Othello Desdemona personifies an oppressed woman who admits to being obedient to her husband, “I am obedient.
” (III. iii. 99). Throughout the play Desdemona follows her husband’s orders, despite his insults towards her. She continues to be a dutiful wife when he commands her to go to bed and till the end where she accepts his decision to kill her. The Venetian society Desdemona was raised in has taught her to be submissive and dutiful. She acknowledges her role as an obedient wife and decides to follow what is asked of her by society. Furthermore Emilia also chooses to follow her role in Venetian Society in spite of her being an arguably stronger character than Desdemona.
“Tis proper I obey him, but not now. “(V. ii. 233). Towards the end when she chooses to reveal Iago’s acts she still feels the need to justify herself and explain why she is going against her husband. From the very start of the play Emilia does various things to please her husband, without trying to find out his true intentions. She is blinded by her role to be obedient towards him and does everything in her power to depict a perfect wife. Similarly in Sense and Sensibility women also try to conduct themselves in a proper way in order to be accepted by society.
Elinor Dashwood portrays a woman of proper demeanour in the eighteenth century. She is careful not to hurt anyone, in spite of their narcissistic characteristics. “The pleasantness of an employment does not always evince its propriety. “(Jane Austen, 39). Elinor explains to her sister that how polite you are shouldn’t always depend on how good one’s company is. Being the eldest daughter, Elinor abides to having proper manners and takes on the role of the man of the house, making sure the small amount of money they have is being spent wisely.
In order to be accepted by society Elinor also refuses to show her affection for Edward Ferrars knowing the reaction she would get from the people in her society. She knows she must be careful to not let her reputation get tainted if she wants to be accepted by her friends and relatives. Just like Desdemona, Elinor is very selfless and sensible as she cares more about the people around her than herself. These attributes are significant as to why both these characters are well liked in their society.
Just as Desdemona is obedient to her husband, Elinor is obedient to her family. Furthermore Marianne Dashwood is another woman who is also forced to behave to the liking of the society in which she lives. Unlike Elinor it is more difficult for Marianne to portray an ideal woman due to her being more frank and caring for things other than being liked by the society. “It was impossible for her to say what she did not feel, however trivial the occasion; and upon Elinor, therefore, the whole task of telling lies, when politeness required it, always fell. “(Jane Austen, 68).
Marianne’s thoughts express how she feels obligated to be polite to others because of her sister, who encourages her to be polite in order for their family to have a good reputation in their society. Marianne believes that being polite is just telling lies to a person in order for them to like you. Although she does not like how the people in her society think Marianne must accept the fact that she must fit into her society and in order to do so she tries to behave in a respectful manner towards others. Both Marianne and Emilia are forced to be someone they are not.
It is easier for Desdemona and Elinor to be passive women but Emilia and Marianne have more personality that comes in their way of portraying the type of women accepted in their society. Regardless, Emilia and Marianne force themselves to follow the conduct of women of their society. Desdemona, Emilia, Elinor and Marianne all must behave like courteous ladies and conceal their passion and frustration in order to be a part of their society. Not only does the society force them to behave a certain way, women are also taken advantage of and mistreated.
In Othello Iago wants to get revenge from Othello for allegedly sleeping with his wife by sleeping with Desdemona. “For that I do suspect the lusty Moor Hath leap’d into my seat; the thought whereof Doth, like a poisonous mineral, gnaw my inwards; And nothing can or shall content my soul, Till I am even’d with him, wife for wife. ” (II. i. 317-321). To Iago women are just possessions which is why he does not take into consideration the feelings of Emilia and Desdemona while planning his revenge.
Iago knows that there is not much that Emilia and Desdemona can do because of the limitations Venetian society places on them. Therefore he continues to treat his wife with disrespect and plot to make Othello think that Desdemona has committed adultery. Moreover Othello mistreats his wife by killing her at the end . “Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. ” (V. ii. 6). He plots to kill Desdemona because he thinks she has committed infidelity. He continues with his plan even when Desdemona states that she has been loyal to him.
Othello is blinded by Iago’s manipulative acts and cannot see right from wrong. Him not believing in Desdemona over Iago shows how Othello’s mind has been affected by society into believing a man’s say is more important that a woman’s. Correspondingly women in Sense and Sensibility are also uncared for by men. Willoughby is a prime example of a man who mistreats women. He is a heartless womanizer who seduces Eliza, Colonel Brandon’s foster daughter and then easily moves on to Marianne.
“Careless of her happiness, thinking only of my own amusement, giving way to feelings which I had always been too much in the habit of indulging, I endeavoured, by every means in my power, to make myself pleasing to her, without any design of returning her affections. ” (Jane Austen, 173-174). Willoughby confesses to Elinor that he never had any intentions of falling in love with Marianne and he admits to have been a Casanova in the past. Throughout the novel Willoughby mistreats women and uses them for his pleasures.
He is driven by society to please women but not care for them and at the end his flawed propensity leads him to being punished by not being able to be with the one he loves. Similar to Othello’s Iago Willoughby does not think highly of women. Both Iago and Willoughby are villains of the story because of their harsh behaviour towards women. Although Iago shows no remorse for hurting women whereas Willoughby regrets his dishonesty towards the women in his life, they both are still seen to be of the same nature because of their character’s being so deceptive towards women. Furthermore Elinor is also a victim of mistreatment.
“She now found that, in spite of herself, she had always admitted a hope, while Edward remained single, that something would occur to prevent his marrying Lucy…. But he was now married; and she condemned her heart for the lurking flattery which so much heightened the pain of the intelligence. “(Jane Austen, 194). Elinor’s thoughts express how hurt she is by the news of the her love’s marriage. Edward Ferrars is someone the reader would least expect to hurt a woman but his loyalty towards Lucy Steele and unplanned love for Elinor lead him to having to choose between the two women.
Knowing that either way he will hurt someone, he chooses to be with Lucy in order to be keep the promise of marrying her and not be hated by society for leaving her. One cannot help but blame Edward for leading Elinor on and not letting her know about his engagement with Lucy. Although Othello’s killing Desdemona is very extreme compared to Edward’s choosing Lucy over Elinor, both characters invoke catharsis in the audience because of the situation the characters find themselves in. Othello is driven to kill Desdemona because of his role in society and what society might think of him if they were to find out that his wife has cheated on him.
Edward is driven to leave Elinor because of his engagement to Lucy which is persisted because society would not accept a broken engagement. In both cases the role society plays coerces both men to mistreat women they love and care for. Othello and Iago’s treatment towards Desdemona and Emilia and Willoughby and Edward’s treatment toward the Dashwood sisters are illustrations of they can be compelled to behave a certain way because their thoughts are driven by the beliefs of society.
Though the women in Othello and Sense and Sensibility have to deal with living in a sexist society they are still able to overcome it through their emotional strength. Desdemona’s obedience towards Othello does not blind her of how much power she has over him. “My lord shall never rest; I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience; His bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift; I’ll intermingle everything he does with Cassio’s suit. Therefore be marry, Cassio, For thy solicitor shall rather die than give thy cause away. ” (III.
iii. 24-30). Desdemona tells Cassio how she shall continue to pester Othello until he is given his lieutenancy back. She is aware that she has a fair bit of control over Othello and she uses this to her advantage when trying to help Cassio. Desdemona does not let society hold her back from showing that she has a voice and that her say in a situation is important to her husband. Emilia also prevails as a strong women by defying Iago, in spite of society judging her for going against her husband. “No, I will speak as liberal as the north.
Let heaven and men and devils, let them all, all, all cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak. ” (V. ii. 261-263). Emilia chooses to speak up against her husband and reveal him for the evil person he truly is because he has just caused her mistress’ death. She no longer cares for what society thinks of her as it is more important for her to prove Desdemona’s innocence. You see Emilia at her strongest point in the play as she fights for Desdemona and herself, revealing the true strength of women and their ability to rise against men and society.
Likewise, Elinor is able rise over society’s hardwired perception of women by accepting what society expects from her but still having a mind of her own. Her ability to hide her emotions from others is her greatest strength. “Sense will always have attractions for me. “(Jane Austen, 29). For Elinor sense is something that allows her to be a part of society and still have as many emotions as Marianne. Therefore she believes that she will always approach life with sense. This is Elinor’s way of overcoming society.
From hiding her feelings about what she really thinks about the Steele sisters to hiding her love for Edward, Elinor is able to keep everybody guessing about her true character and what people should really think about her. Elinor’s approach of overcoming society’s perception is similar to Desdemona’s approach as they both take a more subtle path. Elinor and Desdemona both show an enormous amount of strength through their empowerment over people. Elinor is able to get information from people that she doesn’t even expect to get by being silent and approachable.
Desdemona is able to get Othello to see her as an important figure until Iago’s manipulative acts part Othello from her. Elinor and Desdemona are both the voice of common sense in their texts as they rise above society’s mentality about women through the power of wisdom. Marianne struggles to accept what society asks of her but by the end she is able to use her sister as an example to find her way from a world of over-romanticizing to a more realistic place. “She was born to discover the falsehood of her own opinions, and to counteract, by her conduct, her most favourite maxims.
She was born to overcome an affection formed so late in life as seventeen, and with no sentiment superior to strong esteem and lively friendship..! “(Jane Austen, 206). Jane Austen describes how at the end Marianne learns from her mistakes of being excessively sentimental and is able to overcome society’s perception of women by being more like her sister. Marianne is able to accept that Willoughby was not meant to be with her and that she was meant to be with Colonel Brandon. Marrying Colonel Brandon helps Marianne start life on a new note and accept what society asks of her but still have her own say in matters.
For both Marianne and Emilia it takes more time to find a way to rise against society and still be a part of society at the same time. At first Marianne doesn’t accept to be a part of society whereas Emilia decides to be obedient and try to be accepted by society. By the end both characters are able to learn from their mistakes and acquire a way to triumph over society’s perception of women. Marianne is able overcome society by accepting what society expects of her and Emilia is able to rise above society by telling the truth about her husband, not caring about what society thinks of her.
The women of Othello and Sense and Sensibility are able to prevail over society by acknowledging the standards society sets for women but accepting them to an extent that does not allow them to control how they think. The women in Othello and Sense and Sensibility accept the role society gives them regardless of the consequences, and at the end they are able to rise above society by proving how strong women are. Othello’s Desdemona chooses to obey Othello as that is what society expects her to do, even though he physically and emotionally abuses her.
However she is still able to prevail as a strong women through her empowerment over Othello. Emilia is an obedient wife to her husband because she wants to fit into society, despite him constantly neglecting her. Yet she is able to over throw her husband by revealing his evil acts. By doing this she is able to prove to society how strong women are as she dies protecting her friend’s honour. William Shakespeare depicts how even though society portrays women as irrelevant people during his time, they still have a great impact on the lives of men.
Elinor takes a more restrained approach to fight society’s beliefs of women. She accepts to behave as expected of her but does not allow that to change the way she thinks. As a result Elinor learns that she does not always need to approach everything with common sense and she is able to learn to let herself go sometimes. Marianne starts off being the opposite of Elinor, as her being younger and more emotional prevents her from understanding the necessity of being accepted by society.
By the end she is able to accept her role in society but at the same time she does not let her sensibility go. Jane Austen shows how that even though there is parallel of both Dashwood sisters fighting society and trying to find love at the same, they both approach it differently and at the end they decide to embark the same route. Jane Austen depicts how a balance between sense and sensibility allows women in the eighteenth century to not only be a part of society but also have a more dominant role as a woman.
Though there is a large difference in the period both these texts were written in, the women still struggle with the same problems. Living in the year two thousand and eleven, yes there has been some improvement in how women are treated but that hasn’t changed the way men think. Women are still not strong enough or not brave enough in the minds of men. It’s still rare for you to see a women as a president or prime minister. After centuries of fighting for their rights women still have a long way to go to prove their strength and capability to men and society.