Significance Of The Female Characters in Othello By William Shakespeare And a Doll’s House By Henrik Ibsen

Categories: Othello

Overtime, the role of the woman has changed significantly and has allowed for many more opportunities for them. Men have always been seen as more powerful and dominant over women however, women have developed the abilities and strengths to prove that they are capable of things just as the man is. The female characters are extremely significant in both William Shakespeare’s “Othello” and Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”. They aid in developing plot as well as develop the other characters throughout the play.

The importance of the female characters in both plays is represented by their strengths and/or powers being underestimated, their ability to express innocence in the play and be peace keepers, and their determination to prove their independence. As women are seen as less powerful than men, their strengths and abilities are often underestimated.

In the play Othello, Iago tends to misjudge Emilia’s capabilities. He believes that she cannot complete certain tasks that could help him in ensuring his plan runs smoothly.

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Emilia is not informed of Iago’s evil plan when she receives possession of the handkerchief for him. Previous to this incident, Iago has told Emilia that he wants the handkerchief that Othello gave to Desdemona. Desdemona accidentally drops the handkerchief in her room and Emilia later finds it and gives it to Iago as he has desired it for so long. When she brings it to him he says, “Do not you chide; I have a thing for you… you have a thing for me? It is a common thing-… To have a foolish wife”.

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Iago pushes Emilia away because at first he thinks she is trying to pleasure him. He thinks this way because it was very stereotypical for women to behave in that way towards their husbands in that time era. Also he would not expect much more from his wife as he has yet to realize her potential. The stereotypes of women being less powerful than men are also illustrated in Othello when Iago expresses his true beliefs and intentions of women. He reveals how he sees women when he says, “… Wild-cats in your kitchens, saints in your injuries, devils being offended, players in your housewifery, and housewives in your beds”. Iago shares this thought he endures of what a women’s purpose is to Desdemona and Emilia. He claims that women are only good for cooking, cleaning, and sleeping with. This proves how all women are underestimated and labeled with specific tasks, and do not get much of a say when trying to defend themselves of this.

In similar ways, Nora Helmer in A Doll’s House is the main female character in which is looked down on. Her husband, Torvald Helmer, treats her like a child and believe she lacks the ability to do things on her own. Torvald puts limits on how much she is allowed to spend, what she eats (being strict about the macaroons), and calls her very childish names including “Squirrel” and “Little Songbird”. Torvald constantly calls her these names including when he says, “And I wish you to be only as you are, my songbird, my sweet little lark”. By calling her these names it is indicating that he does not take his own wife seriously and treats her as if she were his daughter. It also demonstrates the dominance and control Torvald has over her because he is un-informed of her true abilities and does not have much trust in her. Nora also demonstrates a lack of power and strength when she realizes for herself that not many people can take her seriously. When she talks to Mrs. Linde, she notices that she seems to be doubting her. Nora strongly dislikes this and begins to get upset, she says “you’re like everybody else. You all think I’m incapable of doing anything serious”. This verifies that Nora is immature and not trusted by many. The fact that she is a female makes it much more difficult for her because she is already not taken seriously because of her personality and is continuously doubted of her strengths for being a woman.

Women are challenged with the ability to show innocence in the play and act as peacemakers. In Othello, Emilia assists Desdemona in proving she is innocent when Othello begins to accuse her of cheating. Desdemona is very honest and caring so, when Othello gets angry at her she says, “Something sure of state, … Emilia, I was- unhandsome warrior as I am- arranging his unkindness with my soul; but now I find I had suborn’d the witness And he’s indicated falsely”. Although Othello is being manipulated into thinking Desdemona is cheating on him, Desdemona remains calm and blames his anger on stress from the state. She is oblivious to the fact that her husband is accusing her of cheating and continues to act calm, as she has done no wrong. Emilia tried to reassure Desdemona by explaining how Othello may be jealous, but Desdemona continues to believe it is stress from work that he is taking out on her. She is keeping peace by refraining from any more arguments. Emilia successfully portrays innocence when she explains the true story of what happened with the handkerchief. She did not have anything to do with Iago’s evil plan and explains, “O thou dull Moor, that handkerchief thou speak’s of I found by fortune and did give my husband… He begg’d of me to steal it. Emilia is not guilty because she is simply trying to please her husband’s wishes by performing a caring gesture towards him. She did not know of any consequences that would have come by doing this for Iago. Her actions were to express love and kindness to her husband and were not intended to do any harm, thus making her innocent.

The same idea of innocence and peacemaking occurs by Nora in A Doll’s House when she tries to reassure Dr. Rank and distract him from the news he has received. After Dr. Rank tells Nora that he may die soon, she tries to comfort him and says, “You are talking non-sense. I wanted you to be so happy today”. She tries to show him the positive side of the situation, thus showing how she is spreading peace and innocence within the story. Nora also demonstrates peace and innocence through the forging of she father’s signatures. When Torvald was sick and was told he must travel to Italy to heal, the Helmer’s realized they did not have enough money to go. Nora pretended to be her father and signed his name on a contract t get the money to pay for the trip. When she is questioned about the signatures by Krogstead she says, “Is a daughter not allowed to protect her dying father from worry and care? Is a wife not allowed to save her husband’s life? I don’t know much about the law. But I’m pretty sure there must be laws that allow things like that”. Nora did this in order to save her husband’s life and not make her father have any worries before he died. She was being considerate of others and was not thinking of consequences because she did not know of any, therefore proving how she is naive and innocent.

Independence and the ability for one to speak their opinion is demonstrated in various instances throughout each of the plays. The first indicator of this is in Othello when Emilia speaks to Desdemona about her true feelings and thoughts on men. She explains to Desdemona, “But I do think it is their husband’s faults if wives do fall. Say that they slack their duties…” This quote proves that Emilia is an independent woman because she goes against her husband’s beliefs. In this time period, women were supposed to agree wit and support their husbands. By Expressing her own opinion Emilia is proving her independence. Emilia once again shows courage and independence when she tells Othello the real story of what happened with Iago and goes against/disobeys Iago. Once Desdemona is killed, Emilia speaks in order to defend her and says, “ ‘Twill out, ‘twill out. I peace! No, I will speak as liberal as the North; Let heaven, and men, and the devils, let them all, All, all cry shame against me, yet I’ll speak”. In this quote, Emilia stands up to Iago and betrays him. Once he demands her to stop talking Emilia refuses to listen and continues on to speak on behalf of Desdemona. She says she does not care who cried shame against her because she knows she needs to be brave and stand up for herself. Emilia is showing great courage and determination proving how she continues to become more independent.

In contrast to this suggestion of independence, in the play A Doll’s House, Nora begins to prove to people that she is able to do things on her own. When speaking to Kristine Linde, Nora explains to her that she was the one who got the money to be able to go on the trip and save Torvald. She says, “Come over here. Oh yes, I’ve got something to be proud of. It was I who saved Torvalds’s life”. Nora figured out a way to get the money on her own with no help from anyone and kept it a secret. This shows significant maturity in her as well as independence because she has always been seen as childish and never been taken seriously. The final factor if proving independence is when Nora stands up for herself to Torvald. She takes lead and forces hum to look at their relationship from a different perspective. She says, “No. you mustn’t interrupt me. I want you to just listen to what I have to say”. Nora finally gained enough nerve to tell Torvald how she really feels about their relationship. This is the first time in the play that her own opinion is heard and she expresses independence in doing so. She proves that she is capable of doing things on her own and does not need to depend on Torvald anymore. By returning the ring and leaving him, she shows significant maturity and is the final way she proves that she is independent.

In conclusion, the female characters in each play are extremely significant. Men and Women have grown and will continue to grow and change. Equality is very important for both genders. Everyone should be treated equally no matter what age, race, gender, etc. Throughout the year’s women have become more powerful and motivated to do things that people believed they were incapable of. Women have created a very strong impact on society and will continue to do so.

Updated: Feb 22, 2024
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Significance Of The Female Characters in Othello By William Shakespeare And a Doll’s House By Henrik Ibsen. (2024, Feb 16). Retrieved from

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