Make your own free website on

An argument can be made that in Shakespeare’s works women were not always portrayed in a negative light. Though the treatment of women shares similarities, they also show stark differences, making a link apparent between the two, this being done by putting the context into which the plays were viewed, which in similarities and contrasting differences negative aspects of women can be viewed. An example can be seen within Shakespeare’s "The Tragedy of Othello: The Moor of Venice" and "The Merchant of Venice", a tragedy and comedy respectively.

Here is where one of the concepts comes in about Shakespeare’s attack on women. In "Othello", the women are simple minor characters playing no really significant role. In this play, the men are the problem solvers while the women are the helpless ones. This can be witnessed in Desdemona’s attitude towards her husband, when Othello confronts right before her death. On the other hand, in "The Merchant of Venice", the women ended up having the superiority. When Portia rescues Antonio, she breaks the mold of the flat tragic women. She also does something that you will not see the women do in a Shakespearean tragedy, she was the one to resolve the problem while the men were helpless. The point of this is since Portia was in a comedy, which was to be taken lightly, she too was to be taken lightly, making it seem even more humorous having a women save the man. On the contrary, in "Othello", the true role of the women comes out in a type of play that was aimed more towards humanity not humorous fiction.

Another thing that presents opposites in the play is the type of speech the women have in the comedies as a opposed to that in tragedies. In comedies the women had the sharp wit, not to mention the piercing tongue, in which they volleyed on almost anyone. With a glance at some of Portia’s first lines, a connection can be easily made. An example of this can be found in Portia’s third verbal volley. Here she states that "If to do were as easy to know what were good to do, chapels had been churches, and poor men’s cottages prince’s palaces" (Act I, scene ii, line 12). Like the above paragraph, these words can be acknowledge as being created to add even more humor to the play, with no real relation to reality. Now, this wasn’t the case in Shakespeare’s tragedies, especially Othello. Desedoma always had a subservient tone in her words, always playing the weak, helpless women. Clearly Desdemona never stood up for herself, allow everything to occur to her without a hint of struggle, including her own death.

Now come the similarities in the two types of plays, tragedies and comedies, that present a negative light about women. To begin with, in Shakespearean plays the women are the cause of the conflict. In "Othello", Othello believes Iago that his wife is unfaithful, committing adultery with his newly appointed lieutenant. In "The Merchant of Venice", Bassanio falls in "love" with Portia, getting into to provide an image of prestige to impress his beloved Portia.

In both "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice", the bond formed between two males were stronger than those established by man and women, consequently man and wife. Iago’s word carried more weight to Othello’s ear than would have his wife. Would have is important here because Othello believed and trusted his "chum" Iago so much that he didn’t bother to get any input from his wife, making it clear that his relationship with Iago was more important than that to his wife. In The Merchant of Venice, the same occurrence can be observed. Here, Bassanio values Antonio’s friendship more than the wife that he risked everything in obtaining. He even states the fact in Act IV, scene I, lines 281-286, "Antonio, I am married to a wife which is as dear to me as life itself; but life itself, my wife, and all the world are not with me esteem above thy life".

Consequently, no matter how you look at Shakespeare’s work, "Othello" and "The Merchant of Venice", the actions of women in these plays turned out being unfavorable. If their deeds seemed positive in Shakespeare’s comedies, this can be attributed to the way in which the comedies were viewed at this time, being thought of as unrealistic. If their actions seemed negative, which in the majority of the cases they were, they happened to be just that, showing the true nature in which women were viewed in Shakespearean times.