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Shakespeare: Othello

6. Women

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In this module, we think about the critical reception of the female characters in Othello – and especially the character of Desdemona – focusing in particular on: (i) the importance of Desdemona's name, which means 'ill-fated' or 'unlucky'; (ii) why Desdemona is (arguably) such a weak character in comparison to her male counterparts and to other female characters in Shakespeare; (iii) Gayle Green's view that Othello is a play about men misunderstanding women; (iv) the importance of the relation between the three main female characters in the play – Desdemona, Emilia and Bianca – and between Desdemona and Othello; (v) the importance of Cyprus as the birthplace of Venus and the myth of Venus and Mars more generally; and (vi) the concept of Othello as a play about conflicting ways of thinking, and especially the idea of Othello as a character with a mythopoeic imagination.

Reading List:
– Gayle Greene, '"This that you call love": sexual and social tragedy in Othello', Journal of Women's Studies in Literature 1 (1979)
– Karen Newman, '"And Wash the Ethiop White": Femininity and the Monstrous in Othello' (1991)
– Carol Thomas Neely, 'Women and Men in Othello', in Harold Bloom (ed.) Othello (2005)
– Marjorie Garber, Shakespeare After All (2005)


In this course, Professor Lisa Hopkins (Sheffield Hallam University) explores six aspects of the critical reception of Shakespeare's Othello. In the first module, we think about the critical reception of the handkerchief, beginning with Thomas Rymer's criticism that Shakespeare could allow so much human suffering to depend on something so insignificant. After that, we think about the ways in which the play has been read in religious terms, before turning in the third module to the critical reception of race in the play. In the fourth and fifth modules, we think about the critical reception of the characters of Iago and Othello, respectively, before turning in the sixth and final module to the critical reception of women in the play.


Lisa Hopkins is Professor of English at Sheffield Hallam University. Her principal research interests are in Renaissance drama, especially Marlowe, Shakespeare and Ford. She is also interested in the influence of Darwin on fiction, adaptation, and the work of Bram Stoker. At the moment, she is completing a book on From the Romans to the Normans on the English Renaissance Stage. She is a co-editor of Shakespeare, the journal of the British Shakespeare Association, and co-editor of the Arden Early Modern Drama Guides.

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Hopkins, L. (2020, January 06). Shakespeare: Othello - Women [Video]. MASSOLIT.

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Hopkins, L. "Shakespeare: Othello – Women." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 06 Jan 2020,