Conflict of Male Female Relationship in Othello

Sexual relationships in Othello are the locus of two types of conflicts - same sex conflict as well as male-female conflicts - upon which many other themes like themes of sex and violence, love and hate, honor and dishonesty, loyalty and betrayal, trust and suspicion may be explored. The conflict is also about power, but the cause is again the male-female relationships and the conflict between the males and males.

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

We can say that the drama is mainly about sexual struggles - both intra-sexual and inter-sexual -because we see power struggles between couples and friends throughout the play: Iago wins the heart of Othello against his own wife; Desdemona and Emilia defend themselves against their husbands' suspicions; and Bianca works hard to assert her rights as Cassia's mistress. In the beginning, Desdemona and Othello are in a relationship of true love, and the couples of lago and Cassio are in false love. Emilia and Iago have a poor match, and Cassio doesn't want the 'bauble', a mere prostitute, to be seen with him in public. Marriage has made Emilia cynical about male-female relationships; she knows she is merely 'food' for Iago, acceptable until she disobeys him and refuses to be silent, at which point she is dismissed as a 'villainous whore'. And the misogyny of lago casts a dark shadow over Othello's relationship with Desdemona, which seems so bright and full of optimism and delight at the start of the play.

The enviously beautiful relationship between Othello and Desdemona turns into a disaster. As they appear in the beginning, the hero and heroine symbolize a meeting of two minds in Acts I and II, despite their different social, cultural and racial backgrounds. He loves her for her feminine grace and sympathy, and she loves him for his masculine heroism. Essentially, Othello and Desdemona love each other so well not only despite minor differences, but also because of them; but those differences become distorted during the course of the play by an interloper, a man who cannot bear to see two lovers 'well-tuned'. Why is it that Iago wants to destroy Desdemona-Othello relationship so eagerly? Some critics have suggested that he wants Othello to return into the masculine values of the army, and because he wants Othello to hate women as he does and to regard his gentle Desdemona as he regards his own wife ('villainous whore'). An evil person converts the others into more evil.

At last, the women are destroyed and the masculine structure of power is almost intact even after two of the female-loving members have been destroyed. In one sense, even the dramatist seems to have unconsciously tried to excuse the masculine values of so-called morality that is taken so violently. But, it is the women, their characters and actions, which are justified. They leave the scene after having done only acceptable things, indeed after melting our hearts with their goodness. That is perhaps the only way in which Shakespeare (whether deliberately or not) seems to have paid regards to the female members of the dramatic world.