Domestic Violence in “Othello” by W. Shakespeare


Arguably, William Shakespeare’s works are a critical way of thinking about the different contemporary subjects existing today. In Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello, various issues affecting society during the 16th century are discussed. Writers, historians, sociologists, linguists, and the public, in general, use Shakespeare’s works as a vital reference point and reflection on the current state of the community. Shakespeare’s piece acts as a mirror, whereby sociologists and historians analyze the actual steps that subsequent generations have made over the centuries since Shakespeare published his works, including Othello. Discussions and readings of Othello reflect on domestic violence controversy in society. Analyzing the play imparts knowledge and understanding regarding different issues that affect people’s interaction since it builds a conversation revolving around domestic violence. Therefore, the Othello tragedy reflects the current domestic violence incidences in society, hence the need to formulate authentic ways to overcome them and to advocate for effective interaction among people despite the background differences.

Problems That Continue To Manifest since the 1600s

Domestic violence problems which were topical during the 1600s when William Shakespeare wrote the Othello tragedy continue to manifest in society. In the play, Othello decides to kill his wife over false infidelity (Shakespeare 37). Othello listens and acts according to Iago’s lies and subsequently kills his wife, Desdemona. When Iago informs Othello that his wife Desdemona is cheating, he indirectly avenges Othello for not promoting him but instead considering promoting Cassio, who is less experienced. Iago’s mission is accomplished when Othello kills his wife, Desdemona, instead of killing Cassio as Iago wanted. In Shakespeare’s tragedy, Iago aimed to provoke Othello regarding Cassio’s affair with Desdemona, making him angry and killing Cassio. Understandably, cases of domestic violence and lovers killing one another were rampant during Shakespeare’s time. Recklessness is the main reason behind Desdemona and Emilia’s deaths, considering that their husbands have insufficient evidence for murdering them. Thus, ordeals surrounding domestic violence in the 1600s during Shakespeare’s time, as presented by Othello and Desdemona, continue to manifest in the current society.

Causes of Domestic Violence

The incident of domestic violence and murder of women in the 16th century was caused by infidelity. Vanita opines that during the Jacobean and Elizabethan eras, plays were endorsing the killing of women that were accused of infidelity (341). As a result, people were taking advantage of this scenario, hence forming their false allegations with the aim of achieving certain goals. In the book Othello, Iago deliberately formulates his assumptions that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio (Shakespeare 57). Arguably, Iago’s aim is to ensure that Cassio dies so that he could assume his position as a lieutenant (Vanita 344). Consequently, Iago’s plan backfires when Desdemona dies in the process, leaving Cassio alive. Therefore, the audience develops a comprehension that women were unprotected in society during the 16th century.

Importance of Shakespeare’s Work

The study of Shakespeare’s work regarding domestic violence allows society to embrace gender equality. Domestic violence ordeals are enhanced by the perceptions that men have towards women. According to Shepherd, family violence is a complex issue that is caused by the existing community attitudes towards women and the aspect of gender inequality (1). Sometimes women are seen as lesser beings, hence not equal to their male counterparts. As a result, some men despise them to the extent of seeing their lives as meaningless. It is this disrespect that causes men to kill women. For instance, in Othello’s tragedy, both Othello and Iago kill their wives without having a second thought (Shakespeare 52). Shepherd further states that no one should be murdered for having an affair (1). If one is tired of their spouse, they should embrace critical thinking in solving family feuds. In cases when the issue is hard to handle, the partner should decide to end a relationship. Thus, domestic violence exists in society due to the ill perception that men are more prominent than women.

Othello Controversy

The controversy surrounding domestic violence in Shakespeare’s work Othello is that lovers who kill see their life as meaningless after learning the truth and consequently slaughter themselves. In Othello, Shakespeare presents the main character as a regretful man who kills himself after realizing that Desdemona had never cheated with Cassio as Iago said (Shakespeare 57). Othello’s acts represent most lovers in the present society, who part ways with their partners over false allegations and lack to engage critical thinking. Distinctively, there is a need for mutual understanding and identifying the truth in what someone else says instead of reacting immediately. It is horrible when one kills their lover because of infidelity issues and realizes later that she or he has never engaged in such practice. Instead of murdering a partner, families should embrace meaningful communication to solve different marital problems. Holistically, Shakespeare presents the idea that lovers mistakenly slay their partners in domestic violence without conducting authentic investigations into the issue, regretting it for the rest of their lives, hence deciding to kill themselves too.

Advantage of Shakespeare’s Work

Domestic feuds cases are evident in Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello as shown by Iago and his wife, Emilia. The latter is furious over what Iago has done, causing her friend Desdemona’s death, since Emilia knows that Iago lured Othello into killing his wife. In the tragedy, Iago slays Emilia instantly after she tries to explain to Othello that her husband has been lying to make him murder Desdemona (Shakespeare 44). The disagreement between Iago and Emilia makes him kill her to hide the truth. In this story, Emilia carried the handkerchief that Iago takes to Cassio’s room to prove that Desdemona is having a secret love affair with Cassio. As such, Emilia’s sudden death is an example of the tendency for domestic violence in the Shakespearean era. Notably, in the Shakespearean epoch, incidences of men killing their partners were common, as can be seen in Othello and Iago’s decisions to murder their lovers. They are explicit representations of men in the sixteenth century and the ruthless way they treated their wives. Therefore, there is a need for consensus and mutual understanding among couples to avoid violence and suicide-related crises.

Disadvantages of Shakespeare’s Play

Discussing Shakespeare’s play is not a recipe for ending domestic abuse in society. Analyzing domestic violence-related episodes as Shakespeare presents them cannot help end the family feuds. As demonstrated in Othello’s tragedy, Shakespeare highlights the different domestic fierceness situations but never proposes the actual way of combating them. Shakespeare discusses how women, represented by Emilia and Desdemona, are abused by their husbands and later face cruel deaths. In this way, only reading Shakespeare’s works impacts the reader less positively. The author should have thought of the different solutions to social problems instead of simply highlighting the issues. Therefore, studying Shakespeare’s family feuds topic is unhelpful to the audience since it imparts no skills nor knowledge regarding combating the increasing cases of domestic feuds in society.

Moreover, reading Shakespeare’s works concerning domestic violence is disadvantageous as it normalizes family conflicts because they have been in existence for centuries. When Othello kills his wife, he confesses to Emilia of performing the act while walking around as if nothing happened (Shakespeare 52). Here, Shakespeare makes the audience comprehend that domestic feuds have been in existence since the previous centuries. Comparatively, Shakespeare presents family conflicts to make the audience think that related cases were more in the past than today. Shakespeare’s work makes readers develop a wrong impression of domestic violence, whereby one can kill the other and continue living freely same as any other innocent person unless they decide to commit suicide. Shakespeare makes the audience see family disagreements and fights as regular issues that do not require any substantial action to control them. Therefore, studying Shakespeare’s works on domestic violence makes the audience comprehend family feuds as something common, hence depriving the kind of weight that the topic should have and the formulation of subsequent combating strategies.


In conclusion, it is important to note that Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello makes individuals understand the present domestic violence issues, hence encouraging society to overcome the challenge. Understandably, Shakespeare mentions the family challenges in the community and urges for societal tranquility. Moreover, studying Shakespeare affects how people relate in society and suggests fruitful conversations regarding domestic violence, therefore encouraging diverse perspectives on combating the ordeal. Shakespeare makes the audience understand that family conflicts have deep roots in current society, challenging people to seek appropriate means and strategies to prevent them. Arguably, society should strive towards achieving peace, respect, and happiness among families. Above all, there is a need for mutual responsibility and the application of critical thinking skills among spouses in solving different family issues to reduce domestic violence incidences.

Works Cited

Shakespeare, William. Othello. 11th ed., Classic Books Company, 2001.

Shepherd, Matthew. “To a Modern Audience, Othello is Simply Another Story of Domestic Violence.” The Conversation, 2016. Web.

Vanita, Ruth. “Proper Men and ‘Fallen’ Women: The Unprotectedness of Wives in Othello.” Global Humanities and Religions Faculty Publications, vol. 34, no. 2, 1994, pp. 341–356

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