Juxtaposition, Perception, and Virginity: How Othello, The White Devil, and The Wonder of Women Construct Fairness Through Womanhood Open Access

Purnell, Elizabeth (Spring 2021)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/fx719n69k?locale=en


Beginning in the mid-16th century in England, fairness began to be not only associated with the moral status of women and beauty, but also with skin color. This honors thesis examines how William Shakespeare’s Othello (1603-04), John Webster’s The White Devil (1612), and John Marston’s The Wonder of Women (1606) construct the fairness – physical, moral, or both – of their female characters through juxtaposition, perception, and virginity, respectively. In Othello, Desdemona’s fairness is constructed by the juxtaposition of her and Othello and her and Bianca, resulting in Desdemona being more physically fair than Othello but less morally fair than Bianca. Vittoria’s moral fairness is constructed in The White Devil through how several male characters – Flaminio, Bracciano, and Francisco – perceive Vittoria’s moral purity after she commits adultery and completes her punishment. Vittoria’s fairness is circumstantial, differing between each of the male characters. Lastly, in The Wonder of Women, Sophonisba’s fairness is constructed through her play-long status as a married virgin. Her moral purity flows over into her physical features, resulting in the whitewashing of the historical Sophonisba’s North African features.

Table of Contents

Introduction                                                                                                                                  1

1. Desdemona: Fairness Through Juxtaposition                                                                    6

2. Vittoria: Fairness Through Perception                                                                               23

3. Sophonisba: Fairness Through Virginity                                                                           39

Conclusion                                                                                                                                    54

Works Cited                                                                                                                                  57

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