The Paradox of Masculinity

A Social Examination of Male Aggression and Destruction in Shakespeare’s Othello

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Society expects that true masculinity is presented in the form of aggression.

Othello represents this male hostility with disturbing metaphors, comparing his “bloody thoughts” of violence “to the Pontic sea” and its “icy current and compulsive course” (Shakespeare 3.3.450-4).

Othello’s speech, mannerism, and style all come to reflect his acceptance of “the social belief that violence is an appropriate masculine response” for most situations (Nel 7).

Othello becomes an overwhelmed man, aggressive and hostile in response to society’s unfair expectations.


Those possessing this violent masculine identity, however, often feel the need to display their male aggression.

Othello’s masculinity soon turns into a frenzied anger, which is depicted as he talks madly to himself that “It is the cause, it is the cause/…It is the cause…/… she must die” (Shakespeare 5.2.1-6).

Othello is now beleaguered with an “anxiety to assert masculinity;” his wild repetitions characteristic of his fretfulness to meet social expectations (Rosen 1).

Othello uneasily awaits a chance to prove his male identity because his society requires that he clearly demonstrate his masculine attributes.

Many men, however, become so overwhelmed in the process of attempting to prove their worth that they are met by selfdestruction in the process.


After asserting himself, Othello is confronted with humiliating disgrace and is described as “Perplexed in the extreme,” a man confused, wronged, and desecrated (Shakespeare 5.2.342).

Othello finally makes his mark, attempting to appease the social “conceptions of man…[as] uncivilized monsters” (Lowenthal 2).

And, as he becomes corrupted by society’s expectations, Othello “achieves masculine ‘success’” marked by violence and murder; however this “success society offers involves [his] selfdestruction” in the process (Meisenhelder 2).

Othello becomes entangled within this confusing web of expectations, for when he tries to assert his masculinity, he is only met by personal disgrace.

Society expects that a man of respectable success is aggressive, responsive, and commanding over his life, the domineering masculine type who is both violent and uncivilized.

This preconception of the aggressive male persona, however, creates a situation in which those who become masculine, as society defines it, cannot survive.

This is the paradox of masculinity, that the definitions and expectations of the male persona deemed by our societies are unrealistic, detrimental, and ultimately self-destructive.

By: Baldwin