Desdemona can be regarded as a tragic victim. While she is a completely innocent character she is victimized and is killed by the end of the play by her husband. Iago’s plans to bring down Othello involves making him so jealous of Desdemona“to abuse Othello’s ear/That he is too familiar with his wife”. This plan succeeds and results in him attacking Desdemona, first verbally, “I took you for that cunning whore of Venice” and then physically, slapping her in Act IV and then smothering her in the final Act of the play.
Desdemona starts singing while preparing for bed. She has witnessed Othello’s change of character and does not understand why his behaviour has altered so dramatically. Desdemona explains that this song was sung by Desdemona’s mother’s servant and indeed she “died singing it”. The words in the song echo Desdemona’s situation. The man she loved had abandoned her. The use of a willow is important as a willow represents the idea of a woman being deserted by a lover.
Many argue that Desdemona is a submissive character as he does not seem to defend herself but instead seems to accept her situation. Despite Emilia’s concern about Othello’s instructions in Act IV to be alone and put the wedding sheets on the bed, Desdemona complies without question stating, “It was his bidding”. Even in her final moments she accepts her fate and states that it is not Othello’s fault but instead “I myself”.
Desdemona certainly seems compliant and even submissive. This is evident in her seeming acceptance of her fate, even on her death bed and her unwillingness to blame Othello. However, views about Desdemona are certainly varied. At the start of the play it is Desdemona who speaks out to the Duke to explain why she loves Othello. She is also willing to go to Cyprus where there was the expectation of war. In choosing Othello as her husband and marrying him in secret was in itself a brave decision as she knew the problems that could arise. While Desdemona does seem to accept her fate she does not do so without questioning. She states, “O banish me, my lord, but kill me not”. It could therefore be argued that Desdemona is a strong character and even a feminist. The portrayal of Desdemona does very much depend on the performance as this can alter whether she is regarded as a feminist or as submissive victim.
- What is the significance of the Willow Song?
- Your answer should include: Desdemona / Desdemona's / Own / Situation
- Give an example of how Desdemona can be seen as submissive?
- Your answer should include: Not / Defend / Defending / Herself / Accepts / Fate / Doesn't / Blame / Othello
- Give an example of how Desdemona can be seen as a strong female?
- Your answer should include: Cyprus / Choose / Question / Othello