Sunday, November 6, 2016
Desdemona is a central character in William Shakespeare's popular play, Othello. She is a young Venetian beauty, who is adored by her father, Brabantio. She goes against traditional Venetian custom by marrying an outsider, a black man named Othello, instead of one of the rich Venetian men she is expected to marry.
Desdemona is a more plausible and well-rounded figure. But, some critics point out that she is weak and submissive.
“My noble father, I do perceive here a divided duty”
Here, “divided duty” means her duty towards her father as a daughter and her duty towards Othello as a lover. Finally, she gives priority to her lover, not to her beloved father, who deeply loves her. Brabantio is highly worried about his daughter’s adamant decision to elope with Othello.
This is how Brabantio expresses his displeasure regarding his daughter before the Duke:
“She has deceiv’d her father and may thee.”
Some other critics emphasize that she is full of lust and sexually mad with Othello’s energetic and dynamic personality. Othello’s bravery and reputation absolutely attracts her. Her humanity is highlighted when she attempts to persuade Othello to forgive Cassio, who has been dismissed due to Iago’s secret plan. But, she never thinks that Iago will manipulate her weakness to defend Cassio.
Desdemona is at times a submissive character, most notably in her willingness to take credit for her own murder. In response to Emilia’s question,
“O, who hath done this deed?”
Desdemona’s final words are,
“Nobody, I myself. Farewell.”
Here, too, she seems to defend her husband. The play depicts Desdemona contradictorily as a self-effacing, faithful wife and as a bold, independent personality. This contradiction may be intentional and it is meant to portray the way Desdemona herself feels after defending her choice of marriage.
The manner, in which Desdemona is murdered, smothered by a pillow in a bed covered in her wedding sheets is symbolic. She is literally suffocated beneath the demands put on her fidelity.
She knows definitely that Othello is going to kill her. At that time, she most humbly appeals to him:
“Kill me tomorrow, let me live tonight”
She further begs her husband to give her at least half an hour to be with him, but humble request fails.
“But half an hour”
Yet, evil Othello hardly listens to her. He brutally murders his lovely angel, who remains faithful to him eternally.
Tragically, Desdemona is apparently aware of her imminent death. She asks Emilia to put her wedding sheets on the bed and she asks Emilia to bury her in these sheets should she die first. The last time we see Desdemona before she awakens to find Othello standing over her with murder in his eyes.
Like the audience, Desdemona seems able only to watch as her husband is driven insane with jealousy. Though she maintains to the end that she is “guiltless,” Desdemona also forgives her husband. Her forgiveness of Othello may help the audience forgive him as well. Desdemona utters her last words:
“A guiltless death, I die,”