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Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”

Desdemona, the central character of Shakespeare’s play Othello, presents a combination of love, faith, and other bright features of the personality. Nevertheless, the power of the daughter of a Venetian Senator is hidden behind the scenes of her husband, Othello, and his comrades. Desdemona had gone through various hardships, such as leaving home to marry Othello in defiance of her father, betrayal of her husband, and his decision to kill her. Because of her obedience and commitment to follow the chosen path, Desdemona’s character is frequently perceived as being passive; however, only through small details, Shakespeare reveal her brave nature that is neglected by other characters. This essay will discuss Desdemona’s role and its specific features that support the idea of her being a powerful woman behind the drama of the mighty men.

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The image of Desdemona has frequently been considered passive and suffering in Othello. However, one can say that she had never been passive; the surrounding people and the environment perceived Desdemona as being inert and sluggish. Nevertheless, meeting with Desdemona was predetermined for Othello; she was sent to him in reward for suffering, courage, and service. It is not virtue, purity, or beauty that distinguishes Desdemona from those around her; she is noticed by the bright radiance with which she has illuminated her husband. Firstly, the facts that support the view of Desdemona’s character as being vivid and compelling are stated in quotes from Shakespeare: “…cunning’st pattern of excelling nature” (2:11).

Desdemona brings light to the life around her; this is her natural power. “But I do love thee! And when I love thee not, Chaos is come again,” – claims Othello (Shakespeare 3:101). Secondly, Shakespeare hides the meaning of Desdemona’s character behind the fight between Othello and Iago. The author’s interpretation of Desdemona as a force of light can only be noticed in the shifted focus from the confrontation between Othello and Iago to the deep, mystical contradiction between Desdemona and Iago (Melville). Shakespeare’s interpretation explains why Desdemona, as the protagonist of the tragedy, is viewed as passive because her bright nature is presented without any highlights.

The force of darkness, introduced by Iago, is much more agile and skilled in comparison to Desdemona’s light that exists in the play. Thirdly, carried away by his successes and victories, Othello takes Desdemona’s love for granted, he is not willing to understand how powerful his wife is. It is suggested that Othello’s tragedy stems from his failure to note the power of Desdemona’s love (“Tess and Desdemona”). One might say that if Othello had known how bright and powerful Desdemona is, he would not have accepted Iago’s lies and could have defeated the jealousy sown by the envious man.

The marriage of Othello and Desdemona is possible only if Desdemona breaks with her former environment, which shows her independence and willingness to fight for what she stands for. The statement is supported by the scenes, when Brabantio, her father, expels Desdemona from her home in Venice. The state of isolation in which Desdemona finds herself serves as Shakespeare’s tool for showing the incompatibility of Venetian society and people who are guided by the principles of love and truth that Desdemona has.

This scene represents Desdemona’s independence and commitment to her beloved husband despite challenges and social condemnation. The actions and words of Iago support the idea of Desdemona’s exceptional character in comparison to other citizens of Venezia. Iago is aware of her radiant nature and decides to question the high spiritual behavior of Desdemona. Iago translates Desdemona’s act to leave Venezia as an action based on lust: “Whereto we see in all things nature tends— Foh! One may smell in such a will most rank, Foul disproportion, thoughts unnatural…” (Shakespeare 3:280-283).

Iago needs to re-interpret Desdemona’s independence into a lust to convince Othello of his wife’s unfaithfulness. Finally, the narrative of craving unusual things, which allowed Desdemona to fall in love with Othello and marry him, also supports Desdemona’s independent nature. Othello was convinced that Desdemona was capable of treason partially because he encountered her freedom of decisions. Othello’s words highlight the idea: “Of years, of country, credit, everything, To fall in love with what she feared to look on!” (Shakespeare 1:115-116). Othello underestimated Desdemona’s fidelity, which led her to death at the hands of her husband.

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Shakespeare pays significant attention to Desdemona’s behavior and heroic nature that fights for truth and independence. However, only a close look at the character behind all men allows the reader to explore Desdemona’s power. Character’s speeches usually have a militant, heroic motive. “That I love the Moor to live with him My downright violence and storm of fortunes May trumpet to the world” – Desdemona claims, confirming her independent identity (Shakespeare 1:283-285).

Love for Othello is the highest truth for Desdemona, which shows her strong personality. Traits of heroism determine the entire role of Desdemona, starting with the first act, when a young patrician defies her environment, linking her fate forever with the Moor. The break with Venetian society that Desdemona is making is a decision that is heroic and bold. Several scenes show that in the name of truth, she is ready to lose everything she has. Furthermore, defining the ideal of beauty, Shakespeare wrote: “O how much more doth beauty beauteous seem, By that sweet ornament which truth doth give!” (Shakespeare 1-2).

These lines from a sonnet could serve as the most accurate epigraph to the role of Desdemona. Desdemona’s true beauty is in her decisiveness, truthfulness, without which there is no love, happiness, or life for her. Nevertheless, the theme of Desdemona’s heroism gets its full sound in the scene of her death. When Emilia asks who killed her, Desdemona answers: “Nobody. I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord” (Shakespeare 5:152-153). Leaving life because of Othello, Desdemona continues to love her husband and, at the last moment, tries to save Othello from the punishment that should fall on him for the crime committed.

To conclude, one might say that Desdemona’s role in Shakespeare’s play Othello is exceptional, but it is often perceived as passive and not worthy the attention. The character is hidden behind the scenes of powerful men.

The reader might not catch the essence of Desdemona’s behavior when the focus is on the confrontation between Othello and Iago. However, Desdemona’s speech is full of sincerity and simplicity, it has almost no verbal rhetoric, but the most profound thoughts are concealed in simple words. Desdemona’s decisions to leave home, to marry the Moor, to protect him despite the unfairness of his intention to kill her, show the character’s heroic nature. Desdemona fights for values she believes in, including love, truth, independence; this behavior makes her a unique and compelling character of Shakespeare’s tragedy Othello.

Works Cited

Melville, Alexandra. “Character Analysis: Iago in Othello.British Library. 2017. Web.

Shakespeare, William. Sonnets. Edited by Thomas Tyler, D. Nutt, 1890.

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Shakespeare, William. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice. Edited by Barbara A. Mowat and Paul Werstine, Folger Shakespeare Library, 2017.

Tess and Desdemona: Victims of Men and Civilization.TT Group. 2017. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 14). Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/

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StudyCorgi. (2022, January 14). Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”. https://studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/

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"Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”." StudyCorgi, 14 Jan. 2022, studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/.

1. StudyCorgi. "Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”." January 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/.


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StudyCorgi. "Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”." January 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/.

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StudyCorgi. 2022. "Examining the Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s “Othello”." January 14, 2022. https://studycorgi.com/examining-the-role-of-desdemona-in-shakespeares-othello/.

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