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Desdemona from Othello: Character Analysis, Lesson & Quiz

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Shamekia Thomas

Shamekia has taught English at the secondary level and has her doctoral degree in clinical psychology.

Desdemona is a central character in William Shakespeare's 'Othello'. Explore an analysis of Desdemona's character, learn about the significance of her role in the story, and test your knowledge with a quiz.

Introduction

In sixteenth century Venetian society, there were distinct customs to be followed regarding sex, gender, and race. Desdemona is a central character in William Shakespeare's popular play Othello. She is a young Venetian beauty who is adored by her father, Brabanzio. 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.

Othello tells the story of the demise of Desdemona and Othello's relationship due to mistrust on the part of Othello and lies told by Iago, a man who wants to ruin their marriage. Shortly after they marry, Othello and Desdemona announce their marriage, which is not customary in Venetian society. Desdemona is not concerned about her husband's ancestry or the disapproval she receives from others. On the other hand, Othello is insecure about being an outsider and chooses to believe Iago's report that Desdemona is cheating on him rather than believe his wife is faithful.

Character Analysis

In the beginning of the play, Desdemona was a strong woman who defied traditional Venetian beliefs, but as the story goes on, her strength is weakened and her relationship with her husband diminishes. Her independence slowly shifts over to obedience.

Independent

Othello explains that Desdemona is marrying him because he is adventurous and she loves his stories and lifestyle. Othello is a strong, popular, and well-respected soldier. When questioned by her father about her husband she states, 'but here's my husband, and so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord' ( Act 1 Scene 3 lines 184-188).

She confidently tells her father that she will be loyal to her husband just as her mother had been to him. When discussing her love for Othello, Desdemona states, 'that I did love the Moor to live with him, my downright violence and storm of fortunes may trumpet to the world' (Act 1 Scene 3 lines 247-249).

Desdemona can also be seen as naïve about relationships. She asks her friend and attendant Emilia if it is possible for a woman to cheat on her husband, which she is later accused of doing. When she hears Iago criticize women, Desdemona tells his wife Emilia, 'do not learn of him, Emilia, though he may be thy husband' (Act II Scene1 lines 163-164). Desdemona does not believe there is anything wrong with a woman standing up to a man when she thinks he is wrong. Her beliefs quickly change when she tries to talk to Othello on Cassio's behalf.

Obedient

Despite her strength at the beginning of the play, Desdemona slowly loses her voice and independence. When Desdemona comes to the defense of Cassio and encourages Othello to reinstate his title as lieutenant, Othello is firm and lets Desdemona know he will not do what she wants him to do. When her husband begins to think she is unfaithful, Desdemona has to convince him that she is an obedient wife.

Despite Othello's distrust and physical and verbal abuse, Desdemona remains loyal to him and their marriage even at her death. When Desdemona continues to demand action from Othello, he strikes her in anger and calls her a 'devil.' (Act 4, Scene 1 line 235). After this interaction, she becomes less independent and more obedient to her husband.

Eventually Desdemona feels silenced and states, 'I ha' none. Do not talk to me, Emilia, I cannot weep, nor answers have I none' when Emilia asks her a question (Act 4, Scene 2 lines 105-106). She no longer wants to speak and denies having a husband. In the end, Desdemona's voice is silenced and she takes credit for her own murder. She states, 'nobody, I myself' when questioned about who harmed her. Although she lived most of her life independently, Desdemona dies submissively and weakened.

Lesson Summary

Through the course of the play Othello, Desdemona's character evolves and develops. In the beginning of the play, Desdemona was a strong woman who defied traditional Venetian beliefs, but as the story goes on, her strength is weakened and her relationship with her husband diminishes. She is not able to defend herself against lies of infidelity because she was too naïve to notice her husband's distrust of her. She behaves innocently towards her husband and others, remains loyal to her husband, and eventually dies at his hands.

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