Desdemona and Othello

An Analysis of Desdemona and Othello's Relationship

American Ballet Theater presents 'Othello' at the Metropolitan Opera House on Tuesday night, May 22, 2007.This image;Marcelo Gomes as Othello and Julie Kent as Desdemona
Othello and Desdemona at the Metropolitan Opera.

 

Hiroyuki Ito /Getty Images

At the heart of Shakespeare's "Othello" is the doomed romance between Desdemona and Othello. They are in love, but poor Othello can't get past his self-doubt as to why such a lovely creature would love him. This leaves his mind susceptible to the tragic poisoning by the scheming Iago, even though sweet Desdemona has done nothing wrong. 

Desdemona Analysis

Too often played as a weak character, Desdemona is strong and bold. She defies her father:

“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).

This quote demonstrates her strength and her bravery. Her father appears to be a very controlling man, but she stands up to him. It is revealed that he has previously warned Roderigo off his daughter: “My daughter is not for thee” (Act 1, Scene 1, line 99), and she takes control so that he is unable to speak for her.

Desdemona and Othello

She, having the choice of many a more suitable match, chooses a man despite his racial difference. In marrying a black man, Desdemona flies in the face of convention and unapologetically faces criticism for her bold choice. It could be argued that she loved him because of his racial ​difference, if she meant to shock her father. 

As Othello explains, it is Desdemona who pursued him after she fell in love with his stories of valor: “These things to hear would Desdemona seriously incline” (Act 1 Scene 3, line 145). This also shows that she is not a submissive, passive character in that she decided she wanted him, and she pursued him.

Desdemona, unlike her husband, is not insecure. Even when called a "whore," she remains loyal to him and resolves to love him despite his misunderstanding of her. She is resolute and tenacious in the face of adversity.

On the subject of her relationship with Othello, Desdemona says:

"That I did love the Moor to live with him,​

My downright violence and storm of fortunes

May trumpet to the world: my heart's subdued

Even to the very quality of my lord:

I saw Othello's visage in his mind,

And to his honour and his valiant parts

Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.

So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,

A moth of peace, and he go to the war,

The rites for which I love him are bereft me,

And I a heavy interim shall support

By his dear absence. Let me go with him."

Desdemona’s Tenacity

Desdemona is one of the only characters early in the play who stands up to Iago: "Oh, fie upon thee, slanderer” (Act 2 Scene 1, Line 116). She is astute and bold.

She bids Othello to do the sensible thing and ask Cassio how he obtained her handkerchief, but this is too rational for Othello, who has already ordered his murder. Her tenacity partly serves as her downfall; she continues to champion Cassio’s cause even when she knows this may cause problems for her. When she wrongly believes him to be dead, she openly weeps for him as she clearly sets out she has nothing to be ashamed of “I never did/Offend you in my life, never loved Cassio” (​Act 5 Scene 2, lines 66–67).​

Desdemona’s love for Othello is unwaning: “My love doth so approve him/That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns—/Prithee unpin me—have grace and favour in them” (Act 4 Scene 3, lines 18–20).

Even as Desdemona faces death, she asks Emilia to commend her to her "kind lord." She remains in love with him, knowing that he is responsible for her death.

Othello Analysis

Othello might be impressive on the battlefield, but his own personal insecurity leads to the tragic end of the story. He admires and loves his dear wife very much, but he can't believe that she would be in love with him. So Iago's crazy lies about Cassio just feed into Othello's self-doubt, to the point that Othello doesn't even believe the truth when he hears it. He just believes the "evidence" that fits with his skewed, incorrect perception borne from his own insecurity. He cannot believe in reality, for it seems too good to be true.