Othello and Desdemona: An Analysis

An Examination of Othello and Desdemona's Relationship

Marcelo Gomes as Othello and Julie Kent as Desdemona

Hiroyuki Ito / Getty Images

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

Desdemona Analysis

Too often played as a weak character, Desdemona is strong and bold, especially when it comes to Othello. She describes her commitment to him:

"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 One, Scene Three)

This quote demonstrates Desdemona's strength and bravery. Her father appears to be a controlling man, and she stands up to him. It is revealed that he has previously warned Roderigo of his daughter, saying “My daughter is not for thee,” (Act One, Scene One), but she takes control. She speaks for herself instead of letting her father speak for her, and she defends her relationship with Othello.

Othello Analysis

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

Othello and Desdemona's Relationship

Desdemona may have the choice of many suitable matches, but she chooses Othello, even despite his racial difference. In marrying a Moor, Desdemona flies in the face of convention and faces criticism, which she handles unapologetically. She makes it clear that she loves Othello and is loyal to him:

"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."
(Act One, Scene Three)

Othello explains that it was Desdemona who pursued him after she fell in love with his stories of valor: “These things to hear would Desdemona seriously incline," (Act One, Scene Three). This is another demonstration of her not being a submissive, passive character—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. As Othello mistreats her, Desdemona’s feelings are unwaning: “My love doth so approve him / That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns,” (Act Four, Scene Three). She is resolute in the face of adversity and remains committed to her husband.

Tenacity and Insecurity Lead to Tragedy

Desdemona combines rationality and tenacity in her final conversation with Othello. She does not shy away from her fear and bids for Othello to do the sensible thing and ask Cassio how he obtained her handkerchief. However, Othello is in too emotional a state to listen, and he has already ordered the lieutenant's murder.

This tenacity of Desdemona is partly what serves as her downfall; she continues to champion Cassio’s cause even when she knows this may create 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 Five, Scene Two).​

Then, despite facing death, Desdemona asks Emilia to commend her to her "kind lord." She remains in love with him, even while knowing that he is responsible for her death.