Traditional Venetian Beliefs
In Othello, Desdemona is a beautiful, young, white, Venetian woman of high class. For all the false claims of righteousness and honesty of some other characters, Desdemona is the most direct and innocent speaker in the play. She defies the expectations of her father and the rest of society and marries Othello—an older black man and an outsider to the society. 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). Although her marriage to Othello causes her father a lot of sadness, she confidently stands by her love for Othello and says she will stay devoted to him regardless. She explains that although she loves and respects her father, as a married woman she must honor her duty as a wife and her duties as a daughter come second. The unlikely relationship between Desdemona and Othello shows how strong Desdemona was and how she disregarded many of the societal norms. However, the abnormality of this relationship also leads to many problems for these two characters. Desdemona undergoes a transformation throughout the play. In the beginning of the play, Desdemona was a strong woman who defied traditional Venetian beliefs, but as the story goes on, as her relationship weakens, her strength diminishes. She becomes less independent and strong, and more passive and obedient.
Although he was a better husband than the other male characters in the play, Othello’s jealousy and insecurities easily let him turn against Desdemona through Iago’s words. At the end of the play, after Iago successfully frames Desdemona as a disloyal and unfaithful wife in Othello’s eyes.. In this way, Desdemona appears as an object to both Othello and Iago. Iago simply uses her as a tool catalyzing his plot to destroy Othello and his happiness. Despite her loyalty to her husband, Othello physically and verbally abuses Desdemona. He slaps her and calls her a whore in public. Despite all these false accusations, Desdemona remains strong and suppresses her pain. By the play's end, Desdemona is so beaten down that she is very passive when Othello strangles her. As she dies, she tragically blames herself for Othello's physical and emotional abuse. Her marriage to Othello brought her prosperity and happiness, so much so that she finds it almost impossible to believe that her husband has turned against her and could behave as he was. It was so unthinkable that a man of color, an outsider to society, would turn against his own wife who was of such a high standing. This perspective lasts until she sees that Othello legitimately plans to kill her. She then puts up a strong, brave defense, insisting on her innocence. Through all of this, out of despair from losing the love of her husband, Desdemona continues to defend him. She devoted herself to loving him; and once this love is lost, she can no longer continue to live as she did. Desdemona’s behavior is also very significantly influenced by her naturally good virtue when she seeks to help Cassio. This righteousness and purity proved to be much too large and thus very damaging to herself and the people around her. She says, “My lord shall never rest: I’ll watch him tame and talk him out of patience; his bed shall seem a school, his board a shrift; I’ll intermingle everything he does with Cassio’s suit” (3, iii, 24-28). Desdemona speaks out for Cassio out of concern for a friend, not infatuation as Othello starts to believe. Her incentive to help Cassio is sincere and pure. Desdemona sees Cassio’s righteousness and morality and wants to help restore him to his rightful place as lieutenant. With this perspective and plan, Desdemona insists that Othello does not wait because to appoint him because Cassio’s mistake was not worth punishing him for and he is very sorry. She confidently defends Cassio’s loyalty to Othello. However, soon Desdemona learns that her actions to help Cassio have weakened her relationship with Othello and she thus wants to win Othello back. She unfortunately turns to Iago for advice and assurance. Desdemona gradually becomes more inclined to justify her innocence and loyalty to Othello. Once Desdemona comes to the realization that proving her innocence and love is a lost cause and accepts her failed marriage, she begins forgives Othello and takes full responsibility for his anger and her own eventual death. It is evident from this ending of the play that a major obstacle for Desdemona is her purity, virtuous, and innocence being. It is almost as if she is unaware of the purity she possesses since her goodness is natural. Therefore, she is easily left open and vulnerable to more manipulative and toxic individuals like Othello and Iago, who ultimately ruin her life.
Ultimately, Desdemona submits to all the forces against her and finds herself as the one at fault for all the problems. Her self-blame is especially clear during the time leading to her death. She says, “That song tonight will not go from my mind. I have much to do, but to go hang my head all at one side and sing it like poor Barbary” (4, iii, 32 – 35). After she is strangled by Othello, in her dying words she says, “Nobody. I myself. Farewell. Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell” (5, ii, 151 – 152). This shows her evident weaknesses for being such a pure, righteous character in the play. Even though she is falsely killed, attacked, and abused, she continues to defend her love for Othello, showing her true strength and faith. Desdemona is very strong, independent, and confident at the beginning of the play. However, she is tragically weakened by society and the norms for women and people of color which eventually lead to her death.