Othello - The Willow Scene is a comparatively brief but intimate conversation between two women
Analyse its dramatic
qualities and show its social and historical context.
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The Willow scene begins on a tense atmosphere between Lodovico, Desdemona and Othello.
It is clear that Lodovico is very embarrassed about the events of the evening, this is when Othello had hit Desdemona (Lodovico’s cousin) in public. Othello is still angry with Desdemona and speaks to her very bluntly.
“Get you to bed on th’instant. I will be returned forthwith. Dismiss your attendant there. Look’t be done.”
So as not to anger Othello further Desdemona obeys every word.
Lodovico also makes his feelings very clear when he tells Othello politely that he doesn’t want to spend time and walk with him, due to his embarrassment.
“I do beseech you sir, trouble yourself no further.”
It is odd how just these few sentences portray a sense of doom, anger, and danger for the rest of the scene, which is no more than a conversation between two women which is so intimate, the scene has become famous for its content and emotion.
Desdemona is seen differently during this scene; a mature side of her mind is shown, but also her vulnerability as a young girl, in a difficult and confusing situation.
“How goes it now? He looks gentler than he did,” says Emilia.
This statement from Emilia is very ironic, as it is known to the reader or audience that Othello is ready to kill Desdemona. However, because Desdemona is trying to please Othello she tells Emilia to go.
“It was his bidding; therefore, good Emilia, give me my nightly wearing, and adieu. We must not now displease him”.
Desdemona’s love for Othello is so strong that she would do anything to please him, she values him greatly and actually closes her mind to anyone criticising him. Desdemona then begins to have different premonitions of death and Emilia is the one who hears these deep thoughts of Desdemona’s.
“If I do die before thee, prithee shroud me in one of those same sheets”.
This is a very strange thing that Desdemona says to Emilia. It is as if Desdemona has an evil foreboding, a feeling of something bad that will happen that night, as if she senses doom. Why would Desdemona want to be wrapped in her wedding sheets? It seems that her love for Othello is so strong she never wants to be parted from her memories.
When Desdemona begins to talk to Emilia about Barbary and her song of Willow a sense of sadness overcomes us. It is also ironic how she speaks of Barbary singing the song whilst dying, and how it would not leave Desdemona’s mind.
“She had a song of Willow; an old thing twas but it expressed her fortune, and she died singing it. That song tonight will not go from my mind.”
Emilia’s reaction to Desdemona’s behaviour seems sympathetic however she replies to Desdemona in a chirp and happy way, maybe so to cheer her up.
Desdemona requests to Emilia “No, unpin me here.” This passage is a very important part of the scene because, as Desdemona undresses in front of the audience, she is left in her underwear. This would show Desdemona’s vulnerability plus she would be exposed to hundreds of strangers. Desdemona would look fragile and defenceless to the audience.
In her sorrow Desdemona begins to sing the song of Willow. Throughout the song it is made clear that Desdemona is feeling uneasy about herself and surroundings, also maybe what she thinks might happen when Othello returns. Desdemona acts very nervously whilst singing as she keeps drifting in and out of song.
“Sing all a green Willow must be my garland. ‘Let nobody blame him; his scorn I approve – Nay, that’s not next. Hark, who’ist that knocks?'”
“It’s the wind.”
It is obvious that Othello’s return to the chamber is playing on Desdemona’s mind; the latter quote is a good example of this. Her physical actions also show her nervous tendencies.
“So get thee gone; good night. Mine eyes do itch – does that bode weeping?”
Once Desdemona refrains from singing she then asks Emilia about Adultery and unearthly sin in those times, she reveals that she finds it very shocking and can’t believe people do it. Emilia is very realistic at this point and very pragmatic, she admits that she would be unfaithful to Iago but for something worthy in return. Desdemona like many young people, she is very naï¿½ve and this naivety is stronger due to her being so deeply in love, however she finds Emilia’s honesty shocking.
“Would’st thou do such a deed for all the world?”
“The world’s a huge thing; it is a great price for a small vice.”
Emilia’s personality is brought out during the scene, she is a practical woman and very different to the young Desdemona. Emilia’s last comments towards the end of the scene are from the mind of an early modern feminist.
“I do think it is their husbands faults if wives do fall.”
“Let husband’s know their wives have sense like them; they see, and smell, and have their palates both for sweet and sour as husband’s have.”
Emilia believes in a woman with independence and equality to men, unlike Desdemona who only believes in ideal love that is supposed to last forever.
The Willow scene is a very dramatic scene, as it goes through many emotions and feelings. It first begins with embarrassment and tension, then moves to sadness and confusion for love and finally shock and understanding about the minds of different women.
The conversation between Desdemona and Emilia may only be brief, but it contains the feelings of two women who both have difficult lives. It is very touching how the audience/reader sees Desdemona as a helpless young girl in love, the feeling of pity for her would be how I would describe how I felt. Where as Emilia is seen as a mature young lady with many ‘rebellious’ plans against marriage and men in particular. Desdemona is still seen as an innocent and pure young woman right through to the end of the scene.
It is also sad how really deep down I think she knows that she hasn’t much time left before either danger or maybe death occurs, which is all down to her only love Othello. I think this is maybe why she prays to God before the scene ends maybe because Desdemona hopes to be safe from any trouble approaching.
“Good night, good night. God me such uses send, not to pick bad from bad, but by bad to mend.”