To What Extent Is Desdemona Presented as a Tragic Victim in Othello? Essay
To what extent is Desdemona presented as a tragic victim in the play ‘Othello’? Desdemona, the daughter of Venetian senator Brabantio, is captivated by Othello’s fables of bravery as a warrior and she falls in love with him. In view of the fact that Desdemona is a “fair” woman and Othello is “an old black ram”, commonly referred to as ‘the Moor’, their marriage indicates that her fate might be tragic. In ‘Othello’, Desdemona is portrayed as a courageous young woman whose character is used against her in plotting her death.
The particularly unfortunate event is the irony that the very qualities of her personality that make her a good woman defeated her. Evidently, Desdemona does not start off as a victim. She in fact had an aspect of bravery to her character demonstrated in pointing out to her father that she does “perceive here a divided duty”. As the daughter of a Venetian senator, Desdemona was daring enough to make decisions against her father’s decrees and take control of her life as a young woman reminding him, “I am hitherto your daughter.
But here’s my husband”, so as much duty to him he once expected from her mother so shall she grant her husband. Her response to her father is full of brave gracefulness and this demonstrates a heroic face to her character. The society in ‘Othello’ was overwhelmed with hatred for interracial marriages and prejudice for the inferior social class. Racist abuse is demonstrated in Iago’s dialogue with Roderigo early in the play where Othello is referred to as “an abuser of the world” who “practiced on her with foul charms” regarding his race and sexual relationship with her.
Desdemona’s choice to marry him despite the views of Venice at the time complements her bravery and not only does she dishonour her father, she also shows contempt for the culture and attitudes towards sex, gender and race. Brabantio objects to the relationship demanding from Desdemona, “where most you owe obedience? ” who gives a diplomatic response letting her father know that “so much duty as” her mother showed him, so shall she “profess due to the Moor”, her husband. Her response was brave, thus allowing her to stand above the position of women in society.
Despite Desdemona’s bravery about her relationship, Brabantio’s remark to Othello that Desdemona “has deceived her father and may thee” indicates a disastrous event in the future and it recurs in Act 3 Scene 3 when Iago says “she did deceive her father, marrying” Othello. Shakespeare introduces a couple with innocent love and at the same time, he introduces a malcontent who seeks revenge, metaphorically disguising himself as an honest person, thus bringing Desdemona to her tragic fall.
There is dramatic irony as the audience know Iago’s true intentions through his soliloquys and the couple deem Iago a fellow of “exceeding honesty”. Desdemona’s downfall begins when Iago proceeds to “abuse Othello’s ear” as he is “too familiar” with his wife. He then reveals his plan to convince Othello that Desdemona is having an affair with Cassio. Cassio speaks of Desdemona with utmost respect and admiration, referring to her as “the riches of the ship”, but as pleasant as this appears. “I thank you, valiant Cassio”, replies Desdemona, showing a mutual respect between both characters.
Yet again, Shakespeare makes use of dramatic irony when Cassio thanks “honest Iago” but the audience know of Iago’s skilful plan that initiates tragedy. “Be thou assured, good Cassio, I will do all my abilities in thy behalf”, Desdemona assures him just as Iago exclaims “Ha! I like not that” in the presence of Othello. Thereafter, Desdemona’s tragic expedition commenced as it should be for the sake of Cassio’s reinstatement. Subsequently, a number of Desdemona’s speech foreshadows her later death. She said she would “rather die than give” Cassio’s “cause away” and it is a tragedy that she eventually does die for Cassio.
The manipulative liar in Iago and his ability to adjust his way of thinking according to who he speaks to allows him undo Othello’s mentality and imagination with thoughts of Cassio and Desdemona interacting sexually, which brings about Desdemona’s untimely death. Her ignorance to how her innocent friendship with Cassio will turn against her is exactly how she’s a tragic victim. Othello suddenly develops “a pain upon” his forehead and Desdemona, being the unfaltering wife she is, presses her handkerchief against his forehead. “He puts the handkerchief from him, and she drops it”.
Shakespeare uses stage direction to create a sense of tension and also build up the tragic aftermath as that handkerchief had a huge sentimental value to Desdemona’s relationship with Othello. Hereafter, it is evident that Desdemona is a tragic victim because that handkerchief was her “first remembrance from the Moor”. Shakespeare builds up tension because of the severe importance of that handkerchief in Desdemona’s relationship with Othello. Once Othello has his evidence, his way of taking vengeance was “to loathe” Desdemona.
He determined she did wrong and she deserved to be doomed. Shakespeare transposes the language of Othello in referral to Desdemona towards the end of the play. Othello genuinely loves Desdemona, but he loses love for her and he exhibits this through language. From calling her “fair” and “virtuous”, he calls her a “fair devil” and to him, Desdemona is the “cunning whore of Venice that married” with him. Shakespeare also uses stage direction to show the change in the relationship of Desdemona and Othello when he and Iago take a vow by kneeling.
The act of kneeling recurs further in the play but it is in contrast to Iago and Othello’s kneeling. Desdemona’s kneeling is solitary and this indicates her isolation and unawareness of Iago’s pitiful actions. On the day of her death, Othello orders Desdemona to await him in bed where she talks with Emilia of her love for him, and death. There is a sense of attachment between both ladies that doesn’t seem to exist in the relationship with their husbands as they have both been rejected by the men they are in love with.
Iago’s insinuations and Desdemona drove Othello mad and he has now forsaken her. After Desdemona’s fate is sealed, Shakespeare introduces a sad song from Desdemona’s childhood, the “willow song”, which is a very melancholy song of profound grief and death as Desdemona prepares for bed. Whether she knows that she is preparing for her death or not, she certainly does have a sense that Othello will kill her but “his scorn” she approves. The song is a moment of inevitability because she is fated. Desdemona has therefore been rendered powerless.
The tragic irony occurs when Desdemona’s fate is becoming inevitable, and the person who orchestrated it is pretending to be her friend. Desdemona is first in this situation because of her friendship with Cassio, and talking to Iago as a friend is another cause of her downfall, thus making her a tragic victim. As much as Desdemona is a tragic victim, she has the attributes of a tragic heroine, dying for the love of a man. Shakespeare uses this act to symbolise a form of strength in the woman.
Although she expresses her distress and bewilderment at Othello’s treatment of her, she manages to display the strength she possessed in maintaining her dignity whilst responding to his insolent remarks. After Desdemona is made powerless, Shakespeare introduces a quick Emilia who has worked out the means of Othello’s actions, but she failed to realise it was her husband. Emilia’s fatal mistake was handing that handkerchief over to Iago. Desdemona revives briefly to protect her husband in her dying breath.
She does acknowledge that she was “falsely murdered” and she dies “a guiltless death”, but she also goes on to claim nobody killed her but herself. Telling a lie to protect her murderer seems a foolish action from Desdemona’s side but it also shows her bravery in tragedy. She requests to “send for the man” who Othello claimed she was sexually involved with and this act refers back to Act 1, when Othello called for Desdemona to support his declaration when accused of abduction by Brabantio.
Ironically, Othello refuses to hear what Cassio, who is the key witness in this case, has to say, and he merely accuses her of perfidy. Desdemona’s death is tragic because she was innocent, but Othello was very disbelieving and strangling her represented “justice” in his eyes. She is a dramatic character who recognises that “his unkindness may defeat” her life, “but never taint” her love. And ultimately, she dies for nothing, and still loved the man that murdered her. Although she is a tragic victim, Desdemona died a tragic heroine for the cause of which she died.