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Let’s Explore: Desdemona, innocent wife

Before we explore the character of Desdemona, let us remind you how you can explore a Shakespearean character in any of our published plays.  If you haven’t tried out our  techniques of using ‘Parts and Cues’ and ‘Highlit Text’ to explore a Shakespeare character, then you’ll find it helpful to read the detailed explanation we give for the character Hamlet (click on Let’s Explore Hamlet).

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Desdemona, the inncocent wife:

You can explore any Shakespearean character in a play  published by Players-Shakespeare.com in a similar way. Here we help you explore Desdemona, Othello’s new wife.

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The story of Othello tells of a Moorish general, newly married, who has a  standard-bearer (‘ancient’), Iago, who hates him, and makes Othello think that his new wife, Desdemona, has been unfaithful too him. The jealous Othello murders Desdemona, and when he finds out the truth, kills himself. Our “Let’s Play” section will help you explore how Iago persuades Othello,  and how Desdemona deals with her husband’s jealousy, but here, we explore Desdemona’s character.

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It is quite clear that Desdemona is the innocent party in the play. She has not betrayed Othello and is faithful to her husband, even as she dies. However, does some of her behaviour spur Othello on in his disastrous behaviour?

  • We first meet Desdemona in A1S3, when she is brought before the Duke of Venice’s council, at Othello’s request who asks that she  ‘speak of me before her Father’. Desdemona arrives into a formidable situation: she is before the Duke of Venice’s state council and her father is very angry because she has eloped with Othello. Is she at all over-awed by the situation she finds herself? Click on the link to A1S3 in Parts and Cues format to read her three speeches and see for yourself.
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    In the first speech she addresses her angry father and tries to make him see that she now has divided loyalties: first, to her father to whom she owes duty; and second, to her new husband, just as her father’s wife (and all women who marry) added new loyalites to her father on marriage.
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    In the second and third speeches (read them as one, starting from ‘Most Gracious Duke’), she uses all her powers of persuasion, and they are rather sophisticated, to convince the Duke that she should go to Cyprus with her new husband, rather than stay at home with her father. She wins the argument.
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  • In A3S3, Desdemona has another try at persuading someone, Othello, of something. She wants Othello to reinstate Cassio as his lieutenant. This is a dialogue so it’s worth reading Desdemona’s speeches in Highlight Text format so you see Othello’s responses. Scroll down to Desdemona’s first speech to Othello, starting ‘How now my Lord?’,  and read until her speech ‘Shall I deny you? No, farewell, my Lord.’ just before her exit.
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In both these scenes, Desdemona comes across as a confident young woman, able to persuade others to get her way. In the two scenes, she uses different styles of persuasion: in the court she uses a more formal approach; with her husband the approach is more intimate and light; but in both scenes she tries hard to get her way: in the court she succeeds; in Cyprus she fails, and may have made things worse. Why?

Things have changed between A1S3 and A3S3. The play has moved from the court of Venice to an army camp in Cyprus, and this has changed quite a lot:

  • The sophisticated court of Venice has become the rougher culture of an army camp.
  • Her husband has changed from being her suitor, and an officer of state to being the commander of the army.
  • Commanders don’t like to change their minds, particularly in front of others

Perhaps Desdemona, in attempting to get Othello to change his mind in A3s3, doesn’t take into account this change of scene, and the fact that she’s trying to persuade Othello in public, in front of Emilia and Iago. And just perhaps, this shows some one used to getting their own way too easily.

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Of course, by reading the scenes above, you may well see things differently from what I’ve outlined above, but  you should come to clearer view of what you do think about the character of Desdemona. 🙂

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Let’s play!

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Richard Forsyth
‘The Director’
Players-Shakespeare.com

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