Character Analysis on Desdemona's Loyalty to Othello
William Shakespeare has written many of the world’s finest tragedies to date. His stories have inspired many to fall in love, be wary of it when it comes, and defend love no matter what the circumstance. Shakespeare’s love stories which are often interlaced with tragedies have moved many people to do anything and everything they can in the name of love. The Tragedy of Othello, the Moor of Venice is one such story by the Bard. Featuring a romantic yet easily swayed husband, and a wife of unbelievable beauty and loyalty, The Tragedy of Othello tells the tragic story of how love can be susceptible to frailties. This literary essay will focus on the character analysis of Desdemona, particularly on her loyalty to Othello.
Summary of The Tragedy of Othello
The Tragedy of Othello started as a forbidden love affair in that Othello, the Moor , was a man not native to their land and is most likely from Africa or Spain. Othello is a man who has experienced war and many battles and wooed Desdemona with stories that tell of his adventures both in travel and in war. Desdemona had fallen in love with Othello because of his stories and had declared to her father that her loyalty lies with Othello from then on for they are married.
At the beginning of the story, a rich man named Roderigo was vying for Desdemona’s hand and had asked Iago, a man who begrudgingly serves Othello as an ensign, for assistance. It was then that Iago starts to formulate a scheme to get revenge on Othello for Othello overlooked Iago to promote as lieutenant – which is the reason for Iago’s grudge against Othello. They call out to Desdemona’s father and successfully roused him and made him follow Othello to tarnish his name and get his daughter back from the Moor. However, the duke approves of Desdemona and Othello’s marriage.
During a celebration called for by a victory, Iago continues to scheme. He planned to get the inexperienced soldier, Cassio, whom Othello promoted to the position of lieutenant, drunk and begin a fight in order to disgrace him and thus disgrace Othello for his decision to promote the man. An accident happened when Roderigo was sent by Iago to provoke Cassio which led to Cassio chasing Roderigo to the stage and a governor holding him down. Cassio stabs the governor in a drunken haze and Othello arrives at the commotion in what was supposed to be a joyous celebration.
This is where Iago’s schemes truly begin to unfold as he tells Cassio – who has been stripped of his rank – to get close to Desdemona to get back into Othello’s good graces. Iago attempts to frame that the two are having an affair once they have gotten close enough to each other. Soon enough, Othello’s jealousy sparks as he sees Cassio had met with his wife. This jealousy deepens when Desdemona appeals to Othello to reinstate Cassio’s rank. Sure that Othello will be enraged, Iago arranges for his wife to steal one of Desdemona’s handkerchiefs so that he may be able to plant it in Cassio’s room.
And so, when the matter of Desdemona being unfaithful comes up again, Othello demands to see proof to which Iago says that he has seen Desdemona wipe Cassio’s beard with the handkerchief that Othello gave to her. Othello, in a fit of jealousy, confronts Desdemona and demands her to produce the handkerchief – which of course was impossible to do – but Desdemona changes the subject to Cassio’s reinstatement which furthers Othello’s fury towards her and Cassio.
Consumed by jealousy, Othello goes as far as striking Desdemona and accusing his beloved wife of being a whore. Desdemona defends herself by saying that her loyalty and love belong only to Othello. Not only that but Othello killed Desdemona just because she was committing infidelity. Up until the end, Desdemona stood strong for her love for Othello and claimed that she had committed suicide instead of admitting that her beloved has killed her. After Othello has found out the truth, he despairs and wounds Iago before making a speech and killing himself with a sword he had hidden the entire time.
In contrary to many of Shakespeare’s heroines, Desdemona is a woman who knows what she wants and will stand her ground for it. Desdemona is not submissive to her husband or her father, she has no fear of rejecting the conventional and pursuing what she truly desires. She is sure about her decisions and has no intention of going back on her word. She has declared her love for Othello many times in the story without fear of judgment or conviction.
I am hitherto your daughter. But here's my husband,
And so much duty as my mother show'd
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor, my lord.
Here, Desdemona makes it clear to her father, who has come to take her back from Othello for he believed that Othello has stolen her daughter with the help of witchcraft and that even if she is his daughter, she would have to deny him of allegiance as her loyalty now lies with her husband. Her father does not want to believe this but Othello defended himself by explaining how Desdemona had approached him and asked him to retell his stories full of adventure and valor on the battlefield.
Because of Othello’s stories, Desdemona is inclined to love such a brave man thus Desdemona pledged her loyalty to Othello. Upon hearing the story, the duke, whom Desdemona’s father had hoped to convince to take his side, had shown that he is persuaded by Othello’s tale. When Desdemona enters the room, her father asked her to speak and say where her allegiance lies, in which Desdemona answered that it lies with Othello – much to the disappointment of her father. Desdemona’s father resigns from the argument he started because of her statement.
Do not doubt, Cassio,
But I will have my lord and you again
As friendly as you were.
Desdemona shows just how confident she is in Othello’s love for her – or their relationship so to speak. When Cassio approached her for help in mending his relationship with Othello (under Iago’s advice), Desdemona complies and gladly agrees to help the man for she is sure that Othello will listen to her pleas to reinstate Cassio. What Desdemona did not know is that she has fallen prey to Iago’s scheme. Desdemona’s kindness towards Cassio had been twisted into an act of unfaithfulness which set off Othello’s insecurities and made him jealous. Up until then, Othello still could not believe that such a beautiful woman as Desdemona had fallen in love with him and had pledged her loyalty to him alone.
I never did
Offend you in my life; never loved Cassio
But with such general warranty of heaven
As I might love.
Here, Desdemona defends herself against the accusations that Othello has cast upon her for he believed that she is being unfaithful to him and stealing moments with Cassio. She rejects his accusations for they truly never had happened as Desdemona is loyal to Othello through and through. She even says these as proof of her loyalty to Othello:
His unkindness may defeat my life
But never taint my love.
Beshrew me if I would do such a wrong
For the whole world.
In those statements, Desdemona wishes to convey how deep her loyalty is to her husband. She says that she will never consider being unfaithful to her husband. These statements of Desdemona truly show that she is the reflection of kindness, innocence, understanding, and truthfulness. She even conceded to the harshness Othello made her experience due to being deceived by Iago. Desdemona swore that she would love Othello up until her last breath even if his current treatment of her will be the cause of her death. She believed that she will come to make Othello open his eyes and understand that he has truly misunderstood and she hopes that he will come to see her integrity and utmost loyalty to him. It was not until the last moment that Desdemona realizes that her husband is intent on killing her for she could not believe that Othello could bear to harm her. In the end, she begged Othello to delay killing her – not to spare her life – for she believes that Othello has the right to take her life any time he wishes. And when asked who is to be blamed for taking her life she answers:
Nobody; I myself. Farewell;
Commend me to my kind lord. O, farewell!
Desdemona protects Othello until her last breath and refused to identify her husband as her murderer for this will surely tarnish his good name. Her complete allegiance, purity, and trust in Othello have been her downfall. Desdemona’s death is truly undeserved for she had only been completely loyal to Othello. If not for Iago’s deception, Othello would not have killed his beloved Desdemona out of unwarranted jealousy. Desdemona’s death is untimely for it was because of Iago’s deception that she had died. However, Othello is redeemed when he realizes his mistake and has had his belief in his wife restored – even if it was too late.
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Jamieson, Lee. “Shakespeare’s Desdemona and Othello: An Analysis.” ThoughtCo , 29 Mar. 2020, www.thoughtco.com/desdemona-and-othello-2984765.
Shakespeare, William, et al. Othello. 1st ed., Simon & Schuster, 1993.