Did Desdemona meet a fate undeserved?

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  • Post last modified:July 19, 2018

A CHARACTER ANALYSIS OF DESDEMONA

Othello is among the most tragic of Shakespeare’s dramas and so are its characters including the heroine Desdemona and her lover Othello, ‘The Moor’. Most characters in the novel meet an undeserved fate. Of all the deaths that happen in Othello, Desdemona’s is the most tragic and undeserved. She is a graceful beauty and loyal to her love. Othello falls in love with her at the first sight. Her beauty, loyalty, grace and innocence are her most important traits. She is good and kind hearted and from a noble family but lacks the penetrating wit of Portia. Compared to Portia, Desdemona seems passive, meek and submissive.  Her innocence is her primary weakness that leads her to death. At the core of the drama are the love and personal relationships and their inbuilt vulnerabilities. Suspicion leads to loss of trust and relationships are spoilt to the extent that both the lovers are dead by the end. From the outset of the drama it’s visible that Desdemona is just as innocent as she is pretty.

Othello falls in love with her and persuades her to elope with him. He tells her the stories of his victories in the battle field. Desdemona is deeply impressed because the two fall in love and elope leaving Desdemona’s father and home behind. Once they are gone, Iago reaches her father Brabantio  and raises the hell about their elopement.  He does it all to provoke Brabantio to complain against Othello before the Duke. All throughout the drama Desdemona loves Othello and remains loyal to him. However, her fate is the poorest of all the Shakespeare’s heroines because when it is time to prove her loyalty she looks at a loss. She does not get love and loyalty in exchange for her love. Instead she has to court death at the hands of her lover. She has done nothing to deserve this fate but then she has kept losing control not long after she and Othello get married.

Things go on happily for some time between Othello and Desdemona and their relationship continues to bloom for a while. Their romance is spoiled once Iago decides to doom their relationship and executes his evil plan. Love’s vulnerability lies in trust and as it weakens hatred is born. Something similar happens with Othello whose trust in Desdemona’s fidelity is weakened after Iago cleverly injects suspicion in his mind.  Othello does love Desdemona deeply, but he cannot overcome his suspicion. Enemy’s (Iago’s) moves worked and the brave general could not survive the misery of being called a cuckold. Desdemona herself is not so clever either. She has escaped against her father’s will and he would no more like to have her back. Her husband does not trust her like he did when they had newly fallen in love.

She is clueless why she has lost Othello’s love and become an object of his suspicion. Othello is brave but not wise enough to understand Iago’s evil intentions. Desdemona dreams of leading a peaceful and romantic life with her brave and romantic general. However, fate has decided otherwise and future holds things in stock that are quite unfortunate for the young couple. Iago tries his best to make a controversy out of their love story but fails because of Othello’s influence as a general. Othello and Desdemona start living a peaceful life after the general is posted in Cyprus, but Iago is still behind them trying to make their life hell for he seeks revenge from Othello.

In act 3, scene 4 she is talking to Emilia about her lost handkerchief and how people are poisoning Othello’s mind behind her.

Believe me, I had rather have lost my purse
Full of crusadoes. And, but my noble Moor
Is true of mind and made of no such baseness
As jealous creatures are, it were enough
To put him to ill thinking. (Act 3 scene 4)

Desdemona has some inkling of things going wrong between her and her husband but cannot do anything because she is rendered helpless by her innocence and complete devotion to her love. Basically, Iago has made her lose control of her affairs turning her into a poor scapegoat. First, she lost her father when she left with the Moor,  then Iago took away her loving husband without whose love and trust she has even lost herself. Her marriage with Othello had brought her pride and position and she would have been leading a happy life, had not it been for the evil machinations of Iago. She is beautiful and demonstrates all the characteristics of a lady from a noble family.

Othello cannot initially believe what he is told about Desdemona because he cannot doubt his own senses that  he may have been wrong at judging her, but then his color and his inferiority complex  affect his judgement. Iago brilliantly orchestrates the entire drama killing the two. Neither is Emilia able to expose the truth nor Othello can find it out till the end. Desdemona is virtuous and should not have met the tragic end she did . Yet, it is her innocence that despite trying her best she cannot prove her fidelity before Othello. Rest of the credit goes to Iago who brilliantly orchestrates the entire drama using every character skillfully. Desdemona is not foolish but still she is ignorant. Not knowing what goes on behind her back she just believes in her love and hopes things to get fine again.

The audience’s sympathy still remains with Desdemona for her goodness. She is adored by her lover, her father and the people she comes across. She loses control of her love and her life. This also makes her fail to convince Othello. Othello has to bear the pain of being cuckolded (even if that is not true). At last Iago’s plan has worked; however he is caught at the end and has to die.  Desdemona is pure and gentle but all her goodness makes her a vulnerable target for Iago who has cruelly led the innocent beauty and her marital relationship to their death,  just for the sake of revenge.

All throughout until his own death, Iago cunningly makes the general believe that he is a cuckold and his wife whom he loves with all his heart has disgraced him, forcing him to kill his own love. Desdemona  is made to pay for being the general’s wife and to face the things she never wanted or deserved. So, if any character has died the most undeserved death in the drama apart from Emilia (Iago’s wife), then it is Desdemona. If anyone is really responsible for her death, it is Iago. Othello is also to be blamed to some extent but Desdemona has met a death that she had neither chosen nor done anything to deserve. She is just made to pay for having fallen in love with Othello.

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.