“Desdemona has often been seen only as the innocent victim of malice. This view does not do justice to the complexity of Shakespeare’s portrayal and the play as a whole.” To what extent do you agree with this judgement? Muz Desdemona is no doubt seen as innocent throughout the play, but her innocence is brought about as a result of Iago taking advantage of her sweetness to poison Othello’s mind. As Iago goes deeper into his plans, the audience would feel sorry for Desdemona, as she is being falsely accused, and therefore they would see her as being innocent. But with close analysis of the text, Desdemona is not as innocent as one thinks. Brabantio is the first to misunderstand his own daughters’ actions. He describes her as being ‘a maiden never bold’ and that she was ‘stolen’ from him and ‘corrupted’. Brabantio believed that Desdemona could do no wrong and that ‘black magic’ was behind it all.
But when Brabantio hears about their true love from Desdemona herself, he seems crushed and hurt about the fact that his own daughter went behind his back to marry Othello. Also, Brabantio said that Desdemona had a ‘quiet spirit’ but when he questioned her about Othello, she stood up for herself with confidence and admitted the fact that she loved Othello in front of many people. This just proved that Brabantio didn’t know his daughter as well as he thought. Desdemona had deceived her father by running away from home to marry a ‘black’ man without permission. . This would have been humiliating and quite degrading for a woman to do in the 16th century. By marrying Othello, Desdemona has proved to people that she is independent and that she can make choices of her own.
Her actions are seen as inappropriate for a young, 16th century woman. Brabantio then gives a warning about his daughter. He says ‘ she has deceived her father, and may thee’. This line should have straight away put doubts into ones mind, but the audience ignore it as they see Desdemona as being perfect. Also, Iago takes what Brabantio says to his advantage and uses it against Desdemona to poison Othello’s mind. Othello in act 1 describes how they had met. He told everyone about Desdemona listening to his stories with a ‘greedy ear’ and how eager she would be to see him. ‘she loved me for the dangers I had passed ..
‘ Was this a good enough reason for Desdemona to run away and deceive her father, by marrying Othello? One could say that it was not a good reason, as Desdemona seems attracted to the physical, dangerous side of Othello, and also, the fact that she probably doesn’t know Othello as much as she thinks she does. Desdemona’s actions, when Othello was telling her the stories, were of a lot of confidence and she wasn’t scared at all to hint to him that she liked him. We know about her hints as Othello says; ‘yet she wished that heaven had made her such a man.’ In this situation, if anyone was going to be described as innocent, it would be Othello. He didn’t take advantage of Desdemona when he was with her and he never hinted on anything. It was Desdemona hinting to him that she liked him, and Othello did the right thing by marrying her and not talking advantage of her there and then.
‘a bold maiden’ surely does not act in this way in front of men. Roderigo, throughout the whole play, thinks that he can buy Desdemona’s love. This is most probably due to Iagos influence. Iago convinces Roderigo that Desdemona ‘must have change’ and that if he ‘put money in thy purse’, he would win Desdemona’s heart. It is quite shocking that Roderigo thinks so low of Desdemona, but this could be as a result of past experience between the two of them. Desdemona in Act 2 is seen to be talking quite freely with Iago. Critics have described her conversation as ‘ cheap backchat’.
Desdemona says, ‘I am not merry, but I do beguile the thing I am by seeming otherwise’. Here, Desdemona is more or less saying, ‘I am not what I am. This is an echo of Iagos personality. Basically, she is admitting that everything that she does in front of people is all an act and also, she admitted to Iago that she is a very anxious wife. Also, Iago talks about women in a sexual manner to Desdemona.
If she was as innocent as one would think, in a situation like this she should have been quiet and not answered. But instead, she was answering Iago back in the same tone as himself and also with the same amount of knowledge. Here she is being portrayed as being extremely flirtatious. However, there’s a sudden change in attitude and the tone of her speech when Othello walks in. ‘My dear Othello!’ This could be a natural reaction as she has just seen the man she’s in love with but then again, one would remember that she had just admitted to Iago that she’s not what she seems.
As the play goes on, Iago succeeds in poisoning Othello’s mind. Iago also, cleverly, uses Desdemona’s goodness to other people to bring about her down fall. Desdemona had been convinced by Iago to pester Othello about reinstating Cassio. The constant pestering by Desdemona and the ‘planted seeds of doubts’ from Iago eventually made Othello slap Desdemona in front of many people (including Desdemona’s cousin). ‘I took you for that cunning whore of Venice ..
‘ Another aspect that made Othello believe Iago even more was the fact that Venice had a reputation of sexual flamboyant ness by women. Iago planted this in his mind by saying that ‘in Venice they do let god see their pranks, but they dare not show their husbands’. Iago is saying that it is natural for Venetian women to have affairs, especially pretty ones like Desdemona. By the end of the play, Desdemona is not trusted at all. She had deceived her father by running away with the ‘black moor’, which made him turn against her, and Othello had been manipulated by Iago’s lies that led him to kill her.
Iago probably used Desdemona in his plot to bring about Othello’s downfall because of the fact that she had married a black man, and Iago is a true racist. Maybe Iago had feelings for Desdemona as well. Overall, Desdemona is innocent in some ways but not all. We know that throughout the whole play, Desdemona had devoted herself to her husband (Othello) and that she never harmed him in any way. Her love for him must have been true as her respect lasted up until the minute he kills her. Desdemona, however, is clearly more than just an innocent victim of malice.
But upon reading this play without any depth or knowledge, one wouldn’t notice her different characteristics. They would only notice her innocence.