“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?


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