How much is Desdemona to blame for the tragedy of Othello?
- Desdemona is a defiant character who displays duality.
- Her duality of being assertive and submissive has enabled her to reconcile conflicts e.g. her marriage to Othello.
- This duality brings the theme of appearance and reality into play – Iago exploits this and depicts her as being untrustworthy and unfaithful, knowing that this would anger Othello because his greatest weakness is jealousy.
- Act III, scene III is crucial in portraying her insistent nature – it marks the moment where Iago’s machinations begin fully.
It can be argued that the duality of Desdemona lends to the tragedy of Othello. Her compliant and assertive nature is exploited by Iago in order to coerce Othello into believing that his wife is unfaithful; one is able to understand why Iago is able to achieve this in Act III, Scene III. In an exchange between Othello and Desdemona, we see the use of line sharing: ‘Shall’t be tonight at supper?/No, not tonight.’ Line sharing is often used to build tension or to quicken the pace of dialogue. When performed one will witness how line sharing perfectly illustrates Desdemona’s insistent nature – she pushes her husband into reconciling with Cassio and does not cease here. Her dialogue is littered with caesura as Desdemona continues:‘Why then, tomorrow night, or Tuesday morn;/On Tuesday, noon or night; on Wednesday morn!’ Here in Desdemona’s dialogue there are many pauses and this illuminates her as being desperate for Cassio’s cause. Even after her husband has stated that he is already occupied, Desdemona is reluctant to give in and be obedient towards her husband – in this scene there is a lack of obedience that Desdemona talked so greatly of amongst Venetian authority in Act I. Her defence of Cassio is done out of her good nature and completely innocently; however, it is may be difficult for a Shakespearean/Jacobean audience to see this as Desdemona incriminates herself and puts her marriage at jeopardy. This is seen through Shakespeare’s use of verbs: ‘When shall he come?/Tell me, Othello.’ The verb ‘tell’ highlights Desdemona’s assertive attitude and such a nature would shock as Jacobean audience because she does not conform to society’s expectations: women are to be subservient, never challenging the authority of a male. She refuses to accept Othello’s decision because unlike her husband she is taken aback by her husband’s changing allies. Had Desdemona fallen into these boundaries, then perhaps Iago would have never been able to succeed at planting seeds of doubt in Othello’s mind, driving him to madness, and ultimately to destruction.