How would a Shakespearean audience have responded to Desdemona?
In Act I, Scene III, we finally meet Desdemona. Through her dialogue it is evident that she has a duality of both submissive attitude and assertiveness. She was owned by her father up until she got married to Othello. This is the argument she uses when she pleads “I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband.” The word ‘hitherto’ implies her new identity as a wife supersedes the previous one as a daughter. As she married Othello behind Brabantio’s back, we see her as an assertive figure who marries for love, but as a Shakespearean audience would have sympathised with Brabantio’s anger because a marriage usually benefit the family in either the way of money or status, but here he has scandal. Although Desdemona does use some imperatives against the male figures in the play, “let me find a charter in your voice”, a woman of the time was expected to be obedient and “submit [them]selves unto [their] husbands” as the Book of Common Prayer told them. As an audience would have read this they would perhaps be troubled at the levelness that Othello and Desdemona share the equality in their relationship. A modern audience would respect this dynamic more, yet wouldn’t agree with the idea that she is still passed over to Othello, who tells her to “come” as well as speaking for her.