Desdemona

1.3.208-218

My noble father,

I do perceive here a divided duty:

To you I am bound for life and education;

My life and education both do learn me

How to respect you; you are the lord of duty;

I am hitherto your daughter: but here’s my husband,

And so much duty as my mother show’d

To you, preferring you before her father,

So much I challenge that I may profess

Due to the Moor my lord.

Paraphrase:

Father,

I owe you my life and education,

And for these things I respect you, for I am your daughter.

But just as my mother loved you more than her father,

I feel the same duty for my husband.

Analysis:

Desdemona’s father has just learned of her marriage to Othello from Iago and Cassio, who both have alternative motives. Othello calls her to the scene to defend him from her father’s accusations. Instead of confirming that she was forced into marriage by Othello, as her father thinks, she tells the prince, her father, and Othello that she owes her obedience and duty to her husband, Othello, first. When the prince asks who she owes her obedience to Desdemona begins by stating that she loves her father. She then goes on to use her own mother’s love for her father as a defence for her actions and preference for her new husband over her father. Brabantio, desdemona’s father, understand that he no longer has say over Desdemona and his fatherly responsibilities have been transferred to Othello upon his marriage to Desdemona. In response Brabantio says “Come hither moore, I here do give thee that  with all my heart ( which, but thou has already, with all my heart) I would keep from thee.” ( 1.3.223-225). Though Brabantio does not like Desdemona’s marriage to the “moore”, which is a demeaning term to refer to Othello by, he begrudgingly accepts it and hands other his daughter to her new husband.

 

4.3.27-35

My mother had a maid call’d Barbara:  

She was in love, and he she loved proved mad

And did forsake her: she had a song of ‘willow;’

An old thing ’twas, but it express’d her fortune,

And she died singing it: that song to-night

Will not go from my mind; I have much to do,

But to go hang my head all at one side,

And sing it like poor Barbara. Prithee, dispatch.

Paraphrase:

I remember the maid my mother had named Barbara

She loved a man who went insane and left her.

To remind her of her heart break she sang an old song called “willow”,

She died singing that song.

Now I can’t stop hearing it in my head.

I have a lot to do but I would rather go sing the song like Barbara.

Analysis:

Othello has become paranoid over Desdemona’s fidelity and as a result has begun to drive both of them mad. Desdemona is very sorrowful and she begins to often talk of death. After Othello abruptly leaves for a walk with a better man she tells Emilia the story of her mother’s maid Barbara. She says she died singing a sad song after being left by her lover who went insane. This song is stuck in Desdemona head, the song repeating in her head shows the spiraling of her relationship with Othello. She says she would rather hang her head and sing to death like Barbara. Desdemona can’t help but draw connection with her life and the tragic story. She begins to sing the “ willow” song: Sing willow, willow, willow. Prithee hie thee! He’ll come anon. Sing all a green willow must be my garland. Let nobody blame him, his scorn I approve.”(4.3.53-55). This song that Desdemona feels so well captures her sorrows is how Shakespeare chooses to demonstrate Desdemona’s emotions, rather than give her a monologue. Desdemona has been let down by her husband and surprised by his aggression but does not blame or love him less for it.

 

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Othello Close Read by Melissa is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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