1

A. PASSAGE:

Desdemona

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.

 

B. CLOSE READ

My mother had a maid called Barbara.

She was in love, but who she loved turned out to be crazy and left her.

She knew an old song called “Willow” that told of her own story.

She died singing it.

I’ve been thinking about that song all night tonight.

It’s all I can do to hang my head in misery and sing it like poor Barbary.

Please, go.


C. ANALYSIS

During this scene, Desdemona is getting ready for bed with her maid Emilia, who is also Iago’s wife. Othello told Desdemona to get ready for bed and ordered Emilia to leave, which shocked Emilia and hurt her feelings. Desdemona just shrugs it off because she loves Othello so much. She is acting a little weird and mentions death a few times, like in the quotation from my close reading. Act 4, Scene 3, Lines 27-35 is Desdemona telling a story about her mother’s maid, Barbary. Barbary’s lover left her and often sang a sad song called “Willow,” which she died singing. Desdemona is thinking about Barbary and her sorrows tonight. Desdemona’s weird obsession with death in this foreshadows her imminent death.

2

A. PASSAGE

Othello

2.1.199-209

It gives me wonder great as my content

To see you here before me. O my soul’s joy!

If after every tempest come such calms,

May the winds blow till they have waken’d death!

And let the labouring bark climb hills of seas

Olympus-high and duck again as low

As hell’s from heaven! If it were now to die,

‘Twere now to be most happy; for, I fear,

My soul hath her content so absolute

That not another comfort like to this

Succeeds in unknown fate.

 

B. CLOSE READ

I’m shocked to see you here.

Wow, I’m overjoyed!

If the calm after every major storm is this amazing, let the winds blow until they have awakened death!

And let the sea waves be as tall as heaven and as low as hell.

If I died right now, I would be absolutely content, because this is probably the happiest I will ever be in my life.

 

C. ANALYSIS

At this point in the play, the Turks and the Venetians are fighting over the island of Cyprus. After hearing of a Turkish fleet on its way to Cyprus, the Duke of Venice immediately wants Othello to go since he is so experienced and knowledgeable about the land. Desdoma decides she would like to accompany her new husband despite being unfit for military life, and Othello tells Iago to follow him on the journey to Cyprus with Desdemona and Emilia. There was a huge storm at sea that knocked out the Turkish fleet, and the storm also affected Othello and his crew, so they are arriving at Cyprus different times. Desdemona gets there before Othello. The passage above is from when Othello arrives. They are overjoyed to see each other and things get a little romantic. Othello’s romantic language and the metaphors he uses are very descriptive to paint a picture of how happy he is to see Desdemona.

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

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