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.

I am torn between my duties:
I am yours for you have given me life and education;
Both of these things have taught me greatly
And I respect you, for you are my father;
And I, your daughter. However, Othello is my husband ,
And just as my mother was
To you, she picked you over her father,
This is hard to say,
But I obey the Moor.

In this very moment of the play Desdemona is conversing with her father. Her father is upset because he has found out that Desdemona and Othello have eloped. He feels betrayed and criticizes Desdemona for this betrayal. While Desdemona is being ridiculed, she remains very respectful. This respect is obvious through her statement, “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;” (1.3. 210-212). Here, Desdemona is declaring her appreciation and love she has for her father. However, she then counters that by claiming that Othello is her husband, and therefore she is endowed to him.

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.

My mother’s maid was named Barbara:
Barbara was in love, and this love drove her crazy
And her love abandoned her: She sang a song called ‘willow;’
And while it was just a song, it described her situation
She died while singing it, and tonight
That song is stuck in my head; I have a lot to do,
And I hang my head in self pity,
And sing this song like Barbara. Please, Hurry.

This takes place near the end of the play. Othello has already gone mad and Iago’s master plan is beginning to unfold. Desdemona is sitting in her room with Emilia while subtly singing. She then goes on to tell Emilia of the song that she hums (noted in the lines above). While Desdemona is telling the story of the song she says, “An old thing ‘twas, but it express’d her fortune,/ And she died singing it: that song to night.” (4.3. 30-31). This can be seen as foreshadowing. For Desdemona is singing the same song as Barbara, minutes before her murder.

Photo by Internet Archive Book Images

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