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Desdemona Is An Innocent Tragic Victim English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1549 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The innocent being of Desdemona as a tragic victim suggests her naivety, feminine disposition, child like qualities and unspoiled soul. Desdemona can be seen as both a tragic victim but also a tragic heroine: she endures suffering that is greatly out of proportion to her mistakes but also lacks the wisdom to see that her effort to reunite Othello and Cassio as friends is the background to Iago’s manipulation of Othello. Thus Desdemona could be seen as the traditional stereotypes which very much shocked the Venetian audience of its time. Her outspoken nature is a key characteristic that critics such as [i] S. N. Garner believe displays [ii] hamartia thereby presenting Desdemona as a tragic heroine not a victim.

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This can clearly be seen when she is first mentioned in Act I Scene III through her father Brabantio, “A maiden never bold, Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion blushed at herself”, who immediately depicts her as a typical [iii] Venetian woman: Desdemona contrasts this description when she enters in Act I Scene II ignoring her father’s wishes to be with the man she loves, “And so much duty as my mother showed to you, preferring you before her father, so much I challenge that I may profess due to the Moor my lord.” Shakespeare incorporates this by using linguistic and structural techniques, which include references to colours such as white symbolising purity and innocence as well as the use of Emilia as a foil to Desdemona. Here Iago uses the phrase “white ewe”, through the use of this colour the audience associates Desdemona as good, pure and innocent, however later on in Act I Scene III Desdemona is juxtaposed with Othello who is referred to as a “black ram”. This suggests Othello is dark and hellish and will in some way tarnish the heavenly Desdemona who is a picture of perfection.

Desdemona’s first impression is not one of innocence but wit and open trust displayed towards Iago, thus highlighting the ability for Iago to exploit this relationship in Act I Scene II. At the point when Desdemona is awaiting the arrival of Othello in Cyprus (“O heavy ignorance! Thou paisest the worst the best. But what praise couldst thou bestow on a deserving woman indeed?”) her jesting with Iago depicts her intelligence and bold minded character (through her questioning of Iagos’ logic). This aptitude to speak her mind differs greatly with the ideological image of a Venetian woman who typically would not ever rise above her husband or jest in such a manner as seen here. In Act II Scene I Shakespeare uses Cassio’s adoration of Desdemona by alluding to the heavens and God, this dichotomy of heaven (Desdemona) and hell (Iago) is depicted many times throughout the play. Iago’s soliloquies consistently reference to hell and sin helping to depict Desdemona as innocent and helpless, we are shown that Iago is determined to exploit the goodness of Desdemona to enact revenge upon Othello: “When devils will the blackest sin put on, they do suggest at first with heavenly shows As I do now”. This is very important as here Desdemona can be established as a victim due to Iago using her to get to Othello, on the other hand this does highlight Desdemona’s [iv] hubristic nature. As in her ambition to be more than just a proud domestic women to Othello she tries to press into his military sphere and it is this nature that Iago does to some degree exploit.

While Desdemona may be an exception to the Venetian Woman expected of the time she is certainly dominated by men in the patriarchal society of the 16th century, depicted through the male characters interaction and domination of Desdemona, but also Emilia and Bianca. A feminist interpretation would state how Desdemona has been bullied into submission by the male characters (Iago and Othello in particular); this is set up in Act I Scene I as Iago refers to her as a possession (belonging to her father before the marriage and Othello after), “Look to your house, your daughter and your bags! Thieves, thieves!” As legally women had no individual identity free of men and thus Desdemona strived to break free from this convention. When Brabantio shouts at Othello “O thou foul thief! Where hast thou stowed my daughter?” This idea of a patriarchal society is referred to by [v] Rattray Taylor who comments on how Desdemona’s rebelliousness seen with her out spoken character is due to Brabantios immense power over her and therefore her marriage to Othello and need to make Cassio and Othello friends again has all stemmed from Desdemona wanting to play the same role as men in Venetian Society. Desdemona’s innocence can clearly be seen when she is juxtaposed with Emilia who recognizes her own powerless and objectified nature, “They eat us hungerly, and when they are full. They belch us”, yet she proposes a quid pro quo relationship in order to ensure her husband’s exclusive sexual access, “then let them use us well; else let them know”. However, Desdemona shows unswerving loyalty throughout the play and even in her last dying breath absolves Othello of her murder.

Innocence can clearly be seen as soon as Othello mentions how “she loved me for the dangers I had pass’d” conveying both the childlike qualities as she has very little life experience due to the sheltering from Brabantio, as well as her lack of contemplation in regard to Othello’s “witchcraft”. This perceives the idea that the “angel” Desdemona has not considered the social implications of marriage to a ‘Moor’, however being in such a powerful position Othello is not just any black man to the Venetians and the Senators of Cyprus. Describing Othello’s inner beauty and not caring about his outward looks “[She] saw Othello’s visage in her mind” this honest and innocent language utilized in asserting herself in front of the Senate was criticised by [vi] Rymer who comments that ‘a noble Venetian lady…murdered…for being a fool’. This suggests that in fact it is Desdemona’s hamartia that puts her at fault for her death; however she is innocent in that her feelings for Othello made her want to marry him, yet through her naivety or need for power (suggested by Rattray) she was a “strumpet” who in marrying Othello caused her own downfall. Thereby “she was a strumpet who lacked morals” upsetting the idea of her being an innocent and tragic victim. In the preceding time leading up to her death Desdemona asks Emilia to put the white wedding sheets on the bed, yet Othello comments earlier in Act V scene I that “Forth of my heart those charms, thine eyes, are blotted. Thy bed, lust-stained, shall with lust’s blood be spotted”. This can either suggest that Othello has already taken Desdemona’s virginity or that her guilty “lust[ful]” blood will stain the sheets with the later being the more plausible option. Yet we could see Othello as guilty for awakening Desdemona’s newly found sexuality and Othello therefore feels partly responsible for her supposed affair with Cassio. The innocence of Desdemona can be illustrated here as she may not have consummated her marriage yet she was prepared for a sexual relationship as can be seen with their open displays of affection towards one another in the film adaption by Trevor Nunn.

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Desdemona is to an extent an innocent tragic victim as she is manipulated by a male dominated society in the form of Iago and Othello, this can be seen with her submission as Othello smothers and kills her. Her innocence can also be seen as she is a victim of her hubristic nature (this is her hamartia) due to her trying to act out of a male dominated society. On the other hand in doing this she marries Othello and triggers her own downfall, as well as this she fails to recognise that she is not following the Venetian idea of a woman and as a result causes herself to become a tragic victim as she can to some extent be seen as too innocent and good. However ultimately the idea of Desdemona not consummating her marriage, her juxtaposition with Emilia (who realises it’s a give and take relationship with her husband) and Desdemona’s pure shock at the idea of adultery clearly highlighting that she is indeed an innocent tragic victim.

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