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How does Shakepeare show that Desdemona is a passive character through her dialogue...

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wiyaya | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 15, 2012 at 1:33 AM via web

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How does Shakepeare show that Desdemona is a passive character through her dialogue with Othello?

We know that Desdemona is a passive character. However, can we see this through her dialogue with Othello? I'm just curious =D

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 22, 2013 at 12:06 PM (Answer #1)

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Desdemona is a contradictory character in Othello as, at times, and certainly at the beginning of the play, she is assertive and confident. She has married a "Moor," almost unheard of and even frowned upon in her day, even defying her father - "I do perceive here a divided duty" and owes her loyalty to Othello now:

 ...I may profess/ Due to the Moor

When Othello is leaving for Cyprus, Desdemona begs to go with him, not out of a desperation or from fear but because she is loyal and takes her role seriously and it is, in fact, a courageous request

if I be left behind, / The rites for which I love him are bereft me.

There are not many wives who would have been brave enough to accompany their husbands voluntarily.

Her deep-seated feelings of loyalty and her expectations of herself are so high that she does not question her husband. This is where the anomaly comes in to play. This is interpreted as a weakness and her incredulity (disbelief) at the thought of any wife dishonoring her husband is part of her undoing:

"Wouldst thou do such a deed for all the world?"

The real change in Desdemona comes in Act IV  when Othello accuses her and she transforms from an assertive woman "I have not deserv'd this,"to a submissive one, failing to challenge Othello sufficiently. Desdemona, confused and knowing she has done nothing wrong, questions whether she has done something unwittingly, some "ignorant sin": "Am I the motive of these tears?" 

Even after everything and Desdemona's discussions with Iago and Emilia when she tries to understand Othello's behavior, Desdemona is still loyal: ..His kindness may defeat my life / But never taint my love."

Dutifully, Desdemona does as Othello says. Her love for him is so complete that she will even die for his purposes; the ultimate sacrifice and not the machinations of some passive, weak character.




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