Examine Othello and Desdemona's relationship in William Shakespeare's play. Does he truly love her? Provide supporting quotes with response.
In William Shakespeare’s Othello, there is no question that their relationship is built on deeply felt love. Pretty much all the evidence one needs can be found in Act I, Scene III, the seminal scene of Shakespeare’s play during which Othello, the Duke of Venice, Brabantio, Iago, and “First Senator” all congregate to discuss the pending war with the Turks, a discussion diverted onto the matter of Othello’s surreptitious marriage to Desdemona, Brabantio’s daughter. Brabantio has been a great admirer of Othello, relishing opportunities to sit with the great military commander and listen to tales of derring-do and narrow escapes. News of his daughter’s marriage to the Moor, a black in a white man’s world. This scene, consequently, devolves into a passionate plea on the parts of both Othello and Desdemona, summoned to explain herself before her father and the duke. In the first exchange, Othello responds to Brabantio’s allegation that Othello must have used sorcery or drugs to sway his virginal – and very caucasion – daughter:
I do beseech you,
Send for the lady to the Sagittary,
And let her speak of me before her father:
If you do find me foul in her report,
The trust, the office I do hold of you,
Not only take away, but let your sentence
Even fall upon my life.
In that exchange, Othello suggests the group summon Desdemona so that she may attest to her decision to wed the Moor – a clear indication that Othello trusts in his wife sufficiently that she will confirm his declarations. As the group awaits Desdemona’s arrival, Othello continues to relate his side of the story, noting that, during his many visits as a guest in the home of Brabantio, the general was regularly enticed to tell his stories of war and battle, and that Brabantio’s daughter would listen raptly and convey a sense of flowering attraction towards this guest:
When I did speak of some distressful stroke
That my youth suffer'd. My story being done,
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs:
She swore, in faith, twas strange, 'twas passing strange,
'Twas pitiful, 'twas wondrous pitiful:
She wish'd she had not heard it, yet she wish'd
That heaven had made her such a man: she thank'd me,
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story.
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake:
She loved me for the dangers I had pass'd,
And I loved her that she did pity them.
This only is the witchcraft I have used:
Here comes the lady; let her witness it.
As Othello’s closing comment notes, Desdemona has arrived, and can now be questioned regarding her relationship with her now-husband. Addressing her father, who remains convinced that the racially-inferior black had to have used trickery to seduce his fair daughter, Desdemona confesses her love for and commitment to her husband, Othello:
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.
To this, the duke asks of Desdemona her intentions and desires, prompting the following plea to be allowed to remain with her husband, whom she loves dearly:
That I did love the Moor to live with him,
My downright violence and storm of fortunes
May trumpet to the world: my heart's subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord:
I saw Othello's visage in his mind,
And to his honour and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate.
So that, dear lords, if I be left behind,
A moth of peace, and he go to the war,
The rites for which I love him are bereft me,
And I a heavy interim shall support
By his dear absence. Let me go with him.
This scene in Othello speaks to the love between Othello and Desdemona – a love so deep that it threatens the unity of the Venetian state by sowing divisions and destroying Venice’s greatest general.