How does Shakespeare use representations of speech to shed light on Desdemona's character in Act IV, scene 3, of "Othello"?

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mstultz72 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Othello, Desdemona plays the ever obedient and submissive wife in Act IV, scene iii.  After being struck by Othello earlier, she does not rebel against her husband or ask for pity or rescue from Lodovico.  She willingly dismisses Emilia, knowing she will die, because it was commanded by Othello.  Overall, Desdemona's speech is resigned to death.  Indeed, she is a tragic heroine who is either unwilling or powerless to defend herself. She rarely uses "I," instead referring to herself passively ("me").

She says to Lodovico:

Your honour is most welcome.

To Emilia:

He says he will return incontinent: / He hath commanded me to go to bed, / And bade me to dismiss you."


"t was his bidding: therefore, good Emilia, /Give me my nightly wearing, and adieu: / We must not now displease him."

She uses verbal irony and foreshadowing when she predicts her death, rather casually:

All's one. Good faith, how foolish are our minds!
If I do die before thee prithee, shroud me
In one of those same sheets.

And, like a funeral dirge, she sings "The Willow Song," testament to her powerless language and will in this man's world:

She had a song of 'willow;'
An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her fortune,
And she died singing it:

After this, Desdemona naively asks if there are men who abuse women.  It's blatant verbal irony (understatement):

Dost thou in conscience think,--tell me, Emilia,--
That there be women do abuse their husbands
In such gross kind?

Overall, Shakespeare gives Desdemona a poignant, yet helpless speeches in the scenes preceding her death.  He knew that the Elizabethan world was more sexist than it was racist.  Truly, Desdemona is a victim in Act IV, scene iii.