Desdemona is trapped by societal boundaries and expectations of women in the Elizabethan Era, supposedly assuming the role of a dependent, innocent and honest wife. However, despite this expectation, Desdemona is rare in that she openly voices her opinions about her circumstances, being shown as a flawed character from Act I, Scene I; eloping secretly without her father’s knowledge. Desdemona’s flaws are apparent from her first presence in Othello, clearly overthrowing her prior image of perfection and purity; when Brabantio is told of Desdemona’s deception replies with “Have you lost your wits?In disbelief of Desdemona’s betrayal. “I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband. ” From her first moment of speech, Desdemona shows her independence, and ability to not only maintain her own values and opinions, but also voice them freely.
She shows educated understanding of the movement of a woman’s possession from a father to a husband, however challenging the status quo by asserting her ability to choose whom she marries, without prior authoritative approval.Despite not being an ‘embodiment of goodness and purity’ Desdemona is not described as an evil being without conscience or constructive action; it may also be interpreted that regardless of her flawed behavior, Desdemona acts with innocent and honest intention. In comparison to Iago, the antagonist of the play, who acts selfishly and emotively, bordering on signs of sociopathic behavior; Desdemona looks at an overall spectrum and acts for those around her, as well as herself.
This is often stated as an argument for her innocence and purity, rather it is a sign of natural human behavior, consideration and empathy for others frequently occurring, regardless of the ‘good and evil’ spectrum. Othello’s fickle view of Desdemona allows the audience to intake her flaws and strengths, in her ability to withstand Othello’s constant changes in action and speech toward her; he shifts from being completely infatuated with her, to hating her every fiber, within an instant.Othello’s love for Desdemona could be more accurately described as infatuation, Othello falling more in love with the idea of Desdemona, her purity, innocence, inventiveness, the minor qualities assumed and attached to her, rather than Desdemona herself. Brabantio’s observation, spoken to Othello for example, “She has deceived her father and may thee” foreshadowed Desdemona’s supposed ‘betrayal’ to Othello, Othello not caring about her deception, until it affected him badly. “Nor scar that whiter skin of hers than snow… smooth as monumental alabaster. Shakespeare uses metaphor to symbolise Othello’s belief in her beauty, worshipping her as if a statue, or a monument, whilst describing her fragility and easily breakable nature, in virtue and purity.
“Yet she must die, else she’ll betray more men. ” Othello, unaware of the deceit he is exposed to, quickly resorts to blaming Desdemona despite no real evidence of her supposed behaviors. However, Desdemona’s inconsistent behavior, in Act III Scene IV, “But it is not lost”, denying his accusations, gives Othello belief that Iago’s rumors are true, sending him further into his fatal flaw of jealousy.Desdemona’s flaw is shown in her inability to decode Othello’s strange behaviors, and her odd, irregular reactions towards then, Iago’s manipulation clearly affecting all individuals surrounding him, however placing greater effort to destroy Desdemona. All characters in the play of Othello have major flaws, allowing them to fall prey to the circumstances around them; many themes affecting the characters and their motives; the main themes being jealousy and social hierarchy.
Desdemona is affected by both of these themes; however not directly, rather due to their imposition upon her by Othello and Iago.The ever occurring theme of social hierarchy in Othello plays a large role in the unraveling of events, and the reason Desdemona’s nature is taken as unusual; strength and independence not a quality often seen in women of high stature in Elizabethan times. Despite her sometimes outspoken nature, Desdemona also displays admirable and composed behaviors; In Act IV Scene I, after publicly shamed and abused by Othello, Desdemona merely states, “I have not deserved this”, preserving the extent of her disapproval and horror.
The soft simplicity of Desdemona, confident of merit… are such proofs of Shakespeare’s skill in human nature” – Dr. Samuel Johnson accurately explains Desdemona’s character; not as an embodiment of perfection and honesty, rather as a human being capable of deceit, honesty, good, bad, complication and un-complication; there is not just ‘black and white’, rather, there is a spectrum, and depending on circumstance and motivation, actions will change accordingly.Desdemona is an intelligent woman, displaying ‘artless perseverance in her suit’ – Dr Samuel Johnson; towards the end of her life, bargaining and attempting to persuade Othello away from his irreversible, rash and unwarranted actions. “Kill me tomorrow” Desdemona continues determined to have her way, speaking freely despite her circumstances and narrowing chance of survival. Desdemona is often described an uncomplicated embodiment of goodness and purity, upholding the roles and expectations of Elizabethan women; however, Desdemona, like all human beings, has significant flaws.Dr Samuel Johnson accurately analyses Shakespeare’s truth to human nature, especially in the case of Desdemona, describing the sincerity and validity of her character, yet her display of inconsistencies.
Desdemona is affected by the circumstances and factors around her, the actions and manipulation of Iago and Othello affecting her temperament and persona greatly, rather than being set in an uncompromising and clear-cut spectrum of good and evil. Human nature warrants constant change and modification, due to this, a specimen of perfection, or purely good or evil does not exist.