The Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello

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The Role of Desdemona in Shakespeare’s Othello

In Othello’s society only men made decisions. Thus, in Othello, the title character and other male characters drive the plot, leaving the women to deal with the consequences. Desdemona’s role in the play shows the way the male-dominated society treats women.
Desdemona and Othello have just eloped at the beginning of the play. The first run-in with Desdemona is with her father, Brabantio. He asks her about her duties as a daughter, and she responds saying her duty as a wife now supercedes her former place. Society in the 1600s expected women to be subservient and obedient, as Brabantio’s outrage at Desdemona’s elopement shows. Women were required to remain loyal to men. Additionally, as a daughter, Desedmona was required to ask permission to be married, and because she did not she turned away from society’s expectations. However, by saying that she is now loyal to her husband more than to her father, Desdemona sticks with society’s expectations. But the shock of her marrying without permission was enough to anger and sadden Brabantio, the symbol for society in the beginning of the play.

Once Iago has poisoned Othello’s mind with lies about an affair between Cassio and Desdemona, Othello becomes suspicious and distrusting of Desdemona. He is convinced that his wife is a whore, but never speaks to her about his suspicions. Othello refuses to confront Desdemona because, just as their society mandates, to him women are untrustworthy and decietful. Othello (and society) truly believes that if he asks her about Cassio, she will deny sleeping with him. Because Desdemona is a woman, she is not given a chance to speak on her own behalf. It is this same societal issue that played a part in her death. Othello the man and thus obviously stronger and more logical, suffocates Desdemona without hearing her side of the story first. The society in which they live gave Othello permission to kill Desdemona without her even really knowing why.
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