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Essay on Desdemona from Othello

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In Greek, Desdemona means ‘the unfortunate’, perhaps reflecting an ideology that she is not meant to be liked, merely pitied for her misfortune as a tragic victim (commonly defined as someone who dies due to the faults of others). Throughout Othello, Desdemona is presented as pure and innocent – in regards to this, Auden’s comment is unusual as Desdemona is seldom criticised; indeed many critics are complementary, giving her titles such as ‘gentle Desdemona’.

Desdemona is a victim of both Othello’s jealousy (the ‘green-eyed monster’) and Iago’s malevolence. However, as a literary construct, she is unable to prevent herself from falling victim to the hamartia of Othello and his hubris, an essential flaw in the tragic hero according to Aristotle. His pride is wounded by the idea that society would consider him emasculate due to having been cuckolded – in this sense, her fate was inevitable. Another of Aristotle’s theories purports that catharsis (often experienced following the death of the tragic victim) is a vital component of tragedy; as a great tragedy, catharsis must certainly be felt by the audience of Othello. However, the purging of emotions should surely only be felt towards characters which are genuinely liked, demonstrating the intricate link between pity and likability and highlighting the paradox in Auden’s statement: the audience must like Desdemona to some extent for her death to have a dramatic effect. Regardless of personal opinions on Desdemona, it is an upsetting final thought for the audience that there seems to be little hope for their own lives if evil can prevail over someone so good and taint something as beautiful as Othello and Desdemona’s love.

Though the symbolism of Desdemona’s death has many ...


... middle of paper ...


...e, yet it is hard to like (or even pity) someone who is unwilling to try to prevent their own death.

Finally, we must consider how far Auden’s statement can be taken into account. Typically, Auden does not conform to widely accepted or commonly adopted views, as can be seen in his poems; some may even label Auden a sociopath due to his palpable lack of empathy. Though there are many factors that could contribute towards a dislike of Desdemona, he simply cannot relate to her ethereal qualities: whilst Desdemona is not flawless, her actions do not warrant dislike, although many may dislike the symbolism of hopelessness that Desdemona’s death represents. The inevitability of hell and the devil winning over goodness and the ‘divine Desdemona’ is a harsh reality; as reflected by Iago’s safe passage through the storm in Act I, it is easier for evil to make its path.



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