Shakespeare's Othello - Othello and Desdemona


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Othello and Desdemona  

In the play, The Tragedy of Othello, Shakespeare really tests our conception as to what love is, and where it can or can't exist. Judging from the relationship between Desdemona and Othello, the play seems to say that marriage based on an innocent romantic love or profane love is bound to fail. Shakespeare is pessimistic about the existence and survival of a true type of love. There is a common thread of betrayal and deceit among his female characters, especially. Othello and Desdemona, as portrayed in the play, are the two greatest innocents there ever were. The two appear to love one another romantically at first, but this romantic love becomes more of a profane love, or more likely was truly a profane love all along. This comes to pass because there is no foundation for a relationship here. There is no trust, no communication, and no understanding. Othello has spent most of his life in battle, which makes him good at some things-- namely, battle. Othello says "Rude am I in my speech,/ and little bless'd with the soft phrase of peace;/ for since these arms of mine had seven years' pith,/ Till now some nine moons wasted, they have us'd/ Their dearest action in the tented field;/ And little of this great world can I speak/ More than pertains to feats of broils and battle" (1113). Desdemona is little more that a girl, inexperienced in the ways of the world. She is taken in by Othello's war stories. Desdemona takes one look at the hunk of burning love that is Othello, his virility and manliness, and she is swept off her feet. But is this a true love? She speaks so fondly of him, yet hardly knows him. As she defends her newly born love for Othello, Desdemona says (among other things), "My downright violence, and storm of fortunes,/ May trumpet to the world. My heart's subdu'd/ Even to the very quality of my lord./ I saw Othello's visage in his mind,/ And to his honors and his valiant parts/ Did I my soul and fortune consecrate." (1118). I can say from experience that in the "Magic Time", the first part of the relationship, some things are said that maybe affected by Love's blindness. Put these two together, and you have the equivalent of a couple of kids playing doctor. The two big clumsy babies "fumbling towards ecstasy" might have actually made it if they were free from outside forces.

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This romantic love is very much meant to be a separate little planet, with accommodations for two. The problem comes when some exterior force (like reality) makes its way into LaLa Land and starts pouring soap into all of the fountains.

In this case, that little hobgoblin of a force is Iago, whom I have come to view as symbolic of everything evil. It is said in the book that "Iago" means two-faced, and isn't that the truth. Iago, full of jealousy and spite for the moor sets out to sabotage his love from page one. And did we ever think it could turn out any other way? Of course, as the reader, we know all the behind-the-scenes information that makes anyone who believes and trusts in Iago look like a first rate jackass. But, be honest: can you blame them? Iago seems sincere enough, and he makes a concerted effort to ensure that he remains aces in everyone's book. So when Iago begins to plant the seeds of doubt into Othello's mind, has Othello any cause to doubt him? Yes, dammit! Desdemona is his wife, the woman that he supposedly loves with all his gargantuan heart. Yet, see how quickly he is dissuaded, and how he disparages her. "Ay, let her rot, and perish, and be damn'd tonight, for she shall not live. No, me heart is turn'd to stone; I strike it, and it hurts my hand…I will chop her into messes. Cuckold me!" (1167). But Othello, with that little peanut rolling around in his big old head, never thinks to disbelieve Iago. Why should he? Iago is an honest man. Iago is wise. Iago is only trying to help. So our hero, in all his studly stupidity, doesn't even stop to think that maybe he should talk this over with the little wife before he launches himself into a tizzy. If he truly loved her, would he think this way? Othello is not hurt because of a failing love, but because of how it affects him. How it makes him look. How it hurts his pride. He is a vain and jealous man. This is when things get ugly. Othello puts more trust in Iago than in his own wife. This is due, in part, to Iago's manipulatory skills, but mostly to Othello's lack of experience in dealing with women, or people in general for that matter (at least living ones, anyway). It is also due to the fact that he and his wife do not even truly know one another outside of their profane love. Desdemona, the dolt she is, lets the condition escalate, and her self-blaming attitude only perpetuates Othello's misgiven notion that she has been false. After Othello strikes her in front of the whole dinner party, and orders her around like some sort of dog, the best Desdemona can do for herself in the way of defense is this: "Alas the heavy day! Why do you weep?/ Am I the motive of these tears, my lord?…I hope my noble lord esteems me honest…Alas, what ignorant sin have I committed?" (1172)

Othello's mounting injury and fury isn't due to the idea that the romance has slipped out of his marriage. It is, in truth, due to Othello's huge and cumbersome ego and pride. God knows how he even gets his big head through a door. All Othello wants is vengeance, and he even says as much himself: "O that the slave had forty thousand lives!/ One is too poor, too weak for my revenge./ Now do I see 'tis true. Look here, I ago/ All my fond love thus do I blow to heaven/ 'Tis gone./ Arise, black vengeance, from the hollow hell!/ Yield up, O love, thy crown and hearted throne/ To tyrannous hate! Swell, bosom, with thy fraught, For 'tis of aspics tongues!"(1156) The ultimate death of Desdemona is totally baseless, other than to think that Othello MIGHT have saved some face, IF Desdemona had been untrue to him. The really sad part is that if the two had just talked, none of this would ever have happened. And that poor naïve woman, accused so harshly by a man she is nothing but obedient to. Even in her last moments, Desdemona can only insist how truly she loves him. Her sins: "They are the loves I bear to you". She adds, "And have you mercy too! I never did/ offend you in my life; never lov'd Cassio/But with such general warranty of heaven/ As I might love. I never gave him token". And with her dying breath states "O, falsely, falsely murdered…a guiltless death I die"(1185) and exonerates Othello of any blame. I suppose that's what makes it a tragedy. It may have been that the pair really did believe they loved one another, but not with a love that would stand the test of time. Perhaps in the embrace of death, they found solace with one another.

I believe that the only love between a couple (in marriage or not) that will last encompasses the properties of all four types. There must be Agape, the brotherly love, to ensure that the two will be truthful and comfortable with one another. Your partner should be your best friend (it's a cliché, but I believe it o.k.?). There must be Sacred love, because there should be just a bit of worship for your mate. If you find them holy, you would never dishonor them. There needs to be, of course, Romantic love. I always want to feel just a little twinge of excitement when I think of my companion, and a hint of that goofy smile on my face. And last, but certainly not least, Profane love must be present -everybody needs a little loving now and then.

The point is not to have more of one than another, or that one lasts or another does not. The point is that they must all be present and equal. There has to be a balance. There has to be trust. There has to be communication. Othello and Desdemona didn't have a snowball's chance in hell. And, unfortunately, neither do the majority of people who start on a road together before fully realizing that, one day, they might find that their paths diverge.

 



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