Why Does Desd. Marry Othello? Essay, Research Paper
Why Does Desdemona Marry Othello?
In the last scene of Othello, Desdemona recovers long enough from the smothering that her jealous husband has inflicted upon her to pronounce her complete innocence, and with her last breath tells Emilia, “a guiltless death I die” (V, ii., l.120). Plainly, Iago has deceived Othello into believing that his beautiful young wife has committed adultery with his once-trusted second in command, Cassio. That being so, Desdemona is clearly innocent of the charges embodied in Iago’s cunning innuendoes, and is a victim who does not deserve the tragic end that she suffers. Nevertheless, Desdemona has put herself in a position to be a victim by virtue of her decision to marry the Moor and to go with him to the isolated, embattled post of Cyprus where Othello possesses not only the moral authority of a spouse but also the legal powers of a governor. The question naturally arises: Why does Desdemona make these tandem choices?
By the time that we first see Desdemona in the middle of Act I, scene iii, we have been told that she is a young Venetian noblewoman, the beloved daughter of Senator Brabantio, who has married the military hero of the city-state without her father’s consent or foreknowledge. Desdemona certainly realizes that her elopement with Othello and her sharing of honeymoon quarters with this “Barbary horse” at the unsavory sounding Sagittary Inn is bound to evoke her father’s wrath. Indeed, when we first hear Desdemona speak her “divided duty” defense (I, iii., ll.178-188), she appears to have anticipated the need to make her case to both Brabantio and the ruler(s) of Venice. Her plea is tightly reasoned and pivots upon a straightforward analogy between her own situation and that of her mother. Desdemona’s speech is largely devoid of emotional appeal and rests upon the natural precedent of married women transferring their first loyalties from fathers to husbands. What she conveniently omits is that she has chosen to wed outside her station, to a man who is much older than she, of an entirely different race and, despite the accolades he has received, very much an outsider in Venice. Moreover, she has done all this under the pretense of being a mere listener to the stories of her father’s invited guest. Realizing that the Duke will follow the expedient course and rule in favor of the newlyweds, Brabantio utters his warning to Othello: “Look to her, Moor, if thou hast eyes to see/She has deceiv’d her father, and may thee” (I,iii,. 292-293). This admonition surface again in the “deception” scene as Iago uses it to spur Othello’s suspicions, Brabantio’s prominent reference to “eyes” resonating with the Moor’s demand for “ocular proof” of his wife’s infidelity. We are told in Act V that Brabantio has died of grief over his daughter’s betrayal. Desdemona does not deserve to be murdered by Othello, but her father’s curse has a firm basis, for she has in fact deceived her father.
What does Desdemona see in Othello that would cause her to take the rash step of choosing him as her husband? Following his recitation of the exotic adventure tales that he has related to Desdemona before their marriage, the Moor recalls Desdemona’s response to these stories “yet she wish’d/That heaven had made her such a man/And bade me, if I had a friend that lov’d her,/I should but teach him how to tell my story/And that would woo her” (I, iii,, ll.162-166). What Othello fails to realize here is that Desdemona’s reaction not only furnishes him with an opening to woo the girl, it implies that she is more in love with his renown than with his person. Having already decided by dint of circumstance that he will not oppose the marriage, the Duke then considers the issue of whether Othello’s bride should travel with him to the front. The Venetian ruler abdicates his decision-making authority and leaves the matter in Desdemona’s hands, asking her what she wishes to do, To this, Desdemona says, “That I (did) love the Moor to live with him/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 fortunes consecrate” (I, iii, ll.248-254). Desdemona claims to have gotten inside Othello’s psyche and to have fused her soul with his in a spiritual ceremony over which she has officiated in deliberate opposition to the world at large. The Duke accepts all this without inquiry and allows Desdemona to follow Othello to Cyprus even though Turkish fleet continues to threaten the island.
Desdemona and Othello spend their honeymoon in the war zone of Cyprus, and the intimacy between the martial and the marital is underscored by the Moor’s first order as the outpost’s governor, Othello calling for a celebration of both victory over the Turks and his marriage. Upon their reunion, Othello instinctively taps into the bond that ties Desdemona to him, addressing his wife as “my fair warrior!” (II, i., l.182). This, in turn, highlights the girl’s motivation in marrying Othello as one of sharing in his self-made glory and the power that this has conferred upon him.
“Our general’s wife is now the general” (II, iii. l.315), Iago says to Cassio as he steers him toward petitioning Othello for leniency through Desdemona’s good offices. In the midst of the corruption scene, Desdemona is confident of her ability to restore Cassio to his position, assuring the crest-fallen Lieutenant, “Do not doubt Cassio,/But I will have my lord and you again/As friendly as you were” (III, iii, ll.4-6). She claims, then, to know how to work her husband to her will and even sets forth a strategy of attrition, telling Cassio that she will not let husband rest until he grants her petition on his behalf: “I’ll intermingle everything he does/With Cassio’s suit” (III, iii, ll.25-26). Desdemona takes it upon herself to overlook Cassio’s dereliction and her confidence in pursuing his suit with her husband is confirmed when Othello says that he “I will deny thee nothing” (l.76).
In the end, Desdemona is innocent of the proximate charges against her, but while she has not been unfaithful to her husband, she has gone well beyond the role of a wife into that of a partner in a single identity based upon heroic fame and political power. Her desire to be associated with Othello in this deep and unnatural manner has moved Desdemona into a position in which she is vulnerable to the victimization that she eventually receives. Thus, her protestations of being guiltless at the hour of her death are technically true but spiritually suspect.