ACT IV-SCENE III- close analysis+ focus on Desdemona and Emilias contrasting views of marriage. (othello)

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ACT IV-SCENE III- close analysis+ focus on Desdemona and Emilia’s contrasting views of marriage.

At the start of this scene the stage is crowded with ‘gentlemen of Venice’, Emilia, Desdemona and Othello and just before the characters file out to leave the solitary two women; we catch a brief, cold exchange between Desdemona and Othello. Othello’s blunt authoritative tone and words are chilling, but the audience feels the impact of Desdemona’s empty, hurt and ever submissive “my lord?”...”I will, my lord” much more strongly. These feeble utterances help to convey Desdemona’s view of marriage and the overall situation. Her husband has just publicly stuck her, humiliating her in front of her own kinsmen in addition to calling her a plethora of degrading terms and yet she does not complain she shows no signs of bitterness, just blind obedience.

After the other characters exeunt, Desdemona and Emilia are left alone on the stage, visually, the vast space would appear to daunt the two women in its centre. This has the effect of showing them as isolated and may represent the isolation they feel within their respective marriages. It also gives the characters a platform on which to speak uninterrupted, where they are free from keeping up pretences they may maintain in front of the other characters, especially their husbands. Whilst Emilia appears to use this opportunity, unrepressed by Iago, to openly share her true thoughts on marriage and love, Desdemona acts very much as if Othello were present. Some interpret this as a display of Desdemona’s purity, it is not that she does not feel comfortable in sharing with Emilia her true thoughts, but that she has no “unclean” thoughts in her to share, she truly believes that marriage is as perfect a bliss as she proclaims.

Desdemona’s views of marriage certainly jar with those of a modern audience. Years after the play was written, after the suffragettes, equal pay and Britain’s first female prime minister; the idea of a husband “command[ing]” any woman to “go to bed” is preposterous enough, but that the woman should placidly obey infuriates modern day audiences of both sexes alike.  Desdemona is determined to carry out her husband’s bidding, even when it conflicts with her own interests. Although she is in a state where one feels she must be in want of company, she dismisses Emilia and persists in doing so throughout the scene (“give me my nightly wearing and adieu.” ...”prithee dispatch”)defending her actions by reminding herself of her duties, after all she “must not now displease him”. Again these remarks give an insight into her beliefs on marriage, which read like those of a perfect ‘dutiful’ Elizabethan wife. Her unwavering determination to submit to her husband’s wishes would be applauded by the Elizabethan audience in almost any other situation; it was after all decorum for a wife to act in such a way, and indeed it may have been even in this situation. However even a society in which wives were expected to submit to their husbands most fanciful of wishes, the notion of a wife carrying out an order which will eventually facilitate her own death may have seemed a little unnerving.

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 Desdemona appears almost childlike in her innocent devotion to her marriage and her love and declares that despite everything Othello has done, her “love doth so approve him that even his...frowns...have grace and faith in them.”  One interpretation of this is that Desdemona is putting on an act, fooling herself into being the most perfect wife possible as a defence mechanism against Othello’s chiding. Desdemona is attempting to win back Othello’s affection, not by questioning him or defending herself but by becoming a caricature of herself, more loving, more innocent, and more devoted to try and recapture whatever she has ...

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