The Will of Desdemona

That the character Desdemona in Shakespeare’s play Othello holds on to her dignified manner until the very end, when she is murdered by her jealous husband, is indicative not only of her chaste mind, but also of her willful determination. Given that women of the time were largely seen as second-class citizens and mostly one of two extremes – either virtuous or licentious – some readers will understandably view her as weak and passive. Desdemona’s strengths, however, are clearly illustrated in three pivotal scenes in Shakespeare’s play: in her resolute plan to assist Cassio back into her husband’s good graces; in her poise when confronted with her husband’s crumbling gentlemanly facade; and finally, perhaps most dramatically, in the dignified way she faces her own demise head-on, feeble on protestations, yet overflowing with grace.

In Act 3, Scene 3, readers find Desdemona not sitting idly by like somebody’s lapdog, but rather taking it upon herself to formulate a plan to help Lieutenant Cassio, who has been demoted at Othello’s instruction. Her intention is to get her husband, Othello, to see how loyal a servant Cassio has been. We can presume that here loyalty begets forgiveness, for only after Cassio had a drunken mishap,...

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