Shakespeare's Othello: On Othello's Love to Desdemona

In past critical essays, Othello has been described as “one of the most romantic figures among Shakespeare’s heroes,” and judging by his seemingly flawless relationship with his wife, he certainly appears to be so. However, despite its appearance of perfection, Othello and Desdemona’s relationship is inherently flawed to begin with. In a perfect relationship, the love between two people should be nothing but unconditional and everlasting. However, Othello’s love for Desdemona is entirely conditional, based on her loyalty to him and her perfect image.

In fact, he never really loves her at all, and merely uses her as a buffer to plume up his own ailing sense of pride and self esteem. It is, therefore, entirely unsurprising that Othello’s perfect marriage ends up crashing and burning; after all, it was doomed to failure right from the start. Othello is an outsider in the Venetian society.

His black skin and uncouth nature lead the nobles of Venice to see him as something entirely inferior to themselves, often referring to Othello with derogatory slurs such as “Thick-lips” or animal names rather than calling him by his name like they would a real man (1.

157). This constant demeaning treatment greatly affects Othello‘s self esteem, to the point where he too begins to think of himself as innately inferior. He believes that since he is “black, and [has] not those soft parts of conversation that chamberers have” he is not as worthy or valued as the other men of Venice. In contrast, Desdemona is the darling of Venice.

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She seems the perfect woman, and noblemen from all over Venice flock to court her. Desdemona is so valued that in their eyes she begins to take on an almost holy air, and is put on a pedestal on the level of the heavens themselves. Her beauty and purity are often compared those of mythological goddesses, her face and virginal nature “fresh as Dian’s visage” (2.3.19), while her body is “sport for Jove” (2.3.19).

She is in all ways the complete opposite of her husband, portrayed as the angel of Venice rather than the black devil Othello is made out to be, and it is for this reason that he chooses to marry her. Othello marries Desdemona purely to assuage his low self esteem and gain respect from those around him. Her presence glorifies and magnifies him, transforming him from a worthless thing to a man “of royal siegen.[and of] as proud a fortune” as any of the nobles of Venice (1.2.25—26). Othello’s pride is further gratified by the obvious adoration his wife displays towards him. He feels empowered by the fact that she deems him equal, if not superior to the myriad of noblemen that had so eagerly courted her before she finally chose to marry, Furthermore, Desdemona‘s idolization of the rugged feats of his past serves to affirm Othello‘s sense of masculinity, power, and strength, further building up his sense of pride and self worth, He “[loves]…that she did pity [his feats],” citing this as the only reason he returned her affections (1.2.194).

This indicates that Othello doesn’t truly love any part of Desdemona besides the fact that she, a darling of Venice, loves him back. He selfishly uses Desdemona to assert himself over the other nobles and buffer his own pride and self esteem with her devotion without actually returning any of those same feelings for her. Not only is Othello’s love for Desdemona selfish, but highly conditional as well, reliant solely on her good image. Her reputation is all important to Othello, who is dependent upon it to boost up his own. As long as he perceives Desdemona to have her reputation intact, Othello will play the part of the doting husband, thoroughly enamored and almost bursting with “love” for his beautiful wife However, without her good name Desdemona is worth nothing to him. Had she been only a common woman, Othello would not have spared her a second thought, as a woman like that would not have been able to glorify him to the level he desired, or worse, blacken his own reputation, For this reason, Desdemona‘s fidelity is doubly important.

In victorian times, chastity was the absolute measure of a woman; if a woman was unchaste, she was labeled a whore, the lowest of the low. A label such as this would not only destroy Desdemona, but Othello as well, who has entwined his entire sense of pride and reputation with his wife. One small slip, such as the loss of a handkerchief, is enough to send both of them tumbling down, The loss of his wife’s perceived fidelity has ruined her image, causing her to fall from an angel to a “devil,” and with her she has dragged Othello and his fragile pride down into a hell of self loathing and despair(4.1.268). In reality, Iago’s malicious meddling just drove events along in their natural course, Without mutual love to sustain the relationship and help it grow, Othello’s disastrous marriage was doomed to end in nothing but fire and death, His alarming selfishness and dangerous insecurity causes him to put all his self worth into an image of his wife, whom he uses solely to make himself look better. When this image is lost, Othello’s entire sense of self worth is lost as well. Ultimately, there is no love to be found anywhere in Desdemona’s cruel and ruthless murder, just the actions of a man ravaged with hellish insecurity and consumed by a hateful insanity at the death of his fragile pride.

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Shakespeare's Othello: On Othello's Love to Desdemona. (2022, Nov 11). Retrieved from

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