When I initially read this for my sophomore English class, I thought this a truly creepy play. Second time around, I’m still greatly disturbed by it. Desdemona is a dopey innocent child in comparison to her old man husband, a man described as being old enough to be her father. I’m not typically horrified by May-December romances, in fact one of my favorite novels is Jane Eyre
. But here, there’s really nothing beautiful about the relationship between Othello and Desdemona, especially considering their reason for the elopement. According to Othello, “She lov’d me for the dangers I had pass’d; and I lov’d her that she did pity them.” For me, that doesn’t sound like a good enough reason for marriage. It’s a shallow foundation, one that would lead to heartache than become the seeds that would grow into a long-lasting love and partnership between them—which is exactly what happens. As described here, their union makes me think of a “what if” scenario, where Captain Wentworth marries Louisa Musgrove instead of Anne Elliot. ;)
Another aspect of the play that I find troubling is that given Othello’s years of experience and the supposed “depth of his love” for Desdemona, how could some paltry circumstantial evidence surrounded by the handkerchief be the sole means of condemning her for her adulterous sin. Coupling this with the age discrepancy between them, Othello’s choices of punishment—initially using physical and verbal abuse, then later killing her by asphyxiation—becomes all the more cruel and horrifying.
As a side note, when Othello initially describes his reasons for their elopement to her father and the Duke, as I quoted above, he also says, “This is the only witchcraft I have us’d.” Yet, when he describes the handkerchief he gave Desdemona—his first gift to her which belonged to his mother—he says that “there’s magic in the web of it.” The magic being that if the woman loses it or gives it away, it would make the man who loved her loathe her. The discrepancy between the two statements, i.e. the source of Othello’s “bewitching” love for Desdemona makes for an interesting dichotomy, though it also serves as a weak explanation for his descent into madness.
Perhaps my dislike of this play also stems from the fact that this is what I’d call a man’s play. The jokes about women in general are crude jests through that sense of male domination at the expense of the fallen woman. Though there is the question brought up by Emilia that does counter this way of thinking: “Have we not affections, desires for sport, and frailty, as men have? Then, let them use us well: else, let them know, the ills we do, their ills instruct us so.”—the only statement I really like about this play.