Against All Odds: Othello and Desdemona s Forbidden Love. Throughout time, love has captured the hearts of many. To some, love is the most

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1 Carlson 1 Vanessa Carlson Professor Berry November 21, 2011 Evolving Stage Against All Odds: Othello and Desdemona s Forbidden Love Throughout time, love has captured the hearts of many. To some, love is the most powerful emotion of all; it conquers and overcomes many obstacles and trials. There are many different types of love; one of them is forbidden love. This concept is depicted as the ultimate romantic and passionate kind of love by society since the time period of Romeo and Juliet and beyond. Even today, it seem as though society, mostly women, are drawn toward the idea of forbidden love. There are instances in which the attraction is based on the fact that it is forbidden; the more others say no, the more one strives to make the relationship work. This concept is not only seen in society, but also in literature and media as well. One example of literature is the drama, Othello the Moor of Venice, written by William Shakespeare. The play involves an unlikely match between Othello and Desdemona, who fall in love and marry despite the protests of many. The marriage between the characters Othello and Desdemona portray the concept of forbidden love during a time of arranged marriage. The drama begins in a street in Venice where two men, Roderigo and Iago, argue amongst each other. Iago, the villain of the characters, confesses his hatred for Othello, the general of the Venice armies. Iago feels as though Othello wrongly chose Cassio as lieutenant, instead of himself. The two learn of Othello s marriage to the senator, Barbantio s, daughter Desdemona and devise a plan to ruin Othello. Rodriago also feels cheated as he has been paying Iago to help him win the senator s daughter for himself. The pair calls out to Barbantio in order

2 Carlson 2 to inform him of this dreadful news of his daughter s actions. After confirming that Desdemona is gone, Barbantio states that, It is too true an evil. (Shakespeare, ). He even goes as far as saying how it is treason of the blood, (Shakespeare, ). Othello is referred to as the Moor of Venice in the drama. According to the Britannica Online Encyclopedia, Moor is defined as Of mixed Arab, Spanish, and Amazigh (Berber) origins, the Moors created the Arab Andalusian civilization and subsequently settled as refugees in North Africa between the 11th and 17th centuries ("Moor (people) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia."). The theme of race is portrayed in the play as well as it seems Barbantio opposes his daughter s choice partially because of Othello s ethnic background. Barbantio claims, She is abused, stol n from me, and corrupted By spells and medicines bough by mountebanks; (Shakespeare, ). Barbantio describes his daughter as innocent and pure before she decided to marry Othello, so he concludes that she must be under some wicked spell in order for her To fall in love with what she feared to look on (Shakespeare, ). When confronted on this accusation, Othello states, I should but teach him how to tell my story, And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake. She loved me for the dangers I had passed, And I loved her that she did pity them. This is the only witchcraft I have used. (Shakespeare, ). Othello s explanation on how he and his new wife fell in love earns sympathy from the senate as well as the duke. Barbantio, however, is still not convinced so he sends for his daughter to witness her side of the story. Desdemona defends her love for Othello by stating that her loyalty is now with her husband. In defeat, Barbantio is forced to consent to the marriage. Before Iago poisons Othello and Desdemona s love, the pair seems to be quite in love. One of the more obvious clues is that despite all odds, they are able to fall in love and marry before anyone can protest. The two of them are both conscious of the fact that their love may be

3 Carlson 3 looked down upon, but to them, all that matters are their feelings for each other. The play also includes several pieces of dialogue that would cause one conclude that these characters are truly in love. Othello expresses to Desdemona, It gives me wonder great as my content To see you here before me. O my soul s joy! (Shakespeare, ). Desdemona conveys her love to Othello greatly as well, possibly even more than Othello does as the drama plays out. She exclaims to Othello, The heavens forbid But that our loves and comforts should increase Even as our days do grow (Shakespeare, ). During the time that the play was written, which was the late sixteenth to early seventeenth century, love within a marriage was uncommon. According to Tim Lambert of A World History Encyclopedia, In the 16th century marriages were usually arranged, except for the poorest people. Divorce was unknown. Considering that Desdemona is the daughter of the senator of Venice, one could only conclude that she comes from a wealthy family. It can also be determined, therefore, that Desdemona would have had to endure an arranged marriage. Today, marriage is quite different when compared to the late sixteenth century. There are far fewer arranged marriages and even marriage itself portrays an entirely different idea in today s society. During the sixteenth century, marriages were arranged in order to gain property, wealth, or both. Since women could not own property during this time, marriage was often the key to this right as legally everything she had belonged to her husband (Lambert). In today s society, women are far more independent and do not have to resort to arranged marriage. Instead, marriage is an expression of one s love for another. Forbidden love is not as controversial as it was during Othello and Desdemona s time. Now, if two individuals elope in a location such as Las Vegas, society would not give it a second thought.

4 Carlson 4 A token of one s love for another today is an engagement or wedding ring. Othello also gave Desdemona a token of his love in the form of a handkerchief. He told his wife it was passed on from his mother to him, She, dying, gave it to me, And bid me, when my fate would have me wive; To give it her. I did so; and take heed on t; Make it a darling like your precious eye. To lose t or give t away were such perdition As nothing else could match (Shakespeare, ). When Desdemona loses her token, her husband Othello is furious as it is found in Cassio s quarters. Suddenly, although the couple does not realize Iago is the poison to their marriage, Othello transforms from a loving and trusting husband into a jealous and out of control man who is set on his revenge. Iago schemes the ultimate plan for Othello s demise. He frames the sweet and innocent Desdemona by planting the idea of her cheating with Cassio into Othello s mind. At first, Othello s love for his wife is too strong for him to believe it, but as the evidence begins to emerge, Othello has no choice but to accept Iago s lies. Despite Othello s behavior, Desdemona s feelings for her husband remain throughout the drama, And his unkindness may defeat my life, But never taint my love (Shakespeare, ) Desdemona seems to be the stronger of the two when it comes to their love for each other. Othello is deceived into believing his innocent wife is dishonest, but Desdemona, despite her husband s cruelty, remains strong in her love for her husband. In the end, Othello s jealousy and rage overcomes him as he smothers his wife to death. Desdemona s servant, Emilia asks her who committed this crime, and Desdemona replies, Nobody I myself (Shakespeare, ). Even in Desdemona s last few moments, she defends her husband. Othello, after discovering Iago s deceit, is consumed with fury and guilt by his actions. He later describes himself as, Of one that loved not wisely, but too well; (Shakespeare, ). Othello becomes overwhelmed with anger and grief that he stabs himself. His final words, I kissed thee ere I killed thee. No

5 Carlson 5 way but this, Killing myself, to die upon a kiss, portray his love for his wife in his dying moments. This moment can be compared to the tragic deaths of Romeo and Juliet. Like Othello and Desdemona, they too are forbidden to love each other as their families are rivals. Later, Romeo is deceived by Juliet as she only appears to be dead. He then kills himself as he feels he can no longer live without his love. When Juliet awakens, she is so overcome with grief for her loss that she too stabs herself and dies. The theme of forbidden love shown in literature seems to commonly end in tragedy, as depicted in these two tales. The unfortunate, tragic end to Othello and Desdemona s story does not end their forbidden love for each other. Despite the odds, the moor fell for the senator s daughter, as she fell for him as well. As if that obstacle was not enough, the challenge of actually marrying for love was uncommon during their time of the sixteenth century. Forbidden love was also not the norm as far as relationships were concerned during that time period. Today, forbidden love is perceived as desirable and quite romantic. It could be possible that this idea derived from forbidden love in literature such as the story of Othello and Desdemona.

6 Carlson 6 Works Cited Lambert, Tim. "Women in the 16th Century." A World History Encyclopedia Web. 19 Nov <http://www.localhistories.org/women.html>. "Moor (people) -- Britannica Online Encyclopedia." Encyclopedia - Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Encyclopedia Britannica Inc., Web. 20 Nov <http://www.britannica.com/ebchecked/topic/391449/moor>. Shakespeare, William. "Othello the Moor of Venice." The Compact Bedford Introduction to Drama. By Lee A. Jacobus. 6th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, Print.

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