Desdemona is a young Venetian noblewoman, who falls in love with a general in the army who works for her father, a senator. As a child she finds herself infatuated with Othello, and the childhood lust grows into love. Their elopement begins a downward course for them both. In spite of her youth and inexperience, she’s strong enough to stand up to her father’s disapproval of her marriage, and is loyal to Othello until she dies. Whether it is her father Brabantio, or husband Othello, she is objectified.
Desdemona is in the risky position of attempting to reconcile her true sexual identity with the sexual identities in which others attribute to her. Brabantio and Othello misinterpret Desdemona’s assertiveness and desire while simultaneously attempting to repress any signs of desire within her. In addition to Desdemona being a woman of appetites, the object of her affections is a moor. This choice of mate further strays from the role in which Venetian society would like to cast Desdemona.
The location of Venice is essential to the text of sexuality and power because Venice was known for its sexual permissiveness. Desdemona’s body is considered her father’s possession until she elopes, then she is Othello’s. She defies Brabantio by marrying Othello, taking charge of her own destiny. Brabantio’s symbolic death of Desdemona foreshadows her literal death at the hands of Othello and conveys his sense of loss as he realizes that Desdemona’s body is her own domain, not his. Othello also attempts to control the sexuality of Desdemona and once again she is viewed as property.
Desdemona manages to constantly display her intellectual prowess whether it is addressing the Senate, debating Iago or pleading on behalf of Cassio, she is not afraid of a public forum and is constantly striving for her voice to be heard. Desdemona levels the playing field as she speaks for herself and defends her marital match. Her ability to address the Senate as an equal reinforces the power and danger of her role in Venetian society. Ironically and tragically, Desdemona’s desire to be heard only feeds into Iago’s web of deception.
Even in the shadows of death Desdemona’s need to have a voice emerges as she sings the willow song to Othello. Othello strikes his wife and eventually kills her in an effort to control her. When he no longer desires the sound of her voice he strikes her. When he no longer believes in her fidelity he smothers her. Brabantio and Othello need to control Desdemona because their own moralities are depraved and they cannot control their own wayward thoughts. When Desdemona’s sexuality is deemed suspect by either her father or husband she must be punished with symbolic and literal death.
Desdemona tears away the gender barriers of Venetian society posing a threat to male authority and unfortunately sealing her own fate. Desdemona is an exceptional woman. Besides the beauty and charm for which she is revered, she possesses a marked degree of mental idealism and emotional purity. Her love of Othello appears as a mental decision rather than a vital infatuation. She fell in love with the idea of a bold, courageous, romantic adventurer and her heart fully consented.