A maiden never bold,
Of spirit so still and quiet that her motion
Blushed at herself; and she, in spite of nature,
Of years, of country, of credit, everything,
To fall in love with what she feared to look on? (1.3.95-99)
But here’s my husband:
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord. (1.3.184-189)
Desdemona does not mention the colour of Othello’s skin: “I saw Othello’s visage in his mind”. In speaking of Othello’s “honours” and “valiant parts” Desdemona does much to foster the audience’s understanding of Othello as a valiant general and man of distinction. Throughout the play Desdemona defines Othello through his identities as a warrior, lover and story-teller, but never through his ethnicity. Shakespeare recognised the destructive power of a spoken slur (racial, religious, sexual, social) upon one’s reputation, and Othello serves as a powerful reminder of the way in which words can be used as weapons. It is Othello who will ultimately turn words to weapons when he labels Desdemona a “strumpet” (4.2.82) and “that cunning whore of Venice” (4.2.91) leading to her tragic death.While thinking about Shakespeare’s use of words, try listening to James Earl Jones delivery of Othello’s long speech about the wooing of Desdemona before the senate in Act 1 Scene 3As you listen you might like to consider:That I did love the Moor to live with him
My downright violence and scorn of fortunes
May trumpet to the world. My heart’s subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord:
I saw Othello’s visage in his mind,
And to his honours and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate… (1.3.249-255)
- How is Shakespeare’s use of language in this speech is different to other moments in the play?
- Why this speech is so long?
Othello: In Performance
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