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Examination Questions on Othello

Question: How does the character of Desdemona rank among Shakespeare's women?

Answer: The predominant feature of Desdemona's character, Mrs. Jameson thinks, is her extreme gentleness, amounting almost to passiveness, incapable of resenting and resisting. She possesses, as Dowden says, mind, but in the general harmony of her whole being the intellectual or mental activity does not appear by itself. She has a kind of "soft credulity," a proneness to superstition, a susceptibility to impression, extreme sensibility. Mrs. Jameson thinks that Desdemona is not weak, for the negative only is weak; and since Desdemona possesses affection and a deeply religious sentiment, she cannot be weak.

Desdemona displays at times a transient energy, as when she by "direct violence and storm of fortune" leaves the parental roof for her valiant Moor. What strikes me most is Desdemona's extreme purity and innocence; she cannot even fully take in the meaning of the foul words of Emilia, nor the gross jests of lago. She has also what Mrs. Jameson calls the instinctive "address" of her sex, as seen in her reply to her father and in urging her suit for Cassio's return. Desdemona reminds me much of Elaine. She is the pure lily over whose first day of existence comes the scorching sun of lago's villainy.

Mr. Taine says that Desdemona is a fair type of Shakespeare's women, that they are all creatures of passion and impulse, unreasonable and unreasoning, having the beauty, the prettiness, and merry chatter of birds. Yet it seems to me that Desdemona's tragic fate has thrown a halo around her which none of the rest of Shakespeare's women possess to such a degree. In Ophelia we do feel that there is a certain weakness, a negativeness, which is wanting here. Hermione calls forth our respect for the sorrow she has borne; Desdemona calls forth pity. She has not that coolness in the trying hour that characterizes Lady Macbeth. She possesses a wealth of constancy foreign to Gertrude's nature.

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How to cite this article:
Ragland, Fanny. Shakespeare Examinations. Ed. William Taylor Thom, M. A. Boston: Ginn and Co., 1888. Shakespeare Online. 10 Aug. 2010. (date when you accessed the information) < >.

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