Wiliam Shakespeare
Contributed by Karim Chandra
Act 4 Scene 3

 It is after supper and Othello orders his wife to go to bed. Besides, he also tells her to fire her maid. As Emilia and Desdemona discuss these developments, Emilia feels that Desdemona, after all, may have married the wrong man. There is a strange feeling to Desdemona that she may die. If happens, she asks Emilia to wrap her body in her bedsheets which are already on the bed. Desdemona sings the ‘willow song' as a reminder of a situation similar to hers in which maid Barbary went mad and disappeared. Desdemona dies singing this song. Desdemona will die while singing this song.


The scene demonstrates Desdemona's love to Othello. Emilia has realized that there is a problem between them, but Desdemona appears to be engrossed in some other important things. She is confused on whether the love that Othello has for her is recoverable or it has decayed beyond the point of salvage. Desdemona thinks that as things are, she may be facing her death. She tells Emilia, "If I do die before thee, prithee shroud me / In one of those same sheets" (24-25).  While an ordinary woman would feel threatened and flee the home, Desdemona confirms that she is made of a different material, thus choosing to stay on and confront her problems.

Desdemona introduces the audience to her mother's maid, Barbary, and the sad fate that befell her. She says that "She was in love, and he she lov'd prov'd mad, / And did forsake her: she had a song of 'willow,' / An old thing 'twas, but it express'd her fortune, / And she died singing it" (27-30). In this case, Desdemona is trying to weigh the delicate situation in which she is and the horrifying events that Barbary, a lady who had been taken under her mother's care and who she may refer to as a sister. It is the only time in which Desdemona introduces her mother to the play. Even when she was facing trouble from his father, she never mentioned the presence of her mother. It is an indication that Desdemona is facing the potentially fatal situation. However, she remains calm and collected.

Looking at the events, Desdemona feels that Othello may soon get mad and leave her, the way it happened to Barbary. That would lead her to die as a result of heartache. ‘Willow Song' is an old piece of music that existed long ago even before Shakespeare incorporated into his works. The mood in this song is a perfect reflection of the current situation of Desdemona. Although Emilio attempts to cheer up Desdemona over her predicament, she could have done better by indicating that her husband, Iago, had the handkerchief, a fact that perhaps could have diffused the situation. Emili hopes that the issue of handkerchief may not turn up again, or should the handkerchief be found elsewhere, she may be in a position to protect her husband from any eventuality. Besides, speaking at this moment may be too late since, from the flow of events, the situation is already very volatile.

The engagement between Desdemona and Emilio reveals contrasting personalities in marriage. While Desdemona is loving and stands by her husband even when the odds are against her, Emilio has a practical intelligence which allows her to weigh all the situations and make the most appropriate decision. While Emilia speaks fervently against infidelity, she feels that in many ways, contribute to the infidelity of their wives. "But I do think it is their husbands' faults / If wives do fall" (86-87).

Have study documents to share about Othello? Upload them to earn free Studypool credits!